Carnival origins

July 30, 2001
by Corey Gilkes

The Editor,

I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoy Newsday's Historical Digest articles as I enjoy anything that has to do with history. However, I could not help but feel slightly annoyed with the brief mention of Carnival's origin in the July 29th article on the French Creoles. Once again, misinformation edged out historical fact.

By all means, say that Carnival traditions in the Americas owe their genesis to the Catholic presence in the Caribbean [and given the findings of such anthropologists as Dr Van Sertima, even this may be debated], but please, do not claim that "Carnival and its product are French children". This shows dated information and does not do anyone any good.

I have been writing since 1995 about the origins of the Mas. There have been numerous documents, and books outlining the development of Carnival. These explored in some detail about the African roots of the Mas and how this spring solstice fertility festival of the Egyptians diffused to ancient Rome via the Greeks and Arcadian shepherds becoming the Saturnalia and Lupercalia festivals and in the case of Christianity, Easter. It has been shown how the elements of the Caribbean Mas can also be found in the Egungun festival of West Africa which is why enslaved Africans found it so easy to incorporate what they saw their masters doing in the Great Houses into their own celebrations. We find masking, role reversals, stilt-walking moko-jumbies, a form of the Dame Lorraine and Pierrot, all in Africa.

Further, contrary to popular belief, calypso is not a product of Carnival. A great many streams flowed into this calypso river which is a product of the age-old oral tradition of the griots/jalis, oral historians and priests of Africa. So, why then the continuation of the misinformation?

As an aside I also found it amusing [as I always do] that these French Creoles would be instantly excommunicated if it were discovered that they had a drop of African blood in their veins. Maybe these 18th and 19th century bigots should have had someone of the calibre of, say, J A Rogers who dug up the African ancestry of so many Europeans [even the capital of France, Paris, was named after the Egyptian Mother Goddess Auset/Isis], or maybe someone like Cheikh Anta Diop. They would not be so quick to boot out their Caribbean counterparts.

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