Colourful costumes, lively music, floats and processions : Vaval is back ! Carnavals are major events in the West Indies. The Sunday following Epiphany the jubilation period begins. The party gets more powerful and experiences its paroxysm on Ash Wednesday
Of religious origin, the carnaval was supposed to allow Christians to party and eat meat one last time before starting the 40 days of Lent representing deprivation. Today, the very pronounced taste of the Antilles people for parties has transformed this event into a big party truly popular and completely free. The carnaval is a very anticipated time of the year by kids and adults alike, it is the time for fun where all layers of society get together in the streets to dance and have fun. It is also an ordinary spectacle where groups on foot and floats parade along the streets in all colours, sounds and rythms.
The carnaval starts calmly after Epiphany. After the numerous preparations during the months before the carnaval, rehearsals start. School children that parents and teachers make up and dress up (little devils, animals, flowers, butterflies or even, superman or Zorro) open the festivities. Each commune gets prepared and the party happens at first just at the week-end, marked by Miss carnaval elections, dance and costume competitions.
The party culminates during the 4 fat days. In the streets the euphoria of a people is present everywhere seized by an abrupt frenzy. Circulation is forbidden, the parades start. Everyone proudly shows off their costume. Vivid colours, much strass and glitter, and of course, long feathers are the essential ingredient. Certain traditional costumes return year after year like the ‘’Neg Gwo Siwo’’ whose bodies are coated with tallow and cane syrup or even the Indians, in memory to the first inhabitants of the island. Men like to dress up as women and give a spectacle of ‘’burlesque marriages’’. Women from Guadeloupe know how to emphasize their natural elegance by using their shoulders and legs under romantic, modern, sexy or naive costumes.
Rythm and music are an integral part of the spectacle. Groups on foot are accompanied by musicians. Percussion, trumpets and trombones or simply whistles are paraded all over the place. Groups on foot are accompanied by floats where the newly elected miss's are paraded. It is also on the floats that the large sound systems are set up that follow the parade when the musicians take a break.They play carnival hits, and particularly the hit of the carnival, often a well known song « remixed » and adapted to the circumstances with new lyrics.
At night, numerous bals and zouks receive party goers throughout the night.
Tuesday morning in Guadeloupe, there are ‘’Vidés en pyjama’’, in the streets, where pyjamas, more or less excentric, are the required costume.
Fat tuesday is the day of the parade in red and black at Basse-Terre and Pointe-à-Pitre. Masks with horns are out and clothing, the colour of blood, is decorated with pieces of mirrors.
Finally, Ash wednesday is the last day of the carnaval, the day of Vaval's death, king of the carnaval. He is represented by a big puppet, and carried in the streets, at the head of a long procession where black and white, coulours of mourning, are required. King Vaval is burned at nightfall, which gives the mass of people one last chance to let go around the fire.
For the past few years, the creation of numerous "carnaval comities" has largely contributed to the improvement of the spectacle. These comities prepare their choreographies, costumes and floats long before the carnaval to give superb performaces when the time comes.
If the carnaval in the French Antilles has not got the same flamboyance and size of that of Rio de Janeiro, it still remains a great spectacle, picttoresque and scene changing, absolutely unmissable for anyone visiting during this period.