INSIGHT: THE GREATEST STREET PARTY ON EARTH - Caribbean: The Lesser Antilles - Insight Guides

Caribbean: The Lesser Antilles - Insight Guides (2016)


Carnival in the Lesser Antilles is alive and well and getting bigger every year as the islands fill up with revelers from all over the world.

Neither age nor profession, nor money nor skin color matter when, every February, thousands of Trinidadians and visitors seem to drown in a sea of colors, feathers, rhythm, and rum. From Jouvay, the wild street party that takes place from dawn on the Monday before Ash Wednesday, until King Momo’s death by fire in the last hours of Shrove Tuesday, Port of Spain is one big anarchic Carnival party. The heroes are soca stars and ingenious costume designers highly revered by a hip-swinging crowd dizzy with the beat and pulsating rhythm of the steel pans.

New Carnivals

Trinidad hosts the biggest Caribbean Carnival, which originated out of the Christian tradition of having a last big feast before fasting during Lent. In Guadeloupe and Martinique people dress in black and white on Ash Wednesday and bury King Vaval. On St-Barthélemy King Moui Moui is burned, and on St Kitts Christmas and the New Year are the best times to enjoy parades and street festivals. Other so-called Carnivals in the summer months have developed from the harvest festivals after the sugar cane had been cut, such as Crop Over in Barbados, which includes the ceremonial delivery of the last canes. Some islands have only recently established Carnivals for tourism’s sake - any excuse for an extended street party…


Carnival is the most lavish party on earth, with spectacular costumes and extravagant jewelry all contributing to create a riot of color.

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Playing Mas in Trinidad

As soon as one Carnival ends the designers’ imaginations are hard at work on the next one. Great Carnival designers such as Trinidadian Peter Minshall - whose renowned costumes led him to design the costumes for the opening of the Olympic Games in 1992 and 1996 - set up Mas Camps (workshops) where vast numbers of costumes are made on a theme for their bands. Each band has a Carnival King and Queen who wear the masterpieces, which are judged on Dimanche Gras, the night before Carnival officially begins.

The Mas tradition started in the late 18th century with French plantation owners organizing masquerades (mas) and balls before enduring the fasting of Lent. Slaves copied and lampooned their masters, and once set free from forced labor, their frustrations found a platform in clever calypso lyrics mocking their former masters, and then their political leaders. Calypsonians can trace their origins back to the late 18th century and the first “shantwell,” Gros Jean. With African, French, British, Spanish, and East Indian influences, it has developed into today’s keenly fought competition for the Calypso Monarch’s crown.