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Midnight Robber Jabs at Trinidadian Independence
“Mocking pretenders beware!” declares the NGC Bocas Literary Festival schedule. It is the segment marking the Midnight Robber Showdown. The figure of the Midnight Robber is one of the indigenous offerings of Trinidad and Tobago, and for the afternoon of Friday, April 27, they take over the Abercrombie Street Arcade, just outside the National Library of Trinidad and Tobago home to the festival.
Though it is a long established part of Trinidad Carnival, the Midnight Robber is more a creature of theatre than music and dance. A Midnight Robber is equipped in verbosity and braggadocio, also known as Robber Talk. Words are his tools and he uses them to slash at his competitors, the audience and most importantly the society.
Robber Talk shares much in common with other Caribbean forms which celebrate lyrical dexterity from Tea Meetings to Pecong, Calypso and even Dancehall. Like the speaker in a Tea Meeting, The Midnight Robber uses mainly multiple syllabic words as a part of establishing himself as superior to all those around him, but unlike the former, he doesn’t rely on Malapropism.
The Midnight Robber figure was well placed at the Bocas Lit Fest which declares itself a festival of word and ideas. Additionally, several of the discussions and even some readings focused on exploring Trinidadian and West Indian identity during the Jubilee year for Trinidad and Jamaica.
Garbed in elaborate costumes featuring sequins, wide-brimmed hats, skulls, furry animals and even a cape bearing the faces of numerous heroes including Jamaica’s national heroes Sam Sharpe and Nanny, Kurits Gross, Fedon Honoré, Johnny Stolimeyer and Bill Trotman regaled the audience with their performance.
Behind their masks and the grandiose speech is a discussion about Trinidad 50 years after independence. Each of the five robbers declare themselves the true robber of independence. “I’m the Crime Minister of Independence,” declared one. They poked at issues from waste of public funds to the Americanization of Trinidadian food culture.
Usually a solitary creature, the Midnight Robbers declared that for the first time they may have to seek unity to overcome the ills of the society. “For once Robbers will have to act collectively, cause we cannot withstand them independently,” they declared.
The Midnight Robber Showdown was another of the elements which allowed The Bocas Lit Fest to achieve success on multiple levels. The festival, which ended its second staging on Sunday April 29, was admirably marked by diversity providing four days of readings, performances, discussions, awards and films.