The History and Evolution of Carifesta

Carifesta is for and about the people of this region; the ‘folk’ who remain the foundation and the driving forces of our collective nations. These are the unsung ones, who remember the solid values, the respect, the honesty and the simplicity. They make it their purpose, their raison d’etre to behave as true elders do, and bestow their knowledge and experience on the younger ones. As such, every time this region holds a Carifesta it is deepening its commitment to its people and reaffirming its understanding of the value and power of our collective cultures.

The Carifesta celebrations which we are about to enjoy, first took place in this post-independence format in Guyana in 1972. However, the very first celebration of Caribbean Arts had taken place twenty years prior in Puerto Rico in 1952. Only Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica were represented from among the then British Caribbean Colonies. The possibility of a regional federation in the late 50’s, spawned another festival hosted by the University of the West Indies, Trinidad campus. Unfortunately, the non-starter Federation project also meant the demise of any region-wide idea of cultural sharing. The celebrations which were held to commemorate the independence and republic status of Guyana between the latter part of the 1960s into the early ‘70s, led to a great deal of discussion among the artistes who were involved. Critical to this discussion were two of the region’s most senior artists, novelist George Lamming and acclaimed Guyanese poet, Martin Carter. The then Guyanese Prime Minister Forbes Burnham supported the idea of a new Caribbean Arts Festival and offered to host the event; and so, Carifesta as we know it, was born.

That first Carifesta in Guyana lasted for three weeks. The next Carifesta was held in Jamaica in 1976 and lasted eleven days, while the third took place in Cuba in 1979 and lasted for two weeks. Carifesta was not held for eleven years after this, though it resumed in Barbados in 1981. Since then the festival has been held fairly regularly.


It is important to understand that though we look forward to the ‘celebration’ of ourselves, this regular coming together of well established and up-and-coming artistes and performers of the Caribbean is important for our own development as a regional force and presence. It is indeed unfortunate that we remain so isolated from each other, and are still strangers in our own archipelago. These cultural interminglings and exchanges are meant to break down some of the knowledge and information barriers and open us up to ourselves.

The two Carifestas held in Trinidad and Tobago have widely been acknowledged as two of the most exciting. In fact, the concept of the Community Festival began out of the T&T experience, marshalled by the ultimate community activist, John Cupid. These Carifesta ‘generalled’ by Lester Efebo Wilkinson and Alfred Aguiton were ably assisted by the insights of Earl Lovelace and the hard work of people such as Janet Stanley Marcano, Eric Butler, Clarence Moe and a host of cultural workers and ambassadors.

The artistry of Carifesta is further supported by the Symposia which take place as part of the celebrations. Indeed it is in Trinidad and Tobago that Symposia became the central force in “introducing new topics, perspectives and outlining strategies for the future”, to quote former Symposia Director, Poet Laureate of Port of Spain, Eintou Pearl Springer. She further describes the symposia component as ‘the intellectual womb, creative crucible, catalyst for vision’.

These fora for discussion and recommendations have been led by some of the most significant minds in the region – Professor Kamau Braithwaite of Barbados, Ravi Dev of Guyana, Dr. Maureen Warner-Lewis of Trinidad and Tobago, George Lamming, world renowned Caribbean author and intellectual, Dr. Joseph Palacio of the Garifuna people of Belize and Professor Rex Nettleford, founder of the Jamaican Dance Company – to name a few.

For Carifesta 2006, the youth component of Carifesta will include Symposia as well, incorporating such topics of regional interest and concern as HIV/AIDS, cultural identity and preservation of indigenous traditions. For the first time too, school children will play an active role in the continued evolution of the festival, important for deepening the experience and relevance of Carifesta.

At this stage in the evolution of the Caribbean, the pressures of existing in the global economic system, increasing demands on the average family and heads of households and the need to keep the region viable amidst all its challenges, make it even more difficult for Caribbean people to articulate a common vision

Carifesta affords us with an opportunity to not just look at ourselves, but create another level of development that is set apart from the political directorates of the region. The words of Carol Lawes in the last century are still apt:
“We must use the impetus of Carifesta to form the basis of regional organisations of dancers, of theatre artists, of visual artist, to provide support for each other in a consistent manner … and encourage young people to develop their talents and foster their own sense of “Caribbeanness”.

