‘On de Road’ in Roseau for Dominica’s Carnival 2014*

It had been a few years since I ‘jumped in a band’ (put on a costume and played masquerade with an organized group) during

Gwendominica was set to 'Glow' with the Old Time Sake Band on Carnival Monday night in Roseau Dominica.

Gwendominica was set to ‘Glow’ with the Old Time Sake Band on Carnival Monday night in Roseau Dominica.

Dominica’s Carnival celebrations.  Most of the time, I had  remained on the sidelines, contenting myself with plentiful photo opportunities and bountiful smiles from enthusiastic parade participants.  But this year, I felt I was overdue for a little spontaneous merrymaking ‘on de road’,  which, for two days forms part of   the traditional pre-Lenten festival’s claim-to-fame on the Nature Island.

It all started for me on Carnival Monday night.  As the sun set, I parked the car well away from the parade route and ran through the streets of Roseau to rendez-vous with the Old Time Sake band.

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The organizers had arranged a ‘Glow Band’ for our evening warm up before Tuesday morning’s Hawaiian ‘chip’ (shuffle to the music’s beat) around town.  By 7 p.m., we glowed as we moved along the parade route in Roseau to beat of the rhythms emanating from the huge speakers on the hi-fi truck.

I stayed at the front of the `band`so that I could turn around, run back and forth beside the group and take plenty of pictures.  As we moved through the streets, others joined us with their glow gear. Soon we were about 100 strong.  A lovely cooling breeze blew down to town from the mountains and tempered our exertions.  I was quite comfortable in my black attire and I kept moving to the momentum of the music.  By now, other big bands ( I mean real ones with instruments and singers) were now on the road.  Sidewalks filled with keen observers and children ran to and fro in great excitement.  Now I was sure that   I felt the  presence of `Spirits` from carnivals past: shadows and silhouettes of uncertain shapes and sizes seemed to grace darkened door ways and unlit alleys.  As I was only drinking spring water, I knew that it must have been my imagination…  In my mind, it`s all part of the fun!

The Old Time Sake Hi-Fi Truck rolled along behind the band as we glowed in the dark!

The Old Time Sake Hi-Fi Truck rolled along behind the band as we glowed in the dark!

After about an hour, I stepped out of the band, citing this little trip around as my warm-up for the next day to those who expected me to keep going until 10 p.m.

Gwendominica is ready to fete (party) with the Old Time Sake Band and their Hawaiian theme on Carnival Tuesday in Roseau.

Gwendominica was ready to fete (party) with the Old Time Sake Band with their Hawaiian theme on Carnival Tuesday in Roseau.

On Carnival Tuesday morning, I felt refreshed and ready for a bigger and hotter endurance test ‘on de road’.  The brilliant sunshine bouncing off  the steamy streets of Roseau  would definitely enhance my daytime ‘glow’.  Just after 10 a.m., the truck started to roll, and within minutes, over 200 happy and colorfully costumed revellers set out to show the gigantic crowd how the Old Time Sake Band’s Hawaiian theme  complemented the collective cheery mood of  participants and spectators.

Again, I took a place in the front line of the band.  I liked being able to move in and out, on and off the road  as I pleased to take photos and see what was happening in the other bands.    The only challenge in my starter position was my urge to ‘chip’ too quickly.  As an habitual walker and hiker, I am used to picking up the pace.  But the skill attached to chipping is the discipline of the  rhythmic slow shuffle: no long strides.  Occasionally, I found myself pacing too far ahead and then I was caught between the music of the band in front of me and the Old Time Sake tune behind me.  It was a challenge for this musician to try to move to two different beats simultaneously.  But what can I say – you just had to be there – to take part in all this fun!

This is what a 'chip' ( slow shuffle to the beat of the music) looks like. But you really have to be there!

This is what a ‘chip’ ( slow shuffle to the beat of the music) looks like. But you really do have to be here to try it out!

