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 themes of the groups are different every year. Costumes and floats are decorated in accordance to the themes, which is very important since there are many contests such as « the Best Costume ».
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.”
The « Fat days» are the most important during Carnival. The « jours gras » are Fat Monday, Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.
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.