Carnival was introduced to Jamaica in the late 1980’s by a group of revelers who were accustomed to making an annual pilgrimage to the original home of Caribbean Carnival in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
“The story is that as a result of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 coupled with an election in 1989, the trip to Trinidad carnival was cancelled and so the revelers decided to bring carnival to Jamaica…By the following year (1990) Byron Lee, who was a stalwart in the Trinidad carnival, decided to establish Jamaica Carnival and it was an instant success.”
Essentially, Carnival in Jamaica is a big parade and street party, with bonus parties happening in the days (and weeks) leading up to it. It takes place the Sunday following Easter Sunday; this date was chosen so as not to compete with other Carnival celebrations in the Caribbean, which generally take place just before Lent begins, like most other Carnival celebrations. People from around the world travel to Jamaica to take part in Carnival, while just as many Jamaicans prefer to ignore it or avoid it. The costumes are skimpy and feature elaborate feather decorations. The music is loud and the beat relentless; the year’s top Soca hits are made during Carnival. The booze flows freely, as many of the floats are sponsored by liquor brands and feature their own travelling bars.
I posted a video on Instagram so you can get a sense of the scene – just imagine it goes on for 12 hours straight in 30C degree weather. It was hard not to wonder about the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault during the event, but so far no one I’ve talked to has had anything to say on the matter. After about an hour of watching, we ducked into a restaurant on the route for some crepes and a side of air conditioning, then went home for some peace and quiet. Nothing tops Carnival in Brazil, but I’m glad I had the chance to see Jamaica’s version.