Dominica’s Carnival 2015 Opening Parade: A Spectacular, Sinister, Sensational Masquerade*

Where are you?  We're waiting for you to come to Dominica to 'play mas' with us!!!

Where are you? We’re waiting for you to come to Dominica to ‘play mas’ with us!!!

Although my mind is still on Paris, I had to pause before I chronicle my European visit to soak up the positive energy emanating from Dominica’s Carnival 2015 Opening Parade.  It was filled with all types of revelers and exhibited Dominica’s masquerade traditions to the fullest extent of the imagination.  As well as being a riot of colour, beauty and creativity , the sensuous side of the Bacchanal also intrigued thousands of satisfied spectators, who filled the sidewalks along the parade route on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Roseau.

Feast your eyes on these photos.  It is hoped they will tempt you to come to Dominica to “play mas!” If the spirit doesn’t move you this year, then plan for next! And if you’re on island, I’ll see you on the road!

A Calendar of Dominica’s Carnival Events 2015 is located here.

There was a Carnival Queen,  a King,  several Princesses big and small, as well as lovely ladies and girls set to contest crowns in upcoming pageants:

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Queen and King of the Opening Parade, Miss Dominica 2014, Francine Baron waves to her adoring admirers while seven-time Calypso Monarch 2014 Dennison ‘Dice’ Joseph smiles and gestures at his enthusiastic entourage.

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Kitana Joseph, Carnival Princess 2014 sweetly smiles at her supporters along the parade route.

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These young ladies from the Dominica State College are proud participants in this year’s ‘Jamboree’.

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The ‘Darkies’ , a traditional type of masquerader who completely covers in black body paint and attire were well represented in the Opening Parade, as usual.

There was a wonderful mix of traditional costumes in this year’s Opening Parade.  I admired the creativity, cost and construction of each one..Scary Sensays were abundant ‘on the road’  as they covered faces with masks, heads with horns or hats and bodies with colourful fabrics.

It wasn’t all fearsome though:  the female Flag Wavers and the  boys with their home-made toy trucks drew appreciation and admiration from the crowd.  Hi-fi trucks kept everyone ‘chipping’, that is moving to the beat, but there were also a number of lapo-kabwit (goat-skin) drum bands on the route, which added the traditional rhythmical twist to Dominica’s original Carnival.

Of course, there was plenty of hot attire, suggestive of the bacchanal. But there were also liberal smatterings of individual freedom of expression through Carnival costume creation, all amounting to personal joy, and immense pleasure for the onlookers. Isn’t that what Carnival is really all about, after all!

* Many thanks to Jenny Spencer for her Carnival cheer and the contribution of some of her brilliant photos!

 

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The boys displayed their hand-crafted toy trucks in large numbers. This Dominican tradition has been revived in recent years, and fathers often play a big role in providing help for this fun-filled project!

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The stilt-walkers ( also called Bwa Bwa or Moko-Jumbies) are a sight to behold. If they don’t give you the shivers, then you are not into the Spirit of the Mas(querade)!

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Watch out for those wicked Black Devils! They don’t hesitate to crack that whip on the road.

 

This was my favourite costume of the masqueraders.  Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

This was my favourite costume of the masqueraders. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

The stilt-walkers fascinate me endlessly. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.  (They intrigue her too - she watched them practising in the Botannical Gardens a number of times!

The stilt-walkers fascinate me endlessly. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer. (They intrigue her too – she watched them practising in the Botanical Gardens several times!)

The speakers on the hi-fi trucks produced a serious amount of sound. (I wore ear-plugs. Ha!) Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

The speakers on the hi-fi trucks produced a serious amount of sound. (I wore ear-plugs. Ha!) Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

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Wow! A veritable kaleidoscope of colour in Sensay fashion!

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Flag Wavers delighted the crows with their lively dancing routines.

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I can’t imagine singing above it all. It must be a thrill to look down on the crowd and watch the action all around!

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Traditional, rhythmical lapo-kabwit bands were out in full force. There was no reason to lose the beat with their powerful percussive sound on the road!

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Kubuli, Dominica’s refreshing locally-manufactured beer is sure to enhance the spirit of the Bacchanal!

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Splendour, Creativity and Pageantry: Dominica’s Carnival Tuesday Costume Parade 2013

Dominica’s Carnival Tuesday Parade 2013 was, without a doubt, spectacular.  Brilliant costumes, organized bands of all ages, sensational stiltwalkers (bwa bwa), flag wavers and hundreds of people  in disguise: playing mas.  It was a sight to behold.  Two  visiting friends   from Canada (Jean and Pam) were completely spell-bound by this feast of creativity and pageantry. Joy and merriment overflowed in the streets of Roseau.  It was definitely a supremely festive occasion.

Here –  you can see for yourself!

