The Story of Montserrat's Calabash Festival

Plans for the first Montserrat Calabash Festival commenced in 2005. The idea was the brain child of local businesswoman, Florence Griffith Joseph and was brought to life with assistance from volunteers in the Montserrat Hospitality Association. As a result, the first celebration of the Montserrat Calabash Festival took place in July 2006. This year will mark our 8th Montserrat Calabash Festival which is scheduled to occur during the week of July 14 – 21, 2013, under the theme: Embracing our African Heritage. Our main sponsors are the Government of Montserrat, the Montserrat Tourist Board, The Royal Bank of Canada, The Bank of Montserrat, and several local businesses in Montserrat.

As an aid to our redevelopment following the volcanic destruction of our main town, we thought that we needed a new festival during the summer months. We presently have only two major festivals, one in December and the other in March. Having a festival during summer, meant we would be attracting new and returning visitors to experience our unique little island. Increased tourism is one of our goals.

Naming the festival was spiritual. The name evoked several emotions. The calabash is historically very meaningful in our community dating back hundreds of years. It has been quite multifunctional and economically significant. Very much like our people, the calabash is a symbol of strength, versatility and resilience.

Each year the festival is held during the 3rd week of July, which also commemorates the anniversary of our Soufriere Hills Volcano that became active on July 18th, 1995. Coupled with remembering July 18th, the summer festival provides an ideal opportunity for everyone to join in thanksgiving for our blessings, to experience enthusiastic, fun, cultural and interactive activities that showcase who we are as a people.

A central point of the festival is the feature of the products of the calabash fruit as a cottage industry. We have produced an array of beautiful calabash products, which are artistically carved and decorated for use in a variety of ways. Some such items consist of hand bags, hanging baskets, masks, decorative art objects, musical instruments, key rings, refrigerator magnets, lamp shades, bowls, jewellery and clothing accessories such as buttons and appliqués.

This initiative seeks to promote our local crafts industry by producing various products made from and/or incorporating the calabash fruit. For example, we held a unique fashion show in 2009 where designers skilfully and artistically incorporated the calabash within their clothing pieces, many of which were later sold after the show. The activity was intended to promote the talents of our local and creative designers.

Every year we seek to involve as many different segments of the population as possible. We aim to provide something to please everyone and so for the academics and politically minded there is the ever popular George Irish Lecture series. Dr. Irish was the first local Tutor to head the Extra Mural Department of the University of the West Indies on Montserrat. He was also involved in several community activities. He was the founder of the popular Emerald Community Singers, The Montserrat Theatre Group, the President of The Montserrat Allied Workers Union and had many other involvements. We chose to honour him by naming this lecture series in his honour.

Over the years we have introduced and incorporated new ideas into our schedule of activities, which have been met with a great deal of zeal and participation by the public. In 2009 we introduced two new events, a Gospel concert and an 11/11 Cricket fun day. The Gospel Concert was specially put on the calendar for the Christian community to be able to enjoy more of the activities of the festival. The concert attracts many different groups, choirs and individuals to share their talents, to worship and give thanks to God. One of our volunteers, Lincoln Joseph along with Basil Morgan, Jeff Layne and other members of the community, started a new game of cricket called 11/11 with rather fun and unique rules. These rules require that each player bowls one over. Sixes are easily scored as the field is shorter and so the game moves faster as each inning is timed to 35 minutes. Spectators and participants alike all enjoy the game. We have also introduced events specifically tailored towards our young Montserratians. A Calahoopers dance group taught by Ms. Yvonne Getfield, was specially formed for the Montserrat Calabash Festival. Ms. Getfield taught young persons to dance and entertain audiences with the hula hoop. They have since performed and delighted audiences around Montserrat. Unfortunately this activity is not on the calendar this year.

What is a festival without food? On the Friday of the festival we hold a grand Food Fair featuring food from around the Caribbean including vegetarian meals and our own national dish, Goat Water, which is a flavourful stew served with bread rolls. In addition, other traditional and not so frequently prepared dishes like duconoo/duckna, bakes, salt fish and ground provision, locally raised/free-range chickens called yard-fowl, ginger sticks, potato pudding, various local fruit juices and lots more may be found at the food fair. Everyone looks forward to the wide variety of foods from around the region including Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica and Barbados.

The Montserrat Calabash Festival showcases our rich music through concerts and guest appearances of our masquerades, string band musicians, steel pan bands and other local artistes/musicians. We started a jazz event over the years and brought in world renowned Paul Lunga, African King of Jazz for two years to entertain us. In 2011 we introduced a Music Fest By the Bay event, with hopes of attracting jazz and other musicians from around the region who are willing to help promote Montserrat and to make this a memorable event for all who are fortunate to witness this celebration of musical culture. Last year the crowd and vibrations were fantastic and we see this event growing ever larger this year.

A dedicated committee of seven members currently organize the festival. They are Aldean Moore Williams, Eudora Osborne, Rose Willock, Merle Galloway, Vereen Thomas Woolcock, Pat Ryan and Florence Griffith Joseph. Most of these members have been organizing the festival from its inception, along with several volunteers from within the community and Veta Wade and Cupid Francis from The Department of Culture.

Ferry Service:

Many visitors are expected to arrive on the ferry especially for the weekend, which operates from the new ferry terminal near Heritage Key in St. Johns, Antigua. No advance ticketing is required, as travellers can purchase their tickets upon check-in. However, to facilitate ticketing, check-in and other clearances at the point of sale at the ports, passengers are asked to check-in 90 minutes in advance before the scheduled time for departure.

Each passenger is allowed 2 pieces of baggage free and any additional baggage is charged per piece. For further information on the service contact Mr. Roosevelt Jemmotte at 664 496 9912 in Montserrat or Jennifer Burke in Antigua at 268 778 9786.

For any other information for the Calabash Festival please check the website www.visitmontserrat.com or contact Florence Griffith Joseph at flogriff@candw.ms, Telephone 664-492-1743.

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