Haiti’s biggest celebration of the year, Carnival, or “Kanaval” in Haitian Creole, begins every year in late January and ends with a four-day party right before the Roman Catholic holiday of Ash Wednesday.1 Every Sunday for a month in the lead-up to the Carnival, several hundred thousand people descend on the surrounding downtown area of Port-au-Prince for the parade, the music, and the free-flowing and alcohol-fueled celebration. Rara bands are active on the streets, and clubs and bars hold big parties.
Although the festivity has a medieval European root, Haitian Carnival is a fusion of clandestine Vodou, ancestral memory, political satire, and personal revelation.3 It is not only a time to celebrate the pleasures of life before a time of penance and self-restraint (Lent), but it is also a window of opportunities for the many Haitians to express themselves through their music, costumes, masks, and any other performance pieces.4 Overall, regardless of the socioeconomic status of the participant, Haitian Carnival is enjoyed by everyone as one people, one culture, and one nation.
Although the National Carnival celebration in Port-au-Prince has been canceled this year due to an ongoing political and economic crisis, the pre-Lenten Mardi Gras festivities were kick-started on January 16th in Jacmel, a coastal town in Southern Haiti. Famous for its craft of papier-mâché, the Jacmel parade had characters ranging from dinosaurs and fish to snakes and the faces of senators and deputies. On the school grounds of EML, the headmaster also organized special activities for the students and their families to celebrate Haitian Carnaval. Students were dressed in special costumes, make-up, and masks. Their families were also entertained with some dancing and singing performed by the students.
As Haiti continues to combat the pandemic and its instability, as one people, they will continue to use art, music, and dance to celebrate their history and future story. “It was wonderful to see the students, parents, and staff having a moment of fun,” said Marie Thadal, the founder of ITIAH Angels for Learning.
Jermyn, L., NgCheong-Lum, R. (2005). Haiti. United States: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://www.google.com/books/edition/Haiti/FUSD2v4EQE8C?hl=en&gbpv=0&kptab=overview
Clammer, P. (2016). Haiti. United Kingdom: Bradt Travel Guides. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://www.google.com/books/edition/Haiti/e6AyDQAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0
Acervo Lima. (2022). Haitian Carnival. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://wiki.acervolima.com/haitian-carnival/
Holt International. (2022). How Sponsored Children and Families Celebrate Haitian Carnival. Retrieved April 2, 2022, from https://www.holtinternational.org/how-sponsored-children-and-families-celebrate-haitian-carnival/
HaitiLibre. (2022). Haiti – FLASH : The Government cancels the National Carnival 2022 but…Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://www.haitilibre.com/en/news-35892-haiti-flash-the-government-cancels-the-national-carnival-2022-but.html
HaitianTimes. (2022). Jacmel opens Carnival season with jubilance and cooperation. Retrieved on April 2, 2022, from https://haitiantimes.com/2022/02/10/jacmel-opens-carnival-season-with-jubilance-and-cooperation/
Written by Jennifer ShuPing-Chen