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Haiti: Carnival or Nothing!

The succession of disasters in Haiti in 2008 like the hurricanes Ike, Hannah and Gustav and the tragic collapse of a primary school in November, in Pétionville, has probably made the celebration of Carnival even more relevant and necessary in Haiti this year.

From as early as January 4th, blogger Darlie started her countdown to the official launch of Carnival – a date confirmed by Haitian blogger Elsie, who posts a message received from Espace Loas Centre d'Art Haitien explaining the religious origins of Carnival [Fr]:

[…] La saison dite de carnaval se déroule suivant le calendrier catholique du jour des rois et a donc commencé le Dimanche après l'Epiphanie (4 Janvier) pour atteindre sa culmination le 24 février, dernier jour des “ trois jours gras ”.

[…] The Carnival season follows the Catholic calendar and therefore, started on the first Sunday after Epiphany (Jan. 4th) to climax on February 24th, last of the “three fat days”.

What truly explains the importance of Carnival in Haiti is the fact that this tradition is very deeply anchored in the Haitian popular culture. Here are opinions about this analysis shared both in Elsie's [Fr]:

Le Carnaval ou « mardi-gras » demeure l'une des grandes manifestations socioculturelles du peuple haïtien.

Carnival or “Mardi-Gras” is still one of the biggest social and cultural events for Haitian people.

and Darlie's posts [Fr] :

C'est devenu au fil du temps, la plus grande manifestation culturelle haïtienne où l'on voit des millions de gens de tout âge, de toute culture, de tout horizon…

It has gradually become the biggest Haitian cultural event where you can see millions of people of different ages, cultures and backgrounds…

According to Elsie's post, Carnival has another function – it would be scheduled despite social, economic or political difficulties [Fr]:

[…] Comme a dit un ancien maire de Port-au-Prince, dans la société haïtienne, cette festivité n'est pas négociable.
[…] Tacitement, il y a une trêve politique; les problèmes sociaux passent au second plan pour laisser place au défoulement indispensable.

[…] A former mayor of Port-au-Prince used to say that in the Haitian society, this celebration is non-negotiable.
[…] It is a tacit political truce; social problems are left behind to yield to the essential need to unwind.

However, Darlie tackles another aspect of Carnival which makes it a huge marketing and advertising support for companies [Fr]:

C'est un atout majeur pour les commerçants et fabricants de faire connaître leurs produits en investissant fort dans la publicité.

It is a major asset for retailers and producers who can introduce their products through some serious advertising.

Julie blogs about her experience of Carnival in Haiti and shows this picture with her comment [Fr]:

J'aurais pû faire un zoom sur les magnifiques costumes mais il aurait été dommage de vous priver de la grosse campagne de promo des compagnies américaines qui importent le riz en Haiti, anéantissant la production rizicole nationale.

I could have zoomed into the gorgeous costumes but unfortunately, you would have missed the huge advertising campaign of the American rice importers in Haiti, which ruin the local rice production.

On her blog, she posts pictures of Carnival – not only from Port-au-Prince, but also the wonderful Carnival of Jacmel, with its masks, its monsters or animals.

Though Darlie condemns some violence in the parades and deplores casualties, she regrets that Haitian Carnival is not be more popular abroad and repeats how much she enjoys it [Fr].

The thumbnail photograph used in this post, “Carnival in Haiti”, is by Ben Gancsos (photo © Ben Gancsos / Wonderful Machine) and is used with permission. Visit Ben's website and flickr photostream.

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