Just the name Mardi gras conjures up images of drunken, bead-wearing revelers dancing through the streets of New Orleans. But how, and when, did this huge mid-winter party get started? Here’s a look at the history of Mardi gras throughout the ages and across the nations. Herman states, Historians tell us that the ancient Romans probably kicked off the Mardi gras celebrations. (pg. 115)Their mid-February festival known as Lupercalia honored the god Lupercus, alternately known as the god of fertility and the god of agriculture and pastoral shepherds. In either case, his party definitely had Mardi Gras-like qualities, including days of feasting and drinking. And a little enjoying the “pleasures of the flesh”, probably, too — in fact, the term Carnival, often synonymous with Mardi gras, is derived from the Latin expression meaning “farewell to the flesh.” Like most of the ancient Roman and Greek festivals, Lupercalia was adopted and adapted by the Church as a way of subtly converting the local pagans to Christianity. The carnival-like celebration of Lupercalia thus morphed into a last “fling” before the beginning of the Lenten period. Lent refers to the 40 days of pertinence and purification celebrated between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
During Lent, the religiously faithful refrain from a number of indulgences of the “flesh”, including eating meat. (pg. 220) What began as a Roman-based celebration quickly spread across the European continent. By medieval times, lords were hosting carnivals prior to Lent in honor of the conscription of their new knights. Each region and country celebrated their own traditions, but all were indulgent. [pic] In France, this period of revelry before Lent was especially raucous. In fact, the term Mardi gras is a French expression meaning “Fat Tuesday” — likely referring to the indulgent nature of the pre-Lenten celebration. The name may have been more than just allegorical, however. Ancient pagans often marked their fertility ritual by parading a fattened ox through the town before sacrificing it. (lent pg. 101) It was also the French who brought the celebration to America. Many historians believe the party crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1699, on the ship of a French explorer named Sieur d’Iberville.
The Frenchman landed in what is today Louisiana, just south of New Orleans, the heart of America’s modern-day Mardi Gras celebrations. In fact, his landing is believed to have coincided with the French celebration of Mardi gras, explaining his choice of name for his point of entry: Point du Mardi Gras. However, dispute the d’Iberville connection, contending that it was the early French settlers to Louisiana who introduced Mardi gras to America. Regardless of the precise origin, Mardi gras can clearly be attributed to a Franco-influence. By the mid 1820s, Mardi gras was firmly rooted in the New Orleans culture. Lent later states that Today, the city’s celebrations are considered one of America’s biggest parties, with towns and cities throughout the Gulf Coast Region getting in on the fun. (112) Zulu (krewe of Mardi gras)
Early in 1909, a group of laborers who had organized a club named “The Tramps,” went to the Pythian Theater to see a musical comedy performed by the Smart Set. The comedy included a skit entitled, “There Never Was and Never Will Be a King like Me,” about the Zulu Tribe. (herman pg. 201) The earliest signs of organization came from the fact that the majority of these men belonged to a Benevolent Aid Society. Benevolent Societies were the first forms of insurance in the Black community where, for a small amount of dues, members received financial help when sick or financial aid when burying deceased members. Conversations and interviews with older members also indicate that in that era the city was divided into wards and each ward had its own group or “Club.” The Tramps were one such group. After seeing the skit, they retired to their meeting place (a room in the rear of a restaurant/bar in the 1100 block of Perdido Street), and emerged as Zulus. (pg 210).
According to herman, This group was probably made up of members from the Tramps, the Benevolent Aid Society and other ward-based groups. While the “Group” marched in Mardi gras as early as 1901, their first appearance as Zulus came in 1909, with William Story as King. The group wore raggedy pants, and had a Jubilee-singing quartet in front of and behind King Story. His costume of “lard can” crown and “banana stalk” scepter has been well documented. The Kings following William Story, (William Crawford – 1910, Peter Williams – 1912, and Henry Harris – 1914), were similarly attired. (pg. 214). 1915 heralded the first use of floats, constructed on a spring wagon, using dry good boxes. The float was decorated with palmetto leaves and moss and carried four Dukes along with the King. That humble beginning gave rise to the lavish floats we see in the Zulu parade today. On September 20, 1916, in the notorial office of Gabriel Fernandez, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club were incorporated. Twenty-two of the organization’s officers and members signed the first official document.
