Carnival in the Caribbean
The Caribbean is a festive place, and Martinique is no exception.
One of the best things about living here is the countless number of events and festivals, which take place throughout the year, all over the island. While it’s hard to squeeze in every festival to your busy schedule, there is one event that you definitely can’t miss. As soon as the Christmas festivities draw to a close and decorations are finally taken down, preparations begin for Carnival, the biggest and most exciting event of the year. Having never experienced Carnival in the Caribbean before, I was excited to see Martinique come alive in Carnival spirit. True to my expectations, the celebrations were loud, vibrant and energetic. For five days, the streets of Fort de France were filled with huge crowds, elaborate costumes and pulsing music. Daily routines and commitments were completely abandoned while everyone took to the streets with crazy dance moves and exuberant costumes. In Martinique, Carnival is a celebration that brings people together, regardless of their age, ethnicity or religion. Everybody is united in this grand celebration of life. An interesting aspect of Carnival for me was to see how many different cultural influences there were. The performances of street revellers strongly mirrored ritual African dance, while the costumes were European, with lavish masks closely resembling the costume of French masquerade balls. The music was also a unique blend of West African, Caribbean and European influences.
So, what are the roots of Martinique’s culture? Most of the population of Martinique are of African descent. They can trace their history back to Africans who were brought to the Caribbean as slaves. After the abolition of slavery, many Caribbean societies embraced forms of African culture and identity, which are strongly in evidence today. As an overseas department of France and a former colony of France, Martinique is also deeply influenced by French culture. This is what makes the island, along with Guadeloupe, different from other Caribbean islands. The people of Martinique identify as French, but also as Caribbean and African. Carnival is an expression in the truest form of the fusion of French, African and Caribbean cultures that run deep in the island, making it the unique melting pot it is today.