The Best Carnivals In The Caribbean
Trinidad and Tobago Carnival
The biggest and most well known festival of the Caribbean Islands, Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is thought to have originated in the 18th century. Part imitating and part mocking the pre-Lent celebrations of the French plantation owners, the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival took a cultural strong hold after 1838 with the abolishment of slavery. The festival is now an eruption of energy, bright colors, Calypso and Soca music, and a celebration of life.
With a similar origin as the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, this mass celebration in St Vincent & the Grenadines used to be held in the days before Lent. However in 1976 it was decided that Vincy Mas should be moved to the heat of summer. Now held between June and July, the festival is full of events such as beauty pageants, Mardi Gras and J’Ouvert: a street party that see many revelers covering their bodies in oils, mud and paint.
Junkanoo is a celebration in The Bahamas that begins in the early hours of 26 December, with the largest festivities being held in the capital of Nassau. The festival is thought to have originated during the years of slavery when slaves were allowed to leave the plantations over Christmas to spend time with their families and embrace their cultural traditions. Since emancipation, Junkanoo has been celebrated at other times of the year as well – such as New Years and in June – and has transformed into a euphoric gala of music and culture.
With an agricultural background, Barbados’ Crop Over festival is thought to date back to the 1780s and is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in mid-July. Although the sugar cane industry faced a major decline in the 20th century resulting in the termination of the festival in 1940, the event was later resurrected and now celebrates the area’s culture and history through music, dance, food and more.
Jamaica gained independence in 1962 and with this, the newly autonomous nation created the festival to celebrate their cultural identity. Every year since, the carnival has evolved and included new events such as street parades, costume competitions and cultural exhibitions. The Independence Festival is orchestrated by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission and takes place between July and August.
Similar to some of the other carnivals in the area, the Martinique Carnivaltakes place on the days leading up to Lent. A cultural highlight in the calendar for both locals and tourists, activities include grand parades, streets full of music and the King Carnival: a bonfire that consumes the effigy of ‘King Vaval’ on Ash Wednesday. Martinique’s festivities do not end there however, with the mid-Lent celebration of Mi-Carême reviving the jubilant atmosphere three weeks later.
Moving away from the religious origins of the festival, Grenada’s Spicemas takes place in the blissfully hot month of August and is a celebration of the beautiful mix of cultures in the area. Events such as Shortknee highlight this: a mask-wearing fair that unites masquerade traditions from Africa, Europe and the surrounding Caribbean islands.
Haitian Defile Kanaval
One of the larger carnivals in the Caribbean, the Defile Kanaval takes over the cities of Haiti in the lead up to Lent with mass frenzy and excitement. The highlight of the celebration is ‘Fat Tuesday’; on the day before Ash Wednesday, revellers enjoy Mardi Gras with costumes, music and many delicious and ‘not so healthy’ foods. Although the tragic 2010 earthquake diminished this cultural feast, many locals still celebrated, proving the nation’s enduring character.
The Cayman Islands’ carnival is a lot younger than its neighbors and as such leaves the Lent connection in the past. Opened in 1983, Batabano was created to celebrate the African history of the residents and also the vibrant cultural mix that makes up the modern day population. Taking place in May, the name ‘Batabona’ refers to the tracks left in the sand by native turtles as they traverse from nest to beach: perhaps a metaphor for the locals remembering their past while looking onto the future.
St. Kitts and Nevis National Carnival
The carnival in St Kitts and Nevis is a celebration of both African and European folklore. Celebrated in December, the St Kitts and Nevis National Carnival unites Christmas rituals with African tradition, resulting in a bonanza of energy, color and rapture. Many competitions are also held during this festive season including beauty pageants, costume contests and music heats such as the ‘Soca Monarch’.