The Geddes and Moss Funeral Home, located on Washington Avenue, played an integral part in Zulu’s beginning, and have continued to do so throughout the years. The first official toast of King Zulu and his Queen is held at this establishment each year. Zulus were not without their controversies, either. In the 1960’s during the height of Black awareness, it was unpopular to be a Zulu. Dressing in a grass skirt and donning a black face were seen as being demeaning. Large numbers of black organizations protested against the Zulu organization, and its membership dwindled to approximately 16 men. James Russell, a long-time member, served as president in this period, and is credited with holding the organization together and slowly bringing Zulu back to the forefront. (pg. 220) In 1968, Zulu’s route took them on two major streets; namely, St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street, for the first time in the modern era to see the Zulu parade, you had to travel the so-called “back streets” of the Black neighborhoods.
The segregation laws of this period contributed to this, and Zulu tradition also played a part. In those days, neighborhood bars sponsored certain floats and, consequently, the floats were obligated to pass those bars. Passing meant stopping, as the bars advertised that the “Zulus will stop here!” Once stopped at a sponsoring bar, it was often difficult to get the riders out of the establishment, so the other floats took off in different directions to fulfill their obligations. Zulu has grown tremendously over the years. This continual growth is credited to the members for their love, loyalty and dedication to this organization. In 1978, the organization opened its doors to their new home, a two-story frame building houses a lounge downstairs for members and guests to enjoy themselves. Of all the throws to rain down from the many floats in the parades during carnival, the Zulu coconut or “Golden Nugget” is the most sought after.
The earliest reference to the coconut appears to be about 1910 when the coconuts were given from the floats in their natural “hairy” state. Some years later there is a reference to Lloyd Lucus, “the sign painter,” scraping and painting the coconuts. This was the forerunner to the beautifully decorated coconuts we see today. (pg. 229) With the proliferation of lawsuits from people alleging injury from thrown coconuts, the organization was unable to get insurance coverage in 1987. So that year, the honored tradition was suspended. After much lobbying, the Louisiana Legislature passed SB188, aptly dubbed the “Coconut Bill,” which excluded the coconut from liability for alleged injuries arising from the coconuts handed from the floats. On July 8, 1988, then-governor Edwards signed the bill into law. (pg. 233)
Carnival in the Caribbean
Hundreds of years ago followers of the Catholic religion in Italy started the tradition of holding a wild costume festival right before Lent. Because Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during Lent, they called their festival, ‘carnevale’-which means “to put away meat.” (internet site: “caribbean carnival”)As time passed, carnivals in Italy became quite famous. The practice spread to France, Spain and Portugal. As these Catholic countries began to take control of the Americas and other parts of the world, they brought with them their tradition of celebrating Carnival. In many parts of the world, where Catholic Europeans set up colonies and entered into slave trade, carnival took root. Today Carnival celebrations are found throughout the Caribbean. Traditions of the cultures have come together and especially African dance and music traditions transformed the early European carnival traditions in the Americas.
Important to the Caribbean festival arts are the ancient African traditions of parading and moving in circles through villages in costumes and masks. These traditions were believed to bring good fortune, to heal problems and chill out angry spirits. Caribbean carnival traditions also borrow from the African culture the tradition of creating pieces of sculpture, masks and costumes. For the Caribbean people carnival became an important way to express their rich cultural traditions. It takes many months of coming up with a theme or overall concept and developing costumes for the dancers. Lots of creativity, energy and patience is put into work such as welding, painting, sewing, gluing, applying feathers, sequins and glitter. Carnival groups, entertained by music orchestras, parade and dance wearing costumes depicting a common theme.
When Carnival first began it was celebrated from December 26 until Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday). Nowadays Carnival festivities and activities are being held year-round in the Caribbean. The dates on which Carnival celebrations such as; music competitions, festivals, concerts, street ‘jump-up’s’, beauty pageants, balls, parades etc. take place may vary from country to country, from island to island. For days, sometimes weeks, the people of the Caribbean express themselves socially and artistically and sheer joy with visitors from all over the world. (internet sit “Caribbean carnival”)Everyone, including the spectators, is part of the celebrations.
