Jacmel Mardi Gras Smashes Stereotypes

Jacmel is a city unto itself. Lying on the coastal waters of the Caribbean Sea, its celebration of Carnival knows no parallel elsewhere in Haiti. The focus of Carnival in Jacmel is Mardi Gras, the day before Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Christians on this feast day receive a smudge of ash in the form of a cross on their foreheads, signifying repentance.


While other cities across Haiti celebrate Carnival with crowds of jostling dancers in traditional garb, Jacmel turns these entrenched practices on its head, preferring to stage impromptu theatre pieces in random spots along its streets.

If you wander the streets of Jacmel on Mardi Gras, you are likely to find motley crews of young Haitians in tribal wear, painted symbols splotched or streaked onto their bodies. Some don carefully made costumes, with animal headdresses. Others wear street clothes, but with a twist. They slick their exposed torsos and legs with oil and add a touch of absurdity, like a single sunglass lens perched on their cheek. Those who are transgender reveal their sexual orientation with a woman's bra top. The idea is to challenge the conventions of society and its strictures with non-conformist behavior.

The eccentric theatrics of Jacmel residents are about mocking the stereotypes and cultural mis-perceptions of Haiti as a superstitious, backward nation, mired in primitive practices usually associated with Voodoo. The Jacmel people refuse to be defined as such. Instead they lampoon themselves to let the rest of the world know they find the demonization of Haitian culture absurd.

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Read more: jacmel, carnival, Mardi-Gras, Kanaval, Costume, carnival

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