French Caribbean: Carnival 2009 is launched

Carnival is a tradition, a part of every West Indian soul and the French Caribbean is no exception.

Here is a review of blogs from Martinique, French Guiana, Haiti and Guadeloupe, which highlights the features of Carnival there.

In brevesdeguyane, we learn about the kick-off of Carnival in French Guiana and discover pictures illustrating the French Guianese tradition of the “Touloulous“. The term originally refers to small colorful earth crabs, which swiftly run and hide under the ground whenever they feel threatened. So what is the connection with those wonderfully disguised women? Lilie Belle in MaGuyane decribes Carnival in French Guiana and provides an answer to the question [Fr]:

Le touloulou se pavane devant les hommes. ils arrivent seuls ou en groupe dans le dancing. Ce qui veut dire que monsieur ne sait pas comment est habillée sa femme. Le touloulou peut narguer son mari ou voir même son patron !! Ce sont les touloulous qui invitent les hommes à dancer. […]Depuis quelques années, il existe la version homme : les Tololos. Ce sont les hommes qui se déguisent et invitent les femmes à danser.

“Touloulous” prance in front of men, who come to the party by themselves or in a group of friends. It means that husbands usually don't know how their wives are disguised. Touloulous can therefore taunt their husbands and even their bosses!! Touloulous invite men to dance and not the opposite.
[…] For a few years, there has been a new trend: the Tololos. Men, all in disguise, invite women to dance.

Darlie's words echo Lillie Belle‘s and Eric Leon ‘s in 97320, a French Guianese blog, when she states that the launching of Carnival is a much awaited event [Fr]:

Ça y est mesdames et messieurs, à l'instant même, le coup d'envoi est donné, le carnaval haïtien est lancé et c'est parti pour un mois et demi d'ambiance populaire.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Haitian Carnival is officially kicked-off. It is going to be one month and a half of popular jubilation.

In a few words, Darlie explains what (Haitian) Carnival is about [Fr]:

Couleur, Costume, masque, majorette, danse, humour, Charles Oscar, Char, spectacle… un menu très varié et pimenté vous attend mesdames, messieurs dans la capitale haïtienne et à Jamel à partir de ce dimanche jusqu'au mercredi des cendres avant le levé du soleil.

Colors, costumes, masks, cheerleaders, dances, humor, Charles Oscar, floats, shows…ladies and gentlemen, you can expect a diverse and spiced menu in the Haitian capital and in Jacmel, from this Sunday until the dawn of Ash Wednesday.

When she talks about diversity, Darlie tackles a core aspect of the French Caribbean Carnival: the expression of its various influences and origins. Nowadays, in Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Martinique, Carnival is celebrated every Sunday with popular parades of well-organized mas bands, of different sorts. Some bands are influenced by European carnival and wear very colorful, feathery, beady, sparkling and shimmering costumes, as in most Latin Carnivals, like the famous one in Rio de Janeiro. These bands always take part in competitions to elect the best band, the best music, the best choreography and eventually the King and the Queen of Carnival. This webpage from “la Mairie de Fort-de-France“, in Martinique shows pictures of this election which gathers different generations: Baby Queen, Mini Queen, Queen and Queen Mother.

The second type of band was first developed in Guadeloupe: they are generally called cultural movements, the aim of which is to bring French Caribbeans closer to their African roots. They promote a Carnival based on spiritual traditions, authenticity and nature and a more traditional music with local drums, made with young goat skins (”mas a pô”). They are announced by whips and incense and do not play rhythmical music, nor do they perform choreographies in the street. Their trademark is marching in a spiritual, almost mystical atmosphere. Here are pictures of “Kléla” (the key), a “mas a pô” band from Guadeloupe.

Those two main types of bands are in the streets from Epiphany Sunday until Ash Wednesday, when Vaval (the effigy of the King of Carnival) is burnt symbolically as the end of Carnival and the beginning of Lent. In Guadeloupe though, people go back for one more parade 15 days later, on “Jeudi de la Mi-Carême” at mid-Lent. The colors of this parade are red and black to show that Vaval is dead but is going to live again the next year.

All photos in this post are of 2008 Carnival and Dimanche Gras in Guadeloupe, courtesy the author. See the whole set in her Facebook album, here.

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