Antigua and Bermuda
The festivities reveal the many influences that formed the Antiguan society, cultural, social and political. Over the years cultural elements from countries like Venezuela, Brazil, Holland, Colombia and the United States have slipped into the Antiguan community and blended with and into the unique world famous carnival celebration with its typical characteristics of creativity and rhythm, dance happiness, Flamboyant costumes, Beauty pageants, Talent shows, and Great music. All these and more define a fantastic celebration of happiness that is the Antigua Carnival. In retrospect, the Antigua Carnival dates back in August 1 of 1834 when slavery was entirely abolished. In 1666, it was ravaged by French inhabitants but was soon conquered by the British and was formally restored to them by the Treaty of Breda. It all started when the local natives immediately went to the streets to express their joyful celebration of freedom.
As the years passed by, it continued not until in 1957 where it was declared an official Antigua Carnival. (oduber pg. 97) Since then, the Antigua Carnival has developed into ten days packed with revelry in a glitzy manner of dance to the beat of the Calypso. It includes marches, jump-ups and shows which always took place around the last week of July up to the first week of August. The Antigua Carnival is undeniably the best time for tourists to immerse with the culture of this Caribbean island. If you head to the city, you are fortunate to witness the Pan Ban, a steel orchestra, practicing for the event.(oduber pg. 99) They go by troupes as they set up a Mas Camp, a base where their intricate wardrobes are made. It is also the starting point as they walk to the metropolis to open the Antigua Carnival. The lively event culminates by a massive road party called J’ouvert, which means “day break”. Everybody is literally on their feet as they sway to the beat of the drums from the young night until the middle morning.
Barbados (Crop over)
Masquerading was an old African tradition, where they paraded in masks and costumes through the villages to bring good luck and to remove evil spirits. Originally materials for costumes were natural things such as; grass, beads, bones, etc. Head-pieces and Masks were made of feathers to symbolize that people can spiritually rise above anything. Most European colonies within the Caribbean who were part of the slave trade have Carnival or Carnival-like celebrations. (praiser pg. 23)Now in large countries like USA, Canada and England, where they are Caribbean communities you will find Carnival celebrations.
The History of Crop Over
The end of the sugar cane harvest, or Crop Over as it is almost always referred to, has long been the occasion for celebration. In what seems to be the earliest reference to the Crop Over festival, we find the manager of Newton Plantation writing in 1788 to the estate’s owner in England, telling him that he had held a “dinner and sober dance” for the slaves, saying: “twas a celebration of Harvest Time after the crop.” (housman pg. 304) Many aspects of plantation life in Barbados carried on unchanged after the end of slavery, and the Crop Over festival likewise continued. Never the less there must have been an important difference in the way in which the festival was perceived. Before emancipation, the planter had no choice but to support his slaves, well or badly as the case might have been, all year round. After 1838, for most people Crop Over meant not just the end of a period of hard work, but also the beginning of a period of less work and lower wages. For many the interval between two crops would indeed have been “hard times”, and the symbol of these, perhaps not invented until after Emancipation, was the figure of a man stuffed with trash (the dried leaves of the sugar cane plant) which was known as “Mr. Harding”. (pg. 311) Mr. Harding was formally introduced to the manager of the plantation, and, according to some accounts, later burnt as part of the celebrations which must have had a tinge of desperation to them as people strove to enjoy themselves while they could.
The festival was apparently fairly common at the beginning of the present century, by which time the name Crop Over seems to have ousted that of Harvest Time. A procession of carts would bring the last canes to the plantation yard, the draught animals being decorated with flamboyant, frangipani and other flowers, whilst brightly colored kerchiefs would be tied like flags to the canes. The laborers would parade around the yard, and it was at this point that that they would introduce Mr. Harding to the manager, after which they would adjourn for a dance, for the manager or the owner of the estate would normally contribute some salt meat and rum.
