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  • HOSAY IN TRINIDAD
  • THE HOSAY FESTIVAL

HOSAY IN TRINIDAD
In Trinidad during the 1880s the Muharram observances were referred to as taziya-dari (tadjah) or by the creole term ‘Hosay’, which is a distorted version of the name ‘Hussein’.

Hosay has its antecedents within Shi’ite Islam, and was originally brought by indentured workers from India who came to Trinidad to work on the sugar plantations during the indentureship period.

Muharram came to Trinidad and Tobago as an ‘Indian’ celebration (since both Muslims and Hindus participated) and evolved to include the wider community to become a ‘Trinidad’ observance.

The first noted observance of Hosay was in 1847 in the streets of San Fernando, in South Trinidad, and there is evidence of Hosay celebrations in Chaguanas and St. James from as far back as 1865.

Prior to the Muharram Massacre in 1884, Hosay celebrations was observed annually in the towns of Sangre Grande, Brazil/Talparo, Arouca, Tacarigua (Dinsley Village), Tunapuna, Curepe, San Juan, St. James, Cunupia, Chaguanas, Couva, Princes Town and Cedros.

HISTORY OF MUHARRAM OR HOSAY
Hosay is a commemorative event, a drama of passion, where significant events of Islamic history are narrated and commemorated over ten days. It is the commemoration of the Martyrdom of Hussein (Hussain), the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, his younger brother Janab Hazrat Abass (Hassan), and 70 other friends and relatives.

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and is usually marked by fasting and prayer. In 679 AD, on the 10th day of the month of Muharram (known as Ahsura), Hussein, his family and companions were ambushed on the way to Kufa because he would not pledge allegiance to Yazid, the second son of Umayyad Caliph.

Shia Muslims, grieving at the circumstances of the slaughter of Hussein and his family, mourn their deaths for ten days annually during the month of Muharram. On the 10th day, Imam Hussein’s slaughter and final martyrdom is commemorated in a dramatic procession on the streets.

Source: Balkaransingh, Satnarine. “Speaking through Indo-Trinidadian Rituals and Festivals”/ PhD Thesis, University of Trinidad and Tobago, 1990-2009. Print.

THE HOSAY FESTIVAL

DAY ONE TO SIX
In Trinidad, the Muharram observances commence with a Niaj, or pray meeting, in the various Imambaras in the evening.

Following the prayers, dry fruits and other consecrated food are shared with those present, and work continues in a pious mood, on the construction and decoration of the tadjahs. There are no street processions.

DAY SEVEN
Flag Night

In Trinidad, the street processions begin on the 7th day, with “Flag Night”. On Flag Night, flags of various shapes and sizes in five sombre colours, excluding black, are attached via flag poles to a consecrated chauk. The flags are then paraded through the streets of St. James from 9:00pm - 2:00am.

Flag Night honours Hazrat Abass, Hussein’s younger brother, and his Standard or flag bearer. Hazrat was also killed as he tried to collect water for the thirsty women and children in the group.

The St. James community participates intimately in preparations for the event. Members of the community supply the flags. The participation does not depend on religion, colour, creed or race.

The flags represent desires to be fulfilled or desires already fulfilled. They are referred to as promise flags.

DAY EIGHT
Small Hosays (Petit Bonjay) and Moons

On the eighth night, the small tadjahs and ‘moons’ emerge from the Imambaras of their respective ‘yards’. This night is referred to as the Small Hosay in St. James and Petit Bonjay (Petite Bouge – little God) in Cedros.

The Small Hosay represents the tomb or mausoleum of Hazrat-e-Ali Asgar, the six month old son of Imam Hussein, who was also martyred at Karbala.

In St. James the processions come out at approximately 11:00p.m.; one small Hosay per Imambara, five ‘yards’ in total. The ‘moons’ or alams (some equate these ‘Moons’ to Sipars or breast plates of the martyrs) also make their first appearance on the road on this night.

DAY NINE

The Night of the Big Hosay

On the ninth night, the big tadjahs, representing the tombs, are out on the street in St. James in all their splendour and glory.

DAY TEN
Ashura – Procession to Karbala

In Trinidad on Ashura, the tadjahs are on the streets at approximately 10.00 a.m. The parade route in St. James is a clearly identified with specific routes taken by each tadjah to join the overall street procession in a prearranged processional format. The time period within which the tadjahs and ‘moons’ can actually remain on the streets on this and the previous days are specified by law and monitored by the protective services to ensure compliance.

On Ashura it is from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. but the ‘moons’ and tadjahs try to return to the chauk by 6:00 p.m. since, according to religious doctrine, the coffins or tabuts inside of the tadjahs are not to be on the streets after 6:00 p.m. According to Islamic custom, internment of the dead must be undertaken on or before the sun goes down.

This prearranged order of appearance of the tadjahs in the procession is based on historical seniority of the Hosay yards and conscientiously adhered to. In St. James, the order of procession is as follows: Panchaiti, Cocorite, Gulam Hussein, Balma and Bis Ali Hosays. However, on the return journey back to the Hosay yards, since the Cocorite Hosay has a longer distance to cover to reach its base, it is given precedence at the front of the procession.

DAY ELEVEN
In Trinidad, there are no activities taking place.

DAY TWELVE
In Trinidad, Teejah is the second day after Ashura, or the twelfth day of the month of Muharram. In the context of the Muharram rituals in St. James, it is the day set aside to perform the final ‘janaza’ or prayers, share a community meal, dismantle the tadjahs and immerse them in the sea.

The janaza symbolically breaks the twelve-day abstinence following which participants share in the major community meal.