A brief history of carnival

19 Mar

Carnival originated as a pagan festival in ancient Egypt which was subsequently celebrated by the Greeks and then the Romans. The popular festival was adopted by the Roman Catholic Christian church in Europe as the festival of Carne Vale.

I always thought that the word Carnival was made up of two Latin words, carne, meaning flesh and vale, meaning farewell. However, the Wikipedia entry for Carnival suggests that this is a popular myth and that it may instead have come from “Carne Levare” or the removal of meat.  In any case, in the Catholic calendar carne vale, farewell to flesh, is a feast celebrated on the Sunday (Dimanche Gras), Monday and Tuesday (Mardi Gras), before Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and fasting.

The Carnival festival was introduced to the Caribbean by European colonizers from Spain and France.  In particular, Carnival was introduced to Trinidad around 1785, as the French settlers began to arrive. The tradition caught on quickly and lavish masquerade balls were held. The wealthy planters put on masks, wigs, and beautiful dresses and danced long into the night.

Obviously banned from the masked balls of the French, the African slaves would hold their own version of these carnivals in their backyards, using their own rituals and folklore, but also copying the behaviour of the European planters at their masked balls.

The Planters' Masquerade Ball

The use of masks had special meaning for the slaves, because for many African peoples, masking is widely used in their rituals for the dead.

On emancipation the freed African slaves transformed the festival into a celebration of the end of slavery.  African dance and music traditions transformed the early carnival celebrations, as African drum rhythms, large puppets, stick fighters, and stilt dancers began to make their appearances in the carnival festivities.

One Response to “A brief history of carnival”

  1. Epic biker March 19, 2014 at 10:01 pm #

    Hi Greedy Gal – good to see you blogging again. Does this mean you have something on the go more interesting than SII? I too am keeping my end up and leave for Spain next week to talk about my Iberian exploits at the IMBA EU summit. See http://www.imba-europe.org/events/imba-europe-summit-2014-cercedilla apparently I am now a visionary…I had always suspected as much 🙂 But I thought it was just the G&Ts ….

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