Celebrating Caribbean Culture: 50 Years of Trinidad & Tobago’s Best Village Competition

September 9, 2013

Words by Tishanna Williamsโ€”

La-Reine-Rive-Trinidad-Best-Village

One year after celebrating 50 years of Independence, Trinidad and Tobago is in the midst of commemorating another half century with the 50th Anniversary of the Prime Minister’s Best Village Trophy Competition.

To be involved in the arts in Trinidad and Tobago, and not be in some way exposed to the Best Village Trophy competition is near impossible. Launched in 1963 by T&T’s Ministry of Community Development, this inter-community competition fosters positive relationships among residents throughout the country as they develop their own cultural traditions within village/community groups and cultural organizations. Villagers work together in various capacities and compete against other villages, showcasing cultural, environmental and sporting skills within the context of indigenous traditions. Specific emphasis is placed on the retention of folk art, and the preservation of national history.

The competitive extravaganza generally runs for 10 months out of the year. This year, 180 communities will participate, showcasing their prowess in nine categories: Junior Best Village (non-competitive), Traditions of Carnival, Village Olympics, Handicraft, Clean and Beautify, Food and Folk Fair, La Reine Rive (Beauty Pageant), Folk Presentation (Dance, Drummology, Theatre) and Village Chat (debates on community issues).

Best-Village-Drums
Drummers competing in the Folk Presentation competition

To commemorate the anniversary, this year’s competition will culminate Nov. 30 with “Best of Best Village,” a celebration at the Trinidad Hilton Hotel in Port-of-Spain that will feature not only the winning 2013 contributions, but also the best performances that have been staged at the event over the last 50 years. The event will also honor 20 people who have made their mark historically in the competition.

Since January, groups have been making preliminary presentations of dance, song, drumming and theatre in their local community centres, which are then judged by traveling judges. Finals for the performance competitions are held during the late August/September period, at major performance spaces such as Queen’s Hall, The National Academy of the Performing Arts (South and Port-of-Spain campuses), The Little Carib Theatre and the Queen’s Park Savannah. Attendance fees range between $20TT to $40TT for each event (just over $3 and $6US, respectively), a steal considering one show may feature two theatrical productions or a multitude of musical and dance pieces. Truly, no other event or period in Trinidad & Tobago’s national calendar includes such a vast array of performance as the Best Village Competition.

Although the competition emphasizes cultural performance, sports and environmental categories also play an important role. Program manager Norvan Fullerton noted in an interview that the Village Olympics are a means of using sport to get young people more involved in their communities, encouraging their development in a positive environment. He commented that, “sports competitions bring the young men and women who may not think they are interested in any of the other events into the community centres, where the rest of activities are happening. But while they are there, they may pick up a drum or try a dance class and eventually they are more involved than they expected.”

St-George-West-Village olympics

St. George West, victors of the Village Olympics, pose in their newly cleaned park which was also revamped as their
“Clean and Beautify” entry.

Fullerton adds that the “Clean and Beautify” category, in which prizes are given for Best Block, Best Garden and Best Street Educational Project, encourages communities to keep their areas sparkling year round. These non-performance categories also encourage communities to take an active role in developing their space and those who inhabit it.

Over the years, the competition has produced numerous national icons including soca sensations Machel Montano, Denise Belfon and Neil “Iwer” George, actresses Rhoma and Penelope Spencer, acclaimed author Earl Lovelace and playwright/director extraordinaire Efebo Wilkinson. When it comes to continued interest, Mr. Fullerton is sure the future of Best Village is safe. “When you look at vacation time when Junior Best Village camps are held, we are oversubscribed. A 50-child limit quickly becomes 90,” he confidently states. “There has been an increase in the number of youths joining cultural performance groups as well and that says that the traditions are being passed on.”

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The Junior Best Village competition

So, coming to Trinidad and wish to experience vibrant displays of culture and superb entertainment? Then you need to experience the Prime Minister’s Best Village Trophy Competition. Remaining dates for events are as follows:

24th September – Indigenous Music Showcase
20th October – Parang Festival
30th November – Best of Best Village