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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Carnival “Quien lo vive es quien lo goza!”

This week, thousands of people around the world will be celebrating Carnival. Carnival denotes celebration, music, dance and joy. It is indeed a celebration of life found in many countries of the world. But Carnival is also a celebration of diversity and in the Americas and the Caribbean in particular, it has become a symbol of many cultures coming together. For me, Carnival has a special place in my heart since I come from Barranquilla, Colombia, a city that immerses itself in festive celebrations of Carnival every year.

The origin of the name Carnival has been explained in different ways. One theory suggests that the word comes from the Italian carne levare which means ‘to remove flesh’, another suggests that it comes from the Latin expression carne vale which means ‘farewell to meat’. This makes sense if one considers the origins of the practice of Carnival. It is believed that the concept of Carnival came about hundreds of years ago when followers of the Catholic religion in Italy started the tradition of holding a costume festival right before the first day of Lent. They called the festival carnevale ‘to put away the meat’ since Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during Lent, the period of 40 days of fasting and prayer before Easter, in commemoration of the Passion of Christ. A Carnival provided the best opportunity to celebrate and indulge before fasting.

Carnivals in Italy became famous and with time they spread to France, Spain and other Catholic regions of Europe. As the French, Spanish and Portuguese started to take control of the Americas and other parts of the world they brought their Carnival traditions. By the early 1800s, about six million slaves had been brought to the Caribbean. Between 1836 and 1917 indentured workers from Europe, West and Central Africa, Southern China, and India were brought to the Caribbean as laborers. The Carnivals of the New World reflect the dynamic political and economic history of the region and they are the ingredients of the festival arts of these famous celebrations that are found throughout the African and Caribbean Diaspora. Carnival became a way of expression, many times of escape from the harsh realities that people were experiencing.

Carnival celebrations are now found throughout the Caribbean in Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, Dominica, Haiti, Cuba, St. Thomas, St. Marten, Belize, Panama, Brazil; as well as in large cities in Canada and the U.S. where Caribbean people have settled, including Brooklyn, Miami, San Francisco and Toronto. Among the most famous Carnivals in the Americas are the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Mardi Gras in Louisiana, and the Carnival of Barranquilla, Colombia.

The Carnival of Barranquilla in Colombia is second to Rio de Janeiroís but it is less commercialized. The city starts celebrating well before the three official days of Carnival, and during those days the city seems to stop its regular activities and everyone, from every social class, pours out onto the streets. Music is heard everywhere, costumes abound and just as it had been for the first participants of this Carnival, all the difficulties of life seem to disappear. In November of 2003 the Carnival of Barranquilla was proclaimed by UNESCO as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The parades include dances like the Spanish paloteo, African congo and indigenous micos y micas. Every year a queen and a king are selected to lead the celebrations and their job is to make sure that every moment of Carnival is memorable and accessible to all. Many styles of Colombian music are performed and the featured instruments include drum and wind ensembles, sounds that dance around the air and remind people that it is just fine to let go of the everyday worries and to embrace joy. Turn on the music and celebrate life because as we say in Barranquilla, ‘Quien lo vive es quien lo goza!’ The one who lives it is the one who enjoys it!