Origins & Meaning
The word ‘carnival‘ comes from the Late Latin expression ‘carne vale‘, literally meaning ‘farewell to meat’. It was given this title due to the Catholic tradition of giving up meat during the period of Lent. Hundreds of years ago, Italian Catholics held costumed festivities right before this period of fasting and, through the colonisation of other countries, these actions were passed down, eventually making their way across the oceans and merging with Caribbean culture. Somewhat ironically, you’ll find more meat than you could ever imagine at your present day carnival, with the best of Caribbean cuisine being showcased in what can only be described as ‘healthy’ portions.
The well-known parading of the streets comes from an ancient African tradition, passed down through many generations, in which inhabitants in costumes and masks would march forwards through their villages and move together in circular formations in a bid to bring good fortune, heal problems and calm angry spirits.
The first recognised Caribbean Carnival started in Trinidad and Tobago, but it now has a presence everywhere; especially in the UK. With over 15 different cities across the country celebrating the event and upholding the olde worlde traditions, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing which one to watch.
We couldn’t help but wonder what Carnival really meant to those who come out in force to celebrate year after year, so we sent photographer, Nijah Roots, to Leicester Carnival to get the scoop…
In the run up to the event, you will notice that the entire community come together in unison to support and celebrate the creation of Carnival – and they always do so in a magnificent fashion, spending weeks (sometimes months) of their own personal time preparing. The sharing spirit and charitable nature of the festivities really help pull people together and thus, make the carnival truly what it is.
In most cases, the costumes are hand-made by locals who are often amateur designers. Everything – from the costumes to the cuisine – is usually self-funded by the community and when each person in a troupe (usually containing 20 or more) needs to be dressed, the prices can really start to rack up. The outfits mainly consist of feathers, ribbons and wood for the bases of big adornments, and are decorated with a selection of materials. Bold and bright shades such as reds, yellows, blues and greens are used most often, as they represent the colours of all Caribbean flags.