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carnival
Photo courtesy Jean-Marc/Jo BeLo/Jhon-John

Caribbean carnival exported to the world

by Kamilah Fabien

Put on an exquisitely beautifully decorated bikini and walk through the streets of the town. It doesn’t matter if you have a six pack or a twelve pack, that’s not what this festival is about.

Because the streets don’t become a catwalk but a canvas where costume designers express their creativity and their love for the mas. Masqueraders immerse themselves in the streets as they celebrate life and freedom.

Yes I’m talking about carnival and contrary to what many people believe, it is more than just putting on a sexy costume and showing off your body, in fact if that’s what you believe, you’re missing the point.

The beginning of the mas

Carnival began in Trinidad when the slaves gained independence and broke out into the streets to celebrate. Some dressed like their masters as sailors or devils and the celebration of freedom continues on the island yearly.

Since then carnivals have appeared all over the world following the influence of the Trinidadian carnival. London's Notting Hill, Brooklyn's Labor Day, Caribana in Toronto and Miami's carnival have roots in Trinidad's carnival.

Rio de Janeiro's carnival in Brazil and Mardi Gras of New Orleans are celebrated at the same time as Trinidad's carnival even though they have different origins.

All three are celebrated before Ash Wednesday which signals the start of the Lentern season. The word carnival has several disputed meanings, one of which is 'farewell to flesh' since many Christians abstained from meat for Lent.

The celebration was seen as a way of indulgence in music, food and drink before people made sacrifices for Lent.

Today carnival is not remembered for being a celebration of independent slaves or as a way to prepare for Lent but more as a celebration of life and being free to express yourself in any (legal) way you like while the festival is on.

This is apparent since other carnivals which stem from Trinidad's carnival are celebrated at different times of the year. Usually in the summer months to accomodate wearing the skimpy costumes.

UK carnivals

There are quite a number of carnivals in the UK as well, the largest is of course Notting Hill carnival which is celebrated every August in London.

Trinidadians migrated to England in the 1940's and took their culture with them. The first Notting Hill carnival was in 1964.There is also a carnival in Reading (May) and Leeds (August) which follow the pattern of the Trinidad carnival.

There is also a Latin American street parade held in London in August called Carnaval del pueblo. It is very similar to Notting hill carnival but on a smaller scale and exhibits Latin American music and food rather than West Indian.

bacahanal mas

If you're interested in 'playing mas' (being a masquerader) the next opportunity is for Reading's carnival on May 25th. Bacahanal Mas is band you can order a costume from.

bacahanal mas

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