Saturday, January 5, 2008

WE CULTURE - Hosay

By Cheryl Nneka U. Hazell


Hosay in Cedros (photo by Pedro Delano - www.lightstalkers.org)

The beat of the tassa drums can be heard coming down the streets in various towns and districts of Trinidad as the observations of Hosay gets underway. This 1300 year-old annual celebration, observed during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar, is held by Muslims in remembrance of the martyrdom of the prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Hussein, from which the creolized word “Hosay” is derived. He had been marching to Baghdad to revenge his brother Hassan’s death when his rivals slew him. East Indian immigrants who were Shiite Muslims brought this piece of their culture with them to Trinidad in 1845 from the north Indian city of Lucknow and the Indian state of Oudh. Hosay was first observed on the island in 1854.

Threatened by scenes of public gatherings, the British colonial authorities outlawed the Hosay commemorations in 1884. Celebrants still took to the streets and while Port of Spain was spared, a shootout occurred in San Fernando in which East Indians were killed or injured. That day is historically referred to as the Muharram Massacre but was called the Hosay Riots in British colonial records. There is no such threat to the culture or the observations today.

For three nights the procession wends through the city streets beginning on Flag Night with hundreds of devotees carrying multi-coloured flags symbolizing the Battle of Kerbala. The next night, small tadjahs, or models of mosques built and decorated by volunteers, are led by the sounds of the tassa - made of clay and covered with goat skin - which can be heard for miles around. On the third night, large spectacular tadjahs standing more than two meters high are paraded through the streets by eager participants while dancers hold aloft two elaborately decorated crescent moons representing the slain brothers.

Over the years, participants have crossed racial and religious boundaries. Hosay celebrations are carried out in Curepe, Tunapuna, Couva and Cedros. On the fourth morning, a simulated battle done in the form of a dance is performed in an open field and afterwards a special prayer is offered up to the memory of the dead. Later in the evening the tadjahs are dismantled and properly disposed of in adherence to environmental-friendly sentiments as opposed to throwing them into the sea as in days gone by.

This highly ritualized tradition has evolved into its own unique event and it is evident that Hosay’s modern-day meaning in Trinidad serves to promote and showcase ethnic pride and encourage solidarity between Muslims and East Indians.

The festival takes place on January 19th, 2008 and in 2009 Hosay will occur twice in the same calendar-year (January 7th & December 27th).

1 comment:

Pablito Pistola said...

I took the photograph above. It was used without permission and it would have been nice if you had got my name right: PABLO Delano (not Pedro. The correct URL is https://www.lightstalkers.org/pablo_delano. The article is generally very good, but having done a bit of research on Hosay, there are a number of inaccuracies. The dancing moons, are not part of the tradition in Cedros (where the photo was taken), and to my knowledge are only performed as part of the Hosay commemoration in Saint James. Also, in Cedros, the tadjahs are still thrown into the sea, at least as of just a few years ago when the photo was taken.