“Why do we celebrate Carnival? …Where did it originate?” Were a few thoughts that floated through my mind during Jamaica’s Carnival season; near naked bodies feting in the streets was just intriguing and I decided to look it up.
Carnival is an annual festival, celebrated typically during the week before Lent in Roman Catholic countries, involving processions, music, dancing, and the use of masquerade. The Carnival was used to enjoy meat, alcohol, and other foods that were forbidden during Lent. It was brought from Europe and the Americas to the Caribbean, where the slaves adapted it and changed it to suit their traditions. For African people, Carnival became a way to express their power as individuals, as well as their rich cultural traditions.
“Carnival was introduced to Trinidad around 1785, as the French settlers began to arrive. The tradition caught on quickly, and fancy balls were held where the wealthy planters put on masks, wigs, and beautiful dresses and danced long into the night. The use of masks had special meaning for the slaves, because for many African peoples, masking is widely used in their rituals for the dead. Obviously banned from the masked balls of the French, the slaves would hold their own little carnivals in their backyards — using their own rituals and folklore, but also imitating their masters’ behavior at the masked balls. For African people, carnival became a way to express their power as individuals, as well as their rich cultural traditions.”
Now Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago is one of the most famous in the Caribbean, so I wanted to know more about how they currently celebrate it. Their Carnival season is from Boxing Day right up to the day before Lent begins, Ash Wednesday. The Carnival week (week leading up to Ash Wednesday) is packed with different parties every night leading up to the last events of the season, Dimanche Gras, J’ouvert (dirty mas,) Carnival Monday, and finally, Carnival Tuesday or [pretty] Mas (masquerade.)
Carnival in Jamaica is hosted by Bacchanal Jamaica, it was introduced to Jamaicans in 1989 by patrons who had participated in Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival annually. The timing of Jamaica’s Carnival week was designed not to compete with Trinidad, and it couldn’t be held during Lent so as to respect the religious significance of the period, so the carnival week was scheduled to begin on Easter Sunday and end on the following weekend. Our Carnival Season begins in January with Bacchanal New Year band launch which is followed by weekly reveling at Bacchanal Fridays starting a month later. Our season also has events such as bi-weekly Socacise classes, and Beach J’ouvert, it ends with Bacchanal J’ouvert (dirty mas) followed by the big Road March (pretty mas) the next day.
Featured image from Sleek Jamaica.