Carnival in the Guadeloupe Islands
Carnival is part of the Afro-Caribbean heritage. It is a major cultural event on the islands. In 1980, several federations were created in order to structure the carnival organization. The Carnival festivities begin in January, Pointe-à-Pitre and Basse-Terre host most of the entertainment. Costumes, Choregraphies and music are prepared one year in advance!
The mask is essential to the Carnival tradition. The mask is not only a material element but it also designates the character impersonated by the person who wears it. The mask is a sign of mockery and satire, you could see masks of political celebrities such as Jacques Chirac, Barack Obama or François Hollande…
But the most important masks are :
-« Mas a Kon’n » ,the Horn Mask, this costume is made with dry banana leaves.
-« Mas a fwet » , the Whip Mask, symbol of power in the rural world.
-« Mas a Kongo », the Tar Mask, people wear fieldworker pants called “konoka”, or shorts. They coat their entire body with a mixture of molasses in order to have a black skin, and they blush their lips with “roucou”. They represent the negros imported from Africa.
During Carnival, music is made with many music local instruments: recycled items (bottles, conch, wooden stick…), snare drums, Ka drums…And carnival groups have different classifications « Les groupes à cuivre », « les groupes à peau » and « les groupes synthétiseurs», click here for more info.
Among those groups, Akiyo is the most famous one in the Guadeloupe Islands and the Lesser Antilles. A very active movement, this group condemns the political system and the colonialism heritage. Another important group is Kasika, it is actually a cultural association gathering over 150 dancers and musicians. The leader of this group is Benzo (Moïse Benjamin), he won several carnival awards. The other main groups are: Matamba, Waka, Voukoum, Mas Moul Massiv or Waka Chire Band, some of those groups have already performed in New York during Brooklyn West Indian Carnival on Labor day.”
On Fat Monday, a night parade takes place in Basse-Terre and St-François, where a snare drum contest is organized.
Fat Tuesday is the main contest day (best group, best costume, best music, election of the Queen and the King of Carnival…) with a big parade in Basse terre, the Capital City. It is the most important day of the Guadeloupe Islands Carnival. During this occasion, the Guadeloupeans cook the « Beignet de carnaval » (sort of a Carnival doughnut).
On Ash Wednesday, the crowd, dressed in black and white, gathers around Vaval, the King of Carnival (a puppet) and finally burns him while dancing and singing : « Vavalkiténou,vaval ka kiténou… » (« Vaval out ,Vaval out… »). The idea is that the King must die in order to start a new cycle, he will come back to life later on. The Ash Wednesday parade is best to be seen in Pointe-à-Pitre where AKYO the most popular carnival group is out with thousands of marchers!
« Mi-Carême » (Carême is the third Thursday of the fast) is a break between Carnival and Easter. Carnival starts again during one day and everyone dresses up as demons, in black and red, in order to celebrate Vaval’s resurrection.