Grenada Carnival

Grenada Carnival is one of the island nation’s premiere events. It is similar to other carnivals across the Caribbean, and is patterned most specifically after the held one in neighboring Trinidad and Tobago. Many of the Grenada Carnival events will even seem similar to the festivities that occur in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, including elaborate colorful costumes, rhythmic music, parades, crowning of a festival monarch, and general revelry in the streets.

One of the Grenada Carnival events occurs throughout the Caribbean—J’ouvert Morning—but the traditions vary widely. The rituals of Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada both entail smearing paint or mud on themselves, which served as a method slaves used to not be recognized. Grenada Carnival history is part of the history of the island. It began with the colonial masters from France who celebrated the period before Lent with masquerade balls and parties. Slaves were not allowed to celebrate, but they held their own parties anyway, with their own traditions and rituals many of which came from Africa. When slavery was abolished in 1834, the freed slaves brought their celebrations into the streets.

More Grenada Carnival history was made in the early 1900s with the introduction of Jab Jabs. Originally these characters were covered in molasses, a major product of the sugar cane plantations. Eventually the character evolved into a devil, complete with black body, red satin outfit, horns, a tail, and a whip. You will see small groups of these throughout carnival. They are generally members or followers of the steel drum and calypso bands who can win prize money for their costumes and which they use to support their music.

Grenada Carnival history has its roots in the Catholic Lent period before Easter. The word comes from the Latin carne vale, which literally means to “put away meat.” However, the Grenada Carnival is held during August. This is the month with the hottest weather, but the cool sea and beautiful beaches are never far away.

The nickname for the Grenada Carnival is Spice Mas. Spice is a nod to the country’s history of cultivating spices, particularly, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mas is the Caribbean patois shortening of the French word meaning masquerade. The blend of elaborate formal European masquerade balls and the African and Caribbean native traditions combine to create an intoxicating mix of color, calypso and steel drum music, dance, and food. The best traditional dining of the islands can be enjoyed during the carnival. Look for conch fritters, any of the many dishes with rum made right on the island, plentiful seafood, and Oil Down, a national dish that is a kind of gumbo-like stew. If you like boating and sailing, the annual Carriacou Island Regatta is held around the same time.

Grenada Carnival events begin with Dimanche Gras (Carnival Sunday) held in the capital city of St George's and consisting of a huge costume competition between the Kings and Queens of the bands. This is followed by J’ouvert, which begins in the wee hours of Monday morning, by those who are still celebrating Dimanche Gras and the Jab Jabs. Parades and music, with various bands blaring music from flat bed trucks continues until the wee hours of the following morning. More music and parades occur on Tuesday, culminating with the final judging of the bands. The following days include an extensive arts and crafts festival and, of course, music, dance, and partying.

Image: Grenada Board of Tourism

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