Carnival is a celebration practiced all over the world including countries like Brazil, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, and even Italy and England. In New Orleans they celebrate Mardi Gras, which is similar, but also quite different. I am sure the format and style vary from country to country. I can only explain from what I observed this past week in Trinidad & Tobago, which is what I aim to do below and explain how Carnival works.
What is Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago
Carnival is two day celebration centered on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday usually in February. See Carnival dates for Trinidad & Tobago here. It begins with J’Ouvert late Sunday night or early Monday morning, depending on if you stayed up all night or awoke early. Then Carnival begins in full swing on Monday and Tuesday. These are the main aspects of Carnival, but there are pre-parties, post Carnival parties, and preparation that take place beginning immediately after the New Year and go for weeks afterwards.
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The history of Carnival dates back to masquerades held by the French who immigrated to the island after the French Revolution in 1789 from nearby Martinique and other neighboring islands. Legend has it that their slaves could not take part in the celebration and therefore had their own party mimicking their masters.
J’Ouvert is short for the words jour and ouvert which mean day and open and translate to daybreak. Bands gather at different points in Port of Spain and march behind music trucks blaring soca, which is a local music combining aspects of calypso, rap, and Indian music.
Carnival Monday is a laid back parade where bands march through Port of Spain in t-shirts or only part of their costumes. Many people skip Carnival Monday if they participate in J’Ouvert since the latter goes all night.
Carnival Tuesday is the main day of the event and where everything culminates. Bands dress up in their brightest flare with feathers, body paint, and outlandish costumes. They follow their music trucks and pass four judging points including the grandstand where they are judged on their costumes and other factors. Bands usually start at the grandstand and then march around Port of Spain for the rest of the day. There may be as many as 50,000 people who participate in the bands. Hundreds of thousands more come to watch the spectacle and hang out at various spots along the parade route.
What is playing mas
When you come to Trinidad & Tobago for Carnival, you can either choose to participate or just watch. If you choose to join it is called playing mas. This means you join a group or band and march with your group. You pay an all inclusive fee which includes costume, drinks, and music. Some bands even have a bathroom truck. This is a great way to have fun and quite an adventure. If you do J’Ouvert, it is also another all inclusive fee. Playing mas can cost anywhere from $200.00 to up to $2,000 and even more depending on the expense of the costumes.
Characteristics of Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago
Carnival is risqué, but not over the top sexy –
Anyone who viewed my beautiful women of Carnival knows that the ladies dress up really hot and sexy on Carnival Tuesday; however, it is to the point of tackinessl. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is known to get out of hand with drunk revelers shouting show your t@#s and many ladies accommodating the request in exchange for beads. This type of behavior does not happen here. If you were to yell this refrain on the streets of Port of Spain you would be creating a huge travel faux pas.
Carnival is a huge party, but a peaceful celebration
For the amount of beer and rum consumed on the streets in Port of Spain for these couple of days you would think behavior would be out of control. Perhaps the heat tempers peoples drinking because there is a lot drinking, but a lack of overall drunkenness. With up to a million residents and visitors flocking to Port of Spain you would think a random fight would break out. We did not see one altercation in the three day event. It was a very peaceful celebration.
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Soca and wining rule the day
Soca is a mixture of calypso, rap, and Indian music and is the music that dominates the events. Each band has their own truck blaring soca music while band members follow behind drinking and wining. Wining is a dance where people grind each other with the men usually in the back. Although this practice sounds very overly sexual, it is actually all fun and benign. After the wine, the practitioners usually laugh and then carry on with the party and go their separate ways.
If you came to this page and have questions about Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago that this post did not answer, please leave a comment, and I will do my best to answer. Also, if you are Trini and you think I did not explain something correctly or adequately, please chime in. I love hearing from readers even if it is critical.
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