You’ve seen or heard of Haiti suffering. Now, let me share with you how Haiti rejoices in life and has fun through carnival.
The sound of the rain falling on the galvanise of Eden villa in the early hours of Sunday morning made me think ‘Oh please do not rain on Carnival day!’. Wouldn’t that be something? For the entire time I have been here, it hadn’t rained until then. But by the time I woke up it was more or less done. The night before I attended the ‘Jacmel Cocktail Poetique’ where the national poets read passionately about Jacmel and dance troupes show off their skills. Very much a cultural night. A fete by the band Kreyol-la also happened that Saturday night.
I woke up early as Anna and I had arranged for our face to be painted by the world famous international artist Garibaldi Jeanlo by 9 am. Jacmel town is up early. I can hear some music and the motorbikes coming up our road as the main streets are blocked now. There is an air of anticipation. But everything is delayed because of the rain. It is still a bit drizzly so the location and time of the face painting has changed. Markensy comes to pick us up around 10:30 and we head to the very centre of town. Can you believe work is still going ahead for the carnival? Trucks are still being painted. However, they do not go on route until well into the night so there is still time.
We have our faces painted beautifully and head back to the hotel. Typically the parade begins around 10,11. However Makensy tells us it might begin around 12,1. I want to get there early so I can get some good shots at ground level before it gets seriously crowded (I heard the crowds are unbelieveable) and I have to head to the stalls built on first floor level of the various shops along the route. This is Anna’s ( a writer for Lonely Planet) first time to carnival. She is also excited and wanting to take some images. But first we head to the mayor’s building to get pictures of the king and queen of the parade. A man usher’s us through. We arrive upstairs and they are swamped by media taking pictures on the first floor. But we manage to get some there and more as they pose at the bottom of the stairs just outside of the hall.
Heading to the main route, it is getting busy. We pause somewhere to wait and are told some bands have already been! It’s about 1pm now. But more are on their way. And they are! Within five mintues one costume band called ‘Club Culturiel Explosion’ turns the corner. Beautiful, colourful creole traditional costumes of full skirts, tops and headdresses which the ladies joyfully swirl and dance around with practiced grace.
More bands arrive. Bands with political references. Jab Bands. Masked bands of papier mache depicting animal characters real and fantasy, masks and bands with references to religion; catholic and voodoo. I don’t know where to begin. I want to capture it all to show the world this beauty and creativity.
I didn’t see any bikini type, Brazilian beads and feathers costumes. But as many have told me, this is not of the culture of Jacmel and Haiti. And although the carnival is expanding and in some ways incorporating modern influences, they are fervently remaining true to their culture, the art of papier mache, the culture creole. There were children, adults, older people all participating in carnival in costume or wearing masks or wearing a t-shirt. It was a hot day! I could see one or two participants, taking off their masks, pouring water over their heads and putting their masks back on to continue the route. For the love of carnival.
What I really liked was the separation of costumes, footbands and live music trucks. After the costumes came the footbands which seemed to be the equivalent of our t-shirt bands of Notting Hill. Except that they had live music incorporated in each band (horns, drums, tamboo) and they also had a routine prepared to present before the main stand. So much live music! I loved it and the crowd responded. The music was in creole and I could understand it but you know what? Music is music. And good music will get to you whatever you natural language.
By that time, it was about 3pm and it was getting seriously crowded. It was time to get to the stalls. I was fortunate enough to get a bracelet for the main stand of the carnival and had a great vantage point with free food and drinks. I was even able to see the newly appointed President of Haiti and his wife arrive for the carnival. Yes.. even the president was at carnival! That’s like the prime minister or the queen attending carnival! Can you imagine??? The Queen of England ever attending Notting Hill Carnival? This is how highly regarded the carnival of Jacmel is to this country. I got speaking to a few of the people next to me in the stalls with my creole (it’s getting better).
The stalls are packed, the roads are heaving. I kid you not. Jacmel is not a big town. And the main route from my view appears to have been given a moving carpet of people. It is heaving. There are one or two arguments from overexcited revellers and it is squashed quickly either by their friends, other revellers or the police. Perhaps because of the presence of the President or due to the large numbers of people, there were quite a few police, special police and army people about, especially by the main stall. But that did not seem to bother anyone. People enjoyed themselves. They danced, sang, watched and made commentary on the costumes and floats. This is the Haiti I wanted to see, the side of Haiti less internationally publicised, the joy of the people.
It has been a very long day. I’ve forgotten what it is to be a spectator at a carnival; the waiting, making sure you get a good spot even on the main stall. By 22:00, I felt I had experienced enough of all parts of the carnival. I loved it and will definitely be returning! But foremost of my mind at that time was how I was going to get back to Eden Villa in this crowd in the dark and how long it would take! Since I have been here, I have explored the center of the city quite a bit so was very confident about the back streets and shorts cuts to get to the guest house. Let me quite clear about this. Jacmel is very safe. At no point I felt under threat and there were many people walking around even in the back streets and short cuts. So I took no risk. I got to the Villa exhausted, but happy. I came to Haiti to experience Jacmel carnival and it was everything I had heard about and more. To come to Haiti for carnival is probably one of my best decisions ever. Many many thanks to ‘Experience Jacmel’ for all their assistance.