Let me introduce you to Haiti, (officially the Republic of Haiti), a country located on the island of Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles archipelago of the Caribbean Sea.
Haiti occupies the western part, approximately three-eighths of the island. The remainder of Hispaniola is the Dominican Republic.
Every year in Jacmel, a small town a couple of hours drive south from Port-au-Prince, which has a beautiful 3km wide bay and was originally established as a coffee trading port, is where the islands best Karnaval is held.
Lonely Planet describe it as being, “one of the most friendly and tranquil towns in Haiti”.
Part of Jacmel’s charm is its old town centre, full of the original warehouses built by those coffee merchants and traders. There is a touch of late Victorian grace peering from wrought-iron balconies and peeling façades.
It is this relatively laid back and sleepy town which holds Haiti’s best pre-Lent Mardi-Gras celebration in late January or early February each year. All of Haiti comes alive with colourful parades and pageants, dancing and singing. The festivities turn into night-long parties where the locals come together in celebration. The Carnival concludes on Shrove Tuesday (“Fat Tuesday”).
It is an electrifying expression of colour and community which sees locals adorned in kaleidoscopic costumes and parading the streets. A show of extravagance and indulgence. It is an exuberant celebration funded by the government, businesses and wealthy Haitian families.
The tradition officially began in the year 1927, when people would gather to watch small traveling bands or rara, people in bright colourful costumes. Among the many costumes were the: endyen, endou arab, janb debwa, Madan Deboure, Bèf, Chaloska etc. Most which still hold significant in today’s Karnaval.
The Karnaval performers act out the nation’s history and culture in a mixture of performance, myth-making and exaggerated spectacle. It is Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty transposed on to the streets of Jacmel, shot through with elements of Voodoo ritual and scabrous political satire, as well as often extraordinarily inventive self-expression. Unlike, say, the bacchanalian carnival festivities in Rio de Janeiro, Jacmel’s celebrations are truly weird and often genuinely frightening, their participants, as another essayist in Kanaval, Donald Cosentino, puts it, like “characters in some commedia dell’arte from hell”.
The stock characters of the carnival tradition, in all their exaggerated and often disturbing grotesqueness:
(Devils with horns and whips who carry dismembered doll parts).
(Deranged soldiers with buck teeth and blood red lips). Chaloska is the most popular costume, because it scares children and even some adults. As soon as Chaloska shows people run away. These men dressed in black, with lips painted brightly red, first appeared in Jacmel’s Carnival many years ago. This costume represents General Charles Oscar Etienne, a military general under President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam who assassinated more than 100 political prisoners in the early 1900s.
Bakos (mythical creatures from the Haitian collective unconscious).
Papa Jwif (the Haitian version of the archetypal Wandering Jew).
Choukoun, a carnival costume of a Kreyòl woman. Women dawn their most beautiful make up, large earrings, and wrap their head in brightly coloured cloths. The women stuff fabric under their garments making them appear to have larger breasts and bottoms. This costume has nurtured a regular insult, if someone is wearing clothing too large for them, people jokingly call them “Madan Deboure”.
There are transvestites, zombies, whores and various representations of Mo (the Dead), whose whitened faces and hoods set them apart from Zombie (the Differently Dead) in their white sheets and chains.
Karnaval in Haiti has 3 parts: the parade of costumes in the afternoon, followed by traveling rara bringing local flavour. At night the procession of huge floats carrying the popular music groups playing their Carnival themed songs for the year until sunrise.
Carnival remains the event that gathers all Haitians and makes them proud of their culture. It is one big party that transcends all social barriers; bringing rich, poor, dark skinned and light skinned people to one place. It is a manifestation of culture that brings the children of this land, that are dispersed around the world, back to their roots; permitting all Haitians to dance with all their souls to the same sound and expend the positive energy that this therapeutic celebration awakens in them.
Another festival linked to the Christian calendar. It takes place during Easter week
Rara Rara is a series of music festivals They involve native Haitian instruments including bamboo trumpets, drums, bells and maracas. Songs are always performed in Haitian Kreyòl and typically celebrate the African ancestry of the Afro-Haitian masses. Rara lyrics also often address difficult issues, such as political oppression or poverty.
You guessed it, another Festival! Is usualy held in May.
The interesting name of this festival can leave many confused. The words are a traditional Haitian response to storytelling; when someone is ready to recite a part of their folklore, they will declare “Krik?”, the listeners will respond with “Krak!” The festival is geared toward familial celebration and folkloric storytelling, and is full of evenings of music and stories.
Dessalines Day. Held on October 17,
On October 17th Haitians honour the death of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a military general responsible for naming the modern-day Haiti and later an emperor of the country.
Haitians are proud their country became one of the first independent nations in the Americas and was the first republic to be led by people of African descent. Whilst his leadership is not wholly revered, even deemed brutal, Dessalines is respected by the Haitian people for his part in establishing the country.
The artwork images used in this post are my own Digital artworks, based on the Haitian Karnaval characters mentioned. You can see the entire collection on my artworks website: https://paulznewpostbox.wixsite.com/artworks
All these images are subject to copyright; so please, do not reproduce them without my permission.
Feel free to re-blog and share this post in its entirety though 🙂
Thank you. Paul.