Island hopper (July/August 2006)

What’s happening in the Caribbean in July and August — a host of Carnivals, a strong dose of reggae, plus Emancipation Day celebrations

Illustration by Russel Halfhide

In July and August, most of the Caribbean’s schoolchildren are on their long vacation, and it’s the height of the rainy season — well, who said school calendars should take account of the weather? At least “rainy” usually means just one short, heavy downpour around the middle of the day, leaving many sunny morning and afternoon hours. Good thing, because July and August are also the Caribbean’s second Carnival season. Trinidad’s pre-Lenten Carnival may be the “greatest show on earth”, but the explosion of Carnivals across the region these months must run a close second, and an energetic fete-lover who wants to take them all in will barely have a moment to rest.

It starts in St Vincent, where the Vincy Mas season opens on 30 June with the semi-finals of the calypso competition, climaxing with J’Ouvert on Monday 10 July and the big street parade, Mardi Gras, on Tuesday 11 July. A week later, hop an island to the north for the crowded streets of Castries and St Lucia Carnival on 17 and 18 July. The Antigua Carnival season opens on 29 July, and the week and a half till the final jump-up on 8 August are packed with shows, competitions, and the Queen of Carnival beauty pageant.

Barbados Crop Over season also begins in late July and runs into August. True to its agricultural roots, Crop Over opens with the ceremonial delivery of the last sugar canes of the harvesting season, and the crowning of the King and Queen: the most productive male and female cane-cutters. Music competitions, fetes, exhibitions, even a literary evening are all part of the festivities. The Pic-O-De-Crop Monarch Competition on 4 August launches the climactic weekend, with the Foreday Mornin’ Jump Up and Cohobblopot on 7 August and the big day, Grand Kadooment, on 8 August. Spring Garden, I comin’!

Wait, it’s not over yet. There’s still Grenada Carnival — a.k.a. Spice Mas — on 14 and 15 August. On Carnival Monday, grease-, paint-, and mud-covered devils emerge before dawn, followed after sunrise by traditional mas bands — each of the island’s parishes has its own version. Then it’s the turn of the “fancy mas” bands, who own the streets all the way through Carnival Tuesday.

And if you live somewhere colder and further north and can’t make it to the Caribbean for any of the above, don’t despair. Toronto’s summer Carnival — long known as Caribana, though this year, after some legal bacchanal, it’ll be known as Toronto Caribbean Carnival — will heat things up on the shores of Lake Ontario on 4 and 5 August. At the other end of the month is London’s Notting Hill Carnival on 27 and 28 August.

But it isn’t all jump-and-wine in the Caribbean in July and August. Two important events encourage us to remember our past and take stock of our present and future. Emancipation Day (1 August), the anniversary of the end of slavery in the British West Indian colonies in 1834, is commemorated across the Anglophone Caribbean with ceremonies of remembrance, exhibitions and lectures, parades and performances, and celebrations of the Caribbean’s African heritage. And in Trinidad, the Santa Rosa Festival (23 August), the feast of the Roman Catholic patron saint of the Arima Carib Community, is an opportunity to remember the island’s indigenous inhabitants and recognise the elements of their culture that have survived more than five hundred years of suppression.

Finally: July and August are a good time of the year for reggae fans also, with two major events happening in Jamaica. The Red Stripe Reggae Sumfest (16 to 22 July) in Montego Bay has been the major event on the island’s reggae and dancehall calendar in recent years, and with a line-up including Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Beres Hammond, Sean Paul, Baby Cham, and Elephant Man, this year’s version will be no different. And old-school reggae fans are rejoicing in the return after a nine-year break of Reggae Sunsplash (3 to 6 August) in Ocho Rios — see our music columnist Garry Steckles’s enthusiastic preview on page 86 of this issue. And as if the calendar weren’t crowded enough: the tenth anniversary Puerto Rico Salsa Congress (23 to 29 July) will draw hundreds of fans of salsa music and dancing to San Juan for a week of breathtaking dance-floor manoeuvres and late-night partying.