PAST GEM: The Beauty of Bacchanal: Celebrating Feminine Freedom Through Carnival
As I recently said on Twitter, it's getting close to that time of year where I mute any words related to Trinidad Carnival. I'm missing out on the bacchanal this year, and of all the flavours I could choose to be, I chose to be salty. To all my people headed down for the beaches and the fetes and the road, stay safe and have fun! I'll try to leave my hating to a minimum. I figured it would be a good time to share a past piece I wrote for For Harriet about my love of Carnival and how it makes me feel as a woman reveling in herself and her culture. Take a read!
“Ah feelin’ sexy, Ah feelin’ sexy, Ah feelin’ sexy, Heyyyyyyy! Ah feelin’ mehself!”
- Patrice Robers, Ah Feelin’ Mehself
There was a moment during this year’s Toronto Caribbean Carnival parade when this song came on and my body reacted instinctively. Hands in the air, head thrown back, hips swingin’ and waist winin’. I belted out the lyrics with all my heart while all the women around me did the same.
We were all different shapes and sizes, decked out in our Carnival regalia under the summer sun. Some of us wished we had a bit more body to fill out our costumes. Some of us wished we had a bit less. Some of us arrived to the parade with insecurities showing themselves in the way we tugged at bra straps and adjusted bottoms and tried to cover rolls and stretch marks. When Patrice started singing, however, all of those worries evaporated. We were feelin’ sexy and we were letting the world know.
Years of attending and participating in Carnivals in Toronto, Miami, and St. Vincent have given me gifts that I don’t believe I would have received anywhere else. Carnival provides a unique opportunity to revel in my Caribbean heritage and unveil insights about myself as a woman, a new mother, and a sensual being, and I’m always grateful for it.
“I grew up as a real good girl, Always home, don’t go nowhere But since I was introduced to Carnival They say I loose” - Destra Garcia, Lucy
Though I love Carnival, I understand that it isn’t for everyone and the reasons therein are myriad. Some members of my extended family deride it as “sinful” and “unbecoming behaviour,” and while I respect their opinion, they’ve come to respect that I’ll play mas (participate in costume in Carnival parades) anyway. Attempts to enlighten each other to our respective positions on the topic are often unfruitful. I don’t accept that Carnival makes me a disgrace or shows a lack of self-respect. They don’t accept that Carnival makes me feel free.
After taking a year off with the birth of my daughter I was back on the road this summer, to the surprise of some. “But, you’re a mom now!” is the rallying cry of those who incorrectly thought that motherhood would remove the bashment and bacchanal from my spirit. I’m a mother with a daughter who will be immersed in her Caribbean culture, which includes navigating Carnival and playing mas should she choose. I want her to be safe, but I want her to have the space to receive the gifts of self-expression and self-acceptance I’ve gotten from mas. I’m raising a Carefree Black Girl, and nothing is more carefree than a wonderful Carnival experience.
“A new day dawnin’, in fete it callin’ No time for stallin’, let’s go let’s go! Wake up everyone who sleepin’ Meet me on the road
New inspiration, no contemplation,
Deliberation, let’s go let’s go!
Wake up everyone who sleepin’
Meet me on the road”
- Fay Ann Lyons,
Carnival reminds me to love my body — the way it looks in my costume, the way it moves when the music courses through it, the way it feels when Carnival is over and my muscles have that good burn. It gives me room to wave my island’s flag with abandon, to hear patois and creole and kreyòl spoken proudly, and to submerge myself in the familiarity of my culture. It allows me the opportunity to educate people who have no clue what all the fuss is about, or wonder why fete-lovers hop from Carnival to Carnival, or who fixate on sexualizing the event without understanding the history and context behind it.
Carnival has helped me to assess my ideals of respectability, evolve past my judgment of others, and give myself permission to fully embrace different aspects of myself. Carnival is an indelible part of my expression of womanhood and the freedom, celebration, and exuberance that it contains.
I’m still on a post-Carnival high where I dance instead of walk and I’m finding glitter remnants on my body even after multiple showers. Until the next mas rolls around, my goal is to hang on to this vibe for as long as I can without letting the humdrum of the everyday cloud it over. Even if life’s stresses threaten to box me in with no exit in sight, I know it’s only a matter of time until Carnival comes around to make me feel free again.