The truth is, we already know what needs to be done. The test will come in whether we can actually make the vision come to fruition.
Objectives of Carifesta

  1. Reaffirm the importance of the arts as a unifying force in building a wholesome society
  2. Deepen awareness and knowledge among peoples of the Caribbean Region of the cultural  aspirations of their neighbours by exposing them to each other’s culture through creative activity
  3. Develop the content of our regional culture as well as its aesthetic forms
  4. Foster maximum people participation in the culture and in the arts of the region
  5. Inspire organisation of on-going activities such as local festivals, thus constantly improving standards

Courtesy Carifesta Trinidad and Tobago Committee
Dara Healy (


I     - The Artist in Society with Special Reference to the Third World
II    - A Hallmark of Cultural Extravagance
III   - A Rainbow of Peoples Under One Caribbean Sun
IV   - Living Images of the Sun
V    - Together is Strength
VI   - The World’s Best Cultural Mix
VII  - Caribbean Arts and Culture…Reflecting, Consolidating, Moving On
VIII - Many Cultures: The Essence of Togetherness of;The Spirit of the Caribbean.
IX   - Celebrating our People, Contesting the World Stage

Carifesta I


Aug 25 - Sept 15


Carifesta II


July 23 - Aug 2


Carifesta III




Carifesta IV


July 19 - Aug 3


Carifesta V


Aug 22 - 28

Trinidad and Tobago

Carifesta VI



Trinidad and Tobago

Carifesta VII


August 17 -26

St Kitts and Nevis

Carifesta  VIII


August 25 – 30


Carifesta IX


 September 22 – Oct 1

Trinidad and Tobago

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The origin of CARIFESTA '72, the Caribbean Festival of Creative Arts held in Guyana from August 25 to September 15 lies in history. Two successive Conferences of outstanding Caribbean Writers and Artists in 1966 and 1970 recommended to then Prime Minister of Guyana, Hon LFS Burnham that they would welcome the invitation to an annual Festival of the Arts.
Prime Minister Burnham had related his vision of a cultural mecca for the Region's people. It was a vision of peoples with roots deep in Asia, Europe and Africa coming together to share, to perform their art forms. The dream embraced the literature inspired by our peculiar Caribbean temperament, paintings inspired by our tropical jungles and art visualising our forefathers in the distant past.

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More than a thousand creative artists drawn from the peoples of more than 30 Caribbean and Latin American countries displayed the creative activity of music, dance, drama, folk art, painting, sculpture, photography and literature. Thousands of visitors were attracted by the art forms of the peoples of the wider Caribbean and reveled in the cultural cosmos of lore and legend mixed with the gay spontaneity of the Caribbean and Latin America peoples.
The programme included the folk chants and movements of the Conjunto Nacional of Cuba, the exotic Ibo dancers from Haiti and the sophisticated National Dance Company of Jamaica.
Masquerade bands and Steel bands from participating countries led the masses in Caribbean style through the streets of the capital of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana. Participants also included the colorful of Djuka and the Javanese from Suriname, and the unique Rastafarian folk artists from Jamaica.
Guyana, the host country, spared no resource and energy and achieved a Festival of unprecedented standard.

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The song "Welcome to CARIFESTA", composed and sung by popular Guyanese calypsonian Malcolm Corrica (Lord Canary) was chosen as the CARIFESTA theme song.

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The CARIFESTA '72 Stamp, was designed by Guyanese artist George Bowen, and was released on the first day of CARIFESTA.
Persons interested in the collection of philatelic souvenirs were able to buy first day covers in eight, twenty-five, forty and fifty cents denominations from August 25, CARIFESTA's opening day.
The CARIFESTA symbol, main feature of the design of the new stamp, was created by Billy Ryan Enterprises, an Antigua based advertising agency.

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Visiting guests and artists were accommodated at Festival City - 250 houses constructed out of Guyana's world renowned Greenheart timber - in North Ruimveldt, Georgetown.
The houses were furnished with Nibbee living room suites woven by Guyana's Amerindians. The entire decor is local, making use of Guyana's woods, her flowers, etc.
Festival City had its own Bank and Post Office, Resident Doctor and nurses on duty, Police Station, Fire Service, Laundry, restaurants, shops and a transportation pool.

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Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, St.Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Surinam, U.S. Virgin Islands, Venezuela.

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The World Stage
Over 20 countries from the Caribbean participated in the festival showcasing their unique music, dance and dance forms, food, art and craft, fashion and literature.
The Guyana contingent amazed the Carifesta audience with folklore presentations which include the Massacuraman and the Bush Dai Dai of Guyana’s hinterland regions, the Baccoo, the Ol’ Higue, the Moon-gazer and Mother Sally.
            Guyana’s recent commitment to host the popular event follows a decision by the new Administration of The Bahamas not to host the festival because it was not prepared. The Bahamas will however, host the event in 2012. On July 31, officials from the Secretariat briefed Head of State President Bharrat Jagdeo, on Guyana’s hosting of the event.

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The Caribbean Festival of Creative Arts (CARIFESTA) was conceived out of an appeal from a regional gathering of artists who were at the time participating in a Writers and Artists Convention in Georgetown, Guyana in 1970 and which coincided with Guyana’s move to Republican Status.

