Every country has its own culture and that culture breathes life into the landscape and the people. To truly understand the people of any country one should see and smell and partake in the joys of the people. In French Guiana, the wildest and most joyous celebration is the Kings Carnival. Costumes and colours, jovial music and magical mayhem are all on the menu for those at Carnival. French, Brazilian, Chinese and Creole peoples all come together for this natural wonder of the party world. It is truly a celebration of epic proportions and is the longest running carnival in the world. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is not to be missed.
Origins: Heavily influenced by Catholicism, Carnival has its roots in Italian tradition. Hundreds of years ago Italy celebrated the first day of Lent by hosting an elaborate festival in which participants donned all manner of crazy costumes and paraded through the streets. The festival became popular in Europe and particularly France and Spain. When the French and Spanish began to colonise other countries they took Carnival with them.
The African Influence: Traditionally Africans believed that wearing wild costumes and masks and parading through the village could pacify angry spirits, bring good luck and even conjure up spiritual forces. The many larger than life puppets, straw men and stilt walkers flooding the streets on Carnival have their beginnings in African tradition.
When: January and February are the height of celebration time. The party gets started just after the Epiphany and ends on Ash Wednesday, giving partiers plenty of time to enjoy the parades, dancing and games of Carnival. Local daily life halts in favour of a fantastic party. Traditionally, Fridays are spent eating a coconut or guava flavoured cake called the cake of kings or a ‘galette des rois’ and sipping champagne. Sundays include wild parades with amazingly decorated floats and people costumed in outlandish party-wear all designed according to the Carnival theme of the year.
Who: Carnival represents a homecoming with many locals who have moved away returning for the festival. French Guiana is on the South American backpacker route and travellers flock to the Kings Carnival for the sights and sounds of the country’s most extravagant celebration.
What‘s so special: Parades, music, dancing, feathered costumes, huge puppets and richly decorated floats move in a rowdy party throughout the streets. The evenings are filled with all-night masquerade balls accompanied by orchestras or brass bands playing for the dancers. In the last four days of the Carnival, special events are held. Sunday is the ‘Grand Parade’ which features competing groups of revellers dressed in costumes to fit the year’s theme and performing dances and spectacles. Monday is traditionally the ‘Marriage Burlesque’ where women come dressed as grooms and the men as brides. Tuesday is ‘Red Devil Day’, an occasion to which everyone wears red or black and some are dressed as devils.
The final day of Carnival is Ash Wednesday where partiers will wear only black and white and the grand finale is the burning of a giant straw effigy of Vaval, the King of Carnival.
Characters of Carnival: Carnival brings forth many peculiar figures to dance and saunter through the streets. People wear costumes to represent various mythical figures. These are a few that are commonly seen.
Soussouris: Dressed in a black leotard bat costume, this evil little character often chases spectators and even pinches them.
Nég’marrons: Men dressed only in red loincloths have tomatoes stuffed in their mouths and their bodies are slathered with molasses. Perhaps an evening snack for the spirits.
Karolin: Wearing a magpie tail and top hat these characters are featured riding a shrew throughout the town.
Makoum: Men dressed in drag wear gaudy gowns, big hats and tacky jewels as they parade the streets.
Touloulou: The Queen of Carnival covered from head to toe in rainbow colours.
Vaval: The King of the Carnival. His effigy is burned on the last day of the festival.
The French Guiana Carnival is a wild hullabaloo of music, masks, parades and partiers. A true celebration of life, the Carnival is an old and well loved festival for the people. See the true culture of French Guiana and frolic amongst the mythological scene that dances through the heart of the country. When Carnival arrives the streets become a visual feast of colours and revelry the kind of which should be seen at least once in a life time.