As we fast approach another summer, the African Caribbean communities all across Britain prepare to grace the major cities with traditional carnival spectacles. It is important as a community, that we understand the traditions we hold and indulge in so that we may carry on tradition in the right spirit.
It is clear to the world that carnival is a vibrant spectacle of unmistakable African and Caribbean highly energised cultural expressions. However, when searching the history books we find that an explanation to the origins of carnival takes us back to early 12th century Italy, where the Christian celebrations involved early Europeans preparing for lent, a period of time where meat is not consumed. Therefore, many European scholars insist the word Carnival derives from the Italian ‘Carnevale’ which translates to ‘farewell to meat’.
So how would they celebrate this time of cleansing? The day before this period commences, the people would indulge in a excessive alcohol drinking, meat feast and orgiastic array of street games.
It is then suggested, that these customs spread, with Christianity, across Europe and then the world with the rise of the transatlantic slave trade. Whilst enforcing the Christian religion on the African, the traditions such as carnival were also upheld.
This is where the African/Caribbean man sought the opportunity to revive our own ancient spiritual practices held so sacredly. All across Africa today, we can still see ancient tribes part taking in traditional ceremonies where by creative costumes and masks, made from natural materials, are combined with the drums and ritual dances. Parading and moving in circles through villages were said to bring good fortune, heal problems and honour the ancestors. This way, like so many other creative methods adhered to during slavery, African peoples were able to preserve and celebrate culture, identity and spirituality practises under the disguise of master’s customs.
So do we owe our much loved carnival to the European traditions and religious practises? No.