Grenada Carnival – let's party!

Grenada 's Carnival has been celebrated on the island since the Europeans occupied the island. It 's thought that the origin of the word Carnival comes from the Latin carne levare, which means "farewell to meat". The tradition is believed to come from the French and Romans who pigged out on meat the day before Lent and then issued a strict period of fasting. Between the 1st of the year and Lent, the French would celebrate with magnificent balls. During the slave trade elaborate balls were hosted on the plantations. The slaves were left out of their owner's fun and fanfare so organized their own parties during the same time but because they didn't have elaborate costumes, they put together costumes with what little they had. This is said to be the origin of "Ole Mas", symbolic of every thing evil in society. Grenada 's carnival moved to August in 1981. It's the hottest time of the year but many of the celebrations are held in the coolest part of the day (and during the night!)

The whole thing lasts about a week – with a massive build up to the main 2 day event – people spend a fortune on costumes to join in the main parade. Competitions for the best in Soca, Steel Band music (Pan) and Calypso were held Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.

The Panorama competition – held in the national stadium - was incredible. There were 8 Steel Bands competing for the title and prize money. The Bands ranged in size from 32 to more than 80 members on stage at once along with up to about 150 instruments. You can imagine the depth of the sound when the bands performed. Each band brought on its own instruments so between each performance there was quite an interval in which to ‘lime and dine' and listen to other supporting acts. The judges sat at a table in front of the stage but as it's the rainy season, there were quite a few showers – each time the judges took shelter along with the tables and chairs. The proceedings could not begin again until the rain stopped and the judges were back in exactly the same position again. It took quite a while to work through the 8 bands! The Commancheros were the winning band.

Carnival then comprised three parades: Jouvert (started before dawn on Monday) then Monday Night Mas and finally the main parade, Spice Mas, on Tuesday. Jouvert (from the French Jour and Ouvert – opening day) officially starts around 4:00 am and supposedly ends at sunrise but I don't think the ‘music' stopped from the previous evening all the way through until about 2pm on Monday. I use the term music very loosely – it's very hard to describe a base booming noise which is ear splitting and is continuous for hours on end – as I said we were right in the centre of town so never got any sleep- even with ear plugs! It's a massive street party in which people cover their bodies with paint or oil – we have a friend who runs an engineering business who told us his old oil is completely used up for this parade. There's quite a lot of rum involved too and some quite lewd behaviour. The jab-jabs sport horns and oiled bodies to symbolise evil.

There is just a short time to recover from the Jouvert before the Monday Mas (Masquerade). This is the 'good' parade. To join in the parade and follow a band you buy a Mas kit that includes a T-shirt, hat, glow stick and various other accoutrements and need a lot of stamina. We were also given a plastic mini yard of ale (empty) which we were told could be continually filled during the parade. So dressed in our mas costumes and holding on to our ale jugs we set out to join our ‘band' at around 7.30 in the evening. After wandering about looking for more of our group we finally managed to locate our band at around 9pm. This consisted of a flatbed truck with massive speakers and a DJ from which the ‘music' is blasted, followed by the ‘beer' truck. It's still hot at that time of day and thirsty walking so by the time the parade started about 9.30pm there were so many arms stretched up holding out ale jugs– it was very much like the pictures you see of Red Cross food parcels being handed out to the starving – everyone pushing and shoving to get their jugs filled! As the parade started in earnest the panic died down and it did become much easier to refill your jug as the night wore on. There are hundreds of people following each ‘band' everyone doing a cross between a stomp, walk and swagger at a very slow pace. We did ask for some tuition from some of the girls but their anatomy is definitely different to ours - the things they can do with their backsides is really quite mind bending! At various points along the way, everyone has to stop and wave and shout and show off to the judges. The noise and heat is amazing. Anyone suffering a heart failure would be immediately resuscitated from the beat fo the music - it rumbles right through your body! Fortunately our band was the first in the parade and we lasted out almost to the very end but it took an age to get back – against the flow of gyrating bodies from the other bands!

The Spice Mas parade was supposed to be held on Tuesday afternoon through the streets but unfortunately it poured with rain so was postponed until the following Saturday. Some partying went ahead despite the rain – surprise, surprise! Well the whole thing was quite an experience – definitely not to be missed but once is enough!


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