Sunday, February 1, 2009

Travels in Dominica, 2005 - Carnival, day 1

Four o’clock this morning it started! The sounds of drumming, singing and dancing gradually increased in amplification until it seemed as if it was right beneath my window! Forcing myself out of bed, I crept to the balcony, peered into the dark street and saw the revelers slowly snaking up the next street over. I could see a small band gyrating and snaking through the city towards the cathedral.

I went back to bed.

About half an hour later, a second group, slightly larger, taking slightly longer passed by. I didn’t get out of bed this time.

The drums of the third group forced me to dress, and head onto the balcony.
The fourth group, at about five a.m., got me down and jumping in the streets.

These aren’t exactly bands, but are groups of manic men hypnotically pounding on drums and they danced down the street. Sometime they are accompanied by women blowing on strange looking home made horns. The mouthpiece is a trumpet like instrument through which they blow, and it is attached to a long pipe or piece of pvc where the strange sound comes out.. Sometimes the drums are accompanied by people with loud whistles blown in a repetitive rhythm. Everyone shuffles and twists down the street en masse. Some people are dressed up in uniforms from their companies, some in nightshirts, some with motorcycle masks, some in costumes or in decoratively slit t shirts. Everyone has a cup of rum punch or a beer, and everyone shuffles along to the beat.

By 7 am, the bands have stopped. Now music from giant speakers start, and every one is still shuffling along. Home to rest, and it will start again around noon.

Dancing in the Streets:

I got out of bed (again) and headed out for breakfast and to get a good spot to watch the costume parade of bands. It was already hot as hell outside, but the parades were supposed to start at 10 a.m. I decided to watch the parade from my favorite internet café which is on the main drag and treated myself to breakfast. They have a raised front stoop where I could watch the parade, and feel safe. This is important, since I am a bit claustrophobic in large crowds and it was going to be a long hot day. Of course, this being the Caribbean, the parade didn’t really start until about noon.

The parade circles through Roseau's main streets in spurts, picking up people as it travels. Some people were in costume, some not but everyone was singing and dancing. After doing a circuit they rest for an hour or so, cool off with lots of beer and chicken and then circle the town again. It’s an 'everyone' celebration. Ancient ladies dressed to kill in baby doll clothes, children made up in full sparkly costumes, men dressed as women and women barely dressed at all. As the day progressed the groups got larger and more ornate. Large groups of people from the same neighbourhood or club, dressed in matching, brightly coloured costumes danced down the street together.

Booths are set up on the street corners, selling fried chicken, beer and rum punch. I have often wondered, with all the Mcdonalds and Kentucky Fried places in the world selling white meat nuggets and breasts, what did they do with the dark meat??? the legs and thighs, which I actually prefer! Well they send them to Dominica. I have yet to see any white meat chicken on sale here. Chicken is the staple food. They eat fried chicken for breakfast, for lunch, for snacks and for supper.

As the day progressed, everyone became drunker and happier. People carried their own glasses to be refilled as soon as it was empty. It was a gigantic block party, and everyone was very friendly, however by afternoon it was sweltering. The parades stopped for a couple of hours as the participants took time off to recoup and regroup for the evenings main event.

No comments: