At the carnival, we choose to be someone else, just for one day.
We may decide to wear a beautiful masquerade costume. Or to cover ourselves in mud, chocolate or colours.
We could even dress as a devil.
Since we’re someone else.

The carnival didn’t originate from the Caribbean but the art of Masquerade has always been prevalent in Africa.
It was celebrated in Europe, as early as the 14th century.
It was brought to the Caribbean by the Europeans, but slaves were not originally allowed to celebrate it.
Caribbean cultures have since made it theirs, in a very unique way.

Could it be that the need for impersonation is an overwhelming need, a healing process, a catharsis maybe?
Being someone else, impersonating someone is the most liberating feeling.
After all, children do it daily, in their role-playing games.

In Rio, Trinidad and Notting Hill, masqueraders mostly wear hand-crafted costumes, some of them extremely elaborated and imaginative.
In French Guiana, women dress as touloulou, a costume that makes them completely unrecognisable.
They are then able to choose their dancing partner as they please, during the masquerade balls. Men are not disguised and are not allowed to refuse a dance.
In Martinique, there are traditional sections of men dressed as women!

Touloulou, French Guiana
Touloulou, French Guiana

And, typical of all the Caribbean carnivals, are the j’ouvert celebrations, where revellers cover themselves in mud, chocolate or colours.

Carnival is far from being an empty celebration, it has a meaning deeply rooted in our Caribbean history.
Explore more on the Caribbean Beat Magazine.

Photo credit: Les Nuguet’s blog