In Cap Haïtien, people began dancing at bals in the evening, supporting the builders of carnival floats, and marching in joyous processions. Jacmel, the town known for its amazing papier-mache creations, held carnivals on three different Sundays. Hinche, on Haiti’s central plateau, is abuzz in anticipation of hosting some of Haiti’s top musical acts.
Although the government organized no official festivity as is customary, on Feb. 26 de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry declared via Twitter a national holiday for three days from Mon., Feb. 28 to Wed., Mar. 2 (Ash Wednesday), closing schools, government offices, and most businesses. The penultimate day is Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” the culmination of the season’s jubilant celebrations. Despite the disapproval of many on Twitter and in the streets that Henry was encouraging his people to dance when the nation is in crisis, many Haitians were grateful for the distraction that Carnival offers.
“We can’t be stressed all the time,” said Max “DJ Sapadenm” Deguerre, an entertainer based in Cap-Haïtien, who is among several playing on that northern city’s Carnival floats. “If we keep stressing and don’t seek a solution and put joy in our heart, we’ll all fall apart.”
With the country battling turmoil, calamity, and empty coffers, the official national carnival was canceled again this year, like last. But Haitians in cities and towns across Haiti held local celebrations, looking to escape their daily hardships and tragedies.
Over the past decade, the official national carnival has been held in a designated city, but not this year. Hence, the unofficial celebrations in towns like Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haïtien, Hinche, and Jérémie.
Jacmel, known for its flamboyant and artistic carnivals, held celebrations over three Sundays in February leading up to Mardi Gras, as used to be tradition in Port-au-Prince as well.
Some point to last year’s presidential assassination, earthquake, hurricane, and kidnapping epidemic as reasons that Haitians should not celebrate Carnival. But many others see those troubles as precisely the reason they should cut loose.
“It’s a tradition,” said Jean Alix Rebecca, better known as Alix B.E.T., a member of the Boulva Naval Committee in Cap-Haïtien. “It’s been happening since before they were born, so they can’t just say not to do it.”
An earlier, shorter version of this article was first published on the website of the Haitian Times.