Martinique Gears Up for Month-Long Carnival Celebration

Photo by Henri Salomon

Excitement is building for carnival season in Martinique, the annual month-long celebration that culminates with a wild series of colorful street parades, parties, and concerts from February 26 to March 1.

“The February 26 to March 1 period marks the apex of our carnival, but the fun actually starts weeks before,” said Muriel Wiltord, director of the Americas for the Martinique Promotion Bureau, in a written release. “Beginning now, in early-January, Carnival queens parades and competitions are held each weekend in towns throughout the island. The fete is infused week after week with a merry madness in the bigger towns and cities, especially Fort-de-France.”

Carnival celebrations reach a fever-pitch beginning on “Dimanche Gras,” also know as “Fat Sunday,” as Martinique becomes awhirl with daytime parades of costumed marchers strumming strings and strutting to a Carnival beat. 

Puppets, called "bwa bwa," festooned in fantastic dress, are carried about, while negres-gros-sirop – revelers whose bodies are covered with coal tar and sugarcane syrup – break through the crowds playfully frightening children.

The spectacle grows on Carnival Monday. This is the day for Martinican burlesque; mock weddings with men garbed as pregnant brides or floozies, and women done up as reluctant bridegrooms. 

Shrove Tuesday is the “Red Devils Day,” highlighted by parades, with all eyes on armies of tots in red-devil costumes carrying homemade tridents. A mask of animal skin and horns is worn with a red cloth jumpsuit adorned with hundreds of glittering mirrors and small bells that jingle when in motion. The Red Devils dance until sundown when their elders take over in a celebration that may seem like carnival’s climax. This is just a preview of more to come, though.

Visitors to Martinique during carnival season can safely join parades, or watch from bleachers set up on sidewalks lining the parade routes, or from hotel balconies overlooking the streets and squares.