St. Kitts Carnival-Add It To Your Bucket List!

Carnival time is my favorite time of year here in St. Kitts! Maybe the feelings that are pervasive during this time have something to do with the fact that it comes over the Christmas holiday. It has such a feeling of love in the air. The humor and folklore of the people takes center stage. The colors are gorgeous. The creativity phenomenal.

This year was St. Kitts Carnival’s 40th year. To celebrate there were 40 days of Carnival this year. There are calypso shows, in which singers make public commentary about the state of the country to a swaying, calypso beat. The lyrics can be quite funny, but also contain a lot of truth about life, relationships, politics, and crime. To quote King Socrates,

“Before you put on the ring, ring

You better check out de ting, ting”

A song stating that you’ll be in for hard times if you don’t know about someone before you marry them.


 

There are queen shows with many beautiful, talented young ladies competing.

There are free performances on the street by popular, local musicians nightly. They play pulsing music that has people dancing half the night.

Carnival really kicks into high gear starting on Christmas night. People here do celebrate Christmas. They go to church, give presents, and set up trees. But…as the clock strikes midnight, J’Ouvert begins. J’Ouvert is a party like no other. People go out into the streets in troupes and dance the whole night long in a proccession from their starting point to downtown Basseterre. Once the troupes, that are following behind a truck with a band or star DJ, reach town they continue the procession through the winding streets of Basseterre. Troupes have costumes they wear for the event. These can be anything from t-shirts that are cut and modified for the occasion, to angel wings or devil’s horns. There is also a judging that takes place as to which troupe is the best, which song is the best (they are composed each year for the occasion), and which troupe is the largest. As you can imagine this really adds to the enthusiasm of the crowd. At mid-morning, the “wet down” happens. At this point a fire hose is sprayed into the street while the people continue to dance in the spray. The dancers are euphoric (the state may be encouraged by a fair amount of alcohol) and dance with complete abandon at this point. Many people dress in costumes other than the troupe costumes as well. There are monster masks, capes, paint, and glitter. A great time and an unforgettable experience!

 

About a week later the next big event of St. Kitts Carnival happens. The New Year’s Day Parade is a spectacle unto itself. Colorful sequined costumes, headresses, folklore, music, and fantasy it’s a plethora for the senses.

Some of the folklore you will see include the Masquerades , the Actors, the Bull, and the Moko-jumbles. Some of these these traditions have their roots in Africa, some are hundreds of years old, and others are a more recent development. They developed as a way for the slaves to entertain themselves and their master over the Christmas holiday.

The Bull is the most recent development and is based on a DSC01128 300x225 St. Kitts Carnival Add It To Your Bucket List!story that occurred here in St. Kitts in 1917. It has a cast of eight that comically depict the story of a mean bull that gored a slave and was subsequently stabbed by the man. The slave reports the bull’s condition to the bull’s owner. The doctor comes in to check the bull’s injuries. The bull survives and becomes a sex-starved creature. The cast also includes a dog and a Police Sergeant. They are accompanied by a string band consisting of tambourine, triangle, chopping-reel, shackpan, and bamboo fife. Many of the members carry whips that they crack on the ground as they dance in their brightly colored costumes. The bull’s dance is sexually suggestive and he may decide flirt with the spectators. Sometimes he will even chase them for short distances to the guffaws of all around.

DSC01126 300x225 St. Kitts Carnival Add It To Your Bucket List!

Watch out for that pitchfork!

DSC011121 300x225 St. Kitts Carnival Add It To Your Bucket List!This same Governor de Poincy is said to be responsible for another troupe, the Clowns or Masquerades. This troupe is unique to St. Kitts and was thought to be developed by the Governor to entertain his guests over the holidays. The costumes are colorful and flowing with streamers accented by bells and mirrors. They wear a wire mesh mask over their faces to disguise their identity while they perform dances such as the quadrille, and other dances that possibly go back to more African origins. They carry whips which they crack on the ground to accent the beat, as they dance to the music produced by the String Band that accompanies them. They also wear tall hats with peacock feathers attached, accenting their head movements and sometime tickling a spectator on the sidelines with them.

The oldest of the groups is the Moko-jumbies. Their dance DSC011711 225x300 St. Kitts Carnival Add It To Your Bucket List!has it’s origins in West Africa. Dancing on 6-9 foot stilts, the players wear long pants, long shirts, and conical hats that accentuate their height. Accompanied by a group of musicians they bend backwards, raise their stilts in the air, and amaze audiences with their daring and flexibility.

This article is meant to be a brief overview for those that are new to St. Kitts. If you would like to know more about these groups you can find information on the St. Kitts tourism site at http://www.stkittstourism.kn/love-st-kitts-culture-history-arts-culture.php

Some of the troupes in the Carnival Parade are a modern DSC01142 300x225 St. Kitts Carnival Add It To Your Bucket List!development. With modern pumping music that vibrates the ground, they are dressed as splendidly as any Las Vegas showgirl ever was. Bright colors, beads, and sequins accentuate their movements as they gyrate through the streets in the parade.

The last day of Carnival is call “Last Lap” during which all the troupes meet to dance in a procession through the streets one last time. A public holiday the winners of the parade are announced on this day and victories celebrated.

I look forward to Carnival every year. I hope you will take the time to enjoy the humor and beauty that is St. Kitts Carnival while you are living in St. Kitts!
In parting I will leave you with this video I created of St. Kitts Carnival 2012. Enjoy!

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