Even by 1940 Crop Over was being described as a “custom which has very nearly died out”, according to Housman (pg. 316), and the continuing decline of sugar and the growing availability of other sources of employment had put an end to much of traditional plantation life. The modern Crop Over, revived by the Board of Tourism in 1974 and now administered by the National Cultural Foundation, pays tribute to the fact that sugar is still important in Barbados and the immense influence which it has had on our history. The present day festival is very different from the old time Crop Over, but it continues as a tradition by offering a thrilling celebration of many aspects of Bajan Culture, old and new.
Crop-over has become the centerpiece of Barbados culture, a process enriched by much history, a savvy visitor promotional sense, and the great nearby pre-Lenten Carnival of Trinidad & Tobago. Conga-line from April 22 – May 01 begins with the longest Conga line in the Caribbean and features a series of concerts at the Malibu Conga line Village. May 1 is the finale, where bands, floats and Carnival goers take part in the May Day Parade, The Caribbean’s largest summer Carnival begins on the first Saturday with the Decorated cart and float opening and Gala crop-over opening. (praiser pg.31) This parade begins at Bridgetown Independence Square in the early afternoon and finishes at the National Stadium. Here, the opening ceremony takes place with the ceremonial delivery of the last canes and the crowning of the king and queen of the festival followed by an excellent night of entertainment and socializing. The festival, revived in 1974 following a 30-year hiatus, continues to grow and evolve with the culture. Unlike most Carnivals whose roots are in spring, Crop-over is a harvest festival dating back centuries to the end of the sugar cane season.
The end to all the grueling and arduous work was marked by the final delivery of canes to the mill. Surely a cause for song, dance and general jubilation, as such, the workers would begin the festivities by boisterously telling each other “CROP OVER.” Folk Concerts celebrating the emancipation from slavery are popular events during the Carnival season the last Carnival weekend features the most important Carnival events. On Friday, there will be the Pic-O-De-Crop Finals at the National Stadium. The next night in the wee hours of Sunday morn, the Fore-Day morning jump-up will go down from 2am till dawn. Before this special event is the steelpan competition. Cohobblopot is a huge carnival-like show where the most popular calypsonians and bands perform on Carnival Sunday night. The Calypso Contest is one of the world’s best even though it features primarily local talent.
Before the best singer/songwriters of the season are chosen, the talent will perform their new compositions at many venues or tents. These tents, with names like Super Gladiators, Conquerors, House of Soca, Pioneers and Stray Cats, play an important role in deciding who will win the title of Party Monarch, Road March Monarch and the Pic-O-De-Crop Monarch. The King and Queen of the bands competition is also an important part of the Cohobblopot Sunday show. Get tickets in advance since the National Stadium can sell out, particularly with all the talk about not allowing it to be broadcast on free TV. (pg. 37) All this buildup makes for a memorable Grand Finale, or as they say at Barbados Crop-over, the Grand Kadooment. Here, over two dozen large costumed bands will go dancing down de road inviting everyone to jump up with them as they make their way to the ocean surf. (pg. 42) Tuk:
Indigenous to Barbados, it’s a combination of African and British military rhythms with the musicians dressed in minstrel like costumes creating music from kettledrums, bass drums and whistles. They play sounds like marching band music, old-time waltzes and almost always end with an African beat. According to praier, This is a great spectacle to see. ( pg. 51) The musicians are as serious about their music as any steelband man. Although a part of the old era, it is still very alive and a part of the modern day celebrations with completions staged during Crop Over.
Calypso & Soca:
Although calypso is indigenous to Trinidad, it now holds a very prominent place in the Crop over Celebration. Like Trinidad Carnival, it has all the trimmings, the Tents, parties, semi-finals judging and then to the Calypso Monarch finals, which take place just before Grand Kadooment. The Bajan artistes are holding their own with this art form and have even created new forms like Ringband and Ragga-soca, a definite invention of the Bajan calypsonians. (pg. 55)
Borrowed from Trinidad, the Bajans have taken it, and now the popularity and growth of the steelband in Barbados is phenomenal, states praiser. (pg. 68) with every year seeing the improvement of the sound and quality of the music to the extent that steelband has now taken a place on the curriculum of many of the schools on the island.
