Tag Archives: West Indies

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.

A visit to Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world

by Jennifer Flippance, 2010 Exhibitions & Project Manager 

The exterior of the Museum of London Docklands, a former dock side warehouse completed in 1802.

External view of the Museum of London Docklands

Earlier this week I visited the Museum of London Docklands to see their new exhibition, Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world. This is the first exhibition to open this year as part of the London 2010: Festival of Stamps.

The Museum is located in a former warehouse in West India Quay. Completed in 1802, West India Quay was the largest dock complex in the world, through which most of the nation’s sugar was imported. The sugar was produced on slave farms in the West Indies and the museum devotes an entire gallery – the London, Sugar and Slavery Gallery – to examining the transatlantic slave trade.

Visitors viewing the display Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world at Museum of London Docklands

Visitors viewing the display

It is in this gallery that you can see the new temporary display, Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world, until 30 June 2010. The display explores how the abolition of slavery has been commemorated through the everyday postage stamp.

It’s a fascinating look at the different approaches taken by different countries and how these have changed over time, since Sierra Leone issued the first stamp to commemorate the abolition of slavery in 1933.

Four drawings by students show scenes of slavery and slave ships, as well designs for commemorating Freedom From Slavery

Drawings by Barnet College students

I enjoyed finding out more about some of the differences in the images and symbols used on stamps that were issued by former slave colonies as opposed to countries like Britain and America. It was also interesting to see how, while these stamps have often depicted those involved with bringing about the end of slavery, more recently there is a shift from showing the public figures involved (like Abraham Lincoln) to those who struggled personally to end enslavement, like Toussaint Louverture, the Haitian revolutionary.

The final section contained designs by students at Barnet College, developing their own ideas about how abolition should be commemorated on stamps.

The Museum of Docklands and this display are well worth a visit. There are also two free talks about the collection, details of which are on the London 2010: Festival of Stamps website.

Three of the people who helped make the exhibition happen:  (left to right) Tom Wareham, Curator of Maritime and Community History, Nigel Sadler, Sands of Time Consultancy who loaned the stamps in the exhibition, Lucie Fitton, Inclusion Officer, Museum of London.

Three of the people who helped make the exhibition happen: (left to right) Tom Wareham, Curator of Maritime and Community History, Nigel Sadler, Sands of Time Consultancy who loaned the stamps in the exhibition, Lucie Fitton, Inclusion Officer, Museum of London.