Tag Archives: Afro-Caribbean

The Notting Hill Carnival on stamps

The Notting Hill Carnival takes place this Sunday and Monday in West London. Carnival was originally staged in 1959 as a response to the state of race relations in Britain at that time. A decade earlier immigrants from the Caribbean began to arrive in large numbers to fill post-war labour shortages, but this caused resentment amongst some white Britons. Throughout the 1950s white racists and West Indian immigrants clashed, with riots taking place in Notting Hill for four days and nights during the Bank Holiday weekend in 1958.

Four stamps issued in 1998 commemorating the Notting Hill Carnival

Four stamps issued in 1998 commemorating the Notting Hill Carnival

Claudia Jones appeared on a stamp as part of the Women of Distinction issue, 2008

Claudia Jones appeared on a stamp as part of the Women of Distinction issue, 2008

In response, Claudia Jones, a Trindad-born, New York-raised black activist and political campaigner, decided to organise a festival through which white and black Britons could understand each other’s cultures. Originally called Mardi Gras and staged in St Pancras Town Hall, the event moved to the streets of Notting Hill in 1964.

Carnival showcases the music and performance culture of the Caribbean, and in particular that of Trinidad & Tobago. Local African-Caribbean groups form carnival bands and play mas (or masquerade) through the streets of Notting Hill, accompanied by music.

Special First Day of Issue Postmarks which accompanied the Notting Hill Carnival stamps. They show Djembe drums and a Steel drum

Special First Day of Issue Postmarks which accompanied the Notting Hill Carnival stamps. They show Djembe drums and a Steel drum

According to the website of Fox Carnival Band, mas is a performance tradition which dates from the time of slavery:

For the six weeks of the European Carnival, slaves were permitted to dress up and play musical instruments – and they developed clever ways to satirize both their condition and its perpetrators.

Because of this history, the mas is flavoured by memories and traditions from Africa. But it also incorporates elements from Western celebrations, such as Christmas, that African slaves encountered. When East Indians were brought to Trinidad as indentured labourers, they too imported their own cultural ingredients.

The sources for our modern mas have come from all over the world! Therefore, playing mas involves different kinds of celebration. Historically, it commemorates the liberation from slavery. Today it celebrates our multi-racial, multi-cultural world. Playing mas also honours both teamwork and self-expression.

To play mas, bands of people don costumes or paint their bodies. They dance in the streets to the musics of calypso, soca, reggae and sound systems. The biggest mas bands offer lavish presentations, each of which revolves around a chosen theme. A mas may celebrate heroic feats from history, offer satire or make political commentary. Or it may simply try to be the most beautiful.

Trinidad Carnival Dancers on a stamp issued to commemorate the Commonwealth Arts Festival, 1965. (Designers: David Gentleman and Rosalind Dease)

Trinidad Carnival Dancers on a stamp issued to commemorate the Commonwealth Arts Festival, 1965. (Designers: David Gentleman and Rosalind Dease)

Claudia Jones died in 1964 but her work in creating greater understanding between native and immigrant cultures in Britain was a resounding success. Carnival is now one of the biggest events held in Europe, attracting more than a million visitors each year.

Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world

The first event on the London 2010: Festival of Stamps calendar opens today at the Museum of London Docklands. This new display can be found in the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery, and looks at how the abolition of slavery has been commemorated through postage stamps from the 1930s onwards.

A 1963 US stamp depicting a broken chain and the words "Emacipation Proclamation", produced to celebrate 100 years since the abolition of slavery.

1963 US stamp celebrating the abolition of slavery

Post Abolition is created in partnership with the Sands of Time Consultancy. It features over 30 designs, together with new stamps created by students from Barnet College as part of a community project with the Museum.  Key stamps in the display include a 1965 Jamaican stamp marking Paul Bogle and the Morant Bay uprising. Also featured are the ‘Black Heritage’ series of stamps launched in 1978 by the US Postal Service featuring Harriet Tubman, known as the Moses of her people for helping men and women escape from the American slave states.

Tom Wareham, Curator at the Museum of London Docklands, said: “The great thing about these stamps is that they are not just miniature works of art, they also convey what the abolition of slavery has come to mean to people in different parts of the world. This display highlights the subtle messages and symbolism often contained within the designs.”

Nigel Sadler from the Sands of Time Consultancy said: “These stamps feature people who fought for freedom, rebellion leaders who died for independence together with iconic images of emancipation and life on the plantations. Stamps providing a history of slavery and its abolition commemoration are a rare sight in museum exhibitions. Sands of Time Consultancy is pleased to have been able to support the Museum of London Docklands with this display to coincide with London 2010: Festival of Stamps.”

The exhibition runs from 18 January – 30 June 2010. There are also a number of related events taking place. For more details on opening times and how to get there, please visit the Museum of London Docklands website.