The grand finale, a parade of the costumed bands for the final competition for “Designer of the Year” Crown. The revelers are dressed in elaborate costumes depicting various themes dancing to music playing from the most popular bandstands, with disc jockeys winding their way down to Spring Garden where they would be judged for this coveted crown. (pg. 73) St. Vincent and the Grenadines (“vincy mas”)
Hugh Ragguette, a name that is synonymous with Carnival in St. Vincent explained to The Vincentian that the historic roots of Carnival lie in deep antiquity: since at the dawn of history, man celebrated several festivals of which Carnival was one. The Kalinagos and other indigenous peoples who inhabited St. Vincent had their festivals. With the introduction of slavery, the Africans with their varying cultures and rich variety added to those expressions. Although the practice of wearing “mas'” came from Africa and was subsequently adopted by the Greek and Romans, it was actually the French who celebrated carnival in the Caribbean as the highlight of the year. After the British supplanted the French, the practice continued. The wearing of Mas’ in carnival was introduced by the Pope in Rome in 1494 and then spread throughout Europe. (Sutty pg. 37) Naturally, the slaves participated in these festivals at a different level. “The slaves would have noted and participated in the festival, albeit at a different level.
Naturally, they were not invited to the mas’ balls and dances.” stated however, when chattel slavery ended, the freed slaves embraced carnival and turned it into a “callaloo pot”, adding elements of the respective cultures.(pg 38) They took to the streets and displayed the theatrical spectacle they had created and to vent their subdued creative abilities. These street marches took place on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Unable to chain the hands and feet of the slaves any longer, in 1892, he related, the colonial Governor banned the festival claiming that the revellers were lashing out at each other and observers with whips. Ragguette held another opinion, “The main reason was to suppress the people’s culture and their peculiar African expressions. The coloniser could not understand these expressions and wanted to stifle them.” The fire that burnt within slavery was reduced to mere embers and in 1879, fuelled by the unchainable African spirit it leapt into flames again. In 1899, the people decided that come what may, ban or no ban, which they were going to celebrate.
They began the celebrations as early as the Friday preceding Ash Wednesday. As a result, the colonisers brought out what was termed “the armed might of the Empire”. (pg 44) The people resisted and a riot broke out, writing the Carnival Riots of the 11th and 12th February into this country’s history books. From then on, Carnival has been a part of St.Vincent’s culture. Four years later, “carnival fever” spread to Trinidad in the south where the festival had been banned resulting in the Comboule Riots. throughout the years people have built on and experimented with the components of Carnival; to the extent Trinidadians have invented a musical instrument in the form of the steel pan to provide accompanying music to its calypso. ( pg. 47).
By 1973, it was virtually impossible to hold all the Carnival shows during the Wednesday and Tuesday period. “Our pan, our calypso, and particularly our Mas’ has reached a level of development that it needed to spread its wings outside the Catholic Christian Carnival to a more embracing festival,” Ragguette commented. (pg. 49) Since the festival was held so soon after Christmas and the length of time available for shows coupled with the fact the Trinidad and Tobago, whom Ragguette stated “had run away with title of king of Carnival in the world and boasted of having the greatest show on earth,” held its Carnival around the same time, it was necessary to move the festival to another season.
The June-July period was decided as most suitable. (pg. 50) With more time to work, the CDC wanted to introduce a Caribbean component into its programme. Antigua and Barbuda already had a Caribbean Calypso Competition and the organisation could not get beyond the logistics of a Caribbean Pan or King and Queen of the Bands competition. sutty explained that it was felt that a show should be organised to showcase “the beauty and profound intelligence of our Caribbean women”. (pg. 53). This resulted in the birth of Miss Caribbean Carnival – Miss Carnival.
