Carnival – The Essence of Our Culture or One Big, Hedonistic Street Party?


This week in at least 13 countries the streets will be packed will revellers, onlookers, and paraders. It’s Carnival time in New Orleans, Andorra, Argentina, St Barts, Bolivia, Brazil, Curaçao, Germany, Ecuador, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Venezuela…

In most ex-colonies, carnival is a hybrid of culture and history from the colonizers and the enslaved. During slavery  the elite would organise exclusive private parties, grand balls and hunting parties from Christmas to Ash Wednesday.  When slaves were legally emancipated they began to display what was left and remembered of their own culture. They fused musical genres, dance routines and religious rites.

There is the ancient African tradition of parading and moving in circles through villages in costumes and masks. Circling villages was believed to bring good fortune, to heal problems, and chill out angry relatives who had died and passed into the next world. Carnival traditions also borrow from the African tradition of putting together natural objects (bones, grasses, beads, shells, fabric) to create a piece of sculpture, a mask, or costume — with each object or combination of objects representing a certain idea or spiritual force.  Feathers were frequently used by Africans in their motherland on masks and headdresses as a symbol of our ability as humans to rise above problems, pains, heartbreaks, illness. Today, we see feathers used in many, many forms in creating carnival costumes.

Despite the cultural symbolism behind Carnival, some see it as hedonism. Scantily clad men, women and children. Groups of revellers sensually gyrating to pulsating rhythms. Consumption of unthinkable quantities of booze. The ideal environment for sex tourism, sex trafficking and other social ills.

Should we accept this as the ‘burden’ that comes with the ‘benefit’ or are we moving towards ‘one big street party’?  In 10 years will we be proud to see our daughters taking part in this event? This event represents a unique aspect of their culture, an event that tells a story we may not read of in school history books. An event that reminds our girls of their inextinguishable spirit – one that slavery couldn’t quell, one that modern day injustices can’t dampen.

Carnival is like a beautiful piece of art. As we continue to make our own interpretations of it we could play a role in preserving its beauty for future generations.

MOCCA Mums, how?