Jacmel Carnival Symbol of Haiti Self-Determination

When Carnival season begins in Haiti, the seaside city of Jacmel divides its celebration into two halves. In the daytime, some celebrants meander through the streets dressed up in colorful paper-mache outfits, while others cover their bodies in shiny, black paint and wield ropes as imitation whips. They are addressing Haiti's slave history and the subsequent slave revolt.


Another roving group, the Chaloska, move through the streets in blood-red and black costumes, their faces decorated with over-sized lurid, red lips and monster fangs. They symbolize the 1915 bloody assault carried out on jailed political dissidents by the local police chief.

Yet another group carries a representative cholera patient with a white-painted face, who vomits (water) repeatedly. The nurses begin a noisy dialogue with the crowd, insistently asking them how to cure the problem.

When darkness fills the sky, all performers disappear, and semis bearing stereo amps creep down the main thoroughfare. A host of Haitians accompany them in a ritual dance of self-determination. Inching like a giant caterpillar forward, the dance is punctuated by mock fighting and aggression, with those behind shoving those in front. The person at the head of the line must avoid being catapulted forward. The whole of the dynamic movement represents Haiti's setbacks as a nation, and how it has bounced back and progressed forward.

The scattered energies of the day metamorphose into the focused movement of the night dance, a reminder that Haiti will not be denied its place in history as the little engine that could.

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Read more: jacmel, carnival, Event, Paper-Mache, Chaloska, Entertainment

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