Carnival’s principal components are calypso, steelpan and playing mas (masquerade). In the historic capital City of Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, these elements are harmoniously structured to form a five day ritual pageant beginning with the King & Queen Contest (Friday), Panorama (Saturday), Dimanche Gras (Sunday), J’Ouvert (Monday) and the Parade of the Bands (Tuesday). (green pg 57) These main events and countless others build to an unforgettable epiphany of beauty and stunning display of the irrepressible human spirit before concluding and allowing the quiet first day of Lent and reflection known as Ash Wednesday to be admitted to consciousness. [pic]The genesis of this “world’s greatest” Carnival has been attributed to the many cultures of Trinidad and their interaction.
While the African influence is predominant, the Carnival carries an overriding theme of unity, a central part of this unique culture’s mythology. Trinidad’s namesake, the holy Trinity is blessed as the unifying principle. This is the country’s well known motto, resting at the base of the ubiquitous and striking T&T Coat of Arms reads, “Together we Aspire, Together we achieve.” (pg 59).Yet the wisdom lies in paradox for there is no Carnival with more intense competition than Trinidad’s. [pic]Today Trinidad’s model for public celebration is the most widely imitated festival art form in the world. Many Trinidadian Carnival artists are able to work year round performing throughout North America, Europe, and the Caribbean.
Jab Jab – The name of this mas is derived from the French patois for ‘Diable Diable”. It is pretty devil mas. The costume consists of a Kandal or satin knickers, and satin shirt with points of cloth at the waist, from which bells hang. On the chest, there is a shaped cloth panel which is decorated with swansdown, rhinestones and mirrors. Stockings and alpagatas are worn on the feet, while the headdress consists of a hood with stuffed cloth horns. The costume can come in alternating colors and be divided into front and back panels. (pg 61) The Jab Jab has a thick whip of plaited hemp which he swings and cracks threateningly. These whips can reduce the costumes of other Jab Jabs to threads. It is not to be confused with Jab Molassie. JAB MOLASSIE – Jab is the French patois for ‘Diable’ (Devil), and Molassie is the French patois for Mélasse (Molasses). (pg 62)The Jab Molassie is one of several varieties of devil mas played in Trinidad and Tobago carnival.
The costume consists of short pants or pants cut off at the knee, and a mask and horns. The jab malassie would carry chains, and wear locks and keys around his waist, and carry a pitch fork. He may smear his body with grease, tar, mud or colored dyes (red, green or blue). The jab molassie “wines” or gyrates to a rhythmic beat that is played on tins or pans by his imps. While some of his imps supply the music, others hold his chain, seemingly restraining him as he pulls against them in his wild dance. The differences among the various forms of devil mas were once distinct, but have become blurred over time.
Trinidad’s carnival is a gorgeous paradigm of how carnival can connect the entire world. In this Trinidad little nation, the lifestyle and customs of various cultures come collectively for a short five days every year, the entire country stops thinking about their dissimilarities to celebrate life! Similar to many other countries under colonial rule, the history of Native Americans and African people in Trinidad is atrocious and a sad story. At different times England and Spain both maintained Trinidad as their colonies. Around 1785, Carnival was introduced to Trinidad. The French settlers started to arrive. The custom caught on rapidly, and fancy balls were held where the rich planters pretend masks, and beautiful dresses, wigs, and dance the whole night.
The employ of masks had particular meaning for the slaves, as for several African peoples, masking is usually used in their rituals for the dead. Evidently banned from the masked balls of the French, the slaves would grasp their own tiny carnivals in their gardens — using their folklore and own rituals. However they also imitate their masters’ manners at the masked balls. Carnival has turned out to be a way to convey their authority as individuals for African people, and also for their rich cultural traditions. (pg. 102) The slavery was eradicated after 1838, the Africans were freed and started to host their individual carnival celebrations in Trinidad streets.
This carnival developed progressively and sophisticated and rapidly became trendier than the balls. Nowadays, Trinidad carnival is like a mirror that reflects the faces the many immigrant nations from Africa, India, China and Europe. Carnival is such a significant aspect of life in Trinidad, as many schools trust that funding/ sponsoring a carnival band is a way to train youngsters about their culture and roots. According to green, Hundreds of schools and community organizations contribute in Trinidad’s Kiddies Carnival. In this fashion, communities’ works as one to build up strong friendships and good respect for the various cultures that make up Trinidad. (pg. 59)
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