The delightful Flag Wavers opened the parade, just ahead of the Carnival Queen and Calypso King.

The delightful Flag Wavers opened the parade, just ahead of the Carnival Queen and Calypso King.

Vibrant Miss Dominica Leslassa Armour Shillingford exudes a queenly demeanor in her traditional costume.

Vibrant Miss Dominica Leslassa Armour-Shillingford exudes a queenly demeanor in her traditional costume.  Other contestants’ costumes can be viewed here.

Dominica's King and Queen easily captured everyone's attention.

Dominica’s King and Queen easily captured everyone’s attention.

Calypso Monarch Dennison 'Dice" Joseph is a force to cotend with as a six-time champion.

Calypso Monarch Dennison ‘Dice” Joseph is a force to contend with as a six-time champion.

The popular band called FANATIK provided the music on the road for the groups near the start of the parade.  The incomparable Cornell 'Fingers' Phillip (right) is in teh keyboards.

The popular band called FANATIK provided the music on the road for the groups near the start of the parade. The incomparable Cornell ‘Fingers’ Phillip (right) is on the keyboards.

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Lovely Little Carnival Princess.

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Miss Teen Dominica Kaymaya Bertrand has a smile as brilliant as her costume!

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Even the Dominica State College had its own pageant!

Amidst the bold colours, a band adorned in white outfits and balloons provided a serene contrast within the gaiety around it.

Amidst the bold colours, a band adorned in white outfits and balloons provided a serene contrast within the gaiety that surrounded  it.

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The stiltwalkers (bwa bwa) were greeted by onlookers with awe and amazement.

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Some of the stiltwalkers become proficient at an early age!

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You can see why Carnival Corner won the 'King of the Band' award.

You can see why Carnival Corner won the ‘King of the Band’ award.

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The Kalinago indigenous people formed a segment of the Thunderbirds “Viva South America’ band.

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The 'Thunderbirds' won the Band of the Year Award with their 'Viva South America' theme.

The ‘Thunderbirds’ won the Band of the Year Award with their ‘Viva South America’ theme.

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This was my favourite Thunderbirds Costume. I expect it was very hot! Hats off to the ladies who represented this aspect of South American culture!

Yu never know who will be 'playing mas on de road'.  Guess who?

You never know who you might meet ‘playing mas on de road’. Guess who?

My Carnival Tuesday Grand Finale - a photo op with Carnival Queen Leslassa as she pauses for about a thousand (!) pictures on her 2nd lap ofthe parade route!

My Carnival Tuesday Grand Finale – a photo op with Carnival Queen Leslassa Armour-Shillingford as she pauses for about a thousand (!) pictures on her 2nd lap of the parade route! Photo taken by Cecily Lees.

Dominica’s Carnival Celebrations: Original, Traditional, Fun!

A sponsor’s billboard reminds everyone of Dominica’s Carnival, called ‘Mas Domnik’.

The  historical article below is about Dominica’s Carnival and was originally published in Caribbean Compass * in February 2000.

Readers who might be interested in a personal review of my Carnival experiences quite a few years ago can click here.  I assure you that while some time has passed since I wrote that review, my enjoyment of ‘Mas Domnik’ remains practically the same!

As for J’ouvert, Dominica’s Carnival Monday pre-daybreak festivity, you can see how I felt about my more recent revelry here.

My ongoing enjoyment of the Calypso competitions and other performances, which are held throughout  the Carnival season is found here.

Dominica’s Carnival History

Dominica’s Carnival has always stressed spontaneity, plentiful merrymaking and friendly fun for everyone.  The annual Mas (masquerade) is  said to be a release of the spirit and pent-up tensions before Ash Wednesday.  It’s a very big social  event which attracts a huge number  of people all over the island (estimated at about 70 per cent).  As it is winter in northern countries, many tourists take advantage of  the warm weather and the spectacles too!

Carnival Origins

Mr. Dominica Nigel Peters takes a moment out of Tuesday’s Costume Parade to give Gwendominica a hug.

Carnival celebrations on the Nature Island have been held for a very long time.  Even before Emancipation in 1834, this grande fete was centred on the Catholic pre-Lenten festival and centuries-old African-European traditions.  After Emancipation, it became an even bigger event.  In the Dominican culture,’ playing Mas’ apparently focuses on reducing frustrations through revelry.  The wearing of costumes, singing of calypso songs and dancing to pulsating rhythms are still predominant activities.

Pre-Carnival Shows

The economic benefits of Mas Domnik are constantly being enhanced.  Every year, there is increased programming of events. A number of activities lead up to Carnival Monday (lundi mas) and Tuesday (mardi gras).  The glamorous National Queen Show, Calypso Competitions and the Opening Ceremonies are very big draws every year and appeal to people of all ages.  The Mr. Dominica Show, new this year (2012) was completely sold-out!

