Carnaval: When The World Turns Upside Down

A cacophony of brass and percussion blasted through the city of Trinité this past Sunday as Martinique prepares for Carnaval. Carnaval is the festival that leads up to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It is a time for people to let loose before they have to settle down and be good Catholics during Lent.


In the United States, we know this as Mardi Gras, but in Martinique, Carnaval is not just one day. Here, the festival works much like a theme week at high school—except louder, unrulier, and drunker. There’s a day when boys dress as girls and girls dress as boys and a pajama day among others. While most of Martinique will not begin to celebrate Carnaval until early February, the festival has already started to those most dedicated to the holiday.


In Trinité, different street bands dressed in bright colors and dancers marched through the main street along the beach. Vendors sold homemade ice cream and sandwiches and churros to the crowds that gathered to watch the spectacle. And boy there were crowds. By the time we arrived—a good hour before the parade was to begin—the main street had already been closed off and we had to park about half a mile away.


The show was grand. The band and dancers have been practicing since November. They make these vibrant costumes with different themes—one group had made theirs out of newspaper and bubble wrap. Girls had painted their faces elaborately in gold and silver hues. In the band, they marched forward carrying large drums and trombones, but also conch shells and plastic containers. Still, this was nothing compared to what is to come, as my Martinican friends assure me.


As the last act passed by, people joined in, dancing and laughing as they followed the music.



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