Temperate countries have seasons of winter, spring, summer and autumn, driven by the weather. Very often we hear that tropical countries only have a dry and wet season. Trinidad and Tobago, located in the Caribbean Sea, however has many seasons and they are driven by the major activities in the country. Hence we have the Christmas season, the Carnival season, Lent, the Easter season and Divali season. Each of these seasons has its unique traditions and while the origins of some have become obscured with time, Trinidadians continue to follow the traditions. Easter is such a season in Trinidad in the Caribbean.
A very old tradition that continues to survive is the beating of the Bobolee. The origin of the word “bobolee” has become obscured with time but the actual word is still widely used. A bobolee is an effigy of Judas Iscariot made from old clothes stuffed with rags or dried grass. It is placed in a public place on Good Friday and anyone who passes is welcomed to “beat the bobolee” with sticks, kicks or slaps. The beating originally symbolised retribution for Judas for betraying Christ. With the passage of time the bobolee has also come to symbolise anything that is unpopular whether it is inflation or unpopular politicians. One would think that only children would “beat the bobolee” but adults are often immersed in the fun. The actual word “bobolee” has now become such a part of Trinidad culture that it is used to describe any individual who is taken advantage of by others or who has received a severe beating.
Finding a bobolee on Good Friday was once very easy as they were erected in every community. As time has gone by, it has become more difficult to find a bobolee in the city areas of Trinidad but in country districts you can still see them on Good Friday morning. The ones that are well constructed often surviving the beating and lasting into the evening. In the eastern parts of Trinidad, in the districts of Valencia, Sangre Chiquito and Sangre Grande you will still find bobolees placed at the side of the road. In the area known as the Valencia Stretch, one man has, for several years, faithfully constructed a bobolee every Good Friday and placed it in a chair at the side of the road. This effigy is so well made that as you drive past you often do not realise that it is a bobolee.
Bobolees however are not the only Easter tradition in Trinidad. Another Easter tradition is the flying of kites that is made easier by the strong breezes at this time of year. Kites were traditionally diamond shaped with wooden cross struts being in the shape of a cross and so symbolising the cross on which Jesus died. Their flying in the sky symbolised his ascension into heaven. Nowadays the tradition survives without any religious symbolism even though many have forgotten how to make a kite and most kites are purchased. The attraction is simply because it is good clean fun that can be enjoyed by persons of all ages. There are now several kite flying competitions at Easter.
Traditionally Catholics abstained from eating meat on Friday during Lent. This has now become a tradition that is followed by many of all faiths although some only observe it on Good Friday, when only fish is eaten. Another tradition whose origins have become obscured with time is the eating of ground provisions (yam, cassava, dasheen (taro), eddoes) on Good Friday. Yet another Good Friday tradition is the eating of Hot Cross Buns where the cross is a symbol of the crucifixion.
An old tradition that has more to do with myth than reality is the avoidance of bathing in the sea on Good Friday. In earlier times Trinidadians did not go to the beach on Good Friday. There was the myth that if you went into the sea on Good Friday you would either turn into a fish or you would drown. Why this tradition developed is unknown but now the tradition has died to the extent that only senior citizens avoid the sea on Good Friday.
A relatively new tradition is camping during Easter. With a public holiday on the Friday and another on the Monday, the Easter weekend is commonly called a “long weekend” and Trinidadians flock to the beaches in droves to camp along the shore.
So if you are in Trinidad during Easter go and look for a bobolee to release your tensions and experience the other Easter traditions.