Tobago's
Heritage Festival

It occurs the last 2 weeks of July.

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Sometimes the only authentic glimpses of Caribbean culture that visitors see is at folkloric shows, on market day and through the music played on the radio.

Tobago is an exception, where for 2 weeks beginning in the middle of July the island celebrates its strongly held heritage through drama, oral traditions and song and dance.

Although tourists are more than welcome to attend the series of themed productions, the annual Heritage Festival is for the benefit of locals and not for the entertainment of outsiders.

First celebrated in 1987, the Heritage Festival is intended to ensure the continuity of the island's varied cultural traditions that were shaped by African, Amerindian and European influences.

More so than on most islands, Tobago 's heritage remains deeply rooted thanks to the island's relative isolation and its tight-knitted sense of community. Its strong village orientation is best reflected by how the Heritage Festival is staged: events are held in a different village every day.

The festival covers everything from cradle to the grave. For instance, the Heritage Village of Bethel presents the Rites of Passage that looks at the traditions associated with birth while the village of Whim usually bases its production on the Wake and Bongo, the wakes held at the home of a dead one.

Not all the presentations are as serious. Patience Hill features a Festival of Dance with colorful costumes, while Golden Lane village showcases the courting approaches used many years ago where the suitor had to prove his manhood by chopping a huge section of tree trunk into firewood.

At Les Coteaux the village typically explores the myths and folk tales of Tobago. One year's production was about a woman who used unnatural powers to keep her husband under her bed.

Probably the most popular reenactments is the Old Time Wedding at Moriah village where more than a hundred participants dress in 18th and 19th century finery to recreate the weddings of a century ago. The men wear black stovepipe hats, black and white three-piece suits, bow ties, white gloves and carry an umbrella to shade their female partners.

The women are just as gussied up in bustle dresses, wide-brimmed hats with flowers and as much jewelry as they can wear. This event is designed to show the European influences on Tobaqonians.

It's a light-hearted event as the bride and groom are heckled throughout the ceremony, sometimes by a pregnant ex-girlfriend and sometimes by the jilted girl's whole family.

Despite the interruptions the couple always gets wedded and afterwards everyone files out of the church to “walk in de wedding” by dancing the “Brush Back” in the streets to the sounds of fiddles and tambrins. Food, speeches, dancing and cultural entertainment at the wedding reception round out the afternoon.

Spectators and their cameras are welcome everywhere. In fact, it wouldn't be considered much of a party unless they showed up, as hundreds of them always do.

As every festival should, this one ends with a bang, the Ole Time Carnival that pulsates with sounds of pan (steelbands) and tamboo bamboo as revelers dance until dawn while masquerading as sailors, robbers, devils and more. Everyone is invited to participate in J'ouvert

For complete information about this year's Heritage Festival schedule and where the events will be held, contact Trinidad and Tobago tourism at 888-595-4TNT or visit  the official website: www.visittnt.com .

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