Trinidad Hosay (or Hussain)

Celebrating an Old World festival in the New World...


Complementary East Indian paper windmill souvenir

Hosay is a mesmerizing festival, especially for children, photographers, and those with a passion for history and a love of the exotic. And the kids especially will love to take home an authentic East Indian paper windmill as a souvenir. But...

The Hosay, or Hussain, parade in St. James, Trinidad Hussain and Hassan 

This is not carnival...
Hosay is a deeply religious celebration, and those who spend their nights in prayer and fasting before the street parade on Karbala Day, take turns dancing the heavy half-moons standards, which represent the martyred brothers Hussain and Hassan, through the streets in stockinged feet.

The Hosay, or Hussain, parade begins in St. James, Trinidad St. James to St. Clair 

When you stand in the crowd watching the tadjahs make their way through St. James, as the parade begins its traditional journey through what was once St. Clair Sugar Estate – now an upscale neighborhood of Port-of-Spain and home to many consulates, you can't help be awed by the multi-ethnic diversity of this melting pot of cultures that is Trinidad.

For, while every color, creed and race is represented in the crowd's faces, Hosay is a Shiite Muslim festival, first celebrated in Trinidad in 1854. That's just 11 years after the first East Indian indentured laborers, many of whom migrated from Lucknow - the center of Shiite culture in India, set foot in Trinidad.

Children on Tassa drums at the Hosay parade in St. James, Trinidad History of Hosay 

The celebration has changed little from its early days in Trinidad.

Yes, the size of tadjahs have been reduced somewhat due to the need to contend with overhead phone and electrical cables, for in the past the tadjahs were both incredibly tall and intricately decorated, sometimes towering 30 feet into the air.

One of the colorful tahjahs at Trinidad Hosay in St. JamesBut you can still stand by the roadside and immerse yourself in the symbolism, religious pageantry an age-old East Indian rhythm, just as you might have done in the 1940s.

And, while not as common these days, drum-skins are still tightened over kindling fires at the sides of the road. But one thing has changed, or so we've been told, in the early days mock stick fights representing the Battle of Kerbala accompanied the hoseys, but these are long gone now, and all the passion goes into the drums.

Trinidad Hosay,tadjahs with drummers in St. Clair Hoasy in Trinidad 

There are 5 distinct and separate public events stretched over a like number of days.

The first is Flag Night, when representatives from each Hosay yard parade through the streets of St. James, with flags and drums similar to those used in war during the 600s when the Prophet Muhammad's 2 grandsons were martyred.

Trinidad Hosay, tassa and dhole drums carry the beat 5 Public Events 

The following nights procession is called Little Hosay, and it is when small replicas of the tombs of the 2 martyrs are paraded through St. James.

On the third night, Big Hosay Night, the full size tadjahs are brought into public view for the first time, and are paraded along with the half moon standards, to the accompaniment of drums.

The very next day is Aashura or Kerbala Day, when the all day street procession takes place. Then 3 evenings later, on Teejah Day, the tadjahs are taken down to the sea at Cocorite and destroyed. There is also a second smaller Hosay in Cedros, South Trinidad.

Trinidad Hosay Parade moving through St. Clair What a Privilege! 

On our last trip to Trinidad, a wonderful old friend whom we'd been buying Roti from for years invited us into her back yard where the tahjahs were being built, and drummers practiced.

This was a great privileged. You see there are traditionally only 6 tadjahs built in St. James; 4 by different Shiite communities and 2 by prominent families, and it was to one of these last that we had been invited to see.

Traditional East Indian paper windmill souvenirs being sold to eager children at Trinidad HosayThe detail on the tadjah was what we had come to expect from local artisans, son learning from father in an ancient tradition, but it was the driving beat of the Hosay drums that fascinated: the booming dholes or base drums, the staccato tassas driving the rhythm, and the small ringing cymbals or ghangs that punctuate the beat. It is an ancient rhythm, reported to be over 1400 years old.

 Tremendous Trinidad and Tobago 

This is one of the festivals that makes Trinidad so unique, and adds to the duality that is Trinidad and Tobago. Don't miss the parade if it's on when you are in town, and if you want to know when you should be in town, check these Festival Dates. Just remember one thing: the parade route gets increasingly more crowded after 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

But even if you miss the parade you are likely to hear Tassa during Trinidad Carnival, because it is a beat that is becoming increasingly popular during that festive season.
Authentic and colorful East Indian paper windmill

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