Carnival is a big part of the Caribbean culture, and has also become a huge tourist and economy boosting attraction, especially in the more developed islands of Trinidad, Barbados (Cropover) and Jamaica. Recently though, smaller islands like Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent have slowly been carving out their own place in the carnival tourism industry with affordable travel packages, larger than life events, enticing costumes and major social media exposure. In truth, many patrons have been questioning the authenticity of our more modern-day celebration of this part of our culture. Some feel that we are losing the more traditional parts of carnival, that we are now too focused on attracting ‘foreigners’ than preserving our culture. I tend to disagree.
Carnival is said to have been derived from the latin expression “carne vale” which literally means removal of meat. It is said that the origins of carnival started with the French who settled in the Caribbean, and brought their tradition of masquerade balls and costume parties (adopted from Catholic followers in Italy) that were typically held before the beginning of lent. These festivals eventually took on many African traditions on account of the post-slavery era, and became heavily influenced by African dance, African rhythms (a huge influence in calypso and soca), and mask and costumes worn during African rituals. These masks and costumes represented certain spiritual forces and ideas that are still celebrated. Natural objects such as feathers were used in extravagant headdresses to symbolize “our ability as humans to rise above problems…” and are still a huge part of today’s carnival costume designs.
Vincy Mas (the annual carnival celebration of St. Vincent) has its own rich history. It is said that in the late 1800’s the pre-lenten festival was banned by the colonial government, and that the people of St. Vincent eventually rebelled against this ban. This rebellion gave rise to riots in an attempt to preserve the cultural and religious practices of the Vincentian people.
Today, Vincy Mas is celebrated in the summer, with 10 days of events beginning around the last week of June and ending in July (10 days of fun in the July sun). The festival usually kicks off with the Calypso Monarch semi-finals competition, and closes the last two days with non-stop partying–from the Monday morning Jouvert jam to Tuesday’s Mardi Gras celebration, when the streets are filled with a mirage of colors from masqueraders in their elaborate costumes. The 10 days are filled with musical events, talent shows, and competitions that highlight the multifaceted culture of the island. In addition to the traditional calendar events, there are various all-inclusive parties held by private promoters that host a myriad of live performances by popular soca artistes and DJs. For many, it’s 10 days of stress-free partying, the opportunity to leave the cares and worries of the world behind just for a bit, and drown in the bliss of sweet soca music.
Carnival delivers a natural high like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. And while there is a legitimate worry about the transformation and modernization of the carnival culture, the history of how it began will always be there. We tend to be wary of change sometimes, but with change comes new ideas, new opportunities, and new ways to introduce our rich, vibrant culture to the world. Change does not mean that we forget the history, or the reasons for our celebration. It doesn’t mean that we have, or will ever let go of the traditional beliefs and ideas of this part of our culture. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we are forgetting, or will ever forget who we are as Caribbean people.
*For more information on our Vincy Mas celebration, photos, event calendar and dates, visit the official SVG Carnival website.
*For some more info on the history of Caribbean carnival visit the links below: