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Carnival

During the four-day holiday of Carnival festivities, activity on the island nearly comes to a standstill. Preparations begin as early as Epiphany Sunday with the election of the Carnival Queens, and last until the day before Fat Sunday (dimanche gras). The parades and parties start on Big Sunday and finish on Ash Wednesday when the carnival effigy, the “Vaval” King, is burned.

Themes:

  • Fat Monday: comical wedding
  • Fat Tuesday: red devils
  • Ash Wednesday: she-devils and black & white dress.
  • It’s Fun and It’s Safe

It’s easy for tourists to take in all the fun of Carnival. They can safely join the parade or watch from bleachers set up on the sidewalks or from balconies overlooking the streets and squares. Truman Capote’s story describes “one marvelous marching group: 50 men carrying black umbrellas and wearing silk top hats, their torsos painted with phosphorescent skeleton bones; old ladies with gold-tinsel wigs and sequins pasted all over their faces.”

Focal point for the final celebration is King Carnival, a giant colorful effigy known as Vaval, along with his alter ego, Bwa-Bwa, who towers over the floats and dancing procession. By now, humorous death notices of King Carnival have been announced in local media. Festivities continue as his funeral pyre is built. Dusk falls, then flames light up the night sky. As Vaval’s effigy is consumed by the fire, dancing reaches its apogee. Only when the flames die down does a calm settle over the crowd. With the burial of Vaval, they chant “Vaval, pas quitte nous”, which translates into “Carnival don’t leave us.”

Then it is over. At least for the time being…

The mischief is revived three weeks later – with a 24-hour reprise of Carnival called Mi-Carême, or mid-Lent. There is no Vaval, but there are costumes and parades again, endless marching bands, plus much revelry and rum — all in the spirit of Carnival, Martinican-style. In towns and villages throughout the island, there is dancing and dining galore. The favored food everywhere is “matoutou” or curried crab, a dish that is also popular just after Lent at Easter Monday beach picnics.