Standing on the hill above the Moravian church in Moriah, I have the perfect view of the junction below. From this vantage point, in the company of several villagers manning the dirt oven, I observe the sizable crowd. Like me, everyone is here for the Tobago Ole Time Wedding, scheduled to begin at 1 pm. It is now 1:30 pm and thus far there has been no sign of the bride.
In our corner of the world, it is tradition for the bride to be fashionably late. However, under the blistering heat of the midday sun, 30 minutes is not fashionable. It’s punishment. And people are restless. But no matter how much they fret and fuss, no one intends to move until the lady of the hour arrives. And neither do I.
Eventually, the last batch of bread is removed from the oven. As the bakers prepare to close up shop, I take my leave and return to the hall to wait some more.
The Master of Ceremonies is a sassy old lady who cleverly describes the traditions and customs observed during the wedding. Her hilarious running commentary keeps the audience entertained and distracts from the tardy bride.
Through her we learn that the couple walks around their new marital home three times to familiarize the ancestors with the new bride and groom. She reveals the reason men hold their hands behind their back when dancing the Jig is because the dance initially developed from slaves mimicking their masters and their hands served as coattails. From her we even discover that back in the day, the bride and groom did not kiss during the ceremony because it was unheard of to indulge in such activities in front of the elders!
She does a credible job of filling the gap until finally, the bride arrives an impressive one hour and fifteen minutes late. She ascends the hill engulfed by photographers and videographers. Amidst the paparazzi I glimpse just the top of her veil before she crosses the threshold and is swallowed up by the “guests” inside the “church”.
Now it is time for the hours-long spectacle that is the Tobago Ole Time Wedding to officially commence!
This year I have the pleasure of attending the Wedding with cultural aficionado, Korice Archer-Quashie of Tobago Talk. With so many elements coming together to create this wonderful spectacle, I am truly grateful to be able to lean on Korice’s knowledge of the island’s traditions. And I’m even more excited to share what I have learned!
What is the Tobago Ole Time Wedding?
The Tobago Ole Time Wedding is a theatrical performance that depicts several customs and rituals observed by Tobagonians “back in the day”. The Wedding is a part of the Tobago Heritage Festival celebrations, a gift to the nation of Trinidad and Tobago, from the village of Moriah.
To attend the Wedding is to step back in time to a period when gentlemen wore top hats and coattails and ladies donned bustled gowns and petticoats. A period when the guest list was extensive, including the Massa and his wife, the entire village, and a few dead ancestors. And an era when the traditions observed outside of the church were just as important as the rituals carried out during the ceremony.
The reenactment takes places on a grand scale. The cast comprises scores of actors and musicians, while every spectator has the honor of being counted as a “guest”. With all its pomp and circumstance, the Tobago Ole Time Wedding is one of the can’t miss experiences of the annual cultural Festival.
Who is in the Tobago Ole Time Wedding?
The Bride & Groom: The married couple are the stars of the show with the blushing bride in her lily white gown dancing through the streets beside her galant husband decked out in his jet black coattail jacket.
The Massa & His Wife: While they technically aren’t the focal point of the event, the spotlight certainly shines brightly on the Massa and His Wife, who lead the procession in a fancy carriage. The Massa also has the honor of delivering a hilariously verbose speech during the reception that keeps the audience in stitches.
The Maco: The Maco is the comical narrator, whose sharp tongue and good-natured barbs are the vehicle through which spectators are educated about the various traditions that take place. The word “maco” in Trinidad and Tobago is used to describe the quintessential busy-body so it makes sense that this person thinks she knows everything about everyone in the wedding and she has no qualms about sharing her thoughts.
The Wedding Party: Also known as the “followers”, the wedding party comprises young ladies and men decked out in their Sunday best. The girls are topped off with floral hats while their escorts are equipped with umbrellas to shade their partners. Little children also serve as miniature versions of the adult followers in floral print dresses and knickerbockers.
Other characters in the wedding, include the proud Parents of the Bride, the Godmother, the Woodsman and female relatives who carry various items that the young lady will be bringing to her new marital home.
What Are the Elements of the Tobago Ole Time Wedding?
Coal Pot: Carried upon the head of a member of the bride’s family, the coal pot signifies the bride’s ability to cook. A good sign for her new husband!
Breadfruit: Also carried on the head of a family member, the breadfruit is an ode to the Bible verse that speaks to being fruitful and multiplying. It is young and green to symbolize the bride’s virginity.
Bridal Trousseau: The trousseau is carried in a trunk balanced expertly atop the head of a member of the bridal party. The trousseau contains articles the bride will bring to her marital home, including two white pillows fastened to the top of the trunk.
Produce: A woodsman carries a basket of produce atop his head to indicate that the bride is not entering the marriage empty handed.
Traditional Music: The tambrin is a musical instrument indigenous to Tobago. A tambrin band accompanies the wedding party during the procession, stopping every now and then to reheat the drums as they are only effective when warm.
Traditional Dancing: Throughout the procession the wedding party demonstrates several traditional dances, including the brushback, the heel and toe, and the jig.
When is the Tobago Ole Time Wedding?
The Tobago Ole Time Wedding takes place on the first Saturday of the Festival, which begins in the middle of July. The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 1 PM but in keeping with tradition, the bride is usually late.
Things You Need to Know if You’re Attending:
- Arrive Early: Traditionally the event starts a few minutes late as the bride is expected to be tardy, however if your intention is to witness the ceremony live, I would highly advise arriving at least 45 minutes early to claim a spot.
- Dress Comfortably: There is no seating and a lot of walking is involved so comfortable walking shoes are a must! It would also be a plus to wear light, breathable clothing as well as the heat can be draining.
- Protect Yourself: Rain or shine, an umbrella is a must on this excursion, whether you’re dodging the harsh afternoon sun or sheltering from moderate to heavy showers. Sunscreen is also a very good idea.
- Park Strategically: Like most villages in Tobago’s countryside, Moriah has narrow, winding roads so parking is prohibited along the parade route. While the reception venue changes from time to time, it’s in your best interest to park as close as possible to this location so you’re able to make a quick exit at the end.
- Save Room for Food: Along with the traditional cake and wine tasting, which you can sample for a small fee (TT$20), there is an extensive food court set up with various local dishes that you absolutely must sample.
Many thanks to Tobago Talk for guiding me through the Tobago Ole Time Wedding! Rich in history, full of color, and sprinkled with just the right amount of comedy, it certainly is a unique experience that everyone (residents and visitors) should participate in at least once. So, if you’re fortunate enough to be on the island during the second half of July, make your way up to Moriah for this authentic, Tobago event!
Have you ever attended the Tobago Ole Time Wedding? Are there any major elements I may have overlooked? If so, please share them in the comments!