Haiti’s two carnival seasons
JEAN H. CHARLES
Published: Aug 07, 2013
President Michel Martelly, the self-proclaimed president of Kompa music (the musical genre of Haiti) long before becoming president of the Republic of Haiti, has succeeded his bet of giving two carnival seasons to the country.
The first one, the customary one that takes place the weekend before Lent, now has a different venue every year. It is moving to each one of the 10 major cities of Haiti. The second one has been designed to compensate the people of Port au Prince from the fun and the deficit in commercial revenue generated by the Carnival that for centuries has taken place in the capital.
The opposition and the naysayers have trumpeted doom before the event. Some of the best radio commentators have vilified the president for moving the national Carnival from Port au Prince. Yet, it has produced a boom to the regional cities. New infrastructure has been built to accommodate the visitors, those visitors have discovered their own country they did not know before; relationships have incubated new business, generating growth in the hinterland, and Christmas came in July for the small merchants of water, juice, soda and beer in Port au Prince.
I missed the first Carnival of Flowers last year, the new name of the second institution created by the president. I was in New York attending to my father’s routine medical examination in the United States. I am in Haiti this year and I would not miss the event for any reason.
In fact, I was in the northern part of Haiti, reveling in the summer religious fiesta of St. Jacques le Majeur in voodoo-infested La Plaine du Nord, as well as the debauchery culture of Limonade for the fiesta of St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary. I skipped the fiesta of St. Martha on July 29 in the bucolic village of Marmelade to be on time in the plaza of independence in Port au Prince, the venue of the flower carnival.
I arrived late on the scene, around 10 in the evening, indulging in a siesta to be ready for the debauchery. The Carnival started at four in the afternoon, to finish at four o’clock the next morning for three days. Some 20 musical bands in giant floats that reminded the gift of Troy to the city of Athena followed each other. Filled with gorgeous women that Haiti is so full of, engaging in sensuous and lascivious movements that send onlookers into ecstasy.
Following each band there was a mass of men and women engaging in that mellow mood of dancing that characterizes the Haitian musical genre. There was a back and forth movement from one band to another, the crowd following one band trying to eat both cakes at the same time, rushing back to join the next band to maintain the sexual trance as long as possible.
I have attended several carnivals in this hemisphere, Rio, Brooklyn, Trinidad and Salvador de Bahia. The Haitian carnival is much closer to the carnival in Salvador de Bahia, where the crowd is the motor and the fun of the event. In Trinidad, you must belong to the musical group in paying the fee for the costume to follow the band.
In Haiti, as long as you are not of a faint heart, you can get yourself into the band formation, no uniform is necessary and there is no fee either. All night long you will be moved by this human wave that will shake all your senses under the baton of this mellow genre that invites the senses to explode to their utmost limit. I wholly enjoy dancing with a complete stranger to the mellow music of the Panorama of les Cayes. It brought back memories of 50 years ago when Haiti was heaven on earth.
There were very few tourists in Port au Prince for the second carnival following the Lenten one in Cap Haitien. Haiti is suffering from a tourism embargo enforced not only by the foreign press but also by its own diaspora. Recently, some 500 of its best luminaries represented by the Haitian Medical Association Abroad held its annual conference in St. Martin on or around the same time as this carnival. It could have killed two birds at the same time, engaging in serious dancing at night while deliberating scientific issues in public health and other tropical diseases during the day.
Hopefully, the new president of the association will take the message and bring the association to Haiti next summer. Haiti through its carnival season is open to all organizations that are seeking a full experience for their annual conference. The slogan for the Haitian Ministry of Culture to the world should be: Let’s meet in Haiti in February or in July, the memory will stamp the members forever!
President Michel Martelly is fighting an uphill battle in changing the face of Haiti at home and abroad. The critics are blaming him for holding the Carnival on the day that commemorates the invasion of Haiti by the American (July 28, 1915), as if the commemoration of the end of the occupation, not the beginning, was not the appropriate one to celebrate?
The ‘pleureuses’ might have been the same one that occasions the second invasion of Haiti by the forces of the United Nations that still lingers on the territory. Yet, the people of Haiti in descending en masse (some two million) in the Carnival were the best answer to the hypocritical approach of the opposition forces.
Haiti reminds me of the description by Frank Bruni in his recent op-ed piece on Detroit. As Detroit in its vow, Haiti is unpretentious. Its elaborate carnival is organized not for a tourist crowd. It is intended for the Haitian people themselves, to which the rest of the world is invited. As long as you are willing to brave your imaginary fear of Haiti and its people, you will enter into the realm of the imaginary, the fairy that make the foreign workers beg to become citizens of Haiti so they might continue to enjoy this piece of land, which is still the least discovered and the least spoiled of the hemisphere.
The Carnival of Flowers is over. Haiti with its festivals of saints in the different parishes of the country is still going on until November 1, All Saints Day. Haiti has its arms wide open for you to indulge, renew, recharge and get back to the jungle of life. Stump into it, the serum will strengthen and prolong your course of life. See you next year at the pre-Lenten carnival in Gonaives, Haiti (March 1 to March 5, 2014), the venue of the next Haitian major fiesta.
• Jean H. Charles LLB, MSW, JD is a syndicated columnist with Caribbean News Now. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org and followed for past essays at caribbeannewsnow/haiti. Published with the permission of caribbeannewsnow.com.