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Looking for the Bobolee – Holy Week Traditions in Trinidad

Temperate countries have winter, spring, summer, and fall seasons, driven by weather. Very often we hear that tropical countries only have one dry season and one wet season. Trinidad and Tobago, located in the Caribbean Sea, however, has many stations and they are driven by the main activities of the country. Hence we have the Christmas season, the Carnival season, Lent, the Easter season, and the Divali season. Each of these seasons has its unique traditions and although the origins of some have become obscured over time, Trinidadians continue to follow the traditions. Easter is one of those seasons 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 over 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 everyone who passes by is welcome to “beat the bobol” with sticks, kicks or slaps. The beating originally symbolized Judas’ retribution for betraying Christ. Over time, the bobol has also come to symbolize anything that is unpopular, be it inflation or unpopular politicians. One would think that only children would “beat the boole”, but adults are often immersed in the fun. The actual word “bobolee” has now become such a part of Trinidadian culture that it is used to describe anyone who is taken advantage of by others or who has received a severe beating.

Finding a bobolee on Good Friday was very easy, since they were erected in all the communities. With the passage of time, it has become more difficult to find a bobolee in Trinidad’s city areas, but in rural districts they can still be seen on Good Friday morning. The well-built ones often survive the beating and last into the night. In the eastern parts of Trinidad, in the districts of Valencia, Sangre Chiquito and Sangre Grande, boboles are still found by the side of the road. In the area known as the Valencia stretch, one man has, for several years, faithfully built a bobol every Good Friday and placed it on a chair by the side of the road. This effigy is so well made that when you walk by you often don’t realize it’s a boole.

However, boboles are not the only Holy Week tradition in Trinidad. Another Easter tradition is the kite flight that is facilitated by the strong breezes at this time of year. Kites were traditionally diamond-shaped with wooden struts in the shape of a cross, and thus symbolized the cross on which Jesus died. His flight in the sky symbolized his ascension to heaven. Today 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 people of all ages. Now there are several kite flying competitions at Easter.

Traditionally, Catholics abstained from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. This has now become a tradition that is followed by many people of all faiths, although some only observe it on Good Friday, when only fish is eaten. Another tradition whose origins have been obscured over time is eating ground provisions (yams, cassava, dasheen (taro), eddoes) on Good Friday. Another Good Friday tradition is eating 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 to avoid bathing in the sea on Good Friday. In earlier times, Trinidadians did not go to the beach on Good Friday. There was a myth that if you went into the sea on Good Friday either you turned into a fish or you grew up. Why this tradition developed is unknown, but now the tradition has died to the point where only the elderly avoid the sea on Good Friday.

A relatively new tradition is camping during Holy Week. With one holiday on Friday and another on Monday, the Easter weekend is commonly called the “long weekend” and Trinidadians flock to the beaches to camp along the shoreline.

So if you are in Trinidad during Holy Week, go and find a bobolee to release your tensions and experience the other Holy Week traditions.

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