Carnival Monday

Carnival Committee Chairman Alwin Bully (wearing glasses) jumps in a J’ouvert Band called ‘Jean Bois’. They won an award for their organized and creative presentation on the road.

J’ouvert, the pre-dawn Carnival Monday attracts some organized bands and individuals who want to ‘do their own thing’. People can dress in any kind of costume, which may be made up from rags or old clothes. The revelers then join up with the organized groups, if they wish.  Then T-shirt bands come out ‘on the road’ on Monday afternoon, accompanied by big trucks with  hi-fi systems or popular local music bands.  By late afternoon, the crowds overflow on the streets to party and dance into the evening.

Flag Wavers in the Carnival 2012 Opening Parade.

‘Darkies’ are covered from head to toe in black paint.

Carnival Costumes

Costumes can be very expensive to construct, but many talented people make a creative effort to add more colour and vibrancy to Carnival’s captivating ambience. Monday’s  large popular T-shirt bands are a real splash of brilliance.  ‘Flag Wavers’ are girls who have been instructed at school about marching. They are impressive with their well rehearsed performance. “Darkies’ – people who have historically painted and covered themselves in black – still adorn themselves with this type of disguise.

Different types of Sensay costumes (taken at Carnival 2011 opening parade).

Scary- looking Sensays!

‘Sensay’ costumes have become even more sensational. As they were first constructed from burlap and rope in muted tones (some are still seen)the layers of cloth donned by other ‘sensay’ masqueraders are now exceptionally dazzling in bold tropical colours.  This type of attire was once representative of African deities in spiritual ceremonies.  Scary masks may be worn – some of them have horns in keeping with the original ritual.  As a safety precaution, the wearing of masks presently requires a permit from the Dominica Festivals Committee (767) 448-4833.  Some people really enjoy wearing this fascinating form of Carnival costume – even though it is very hot and heavy!

The Queen Show (aka Miss Dominica Pageant) and the Calypso Monarch (formerly King) Competition

Carnival Queen Nadira Lando is Miss Dominica 2012. She is seen here in the Carnival Tuesday Costume Parade.

Calypso Monarch 2012 Dennison ‘Dice’ Joseph has captured the Crown five times! He is reveling in the Costume Parade and greeting his many fans.

In the mid 1960’s, organized events such as the Queen Show and the Calypso competition came to the forefront.  However, the first formal Queen Show apparently took place around 1938, and the Calypso King (now Monarch) show originated in the late 1950’s.  The calypso song has historically represented an opportunity to express societal problems and to speak out against oppression.  The cleverly crafted lyrics draw attention to specific current events. Through this medium, people may be better informed about a perceived problem and perhaps do something about it.  Some songs also celebrate certain situations. Verses are generally written with plenty of memorable puns, which entertain the listeners tremendously.

Lapo Kabwit Drummers pause to play for the crowd (on my side during the 2012 Opening Parade.).

Lapo Kabwit (Goat Skin) Drummers, Bwa Bwa (Stiltwalkers) and Steel Pan Bands

While hi fi sound systems are prevalent on the road at Carnival time, lapo kabwit drummers have traditionally provided the background beat when people are reveling on the street. This legendary form of rhythm making is still popular with the people.  It is sure to be seen (and heard) on J’ouvert mornings and in the Carnival Opening Parades.  Young boys are taught to play the goat skin drum by their elders.  Techniques for the skillful construction of this homemade instrument are passed down from generation to generation.

There are some recent Carnival revivals too, which include stilt walkers (called Bwa Bwa)  and steel pan bands.

Stilt-walkers (Bwa Bwa) have exceptional focus and coordination!

A Steel Pan Band is surrounded by revelers in the predawn J’ouvert jump-up.

As well, popular Dominica bands perform aboard the roaming hi fi trucks for hours at a time , demonstrating tremendous stamina!  Crowds surround the musicians and fill the streets “chipping and jumping” (moving and dancing) to the pulsating beat.

A ‘Queen of the Band’ Costume. A whole group of costumed revelers follow behind her.

 

Dominica is proud of its original, traditional, fun-filled Carnival.  In keeping with Dominica’s spontaneity, everyone is welcome to get involved in it, either as a spectator, a participant or both!

With its abundantly festive atmosphere, Mas Domnik remains a great way for citizens and visitors alike to thoroughly unwind and enjoy!

*This piece was written with the kind assistance of then Cultural Officer Mr. Daryl Phillip of the Cultural Division of Dominica.  He is now a horticulturist and proprietor of Green Mountain Flowers near Giraudel, Dominica.

Another Amazing costume, worn by a Queen Show contestant.

For further information about Dominica’s Carnival celebrations, consult:

Discover Dominica Authority;

www.avirtualdominica.com;

www.lennoxhonychurch.com for Carnival history.