The Carnival Doesn't Stop in Martinique


© Arnerin

“In Martinique, when we say ‘Don’t stop the Carnival,’ we mean it,” says Muriel Wiltord, director Americas for the Martinique Promotion Bureau/CMT USA.  “Martinique is more than 90 percent Christian, and the people truly appreciate the importance of the season.  The bonus days are simply part of our unique cultural heritage, handed down through the generations in the spirit of good fun to keep our party going just a petit bit longer than everyone else.”

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The official dates of the 2010 Martinique Carnival are March 6th to 9th , though the celebration actually begins many weeks prior with Carnival parties taking place across the island each weekend in January. 

Naturally, the action heats up on “Fat Sunday” (March 6th ).  Known in Martinique as Dimanche Gras, the official first day of Carnival features daytime parades with a wide range of costumed characters performing throughout the streets of Martinique’s cities and towns.  Among the more popular and notorious characters are the Nègres-Gros-Sirops; mischievous revelers covered in coal tar and sugarcane syrup from head-to-toe that break through the crowds of spectators playfully frightening children.  Another outrageous character, Marianne La Po Fig appears as the music and dancing extends deep into the night wearing, as her name implies, nothing but dry banana leaves (“fig” is the Creole word for banana).  Throughout the day, marchers parade around with spectacularly dressed puppets called Bwa Bwa creating a veritable feast for the eyes.

“Lundi Gras Monday” in Martinique brings “Mock Weddings,” burlesque parodies played out in the city streets with men dressed as pregnant brides or floozies and women serving as reluctant bridegrooms.  Ceremonies are held well into the night, culminating in elaborate masquerade balls where drag is the preferred costume de nuit.

The dress code for that day is red and everybody wears red!

Shrove Tuesday is “Red Devils Day,” with imagery, costumes, parties and parades themed around the Prince of Darkness.  This day is all about the kids, with glorious processions featuring hundreds of children dressed in brilliant red devil costumes, carrying homemade tridents and wearing fright masks made of animal skins and horns.  Red cloth jumpsuits are adorned with hundreds of glittering mirrors and small bells that jingle as the kids dance all the way to sundown.  The elders carry on the party from there until the wee hours.

As Carnival revelers in other parts of the world nurse hangovers with the arrival of Ash Wednesday, the party in Martinique kicks into high gear.  The bonus “Day of the She-Devils” (La Fête des Diablesses) marks the climax of the celebration with more than 30,000 “mourners” gathering to mark the end of Carnival and the symbolic death of King Carnival, known as Vaval.  The local media reports death notices in honor of Vaval, while festivities take place as his funeral pyre is built.  Only two colors are worn – black and white.  “She-Devils,” their faces smeared with pale ash or white flour, wear embroidered waist petticoats and blouses, a black skirt and headscarf made with a damask white table napkin.  Mismatched black and white socks, shoes and gloves complete the traditional ensemble. 

As dusk falls, Vaval’s funeral flames light up the sky.  The party, an arousing explosion of pulsating rhythms, exotic dance, mirth and rum, peaks as Vaval is consigned to the fire.  Only when the flames die down does a calm settle over the masses.  With the burial of Vaval, the crowds chant, “Vaval, pas quitté nous,” which translates to “Carnival, don’t leave us.”