Panem Et Circensis

Panem et circenses. Literally translated from Latin this means bread and circuses. 

To give the people bread and circuses was a famous Roman expression to describe the way public approval was generated through distracting the people and satisfying their shallow immediate requirements. The Coliseum still attests to the Roman rulers’ efforts at “panem et circenses.” The phrase was also used to imply the erosion of civic duty and the Roman people’s selfish neglect of important pertinent concerns. Some things never change it seems. The traffic was more terrible than usual. It simply wasn’t moving and all the side streets were blocked up with frustrated motorists. After being stuck in traffic for most of the day listening to the drama of the newest political bacchanal on the radio I abandoned my car to literally run my errands on foot before walking to training past frustrated motorists trapped furiously in gridlock. Finally getting somewhere was incredibly satisfying and if you see me walking around town now you know why. I couldn’t help but imagine the frightful implications of a real emergency with our current lack of transportation infrastructure.

After asking around and consulting social media, apparently the reason for the gridlock according to one astute twitter user was that “for decades T&T has imported cheap cars, gotten hooked on subsidised oil and underinvested in mass transit.” That and supposedly a pipe had been busted in the west. Another distraction from the real issues I thought.

The patricians and the senatorial class dominated the pantomime of Roman politics, building alliances with kickbacks in an effort to woo the populace’s votes with extravagant promises. As the gladiators fought in the Coliseum, so too did the senators fight like animals in the forum.

That night I went down to watch our homegrown gladiators in the National Stick Fighting semifinals. Just like in the ancient arena and forum, a large cheering crowd had gathered under the full moon to watch our Bois Men as they brought to life this bygone dynamic dance. “No Bois Man no fraid no demon! No Bois Man no fraid no stick man!” 

The Chantuelle sang out in encouragement over the energising primal rhythm of the African drums. It was stand down or show down as the gladiators danced and goaded one another in a violent circular dance of deception and distraction until the fast flash of strikes. When there was action, it was so sly and quick that unless themselves Bois Men, the entire crowd never saw it coming until there was only blood and bruises left to show for it. 

Our Carnival is a manifestation of our creative essence as a people and is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our diverse cultural identity to the world. However it can be a bit overwhelming. On top of our usual routines, with so much going on it makes for a busy all-consuming schedule. 

With huge fetes every weekend, Panorama, stick fighting, Canboulay, and the Soca Monarch competitions and Dimanche Gras all in the build up to the bacchanal of J’ouvert and Carnival it gets hectic and things fall between the cracks.

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With huge fetes every weekend, Panorama, stick fighting, Canboulay, and the Soca Monarch competitions and Dimanche Gras all in the build up to the bacchanal of J’ouvert and Carnival it gets hectic and things fall between the cracks. I could tell you more about this year’s Panorama and Soca music than the latest cabinet reshuffle, with an absolute ridiculous number of ministers fired in less than five years and I am sure I am not the only one out there that needs to catch up on things.

It’s not too far fetched to associate our Carnival with the ancient Roman festival of Bacchanalia, where the Romans celebrated Bacchus, god of freedom, wine, intoxication and ecstasy. In many ways our Carnival is still the opiate of the masses. In the end, like the Romans we as a people will get what we deserve. On Ash Wednesday the distraction will be over and we citizens of the republic will reawaken from our stupor to face the coming metaphorical lean times of lent with fasting, repentance, and the self-denial that comes from ignoring the real issues that pertain to our future quality of life on these little islands for too long.