Urban life - Darcus Howe joins an orgy in the Caribbean

Citizens of all classes and shapes are involved in the national orgy that is Carnival

It is Shrove Tuesday. I am relaxing on a balcony, enjoying the enchanting view over Maracas Bay on the north coast of Trinidad. Half an hour away the capital city, Port of Spain, is in a fever of bacchanalian activity.

Citizens of all classes, sizes and shapes are involved in the national orgy that is Carnival. Every crime, every sin known to man, is the order of the day. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday: the dead and wounded will be counted; thousands of Christians will trek to church to chant prayers of contrition; I, for my part, will resume filming a documentary for Channel 4 (entitled Is This My Country?).

The idea has been much explored in this column, as a debate about Britishness and/or Englishness. And I suffer discomfort every time the issue is raised, because it deals almost entirely in the subjective. It is more a matter of instincts, never about nationality.

In the course of filming, I returned to the village where I spent my childhood, sat in the classroom where I learned to read and write. My father and mother taught there. The Anglican church, where I served at the altar, and our home nestle side by side. The landscape has changed little. Suddenly I blurted out to the interviewer that I am unquestionably Caribbean.

The Guaracara River, which rolled west a few yards away, hummed with satisfaction. The birds and the bees chorused in approbation. A long journey from Africa to the West Indies was ending.

Unfortunately, or perhaps not, there is no nation named the Caribbean, no passport to flash at immigration officers, no flag to raise, no anthem to sing. But we exist. And my saying I am Caribbean does not make me disloyal to the unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom. The opposite is true. I will return to England more at ease with myself than I have been in the past 44 years.

So, now that I have made my statement, I am off to join the heaving mass of sinners until Ash Wednesday begins.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 06 March 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Where did it all go wrong?