Jacmel carnival – fools become wise, kings become beggars, opposites mingle

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 4, 2013

All is colour, chaos, exuberance, ecstasy.Jacmel, Haiti, carnival

As they say, the carnival overturns social hierarchies and fools become wise, kings become beggars, opposites mingle.

In Jacmel, Haiti’s Prime Minister led the parade (in jeans and sneakers), the tourism minister danced and sang seemingly without a care in the world, foreign envoys wore absurd eye masks and the people jammed the streets, an avalanche, or as they say in kreyol, lavalas.

Colour, chaos, exuberance, ecstasy

Everywhere, there was Jacmel’s signature papier mache craft – outsize masks and animals.

Jacmel, papier mache, carnival

Jacmel is famous for its papier mache

Giant packets of cigarettes, buckets, boxes of soap and bottles of Barbancourt Rhum ‘walked’ through the town – many of the daily features of ordinary Haitians’ lives. “Pa boule plastik” read one of the first signs in the parade. The kreyol injunction against burning plastic was just one of the multiple socially aware messages borne aloft through the throngs of happy people, as they imbibed wom (kreyol for rum), ate griyo (fried pork), banan pesse (fried bananas) and pikliz (chile-hot Haitian coleslaw). Almost everyone might have been a carnival queen. Cheeks and eyes were fabulously painted, gold dust shimmered on bare shoulders, fingernails were carefully multi-coloured.

Jacmel’s orgy of fun is set to be magnified at the grand carnival in Cap Haitien next weekend and in Trinidad and Tobago, where police chief Senior Superintendent Stephen Ramsubhag has announced a three-day security-fest to parallel the frolic-fest. Yon pran poze (very clever).

Jack Kerouac

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac