With that generalized preface, I want to discuss my impressions of Carnival on Saturday afternoon, September 3, in Belize City, the population center of the nation. I have no axe to grind. Trust me.
Of late, we have had many difficult times in the old capital, and that is putting it mildly. As individual citizens, especially on the violent, economically depressed Southside of Belize City, we can only trod on daily, because we have no choice. Whatever our opinions on its core values and behavior, Carnival Saturday last weekend provided a few hours of unrestrained enjoyment for a people who sometimes appear to be going through hell.
When Carnival was introduced to Belize by United Democratic Party elements around 1975 or so, my first thought was that this is imported stuff. Carnival is best known regionally for its New Orleans, Trinidad and Brazilian versions. Historically, the revelry concept in Europe originally involved participants wearing masks, which, in societies larger than Belize’s, allowed them to be totally uninhibited, because none of the onlookers knew who was behind the mask. Carnival, as it evolved in Trinidad and Brazil, also involved the significant influence of people of West African descent whose ancestors had come across the Atlantic Ocean in slave ships. In Christian societies like New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, Carnival is held on the Tuesday immediately before the 40-day Christian period of penance begins on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”), then, is one last fling.
Before the introduction of a regional type of Carnival in Belize 35 years ago, the closest thing to it in the old capital was the dancing behind the bands of choice during the marches having to do with Tenth of September celebrations. This dancing was relatively uninhibited, but the participants were fully clothed. Those Belizeans who were members of the bourgeois classes and participated in these marches, usually on a whim, were considered daring. Tenth dancing was roots.
For sure I am not a Carnival historian, whether regional or Belizean, in any sense of the word. I have had things to criticize about the Belize Carnival process and experience over the years, but in the case of last Saturday’s Carnival 2011, I have no opinion other than that this was something that we really needed this year in the old capital, that we citizens are very grateful that the participants and onlookers were brave enough to come out in spite of the unstable social climate, and that we are all very glad that Belizeans got a chance to have an afternoon of fun together with no hassle as such.
Just days ago, things did not look promising. In fact, everything seemed dread because of the horrific Gang Suppression Unit behavior on George Street which had been the centerpiece of the television newscasts last week Monday evening. Talk of retaliatory grenades filled the air, and the whole urban atmosphere was poisoned by the fumes of violence and the prospect of the gangsters seeking revenge.
I don’t know the details of how the politicians, the police authorities, and the gang leaders worked things out to the point where Carnival was held successfully just days after Belize City seemed like Mogadishu or Baghdad. This newspaper’s journalists will report on that.
What I want to say is that our people showed a great deal of resilience and determination in coming out on Saturday, and that Carnival 2011 was a catharsis of self and group expression which the city, and the nation, in fact, benefited from in an important way. Belizeans purged the city streets of a lot of bad vibes during the Carnival experience, and, watching at home on television, I could experience flashbacks to better times here, when, September at least, the political and other forms of bickering were set aside and the Belizean people came out to the streets from their homes to declare themselves, declare themselves rulers for a day.
In closing, I say again that I have never been a Carnival fan as such. There have been times when the experience became too debauched for even the most liberal of Belizeans. As a 64-year-old sinner, I don’t want to preach morality to the younger generations, so I’ll leave that at that. On Saturday, I was just happy, as a Belizean, that something as public and interactive as Carnival in the streets of Belize City actually took place, and without incident. Just a couple days before, this had not appeared to be possible.
Article courtesy Amandala