Carnival is the time when Haitians from all classes come together to celebrate living in a community most of the time torn apart by dissensions of all kinds and mostly socio-political. Carnival allows people to openly state in a contemptuous manner all that “ails” our society. Most of the things that people can’t say to avoid getting arrested, they can say it with arrogance knowing they can’t be arrested during the carnival nor be censured. “It is part of our cultural calendar. In 1994 when Jean-Claude Barjeux was minister of culture, Jacmel’s carnival became a national carnival in order for people to escape all the kidnapping that was going on in Port-au-Prince just like today,” said Jean Elie Giles, member of the Cocktail Poétique.
Jacmel, the city of lights, is the only city in Haiti that dares to organize carnivals in the 1920’s when no other city in Haiti celebrated the event. Jacmel’s carnival differs from that of the other cities in Haiti through its colors, its creativity, the artistry of its actors who believe that it is an important event for their city and more importantly it’s a family affair.
It is therefore no wonder that its rich tradition, bright colors and artistry sets Jacmel apart and its annual rendezvous leaves all in awe. Jacmel’s carnival always precedes the national carnival as it takes place the Sunday prior. Carnival in Jacmel is serious business, it is when the richness of its artisans and couturiers comes alive. What many don’t know is that for the past 14 years, the festivities begin on Saturday night with the “Cocktail Poétique.” It aims to make revelers experience living poetry in all its greatest diversity.
Traditional costumes and masks represent emblematic figures in Jacmel’s carnival. And with the theme ‘Ochan pou Maskarad Tradisyonèl’, the Cocktail Poétique offered a unique vibrant poetic, artistic and musical extravaganza which enabled the audience to discover and truly understand the elements that make the Jacmel carnival an exceptional cultural experience. From the poems; dances; to sketches of different carnival maskarad Charles Oscar, Mache Kare, Bouda Pa Bouda, and Zel Mathurin just to name a few; culminating with bande a pied ‘Fresh Style’s’ performance and then leading the crowd with original carnavalesque music out of the venue to partake in street performance. In addition, the Cocktail Poétique and its organizers recognized 14 talented individuals who either created or assumed succession of the traditional masquerades as well as key supporters of culture.
The Cocktail Poétique is the appropriate prelude to the Jacmel carnaval whose theme this year’s was “Imaj jakmel se imaj pam” (Jacmel’s image is my image). Before the parade began people lined Baranquilla Street, people took their seats on their balconies, vendors selling benyen (beignets), with music blaring and then the culture event that encapsulates music, dance, masquerades, costumes, pageantry and performance began. Bright colors, beautiful costumes, giant paper mache masks, traditional figures, well-choreographed dances fill Baranquilla. Later in the evening as the bande à pied came out, the energy is palpable. Different bands perform, however, Fresh Style stole the show.