CARNIVAL IN SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES
Stemming from our African roots borrowed from European tradition and mixed with our Caribbean and local folk lore Carnival in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has grown to be the nation’s premiere national cultural festival.
More than the spirit of enjoyment Carnival or, “Vincy Mas” as it is popularly called in this multi-island state epitomizes the celebration of the talent, artistry and craft as displayed by our Panists, Calypsonians and Masqueraders. The general populace as a whole join in celebrating the success of our Cultural artisans.
MORE THAN A CULTURAL EVENT:
While we now speak of a Carnival culture ‘Vincy Mas’ is much more than a cultural event. Carnival in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has now become a major economic activity in boosting the circulation of money during the largely dull mid-year. Moreover, it now attracts thousands of visitors annually to these shores including many overseas based Vincentians who return to the homeland to enjoy themselves with family and friends.
As a result, temporary employment is created and the government earns revenue as a result of increased economic activity. Carnival has the potential to become a major money spinner in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
One of the innovations during the past twenty five (25) years has been the MISS CARIVAL SHOW which over the past decade has become the Caribbean’s premiere Beauty Pageant and still has the potential to grow in Regional stature. The word CARIVAL is a derivative from the words ‘Caribbean’ and ‘Carnival.’
Mardi Gras Parade of Bands which marks the culmination of this grand festival is of course a major attraction. Masquerade Bands compete for the ‘Band of the Year’ title in a marvelous spirit of keen rivalry. The Dimanche Gras Show highlights the finals of the National Calypso Monarch Competition, King and Queen of Carnival (featuring large and elaborate individual Masqueraders and Costumes from the Mas bands) and Panorama, when steel bands attempt to outdo each other in a musical crescendo.
Over the past seven (7) years, the Soca Monarch Competition has attracted the largest of crowds to Carnival city, Victoria Park. Here Soca artistes are pitted against one another as they use Stage craft and other antics fused with up tempo Soca melodies to whip the crowd into a frenzy while they try for the top prize.
The children are not left out. For them there is the longest running and ever popular Junior Carnival (Mas), Junior Calypso (Primary and Secondary Schools) Junior Soca Monarch and Junior Panorama.
As mentioned before our Carnival attracts droves of visitors to these shores. They come from other Caribbean countries, North America and the United Kingdom. An increase in visitors from European countries is expected.
FROM FEBRUARY TO JULY:
In 1976, the then Carnival Development Committee (CDC) took the decision to shift the dates of Carnival from February March to June / July. The then Chairman of CDC gave three major reasons for this decision:
- There would be greater financial returns since the effects of the Christmas spending would not be felt at mid-year.
- Our Carnival would not be overshadowed by that of Trinidad and Tobago which was more popular and well known both regionally and internationally and celebrated in February / March.
- There would be greater participation by Vincentians including those of the diaspora. It could be added that the idea for a change of Carnival from early to mid-year came from the makers of Carnival; the Calypsonians, Panists and Mas makers. Thus 25 June – 05 July 1977 marked the momentous change.
A Brief Footnote On Our Carnival Tradition
The colonization of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines by France in the late eighteenth century brought with it a Prelenten Festival called Carnival, which translated, literally means, “farewell to the flesh.”
The observance of Carnival continued under the rule of Great Britain who supplanted France as colonizer. Until the abolition of slavery, Carnival was a celebration of the ruling class and the privileged who, on the four days preceding Ash Wednesday held their annual “Masked Balls” and dances.
With the coming of Freedom, the ex-slaves took Carnival to the street and their descendants were to play the biggest role in the future development of the festival. Of African Origin, the freed people no doubt would have retained knowledge of their roots with its festivals celebrating deities, arts and customs.
By 1872, the colonial authorities in pursuance of their policy aimed at stamping out the “force and power” of the people culture decided to ban the celebration. In 1879, Vincentians decided that ban or no ban, Carnival would be celebrated. Naturally, the colonial authorities brought out the armed might of the Empire to uphold the ban. The people resisted and the Saint Vincent Carnival riots of February 11, 1879 were written into the country’s history.
Apart from the World War Years (1915-1918) and (1940-1945) the peoples’ festival was an annual feature and continued to grow in popularity. With the coming of Adult suffrage in 1951 efforts were made by the peoples’ representatives to put resources into the planning and organization of Carnival. In 1973, Carnival became the responsibility of a Carnival Development Committee (CDC).
At a meeting of the CDC held on 19 November 1976 the decision was taken to change the dates of the official celebration of Carnival. This decision has proven to be visionary and a resounding success. The components of Carnival, (Pan, Calypso and Mas) have played a dominant role in the success of Vincy Mas’ as our Carnival has become known since the momentous year, 1977. Today, our Panists, Calypsonians and Mas makers continue to build on the rich traditions established by their forebears. This year 2007, Vincentians, together with visitors will join in celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Vincy Mas – Pearl Anniversary.