submitted by Nena Parkes on 25.02.2004
The rhythm of the rum,
The rhythm of the drum,
Bodies vibrating to the beat,
Colours shimmering in tropical heat,
Crowded streets, happy faces,
‘Jump up’ time in far off places.
‘Carnival’ or ‘jump up’ time for me conjures up brilliant images of street parades of frenzied dancers moving to the rhythm of brass band ‘roadmarch’ or calypso music. Gigantic costumes wheeled along by their bearers leading of tribes of dancers in brightly coloured, themed fluttering costumes. A shimmering rainbow of colour moving through streets heaving with revellers seeking release from the mundane every day existence. In countries where Carnival is an inherent part of the culture, a few days of fantasy for all is often the product of many weeks in the ‘mas camps’ where the music and costumes are conceived and produced in the hope of winning one of the prestigious prizes.
The word ‘carnival’ itself originates from the Latin ‘carne’ meaning meat and ‘vale’ meaning to leave and so, literally, carnival means the leaving of meat and marks the beginning of Lent, a period of abstinence from meat eating. Days have always been set aside for the observance of religious occasions, which have been important in all cultures. Pagan societies used such occasions to pacify evil spirits while Christian societies celebrated aspects of Christian life at these times. Many Christian festivals have their roots in pagan rituals and retain aspects from them. This is particularly the case with Carniva, which could seem like a bacchanal to the uninitiated observer. Carnival, as we now know it, is a product of the Western Hemisphere often influenced by Afro-Latino rhythms of music and dance. In places like New Orleans and in Latin American and Caribbean countries Carnival has become a three-day spectacle. Somehow the cold winds of February on a Greek island do not conjure up the same images but Kythira does have its annual carnival on the last Sunday before Lent, which usually falls at the end of February. The following day is Clean Monday, which is the name given to the day when, traditionally, the last traces of meat and grease would be cleaned from the household in preparation for the forty days of Lent. Recovering from the excesses of Carnival Sunday it is usual, on Clean Monday, to go to the beach, perhaps with a picnic, to fly kites.
Everyone looks forward to this winter festival weekend and we hope for the fine, sunny weather, which often blesses us in February. The children are especially enthusiastic as, for the three weeks before Carnival Weekend, they are allowed to visit houses in their villages in fancy dress and play Halloween. During this period of Apocreas, there are fancy dress parties with competitions organised for the Junior and High Schools and dances for the older members of the community. On the Friday of Carnival Weekend the children are allowed to go to school in fancy dress which means an early start to the day in those households which have excited young children.
The Carnival Parade takes place in Potamos in the centre of the island. For the last few years we have had a performance of traditional dancing preceding the parade. Three years ago the teenagers carefully rehearsed a maypole dance during the week before and since the arrival of our dynamic Junior Gymnastics teacher, Vassilis, we have been able to enjoy a spectacular performance of Kythirian dances by the Junior School children in traditional costume. The parade of themed floats which follows is (unlike in those Latin American countries where months of work go into making a visual spectacle), in true Kytherian tradition, put together, spontaneously, at the last minute. Nevertheless, the results are quite professional and extremely entertaining as the themes are usually satirical comments on topical political events. These can be of local interest as was the float recreated in the form of our smaller ferryboat “Nisos Kythira” renamed for the occasion “Isos Kythira” meaning ‘maybe Kythira’ stressing the ongoing difficulties of ever arriving on this island. Widening the range of interest to the rest of Greece, the Greek/Turkish conflict usually comes in for exposure and, more globally, President Clinton’s misdemeanors were an obvious target for fun. For some years the village of Mitata has stolen the honours as the whole village has been involved in creating a mobile feast for all dressed up in various guises.
So now to the year 2000 – the greatest Carnival of all? Posters appeared round the island promising events and a parade at 4.00pm. Most of us, of course, were happy to turn up, expectantly, to enjoy the fun without having contributed anything at all, our minds directed to what delicacies might be provided for our palates this year by Mitata. The square was roped off and decorated, large stereo speakers in place. The ‘Politistikos Eksoraistikos Syllagos of Potamos’ had provided a table of gastronomic delight and Rowan Parkes and Adriana Galanis had set up their face-painting stall. The dancing was announced and was received with great enthusiasm as usual. It was followed by Mr.Floros’s High School Students letting off steam and a lot of flour in their re-enactment of student revolution and then the start of the Grand Parade with the Kindergarten children dressed appropriately for their adopted theme of “Protect the Forest” and then ……absolutely nothing. We waited and waited and waited but sure enough there was no parade, well how could there be? We were all waiting to watch and not one of us had thought to participate this year. As usual we had relied on the same few people to provide for our annual entertainment without a thought to their wishes or even to the financial implications of their contributions. If our Carnival is not to become a part of history as some of our other annual festivals have become, we will all have to do something next year to make it happen.
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