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celebrating culture and history

Carnival in Martinique

Carnaval 2023

All about Martinique carnival

Immerse yourself in the authentic traditions of Martinique Carnival, a one-of-a-kind celebration. 

Here, carnival is nothing like in Rio or Florence. Our carnival tradition dates back to the mid-18th century when slavery was still a reality. Back then, carnival was much more than a simple party. It was a means of reviving the collective memory and of representing scenes of everyday life through satire.

Nowadays, Martinique Carnival is steeped in this deep history and carries the strength of resistance and cultural expression within it. Each year, Martinican people come together with pride and passion to perpetuate this living tradition. 
 

Carnaval 2023 parade

Dancing, Singing and Party

Come and discover the incredible costumes of Martinique’s carnival characters, such as the red devils with their sparkling masks and majestic horns, the Mariane Lapo Fig made of dried banana leaves or the Nèg gwo siwo representing the mawon or escaped slaves whose bodies are coated with a mixture of molasses and charcoal. Be prepared to be surprised by the burlesque weddings, where traditional roles are reversed in a playful and comic way. There’s so much happening, you won’t know which way to look! 

Martinique Carnival is a giant outdoor celebration. Live the experience to the full and you can immerse yourself and take part in a rich and vibrant culture. It is an incredible opportunity to discover the history, traditions and deeply held values of our island. Carnival festivities start in January on the first Sunday after Epiphany and culminate at Shrovetide which ends with Ash Wednesday.

Martinique Carnival is a time of general revelry during which private or public costume parties are also held, either in the daytime or at night.

Carnaval

Every Day of Carnival Brings Something Different 

Experience the Effervescence of Carnival in Martinique during 5 festive days!

photo d'une des reines du samedi gras du carnaval de Martinique carnaval_martinique_samedi_gras

Samedi Gras (Shrove Saturday): Carnival Queens Parade

This is the first day of Carnival when the Carnival Queens from all of Martinique’s towns and villages parade through Fort-de-France to show off their costumes to the jubilant crowd.

photo homme déguisé carnaval martinique dimanche gras Carnaval_martinique_dimanche_gras

Dimanche Gras (Shrove Sunday): Magical from the First Moment

This is the much-awaited day when Vaval, the Carnival King makes his appearance. This key Carnival figure is a satirical representation of a current theme in Martinican society and his identity is kept a close secret until he appears.
Vaval is accompanied by “groupes à pied” (marching groups) and street bands. whose entrancing music, dazzling costumes and captivating choreographies create an enchanting show for the spectators and carnival-goers who follow and dance along with the procession.

The bradjaks are also paraded on the Sunday. Bradjaks are old cars repainted in bright colors and adorned with hard-hitting slogans that are highly critical of consumer society. This cheeky bit of fun brings a touch of humor and satire to the festive carnival atmosphere.

photo burlesque carnaval martinique Carnaval_martinique_lundi_gras

Lundi Gras (Shrove Monday): The “Mariages Burlesques” Cross-Dressing Parades

The revelry continues with parades and lively street parties or vidés that will whisk you into a whirl of music and dancing. One of the highlights of Lundi Gras or Shrove Monday is the hilarious “mariage burlesque” which reverses traditional roles. Men disguise themselves as women, dressing up in bridal gear and women become their grooms.

photo diable carnaval martinique mardi gras Carnaval_martinique_mardi_gras

Mardi Gras: The Red Devil Appears

On Shrove Tuesday, the red devils invade the streets. 

With their mirrored and horned masks, symbolizing knowledge and abundance, they are an awe-inspiring and captivating sight. 

Dressed in red coats dotted with tiny mirrors and sporting cattle horns, they weave through the crowds in the parade, scaring children and creating an atmosphere of jubilant fear. Can you feel the hairs on your arms standing up? 

Accompanied by street bands, the red devils will draw you into the raging street party (vidé), with its beating drums and swathe of red.

photo du carnaval martinique mercredi des centres Carnaval_martinique_mercredi_des_cendres

Ash Wednesday: The Bidding of Farewell to the Carnival King

Ash Wednesday, the day of mourning, marks the end of Carnival, with its procession of devils and the moving farewell of King Vaval. 

Dressed in black and white, carnival-goers and spectators gather for a spectacular procession through the streets, singing the poignant song “Magré lavi-a red, Vaval ka kité nou!” (Despite the harshness of life, Vaval is preparing to leave us).
Vaval’s concubines, which are sometimes men dressed in women’s clothes, turn into mourners, creating a symphony of lamentations. 

At the end of this emotion-filled day, the effigy of Vaval is burned and his ashes spread. This announces the end of the reign of the Carnival King ... until the following year.

Learn the Carnival lexicon  

The marching groups

These marching groups (called "Groupes à pied") give rhythm to the vidés or street parties with their traditional instruments and unrelenting parading through the streets. The best way to take part in the festivities is to join in the vidé, by letting the music carry you away and tagging on to a groupe à pied.

The Nèg gwo siwo (Nèg’ Marrons)

The Nèg’ Marron fugitive slaves were legendary figures of the colonial era. Today they are represented by men who smear their bodies with cane sugar molasses and charcoal. Watch out, they stain and will try to dirty you!

The Clay Men

As their name suggests, the clay men are real human statues. With their bodies covered in clay, these men and women remain still in poses worthy of works of art.

The Red Devils

Mardi gras is red devil day. They come out to scare carnival-goers wearing masks that are as original as they are grotesque.

The vidé pyjama

Parade bringing together carnival lovers in the early morning as well as revelers who have partied on through to the early hours. The appropriate attire for this occasion is of course pajamas in the joyfully quirky spirit of carnival. After this joyous street party, you can try a delicious Creole blood sausage or “boudin créole”, accompanied if you wish by a “décollage” (literally meaning “take-off” in English), which is the first punch of the day drunk on an empty stomach to get you into the swing of things.

His Majesty King Vaval

Giant mascot representing a subject, person or theme that has recently been in the news. One or more Martinican artists are responsible for making him, promoting the island’s talent and arts and crafts.

Colorful parade - All koulè parade - 

Colorful parade - All koulè parade - 

photo du lundi gras pendant le Carnaval 2023
photo du mardi gras pendant le carnaval 2023
photo du samedi gras pendant le carnaval 2023
photo du samedi gras pendant le carnaval 2023
photo du lundi gras pendant le Carnaval 2023

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