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Carnival Origins

Carnival Origins

Asha Charles
02May 2017

This weekend revelers will take to the streets of Grand Cayman for Batabano, a lively and colorful annual street parade (Carnival) in which participants get to wear costumes with lots of beads, glitter and feathers and party like there is no tomorrow. Many trucks form part of the procession, carrying food, water, steelpans and deejays that blast soca music. Most of the Caribbean Islands have some form of Carnival, in most cases dating back to the 1800’s. The parade in Grand Cayman has been held over the last 34 years, it is much smaller in size compared to other islands but has been growing consistently over the last few years.   

Where does Carnival originate? Carnival comes from the word “Carnevale” which means to put away the meat, and was a term used by Europeans to refer to festivities and parties that immediately preceded lent. Fasting from meat would take place from Lent until Easter. 

Carnavale was transported to the Caribbean via early settlers. In Trinidad, the Caribbean island with the biggest Carnival, French settlers in the late 1700’s from other nearby islands, brought with them their culture and customs which formed the start of the festivities we know today. The French had come to colonize the island under incentive from the King of Spain. The island was then captured by Britain in 1797 and the British began their own colonization of the island. Between Christmas and Lent there was much celebration and festivities by both the British and the French elite. This was the era of sugar plantations and the slave trade, and although the Africans and coloreds were forbidden by law to participate in the festivities, with the emancipation of slaves in 1838, they became free to participate and adopted Carnival as a symbol of freedom and celebration. They added their own culture and music into the mix resulting in the unique blend of expression seen today. The French and African influence is very obvious in names such as Pierrot Grenade, and dame Lorraine, and in traditions such as stick fighting and canboulay that make up the festivities.  Jouvert is the well known street party that starts in the wee hours of Carnival Monday morning, a precursor to the main event.

Each island has its Carnival scheduled at different times – some maintain the pre-lent dates and some celebrate in August to coincide with emancipation, while others are scattered at various times during the year. There are different names for the event – Guadeloupe has retained the term Carnaval, while in Barbados it is called Cropover and Bahamas refers to it as Junkanoo. Similarly it is common to hear the terms wukkin up (Barbados), jumping (Cayman), Wineing (Trinidad) to refer to the dancing that takes place in the street or at fetes. Soca artistes release new music  each year in the lead up to the main event, and in Trinidad, the song most played by bands as they cross the judging stage on Carnival Monday and Tuesday gets the title “Road March”. The road march for 2017 was played a record 556 times, it is a song done by the band Ultimate Rejects titled “Full Extreme” or as the trinis like to say “We jamming still”…. 

Whether you are jumping or just spectating, the event is great fun. Have a great Batabano everyone!

A girl parades her costume during Trinidad Carnival

Batabano Chica

Girl in brown Trinidad Kiddies Carnival

Tribal Batabano Grand Cayman

Moko Jumbies in Batabano Grand Cayman

A masquerader in Batabano Grand Cayman

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