Carnival (Carriacou)

Carnaval was first introduced to the Caribbean in the 1700’s by the French bourgeoisie. It was then a festival witha series of masquerade balls with elaborate, expensive costumes, house and street parades signifying the start of lent. In Carriacou carnival is officially celebrated in the week preceding Ash Wednesday. The former slaves parodied these festivities by covering themselves in ashes and oil and their orchestras consisted of conch shells for brass and biscuit tins for drums.

  We were ready and primed for the much anticipated and promoted Carriacou Carnival, famous all over the Windward Islands for its authenticity and fervour. This is not Rio, New Orleans or Cologne, it’s only a small island at the bottom of the Caribbean. The week-long super-party officially starts on the Thursday of the preceding week with the Queen Show but in reality it begins weeks earlier with several village road shows all over the island; meaning all night street parties with massive boom-boxes, hectolitres of beer and rum fuelled revellers. On the days leading up to the epic weekend, hundreds of partiers invade this small island. Many come from the mainland – Grenada – or other nearby Islands including Trinidad and St. Vincent and they are referred to with a disparaging sneer as foreigners, as opposed to us tourists and snowbirds who are more or less welcome here since we bring money and stay a while. Also, a lot of ex-pats from England, the US and Canada, make the long trek to this tranquil Island for the festivities, turning it into a party mayhem haven. The daily ferry from Grenada was mobbed and overloaded with standing room only, with many of the beer swilling passengers hanging over the railings in the rough seas. 

            The first official event is the crowning of the Carnival Queen on Thursday night. We arrived early at 9PM and got prime seats for the well run and entertaining program. Six young women showed off their sequined, feathered and glittery costumes, then each contestant performed a short drama or a musical number and then they displayed their ball gowns and answered a short quiz. Five local judges picked the winner at about 3AM in front of a jubilant and festive crowd consisting mostly of local women done up like New Year’s Eve, in stiletto heels and showing off their bling and super fun hair, braided, coloured, woven or piled high. The six girls representing their parishes, displayed a surprising amount of moxy and confidence with their ribald social commentary one-act-plays and songs, ranging from incest to their African heritage to the environment. There were only a handful of us white people in attendance but we didn’t at all feel out of place or uncomfortable. In fact, we were welcome to witness the local young women showing off their traditions and talents with pride. 

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