Carnival’s Split Personality Lives On

I watched yesterday’s Grand Annual Carnival Parade unfold in Oranjestad with great admiration to the individual canavalistas who make it happen and to the group-leaders who stitch the individual efforts together, to form that vibrant display snaking through town.

And I noticed a trend, stronger than ever, celebrating two kinds on Carnival: one luxurious and colorful, glitzy, feathery, dazzling and the other, its poor cousin, the People’s Carnival that basically consists of grabbing a pair of sneakers and hitting the road to follow the band wherever it goes.

This year, both genres did well, and received ample attention.

The Lighting Parades, and the Grand Parades paid homage to 5% creativity and 95% hard work, months of design, fitting, welding, and glue gun action.

The Torch parade, Jouvert morning in both Oranjestad and St Nicholas, the Sunset Parade in Noord, and various others low-tech barrio parades I missed, presented a low-cost, low-maintenance form of celebration.

Both traditions are worthy of keeping. The first one is costly, and requires a financial investment just few can afford; the second is cheap, and allows mass participation with minimal contribution.

When the economy was different, back in the days, the Tivoli Club, the Esso Club and other Carnival organizations enjoyed broad sponsor support and could put an amazing show on the road.

Times are different now.  But Carnival still circulates plenty of money in the economy – think about food, drink and rhinestones, designers and dress makers, they all get paid handsomely, while the overall organization, relies on 100% voluntary work!

Personally, I love the People’s Carnival, shuffling behind the band, dancing, no special preparation required, just strike the first musical note.

My two Pica 96.5% partners are luxurious Carnival fanatic who insist on dieting pre-parade, they invest considerably in their phenomenal presentation, and they work it to the last detail of decorated high heel shoes, hair, makeup and nails. They treat it as a show, and entertain their audience, making eye contact and communicating with their fans on the side of the road for the duration of the parades. They don’t hide behind their costumes, they show them off.

For them it is a stage, and the public are the ticket holders.

For me it’s Happy Hour.

We love both, and my heartfelt gratitude goes to the music makers, and costume makers for their amazing cultural contributions.

Group Leaders: Thank you for your vision, stamina, and thick skin. Carnival can’t live without you!

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February 27, 2017
Rona Coster