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Commentary: Haiti's national carnival in Gonaives
Published on March 1, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Jean H Charles

Some ten years ago on September 18, 2004, the city of Gonaives was under siege after tropical storm Jeanne unleashed a deluge of biblical proportion depositing in the region enough water to cause some 150 deaths, 50,000 families being put on the street, while 13,000 homes were destroyed.

Jean H Charles LLB, MSW, JD is a syndicated columnist with Caribbean News Now. He can be reached at: and followed for past essays at Caribbeannewsnow/Haiti
A decade later, the city has been revived so well through infrastructure building by both the Latortue and the Preval governments and now the Martelly/Lamothe administration that it is ready today to receive millions of local visitors and hundreds of tourists to revel in the debauchery of the three days carnival that precede the Lenten season.

Gonaives reminds me of the city of Phoenix, Arizona, located in the middle of a semi-desert area where cactus, sun and rock abound. Passing through Gonaives on my way to Cape Haitian, I have often reflected that, if I had official authority, I would fill the region with trees. Dates and olive trees would do well, providing an oasis for the citizens of the city as well as for the travellers.

President Michel Martelly is once again on the right track in setting the Carnival on a nomadic trail towards the main cities of the republic of Haiti. After Les Cayes and Cape Haitian, it is now the turn for Gonaives to show that hospitality is also queen in the city of independence.

Photo: Daniel Morel
Gonaives is for Haiti what Philadelphia or Washington DC is for the United States. It is the city where the founding fathers gathered after the victorious battle of Vertieres against the French colonists on November 18, 1803, to seal the momentous moment on January 1, 1804, to declare that for now and forever, slavery of man upon man is abhorrent to God and to man; it should be fought by just war if necessary.

It is a proud city that precipitated the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship after two students were killed during an uprising against the regime.

Gonaives is also the Mecca of the voodoo spirit and culture. Close to the city, one can visit the Sucry temple where most voodoo worshippers pay homage to the loas at least once a year.

Haiti might be in the region the fourth global Carnival destination after Rio in Brazil occupying the first place and Port of Spain of Trinidad and Tobago holding firm in second place and New Orleans the third one. With the lifting of the de facto embargo against Haiti, its Carnival will become in the future a true international event; it is now mainly a national demonstration of culture, music and entertainment.

With the global climate change, and the Northeast of the United States as well as Northern Europe confronting unusual freezing temperature, finding solace in the Caribbean during winter season while Carnival is on the way brings double benefit for those who can avail themselves of this ritual that dates back to antiquity.

Photo: Daniel Morel
Carnival is associated with the old notion of communal fecundity that called for rain and let the field open for new vegetation. In fact, Haiti has suffered a lack of rain since November 1. It rained hard and strong this week in the country, signaling the concept that “the spirit” is always present, even in this modern time.

There has been discussion in the country whether poor Haiti should earmark so much money for the business of Carnival. It is an investment that is already showing signs of return. The permanent infrastructure in the South, the North and the Artibonite region of Haiti after the Carnival brings added value to commerce and to industry.

In addition, it takes big advertising lobbying to set oneself on the trail of global visibility in the Carnival market. Haiti, through its nomadic vagabond trail, offers a diversity of venues that should please the foreign tourist while being beneficial to the locals.

The artists and the artisans from Port au Prince have descended en masse on Gonaives to transform the city into a moving museum of art. The dancers will exhibit themselves with the least covering of the skin, giving into convulsions that shake all the senses.

The Haitian government is already investing in infrastructure in the northwest of Haiti. Is it an indication that the venue for Carnival 2015 will be in the city of Port de Paix? The government is also investing big in the Grand Anse county, where the city of Jeremie, the mother city of the poets might compete with Port de Paix for next year Carnival. Your guess is as good as mine!

It is a prerogative of the president of Haiti to choose where the mass debauchery will take place. He has so far succeeded in his bet to please beyond their own expectation the doubters more stringent than St Thomas!

Photo: Le Nouvelliste
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