This weekend Jillian, Ben, Alexis and I traveled down to the southern coastal town of Jacmel to see what this whole Carnival thing was all about, and it was pretty amazing. Hundreds of thousands of people were there to see what had to be thousands of hand made paper mache masks in one of the coolest cultural celebrations I have ever experienced.
Like I said before, Carnival was canceled last year because the earthquake had hit less than two months before, so many of the mask-makers still had the masks that they made for last year but were never able to use. In addition, many of them made a bunch of new masks for this year, so at times the streets were just packed with them.
The parade lasted for HOURS, with artisan after artisan showing off their creations. There was also a concerted effort to get out the word about issues that are currently hitting Haiti. There were a few groups that used their paper maching abilities to portray cholera, and show what people need to do to avoid it. There was also some political messaging as well, with some groups calling for the return of Aristide, and others showing Preval as an alcoholic devil. (All in good fun, of course…)
But Carnival is actually more than just scary masks, music, and dancing. There are a number of groups who decorate themselves symbolically in a way that portrays a time in Haiti’s history. For instance, there are the Chaloska, who “mimic Charles Oscar Etienne, chief of police who in 1915 killed the political prisoners which led to the fall of Vilbrun Guillaume Sam and then to the American occupation.” (Thanks Christina Schutt!) Their enormous red mouths filled with large protruding teeth make them hard to miss, and they march down the roads acting out the prosecution of said political prisoners. It’s actually kind of creepy, but incredibly interesting at the same time.
Also there was the Lanse Kod, or “The Rope Throwers”, who take sugar cane syrup mixed with charcoal and cover their bodies in it. They are meant to portray the slaves that made up this country before becoming the first independent nation in Latin America after it revolted in 1804. The ropes signify their slavery, and they run around blocking roads with their ropes and asking for “ti-kob”, or a little money. They also run around terrorizing revelers, and spreading the black paint all over the place (I ended the day with a big black splotch on my face and arm).
There were a ton of other groups which I’m not really sure of their origin, or what they tried to signify, but it goes without saying that it was incredibly interesting and made for some amazing pictures. It was really nice to see the people here stepping back from the normal craziness of life in Haiti and just enjoying themselves and their culture. The country needed this, they needed to be able to celebrate something, and having Carnival has given them something to be happy about.
Ben and I are working on making a multimedia with pictures and video that we took from the festivities, and once that is finished (and hopefully bought by someone), I will throw that up here for everyone to enjoy. Until then, feel free to click the link below and check out some more pictures from the weekend!