Friday, October 30, 2009

Festival of Lights

Were a little late on this post as the festivities have been over for a couple weeks now. We were fortunate to be taken to a Divali celebration here in Trinidad.

I don't imagine many people equate Trinidad with India or Hinduism or for that matter many people probably don't know what Divali is. I will not enlighten you here, I'm sure. All I have been able to gather is that it celebrates the return of Lord Raama from his battle against the evil Ravana.

On his return the people lit small clay lanterns along his path so that he would be able to find his way home. The lines of lanterns are called Divali and it is now called the festival of lights. If your a Hindu or listen to too many Cat Stevens albums and you wish to take issue with my interpretations please don't bother. The point of all this is that the people here in Trinidad are not only of African decent as many would imagine, but also of East Indian decent. It is because of this population that Divali is a big deal here.

We were taken to the town of Felicity which I was told consist of 90% Hindu and 10% Christians. We entered a local temple and were welcomed by the caretaker who presented us with a quick story of Divali over a squawky PA system, which when combined with his accent sounded like the teacher in a peanuts cartoon.

There was a beautiful young lady who danced to a couple of songs and then a trio of drummers came in and did a bit of drumming. They were all quite good. To be fair the caretaker was a very nice man as well and we had a great conversation after the mike was turned off.

Our host and tour guide, Jesse James had a traditional meal set up for us and it was served on Large leaves. The food was vegetarian and because it was a religious holiday we were asked to not eat any meat or consume alcohol that day. Most of the Hindus we met had been fasting for over a month. Luckily I love Indian food and can't get enough roti so this meal which would locally be called a bus-up-shut was just perfect despite the glaring lack of meat on my leaf.

Once we finished we were told to take a walk around the neighborhood. Not something one would consider doing at night in this country, or any unfamiliar town.

We were treated to some of the nicest people one could hope to meet. As we walked people were in front of their homes dressed up in their "Sunday best" lighting the Divali lamps.

Fortunately the wind was minimal and there was no rain. The lamps are fashioned from clay.

The lamps were often placed on the ground or on the wall in front of the homes.

Bamboo was also split and woven into different shapes with the lamps or other lights affixed. A simple two rail fence fashioned from bamboo was also common. The lamps are filled with coconut oil because it creates less smoke. With this many lamps burning, smoke would have been a concern.

Fireworks were also present as was the use of what we used to call spud guns. These were made from large bamboo logs and filled with diesel. They work like a cannon and apparently send quite a few people to the emergency room every year. As we walked along people would be quick to greet us and start conversation. They also will give sweets to the guests who come by.

The sweets consisted of hand made treat bags which contained a dough like sugar cookie dough and perhaps some pieces of fruit. Nothing fancy and nothing store bought.

You know this was one of the best holiday celebrations I have ever witnessed. It combined aspects of Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas and Independence day all in one. With the exception of the local cell phone company lighting up a block or two with posters in the background there was no commercialism and the spirit of friendship was abundant.

I wish there were more holidays like this one. It was beautiful, peaceful, and left everyone I saw that night with a huge smile. Perhaps because they didn't have a ton of new credit card debt.