We hadn’t been on the road for an hour yet when I stepped out to find  the pageant winners who were at the head of the street parade.  They were decked out in traditional costumes, and I wanted to capture their fresh faces  and gorgeous creative attire before the day got too hot.  I was definitely not disappointed.  The day was  relatively young, and there was still space on the street for me to boldly move among the winners and contestants to get good shots of them.  Here is a sample of what I saw that enhanced my growing smile as I admired them all.

Miss Dominica 2014 Francine Baron has a wonderful smile and a cheerful demeanor.

Miss Dominica 2014 Francine Baron has a wonderful smile and a cheerful demeanor.

Queen Francine and King Dice graciously obliged for thousands of photos during the Carnival Tuesday parade.

Queen Francine and King Dice graciously obliged for thousands of photos during the Carnival Tuesday parade.

King Dice 9Dennision Joseph) has the right to 'ham it up' in the Carnival parade.  he's now won the Calypso Monarch crown 7 times!

King Dice (Dennison Joseph) has the right to ‘ham it up’ in the Carnival parade. He’s now won the Calypso Monarch crown 7 times!

Miss Teen Dominica 2014 Shari Peter is undisputedly a lovely young lady.

Miss Teen Dominica 2014 Shari Peter is certainly a lovely young lady.

The Old Time Sake Band members all seemed to have a great time.

The Old Time Sake Band members all seemed to have a great time.

Then I ran around the parade route and jumped back into the front of the band again.  As we chipped along to the calypso and sometimes soca beats, I fixed that permanent smile

Gwendominica was revelling in the Tuesday Costume Parade with the Old Time Sake Band when Georgie caught her on camera. revelling

Gwendominica was  blissfully revelling in the Tuesday Costume Parade with the Old Time Sake Band when Georgie caught her on camera.

on my face as I greeted familiar faces and strangers too.  All of a sudden, I realized that I  was absolutely and completely without a care in the world!  For me, this highly unusual state-of-mind was  trance-like.  If I was thirsty, I drank my water. If I was hungry, I ate a snack provided by the band and looked forward to a big lunch.  When I needed relief from the scorching sun, I stepped into  a shaded side street for a while.  I did wear ear plugs and a big hat, along with strong sun screen, so I really was completely carefree.  Ah…this is what Carnival is all about!  If you want a glimpse of why this is so true, take a look at the piece that I wrote a few years ago about the history of Mas Domnik. You will find it here.

I was really impressed with the endurance of the leaders of Old Time Sake band.  Despite hot Sensay costumes, the never took a break!

I was really impressed with the endurance of the young leaders of Old Time Sake band. Despite heavy Sensay costumes, they never took a break!

The littlest member of the Old Time Sake Band was a real trouper!

The littlest member of the Old Time Sake Band was a real trooper!

I also had fun watching the crowd have fun!

Some of the costumes had to be admired from the back as well as teh front.

Some of the costumes had to be admired from the back as well as the front.

Now there is a spectator who really has the spirit of Carnival.  Giselle is the Editor of Domnitjen Magazine, a great review of many things Domincan.

Now there is a spectator who really has the spirit of Carnival. Giselle is the Editor of Domnitjen Magazine, a great review of many things Dominican.

Tana has a laugh while her son takes in all the action on de road.

Tana had a laugh while her son took in all the action on de road.

 Carnival Princess 2014 Kitana Joseph, had poise and posed well for the photographers.

Carnival Princess 2014 Kitana Joseph, had poise and posed well for the photographers.

Simon is always 'there' turning out fabulous photos of every event in Dominica.  You can see some of his wonderful work on his site, Images Dominica

Simon is always ‘there’ turning out fabulous photos of every event in Dominica. You can see some of his wonderful work on  Images Dominica.

His Excellency, President Charles Savarin enjoyed greeting parade participants.

His Excellency, President Charles Savarin enjoyed greeting parade participants.

