Celebration of Women
and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan - 2005





Steelband Woman

The month of March every year is Woman’s Month in the United States.  As we pay homage to women I want to take special notice of the steelband woman of the 1960s.  Today she is known as a panist.  But, years ago she was called a panwoman and was not welcomed in the panyards. Also, if her parents only knew that she entered a panyard, far less to think about playing the steelpan, she was chastised.  I can only recall one great pan woman in the 1960s.  I knew her as Daisy and she played in the City Syncopators Steel Orchestra.  Later, she left and joined the Desperadoes Steel Orchestra.  I understand that today she captains the Harlem Syncopators Steel Orchestra.  Daisy was good enough to become a member of Syncopator’s stage side and played in one of the Musical festival competitions.

The lot of the panwoman must be seen in the context of the patriarch and class society of Trinbago of the 1960s.  The steelpan and the steelband movement were created by young African men who were at the bottom of the social ladder in Trinbago. In those early days from 1940s through 1960s, no ‘self respecting’ parent would permit their sons, far more their daughters, to join a steelband.  Later, in the early 1960s a few local white boys opened their own steelbands.  Famous among those young men were Curtis Pierre who was the captain of Dixieland Steel Orchestra and Junior Pouchette who was the captain of Silver Stars Steel Orchestra.  But, the panists in the beginning were Africans from the working class community of Trinbago. 

But, even though women were not fully represented in the steelband movement, those that dared to participate had other roles. They were staunch supporters and supported their steelbands fanatically. Others were flag wavers during carnival time. Famous were:   Mayfield and "Boboloops," who belonged to the Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra. Most steelbands had their share of saga girls who displayed their beauty on carnival days in the different steelbands.  Also, the saga boys in the steelbands had their girlfriends who were strong supporters of the steelband.  Another important role for those panwomen was on steelband committees as treasurers or secretaries.  At other times women would play leading roles in the mas sections of the steelbands on carnival day.  Important to note is that the captain’s wife or woman was the matriarch of the particular steelband.  She would give instructions or follow up on her husband or boyfriend’s orders to members of the band. She was also the chief cook of the band. A sad aspect of the steelband woman was that many times she was partly responsible for the steelband riots during the 1960s.  In the days when steelbands played in parties there would be fights at those parties resulting from interactions among the steelband women.  If two steelband women got into an argument their men would pick up the argument leading to fights in the parties.  Other times a steelband man from one steelband would try to pick up a steelband woman from another steelband and the result would be a riot that would last through carnival.

But, the pan women played an important role in the steelbands.  On carnival days they would be pan pushers, at times pushing their husbands' or boyfriends' pans.  I have had many quarrels with my friend’s women when we fought to push his pan.  Sometimes they would cool off their husbands or boyfriends from fighting and saving others from harm or injury. One of my memorable sightings was to witness the beautiful young girls standing outside the panyards during practice dressed in their best clothes.  They would stay the whole night until the practice was over.  Those who had boyfriends in the steelband would stand close to the pans keeping a eye on their men from other women.  In the 60s when steelbands played in the Hollows at the Queen’s Park Savannah on a Sunday afternoon many young girls would attend those concerts to support the steelbands.  The middle class women would support the steelbands at the bi-annual Musical festivals that were held at Queen’s Hall in the St. Ann's district, Port of Spain.  But, they would never attend the panyards.  

Today, there are women panists who play in all of the steelbands throughout Trinbago.  It is no longer a bad thing to see a woman playing the national instrument in the land of its birth.  Now, if we could only have women leading steelbands and/or becoming the President of PanTrinbago, the future of the steelpan will be safe and secure.

To the rendezvous of victory,
© Khalick J. Hewitt, President & Founder
International Steelpan & Calypso Society

March 1, 2005


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