Guyana’s carnival: celebrations, culture and traditions

Guyana’s carnival is one of the longest in the world, spanning nearly two months (January-February). If this event seems only festive, it is, however, stronger.

Originally, the Guyana carnival was European inspired and reserved only for settlers. But the slaves also wanted to start the fun. Secret festivals are organized to celebrate their African traditions. Over the decades, the Guyanese carnival has evolved into what it is today, reflecting the multiculturalism of the territory.

Slaves also made fun of these settlers, covering themselves with molasses or flour. In fact, when slavery was abolished in Guyana in the 19th century, the territory had 13,000 slaves out of 19,000 inhabitants. These slaves The free will marks a change in the practice of carnival, giving it a new history, charged with their African origins.

A carnival as a history lesson

Throughout the duration of the carnival, the Guyanese submit to the authority of King Vaval, the spokesman for the memory of slavery and prison. And to honor the dignity of the people, the latter is authorized to attack the streets of Pei. The celebration begins with the handing over of the keys to the city to King Vaval.

Of course, revelers dress up, wear masks, and apply makeup. The eccentricities are there. After this rich day of music, dancing, singing and ambience, King Vaval was burned in the public square on Ash Day. He assumes the difficulties of the previous year and brings to smoke all the excesses of the carnival, until the next year.

Clothes that bear witness

During the carnival, many characters and costumes come into play. To begin with, King Vaval is a model who changes clothes every year. Then there is Bobi. It is a bear whose clothing is made of sackcloth. When he marches through the streets, he is led by a tamer. The tradition wants it to carry out the orders of the latter and the public, if not, it will be whipped. It would be less funny if Bobi followed the letter… So he does the exact opposite of what he is asked.

Among those who pretend to be having fun, there is also the Djab Rouj (red devil). They wear red and black. There they fight evil with a disproportionate head. The Neg’brown (black brown) is a major figure in Guyana. It represents runaway slaves, also called “maroons”. The outfit is simple: a red loincloth (the Kalimbe), a red headband on his head, an awara palm seed in his mouth, and his body is smeared with soot oil. In street parades, revelers ensure the service of street order. They can oil anyone in their path.

Lanmo (death) logically symbolizes death. Carnival is accompanied by the end of winter, and therefore the return to life. This is why there is always a character that represents death. She wears an all-white costume that looks like a shroud, or a black jumpsuit with a drawn outline. As for him, he always wears a long white cape that allows him to wrap those who have the courage to fight death.

The Touloulou, symbol of the Guyanese carnival

The Toulouse is an important character. It appears in the 19th century and represents women who went around the ballroom, that is, around the ballroom to pick a date. This term will be “Touloulou”.

This character comes from the Guyanese Creole culture. During slavery, it was a caricature of the bourgeoisie, crawling through the streets in their Sunday best, regardless of the day of the week. Also, this disguise is not just reserved for women. In fact, it allows it break the social barrier and cultural, guaranteeing anonymity, thanks to loose fabrics, masks and gloves.

In the 20th century, Touloulou lost this caricatured dimension to become exclusively feminine and mysterious. At the end of the 1980s, a term was born: the fool. It was invented by Metropolitans working in Guyana. The roles are reversed: the man is anonymous and parades to choose his date. So, the Tololos ball takes place on Friday night and the Touloulous on Saturday.

Today, Guyana’s carnival may enter Unesco’s intangible heritage. For the 2023 edition, it will start on Sunday January 7. The festival will last until February 22.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *