With the second anniversary of the earthquake in the rearview mirror, Haiti’s grand cultural celebration resurfaced triumphantly through Jacmel’s mesmerizing launch of the 2012 Carnival season, though not without political drama.
Newspaper Le Matin called it a true popular jubilation and an explosion of madness. Radio Kiskeya reporters witnessed “a massive participation in Jacmel’s Carnival,” as masks, floats and music bands stormed Avenue Barranquilla, manifestly displaying an array of colors, smiles, rituals and traditional dances that seemingly disappeared with the January 12 devastation. Even government officials, including President Michel Martelly, dumped their ties, suits and all formalities on Sunday February 12, 2012, joined participants in the streets of the historic city to officially launch the 20th edition of Jacmel Carnival and celebrate the richness of Haitian culture.
Striking a poetic tone, Le Matin’s Hudler Joseph wrote, “Invaded by a euphoriant fever in the streets, maskers lost themselves into lascivious dances to the beats of drums, guitars and the songs of both mini and walking bands.” Festivities started at 2 p.m. and did not end until early Monday morning, leaving lasting images of stunning beauty and grace. “Young men and women dressed with all colors: yellows, reds, blacks and flamingos generated moments of true attractions with their routines performed under the stars,” added Joseph.
Beyond a parade of colors, masks and music, the annual Haitian Carnival was also an economic exercise. Both private and public sectors infused large sums of moneys into the event that captured the entire country, maximizing its radiance and generating publicity. In addition, the mega celebration also boosts Haiti’s small business sector, 90 percent of which is informal and is neither regulated nor taxed
Celebrating his 51st birthday, President Martelly threw himself in the heart of the celebrations “Like the good old days,” remarked Le Matin reporter Lionel Edouard. “His last outing at the 20th edition of Jacmel’s Carnival was once again an opportunity for the president to parade in the spotlight of the media’s cameras,” he added. President Martelly is very familiar with the carnival festivities. He in fact, over more than 20 years, built a reputation as one of the top entertainers of this event that coincided with his birthday. Accompanied by some senators and his security detail, the president drove to Jacmel on Polaris ATVs to not only celebrate his birthday, but also take part in the event that brought him national fame.
It was the spirit of the annual Haitian Carnival concluded Emmelie Prophete, reporting for newspaper le Nouvelliste. “It ultimately binds participants among themselves, carving m the memory and legend of the event: the meringue,” she explained, adding, “These are the songs sung together in an anonymous body-to-body environment, which creates this partition, this release that many argue is the ultimate goal of this festival.”
When he was not dancing in the crowd though, His Excellency was on the official stand, debating political issues live on state TV; something Edouard said made some participants unhappy. “His intrusion in the festivities frustrated some participants who folded their masks and went home,” he wrote. While many observers perceived Jacmel’s 2012 Carnival as the most flamboyant display since the earthquake, it was Martelly’s unexpected debate with senators that buzzed Monday morning talk shows. A week earlier however, the head of state categorically refused to answer questions about allegations over his citizenship status during a press conference and even tossed revilements at inquiring reporters. Playing the role of moderator, Martelly grabbed the national spotlight, not to talk about Haitians culture, rather the persisting political crisis with senators, argued some critics. Nevertheless, for many people, the 2012 Jacmel Carnival left no doubts in their minds; it was an immense success.
Traditionally, Jacmel’s edition preluded the national celebration that has historically been held in Port-au-Prince the following weekend. This year however, President Martelly’s unilateral decision placed it in Les Cayes, Haiti’s third largest city due to the large displacement camp still occupying Camp de Mars in front of the Haitian palace, the normal trajectory of carnival processions. Consequently, many people will migrate to Southern Haiti to savor the grand finale of 2012 National Haitian Carnival that observers predicted would be even more grandiose than Jacmel’s stunner.