By the time 2 o’clock rolled around, over 200 of this brightly adorned band, consisting of mainly (but not entirely) members of the 50+ club had been around the expansive parade route a few times.  The hi-fi truck stopped for a break, so I headed up to the Public Service Union building, where a substantial Dominican lunch was being served.  I devoured a big bowl of pelau, which is made up of rice, chicken and lentils.

Kathleen Trotter, one of the main organizers of the Old Time Sake Band surveys the proximity of our group to the band ahead of us.

Kathleen Trotter, one of the main organizers of the Old Time Sake Band surveyed the close proximity of our group to the one ahead of us as we approached a tight corner.

The Old Time Sake Band members lined up in orderly fashion in order to refuel with a big Dominican lunch.

The Old Time Sake Band members lined up in orderly fashion to refuel with a big Dominican lunch.

Others were planning to go back for a ‘last lap’ before sundown.  As it was after 3 p.m., I was content to return to the parade

I always admire the Queen of the Carnival Corner Band.

I always admire the Queen of the Carnival Corner Band.

route area in search of an ice cream cone.  I cooled down with a refreshing scoop of the coconut variety from Island Ice Cream  and chatted with a returning Dominican, who was accompanying his  resident granddaughter to watch the  remnants of the parade.

As I walked through the sizzling streets, I could see that the real Bacchanal was about to begin.  With only a few hours of Carnival 2014 remaining, the action on the road was set to get even “hotter.”  I chuckled to myself and admired the risqué ( but hopefully harmless) antics of some of the revellers.

Some costumes were simply awesome!

Some costumes were simply awesome!

As Carnival Tuesday wore on, the streets were certainly getting very 'hot'!

As Carnival Tuesday wore on, the streets of Roseau were certainly getting very ‘hot’!

(It was very peaceful, by all official reports).  I headed home to put up my sore feet, review fun-filled photos and remind myself that playing ‘Mas’ in Dominica’s Carnival is definitely great, for old time’s sake!

* With special thanks to the organizers of the Old Time Sake Carnival Band for their efficient management, colourful costumes  and delicious lunch.  I had loads of fun and certainly recommend that others take a `jump`with this notable Carnival band.

For more information about Dominica’s Carnival activities, refer to:  http://www.dominica.dm; http://www.avirtualdominica.com; www.facebook.com/DominicaFests

Dominica’s Carnival Opening Parade 2014: Plentiful Beauties, Scary Beasts, Bountiful Smiles!

It's Carnival Time in Dominica!  This scary mask formed part of the decor on the float carrying contestants for the Miss Teen Dominica 2014. pageant.

It’s Carnival Time in Dominica! This scary mask formed part of the decor on the float promoting the Miss Teen Dominica 2014 pageant.

Mademoiselle Francophonie 2013, who represented Lebanon looked very regal in her authentic costume.

Mademoiselle Francophonie 2013, who represented Lebanon looked very regal in her authentic costume.

It seemed as if the weather had finally turned for the brighter: brilliant sunshine, blue skies and a pleasant breeze blew in off of the Caribbean Sea as hundreds took to the streets of Roseau  on February 8th to watch the Carnival Opening Parade of Mas Domnik 2014.  I was  feeling a little ‘under the weather’, but I knew that if I made the effort to get out and watch the parade, it would be an ideal tonic for what ailed me.

With  the  innumerable spontaneous smiles  from lovely pageant participants and the contagious joy emanating from those who

In regal splendour, the exemplary Carnival Queen Leslassa Armour-Shillingford and the indominatable Calypso King Dennison 'Dice' Joseph lead the Opening Parade to cheers of adoring fans.

With royal splendour, the exemplary Carnival Queen  2013Leslassa Armour-Shillingford and the indomitable Calypso King 2013 Dennison ‘Dice’ Joseph lead the Opening Parade and waved to adoring fans.

