All about Mardi Gras... in Martinique
Before the eruption of Mount Pelle in 1902, the carnival in Martinique, centered around St. Pierre, had invented certain characters.Though they have gradually been forgotten, they have never completely disappeared from the collective memory, and reappear every year during carnival. Thus the history of Martinique is brought back to life in a fairy land of red and black. Men completely covered in red clay, and wearing a read clay mask, parade alongside the nègs gwo-sirop: men coated from head to toe in sugar syrup and charcoal (caricatures of the rebel slaves from Africa in contrast to the native Creole islanders). There are also ,the mariann lapofig dressed entirely in banana leaves, and the moko-zombis, dancers on African inspired stilts.
During the Vidè the island throbs with pulsing music. Tambourines, trumpets and horns are accompanied by steel drums, and bamboo sticks and even pots and pans become percussion instruments, the rhythms overlapping from zouk to béguin. There is even a street parade in pyjamas that heads out at 5 a.m., filling the streets of Lamentin with the shuffling of “flipperez” feet.
The peak of carnival is the four days leading up to Ash Wednesday. Each day has a particular theme. Monday is the day of burlesque weddings, when men dress up as brides and parade on foot. Tuesday is the day of the devil: everyone dresses in red. Finally on Ash Wednesday, the day dedicated to the joyeuses pleureuses (devils that cry for the death of Vaval), all dress in black and white to mourning for the death of Vaval, who is symbolically burnt on a bonfire at nightfall.
At the celebration’s end, the island enters the period of Lent that leads up to Easter. Lent, the time of fasting and abstinence coincides with the dry season on Martinique. Tradition requires that one does not dance or listen to music and all weddings and other celebrations are postponed until after Lent.
Everywhere, in the major squares, one of the special foods symbolic of the season is honored: carnival beignets! Beginning at 8 a.m., sellers offer this delicious treat, made with banana, apple, pineapple... Head to the Grand Marché to stock up on carnival fritters and country flavors - and join in the celebrations!
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