Trinidadians love to party..or as we say, ‘fete’..as in the French word for festival, celebration, or party. Like Lebanon, Trinidad has been influenced by a number of different cultures – Spanish, British, French, African, and Indian being but a few who have left their distinct mark on this country. These influences are truly what makes this island of only 1.3 million people so incredibly unique! (You thought Lebanon was small? Trinidad is tiny!)
Take (one of the many) parties I went to this weekend for example – Cocoa J’ouvert. J’ouvert (pronounced ‘joo-vay’) is a street party where people spread paint, mud, oil, and cocoa on each other (sounds amazing right?!?) while dancing to Calypso and Soca (Trinidadian music). The party starts at around 2:00am/3:00am in the morning and lasts until about 9:00am! With peak party time being around dawn. (Madness, I know!) Usually, J’ouvert is only in February or March, as it signals the beginning of Carnival… But Trindadians love to party so much that they couldn’t wait..and decided to throw a J’ouvert in July party!
J’ouvert is celebrated on many islands in the Caribbean, including Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, Sint Maarten, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. It’s also celebrated during New York City’s West Indian Day Parade held on Labor Day, Notting Hill Carnival in London, and Miami Carnival..in, you guessed it, Miami! New York City, London, and Miami all have significant Caribbean ex-pat communities. I used to go to Jouvert every year with my Trindadian/Jamaican friends in Miami.
The term J’ouvert is a contraction of the French term “jour ouvert” meaning dawn/day break. (I know many of you reading this speak French, so bear with me on the translations here). Sources differ on the exact origin of Jouvert and Carnival..some say it was brought over by the French and others say it was brought over by African slaves. (I think it is a mixture of both!) But according to the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Tourism,
“Like the cosmopolitan mix of peoples and cultures that shaped the island, Trinidad’s Carnival has many influences. The Spanish and English colonial powers, French planters, African slaves, Indian indentured labourers, and the many other ethnic groups that settled here have all left an indelible mark on the festival.
In 1783 the French brought their culture, customs and Carnival, in the form of elaborate masquerade balls, to Trinidad along with African slaves. The period stretching between Christmas and the start of Lent was a time for feasting, fancy dress balls and celebration for both the French and British. Banned from the festivities, slaves in the barrack yards would hold their own celebrations mimicking their masters’ behaviour while incorporating rituals and folklore. Once slavery was abolished in 1838, the freed Africans took their Carnival to the streets and, as each new immigrant population entered Trinidad, a new flavour was added to the festivities. Today, our diverse culture has influenced the music, food and traditions of Carnival.
Each year at 4 am on Monday, Carnival begins under a cloak of darkness. Fuelled by exhilaration and the energetic rhythms of soca music, revellers take to the streets for the predawn party of J’Ouvert.
J’Ouvert (from the French ‘jour ouvert’ or ‘day open’) is almost ritualistic in its celebration of the darker elements of the island’s folklore and history. Bathed in chocolate, mud, oil and paint, bands of revellers depict devils, demons, monsters and imps. Choose your medium of expression; J’Ouvert is a time for loosening of inhibitions.”
So early Sunday morning (3:00am!) I headed to Cocoa J’ouvert with some friends of mine to lose our inhibitions!..I had gone out the night before until about 3:00am,,so I was exhauuuuusted! But in all of the years I have been coming to Trinidad, I have never gone to J’ouvert before and I thought that now was as good a time as any. We stayed until about 6:30am,..I just couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. But the party was only just getting started! Some of our friends ended up stayed till 9:00am if you can believe it! As I said, Trinis love to fete..
I know I’m taking a risk by showing you this side of my culture..you are probably going to think Trindadians are insane..But hey, this is Trindad! As my Dad put it so eloquently the other day, “Our culture is about drinking and partying!” lol. So, without futher ado, here are some photos from Cocoa J’ouvert!
And this was the last shot I took before heading back home! By this time, cocoa had gotten all in my camera, so all of my pics were coming out blurry!
So, what do you think of J’ouvert?!?! 😀