A Toastmaster’s take on the growing popularity of Halloween in T&T

by Nadia Portillo
Assistant Area Governor Marketing

A drive along a lonely country road, strolling home from the village watering-hole past a cemetery…Today is October 31st. It is Halloween.

I read a few commentaries on the growing popularity of this observance in Trinidad & Tobago. Some Trinbagonians take a cynical view due to the obvious commercial gains and injection of Western culture. Parties target young adults who dress like the latest vampires and ghouls from the silver screen. There is a surge in candy purchases at local supermarkets.

As a Toastmaster and an avid fan of local folklore I see the opportunity to market and reintroduce oral traditions of T&T amongst the younger generations. Storytelling is one aspect to the developing T&T-Halloween tradition which can be put to work to the benefit of our culture of old.

Do you remember tales of Douens, Papa Bois and Gang Gang Sara? When was the last time you heard a speech delivered using a personal account of an encounter with a traditional folklore character? My grandparents were full of these stories of La Diablesse, Soucouyant, Loup Garoo, Jacakalantan and Jumbie. These days as a friend so aptly put it, an encounter with a “scary character” brings concern for life, virtue and possessions. Looking back my grandparent’s stories were meant to provide a moral or prevent some undesired conduct in their children and grandchildren. The old folks’ stories were filled with scary details and punctuated by memorable gesticulations. They were funny too.

Through their stories I also acquired a taste for the calypsos of Lord Kitchener and Mighty Shadow. In my teens I looked forward to my father’s annual trek to the Extempo and Old Mas Finals at the Queen’s Park Savannah. Each year, as more and more seats remained empty, I came to treasure the legacy of an informal education in the traditional characters of Ole Mas these trips afforded. I would later apply that knowledge to my own daughter’s primary and lower secondary school Social Studies projects – passing on what my parents, grandparents knew. The stories – no longer in Patois (Trinidad Creole) – now glued to bristol board and presented for marks.

The Toastmasters educational programme can help you develop your storytelling ability. In the Competent Communication (CC) manual speech projects such as How to Say It, Vocal Variety and Your Body Speaks are designed to build the foundation for good storytelling. In the Advanced Communication Series (ACS) manuals such as Humorously Speaking, Interpretative Reading, Storytelling and The Entertaining Speaker further expand on the skills introduced in the CC Manual.

The beads-and-bikini format of Trini Carnival has become a money making machine. As this process took root, the Ole mas characters and the oral traditions that accompanied it retreated to the background. As I see it, the emerging Halloween tradition in T&T presents a portal for their return. One broadcast news station reported that men are increasingly participating in Halloween. Look beyond the desire to partake in drink and merriment – Halloween gives men a chance to dress in costumes more elaborate than a pair of trunks and communicate their inner hopes, feelings and desires. I look forward to the resurgence of the oral tradition as well.

There you have it, my Toastmasters response to the Halloween critics. If you would like to visit an Area 12 Club in Trinidad or Tobago send me an email at area12aagm.toastmasters@gmail.com or call 1-868-477-7548.

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