Carnival in Jamaica

Published: February 12, 2016

Carnival in Jamaica
david n madden /

This year, Jamaica celebrates the 28th anniversary of the first Carnival in Jamaica. Bacchanal was introduced to Jamaica by seasoned Carnival revelers from attending Port-of-Spain’s party and play mas, Caribbean-style, with Trinidad as a backdrop. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 and an upcoming election caused the celebrants to cancel the trip and instead bring the party to Jamaica. This group referred to themselves as The Oakridge Boys.

Making it Official
The next year, a major figure involved with the Trinidad Carnival moved to establish a true Jamaican Carnival, and the rest, as they say, is history. The parade was called a Road March (pretty mas,) and its marvelously stunning array of colorful costumes and celebration spectacle thoroughly compelled and wowed Jamaican viewers as the revelers proceeded through the key Kingston streets in festive Carnival flair, replete with contests and judging with special awards.

No Conflict, With Timing for Carnival in Jamaica
In a wise move, Jamaica’s Carnival was thoughtfully scheduled so that it would not conflict with the Trinidadian celebration of Carnival–and so many others, all celebrating in the few days preceding Lent, wrapping up on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. In observance of the Christian holiday, the Jamaican celebration of Carnival was designated to begin on Easter Sunday, and ended the following weekend. And so this week following Easter Sunday was rife with celebrations, music and full of high energy, culminating with the Road March on the next weekend. Children were purposely included for Jamaican celebrants, with a Kiddies Carnival taking place on the Saturday before the Adult parade. J’Ouvert was eventually introduced and added to Jamaica, adding in another more hedonistic, and darker side element to the Jamaican Carnival. With the implementation of “dirty mas,” chocolate and paint were tossed and poured by people everywhere. and paraded through the streets. Soon thereafter, Wet Fete, with its buckets of water, mud and more became a tradition for Jamaicans. This Carnival has continued to grow ever since.

Bacchanal is Born
In a desire to distinguish their Carnival, bands in Jamaica established “Bacchanal Jamaica,” consisting of Oakridge, Raiders and Revellers. The first home for Bacchanal Jamaica was at Oxford Road, and dubbed “Mas Camp.” It was later relocated to Independence Park, beside National Stadium’s main parking lot. Today, Jamaica’s Bacchanal begins in January and goes strong for 8 full weeks following, when it culminates on the weekend following Easter. The Jamaican J’Ouvert is “Beach J’Ouvert,” with other unique distinctions from Jamaican-branded flair. Jamaicans take pride in how Bacchanal brings together a combined fellowship of all classes and races in celebratory, equal mingling–and in a clean way, that is less “anything goes” than other prominent Carnivals, such as Rio’s.

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