This lively cultural dance was brought to Carriacou by slaves from the west coast of Africa and is also known as the African Nation Dance. Though colonialism attempted to eradicate drumming, this particular tradition survives, recreating dances from different African nations as the Kromantin (famous for their rebellious spirit), the Mandingos originating from Nigeria (dances for healing), the Ibos originating south of Nigeria (dances to make restituation to their god when it was thought he was offended) and of the Arada (for healing & casting out spells). Also performed are some of the old Creole Dances – like the most popular Bele Kawe where two females fight over a cock or king. The drums are used primarily to accompany dancers, who are mostly woman with long over skirts that fly up into a swirling, colorful display with their fancy footwork. Big Drum dances, featured at most celebrations, emanate their own rhythmic magic, binding community members together and with their rich cultural heritage. Witnessing one of these dances, you’ll be transported back to another time and place. Developed in France during the 18th century as a court dance for Napoleon, the Quadrille was brought to England, and then introduced to the colonial Caribbean during the early 19th century, providing entertainment on social occasions for planters. Slaves were forbidden to practice their culture, as the planters realized their music and dance were used to communicate, and to plan their release strategies.
However, to save on the expenses of bringing musicians from England, slaves were engaged to provide music for planters’ parties. Forbidden to practice their own dances, African musicians and house workers learned the dance of the English planters, taking it into their camps and altering it. Slaves used the Quadrille to mock the planters but more importantly used this newly approved dancing time to secretly formulate uprisings to hasten their freedom.
How ironic! Carriacou versions of the Quadrille feature four men and four women, forming a square and are accompanied by tambourine, bass drum, violin and triangle. Dance styles can be either formal, with couples gliding rigidly in turn, or a more free style where all couples dance at the same time with unfettered movements and improvisations. This dance surpasses the Big Drum in rhythm but does not have the variety and the significance of the African Nation Dance. You can view these dances at cultural celebrations. Maroon has many different meanings according to where you are in the Caribbean. It can refer to a group of rebellious slaves in Jamaica’s past history, an interpretation of a dream, or a gathering of people giving thanks for a bountiful harvest or making food offerings (Saraca) for an upcoming planting season.
If you attend a maroon in Carriacou you will find a village community pooling its resources to provide generous amount of local foods that are cooked outdoors (smoked food) and beverages being shared freely with all. The Big Drum Dance if often a highlighted with the maroon organizers starting it off with a blessing of sprinkled water & rum on the ground. Our maroons are thought to have originated when people assembled to help each other with large projects such as harvesting, cleaning or digging ponds, moving houses, etc.
The Carriacou Maroon Festival takes place in beautiful Belair Park, prior to the rainy season, about the end of April. Attending this festival is a great way to experience the myriad of Carriacou’s cultural flavors as it showcases all of our traditions from local foods to song and dance, all wrapped in our colorful heritage. Big Drum and Quadrille dancing, calypso, reggae and string band music highlighted with a performance by a famous Caribbean Reggae artist or Pop Band, Shakespeare Mas, a variety of skits, crafts displays and much more can be experienced during this 3 day festival.
Carnival in the Caribbean derives its origins from colonial times with the mimicking of plantation life. The age old custom of “masking” on the street overstepped social boundaries of color, allowing participation by all. Developed over the entire Caribbean region in one form or another, it was often considered a pagan celebration with the devil mass or “Jab-Jab” portraying slavery in chains and the asking of money to the buy freedom. In Carriacou, Carnival is a pre-Lenten celebration starting the weekend before Ash Wednesday. Sunday night is called Can-boulay meaning “burning wood”.
In the old days cornstalks were burned as a bonfire to create lighting for night time Kalenda stick-fighting. “Pierrots”, a prominent figure in our Carnival, originated from disguised entertainers during French colonialism. Their roles have evolved over the generations to roving bands competing between their villages/plantations in literature reciting, mostly Shakespeare. Today Shakespeare Mas competitors pair off face to face; one recites while the other listens. Missed lines are rewarded with a stroke from a rod, but colorful, heavily padded and masked head dresses offer protection and the flowing paper lined capes add theatrical loud noises when the stick hits its mark. This event is unique to Carriacou and is a must to see on Tuesday morning. Troops start from Mt Royal and make their way down through the villages performing, stopping for rum in between rounds, until the event culminates in Hillsborough for the final showdown. A lively calypso competition, Dimarche Gras, on Sunday night lasts until the wee hours of Monday, Jouvert Morning, where everyone spills out onto the streets to dance and celebrate. Watch out for the Jab-Jab! On Monday, the Parade of the Bands features Mas Players sporting colorful costumes with imaginative themes, accompanied by rhythmic soca music.
The last lap is on Tuesday where the Carnival winds down, leaving Hillsborough a veritable ghost town on Wednesday morning. Parang is a song festival, which comes to life shortly before the Christmas holiday. Based on local gossip, songs are dressed in each string band’s unique style and competition during this 3-day festival is brisk and raucous. Bands vie for first place, with cleverly composed ditties highlighting the antics of local characters and judging seems to coincide with the greatest peels of laughter from the expectant crowd. In the weeks preceding the competition there is village to village serenading by some of string bands in the evenings, an informal event welcoming everyone, visitors and locals alike to join in Carriacou’s special brand of holiday spirit.
The Carriacou Regatta celebrates its 41th anniversary in 2005 reflecting the importance and devotion of our people to seamanship and boat building. Participants from Grenada, Tobago, St.Vincent & The Grenadines, Martinique and Antigua display their racing skills in a keen competition, vying for trophies in classes ranging from large work boats to small sloops. Started in 1965 as a mere local work boat race, the Carriacou Regatta has evolved into a major Caribbean event, now augmented by shore side activities such as donkey-racing, walking the greasy-pole, bicycle-race, drinking competitions, Miss Aquaval pageant and evening-entertainment of all sorts. This fun packed three-day festival usually occurs the first weekend in August and is an event for people to merge from both far and near and have a good time.