‘played mas’ (dressed up in costume), I could not help but feel better!

I was very pleased for the participants and I know that the crowd was contented with all the sights and sounds in the Carnival Opening Parade 2014.  Beauties were typically followed by beasts – and smiles were definitely the order of the day.  You can see for yourself in the photos below!

A young boy  pushes his hand-made toy truck, which is called a Kabouwe in the parade.  This creative contribution is a Dominican tradition.

A boy pushes his hand-made toy truck, called a Kabouwe in Creole. This creative contribution is a Dominican tradition.

This pretty little Princess show contestant hasa lovely smile!

This pretty little Princess Show contestant has a lovely smile!

Creole Culture is represented by Madam Wob Dwiyet 2013 in her magnificent traditional dress.  It must have been very hot - but as a Queen, she did not display any discomfort!

Creole Culture is represented by Madam Wob Dwiyet 2013 in her magnificent traditional dress. It must have been very hot – but as a Queen, she did not display any discomfort!

A lovely Teen contestant from one of the high schools - Dominica Grammar School.

A lovely Teen contestant from one of the high schools – Dominica Grammar School.

The Miss Teen Dominica pageant will have tight competition with all the beautfiul young ladies from around the island - this one is from the Grand Bay area.

The Miss Teen Dominica pageant will have tight competition with all the beautiful young ladies from around the island – this one is from the Grand Bay area.

Competitors in the Junior Monarch Competition were out in full force, indicating that young people take this special art form seriously from a young age!

 Junior Calypso Monarch Competitors were out in full force, indicating that young people take this special art form seriously from a young age!

This Queen  contestant, Royette Laurent may have what it takes to follow the exceptional Leslassa, the reigning Miss Dominica. THis young lady, who represents Portsmouth has my vote!

Carnival Queen 2014 contestant, Royette Laurent may have what it takes to follow the exceptional Leslassa, the reigning Miss Dominica. This young lady, who represents Portsmouth has my vote!

Other young people entertained the crowd on the Bay Front with their melodious steel pan renditions.

Other young people entertained the crowd on the Bay Front with their melodious steel pan renditions.

School children from the east coast village of Castle Bruce proudly marched in the Carnival Opening Parade.

School children from the east coast village of Castle Bruce proudly marched in the Carnival Opening Parade.

Energetic young ladies captivated the crowd with their well rehearsed 'flag-waving' routines.

Energetic young ladies captivated the crowd with their well rehearsed ‘flag-waving’ routines.

The Kalinago Carnival band was well represented with  indigenous people of all ages participating in their group.

The Kalinago Carnival Band was well represented with indigenous people of all ages participating in their group.

Traditional lapo kabwit (goat-skin) drummers were a prominent presence in the parade route.

Traditional lapo kabwit (goat-skin) drummers were a prominent presence in the parade route.

The sensational Sensay revellers from teh village of St. Joseph held everyone's attention with their incredible costumes!

The sensational Sensay revellers from the village of St. Joseph held everyone’s attention with their incredible costumes!

Sensay costumes have traditional African origins.

Sensay costumes have traditional African origins.

Stilt-walkers ,called Bwa-Bwa in Creole looked very sinister in the late afternoon light.  They were also portraying 'darkies' with their whips and complete coverage in black body paint.

Stilt-walkers ,called Bwa-Bwa in Creole looked very sinister in the late afternoon light. They were also portraying ‘darkies’ with their whips and complete coverage in black body paint.

Fierce 'darkies' on the road cracked their whips and created fun-loving fear in those who stood too close to them.

Fierce ‘darkies’ on the road cracked their whips and created fun-loving fear in those who stood too close to them.

Perhaps the 'darkies' aren't as scary as one might think; this one cast a spell on pretty Kim that brought forth a beautiful smile!

Perhaps the ‘darkies’ aren’t as scary as one might think; this one cast a spell on pretty Kim that brought forth a beautiful smile!

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.