The three main considerations with regard to the staging of CARIFESTA were:

  • the Festival should be inspirational and should provide artists with the opportunity
  • to discuss among themselves techniques and motivations
  • it should be educational in that the people of the Caribbean would be exposed to the values emerging from the various art forms
  • and it should relate to people and be entertaining on a scale and in a fashion that would commend itself to the Caribbean people

The regional creative festival was first held in Georgetown, Guyana in 1972, attracting creative artistes from over 30 Caribbean and Latin American countries.

It is a celebration of the ethnic and racial diversity which separately and collectively created cultural expressions that are wonderfully unique to the Caribbean.

The cultural village life of CARIFESTA is intended to be a mixture of the States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM); the wider Caribbean, Latin America; and a representation of Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.

It is a vision of the peoples with roots deep in Asia, Europe and Africa, coming together to preform their art forms and embracing literature inspired by the Caribbean’s own peculiar temperament; paintings drawn from the awe inspiring tropical ecology; and the visionary inheritance of our forefathers

The symbol of the first CARIFESTA was a dark hand rising grasping the sun, depicting the skills and aspirations of the tropical man with talent untold

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CARIFESTA aims to:

  • depict the life of the people of the Region, their heroes, morale, myth, traditions, beliefs, creativeness, and ways of expression
  • show the similarities and differences of the people of the Caribbean generally
  • create a climate in which art can flourish so that artists would be encouraged to return to their homeland; and
  • awaken a regional identity in Literature

Ten years later, the occasion of CARIFESTA V which was held in Trinidad and Tobago in 1992 was a watershed event in the development and promotion of the arts and culture in the Region.

This exposition took on a new focus with linkages to the overall national programmes for the development of the arts and culture to ensure the complete harmonisation of objectives and effectiveness across the Region.

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CARIFESTA has so far been staged nine times:















Trinidad and Tobago



Trinidad and Tobago



St. Kitts and Nevis







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More on Carifesta

CARIFESTA is a three week exposition of art in all its forms - music, dance, drama, sculpture, painting, literature, craft, photography, folk art - from 31 Caribbean and Latin American countries.

It’s varied programme will include exhibitions, displays, demonstrations, concerts, recitals, discussions, pageantry, plays, an amusement park, and a youth village.

CARIFESTA will extend from August 25 to September 15.

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The song "Welcome to CARIFESTA", composed and sung by popular Guyanese calypsonian Malcolm Corrica (Lord Canary) has been chosen as the CARIFESTA Theme Song.


Welcome to CARIFESTA '72
Oh what a great cultural break-through
The whole Caribbean territory,
South and Central America will be
Getting together and taking part
In this Festival of Creative Arts
Where Drama, concerts, folk groups and dance
Art and literature will be in


CARIFESTA I'm inviting you
To twenty-two days of education,
frolic and un,
CARIFESTA it's a big to-do
We welcome you to CARIFESTA '72

The dark hand rising grasping the sun,
Depicts the skills and aspirations of
the tropical man with talent untold.
All of this CARIFESTA will unfold,
The children pageant, the children
art exhibition
Will sure please your heart.
So book your passage B.W.I.A.
For CARIFESTA '72 right away.

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DRAMA: This varies from elaborate musical productions like Antigua's Ballade Antigua to the realism of Trinidad's Tragi-comedy Rose Slip. Comedy, fantasy, ritual, history, folk plays and legend are all on stage during the three weeks of CARIFESTA.

MUSIC : Concerts, recitals and musical shows provide tantalising folk rhythms, soul searching jazz, as well as pop, classics and ballet. There will be Indian tablas, African drums, Caribbean steel pans, piano, violin, flute and guitar - in other words, music for every taste, including the Madrigalistas de Aragua of Venezuela.

ART: Exhibitions of sculpture, graphics, paintings, drawings, and photographs are a visual testimony of each country's art forms. Guyanese artists will mount several one-man exhibitions - among them Philip Moor, who is at present Artist-in-Residence at Princeton University, U.S.A.

LITERATURE: An Anthology of New Writing in the Caribbean area is being prepared for CARIFESTA. There will also be poetry recitals and lecture discussions at the University of Guyana and at the Carnegie Free Library.

FOLKLORE: Groups from over a dozen countries reveal the colour and the mystery of Caribbean and Latin American folklore and legend, among them the Conjuncto Folklorico Nacionale of Cuba, Shango Dancers from Trinidad, Shac Shac musicians from Dominica.

CRAFTS: Among the unusual events at CARIFESTA will be live domonstrations on ceramics, wood carving, painting and drawing.

DANCE: This part of the programme is all embracing - it covers courtly Javanese dancing, intricate ballet steps, earthy folk plays, dramatic modern choreography, classical Indian movements, spontaneous improvisations and pop. The Viva Bahia Dancers of Brazil will give several performances.

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