Carnival in Milot
Carnival or, in Creole, Kanaval, which means ”Farewell to meat”, is a long-standing tradition in Haiti. Carnival season begins after the Feast of the Epiphany and continues till Mardi Gras / Fat Tuesday, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. As the final days and the climax of the festival approach, the expression “Mardi Gras” can be heard everywhere.
Until 2010, the feast was always a very colourful and noisy event. That year, after the tragic 7.0 earthquake in January, a more sombre mood was in place. Instead of the usual flamboyant celebrations, the feast was marked by processions of prayer for all the victims of the earthquake and for all Haiti’s people. In Milot, people, dressed in white, sang hymns and recited prayers as they walked in procession. The prayers were intoned over loudspeakers on the back of a truck which had a banner with the poignant inscription “Jezi, pitye pou Ayiti” – “Jesus, have pity on Haiti”.
In 2011 Mardi Gras was slightly more celebratory but was still somewhat low-key. Cholera had come to Haiti so widespread movement was discouraged. In addition, there was little money available to fund the festival.
By 2012, the situation improved a little and the colour and exuberance of the real spirit of Carnival returned. Prior to the main days, adults and children could be seen and heard making preparations. Children made masks from pieces of cardboard while those of the adults were somewhat more intricate. Both adults and children wove strands of sisal into long ropes that they waved and cracked harshly like lashes, a poignant reminder of the days of slavery. Along the road, the Lansè Kod, or rope-throwers, covered in a shiny black liquid, made from charcoal, pot black, cane spirit and water, and who wore sack-like masks, stopped passersby and vehicles asked for lajan - money.
The Saturday of the main part of the festival, was a day of brilliant sunshine and, therefore, also, deep shadows. Children from the local schools in Milot decorated their faces with multi-coloured glitter and paraded and danced in colourful dresses or T-shirts. The Prince and Princess of the morning carnival rode on horseback and wore crowns to symbolise their status. In the afternoon, older students including some of the girls from the local Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception High School, wore bright, nylon dresses as they, too, paraded on horseback. All were accompanied by various bands which each had their own uniforms. They played on drums, trombones and vaksin, which are cylindrical instruments made from bamboo or metal/ plastic tubing. The music encouraged people to come and watch and enticed some to join the throng in the dancing. The day’s celebrations lifted everyone’s spirits and created a sense of happiness and harmony.
Sister Maureen Boggins, CSJP