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Jouvert / Jouvay is one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most exciting and unique cultural celebrations. It is a pre-dawn street party during Carnival and is a must-see event for anyone visiting the island during this time. In this blog post, we will explore what Jouvert is about, the history behind the celebration, and what to expect if you attend.
Jouvert, Jour overt, Jouvert (n): [Trinidad Jouvert] the official beginning of Carnival at daybreak on the Monday preceding Ash Wednesday. (< French Creole jou ouve jour ouvert ‘day open’, as a translation of day clean)
The Jour Ouvert of 1920 Port-of-Spain saw revellers crowding the streets from the crack of dawn, and in the bands, amidst the beaters of tamboo-bamboo, and bottle-and-spoon, could be seen revellers depicting crooks, pick-pockets, burglars, beggers, highway robbers, and Barbadian cooks. (Anthony 1989:25)
Jouvay…the opening day of Carnival which begins in the early morning hours (often officially 2:00 A.M.) Monday morning before Ash Wednesday. Jouvay is a nocturnal mas that breaks shortly after dawn. Thousands of revellers in old clothes covered with mud, or as Blue or Red Devils, or drenched in black oil (Oil Men) fill the streets. (Martin 1998:227)
Jouvert, which means “daybreak” in French, is a street party in the early morning hours before the official start of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. The festivities begin around 4 am and go on until sunrise. Jouvert is when revellers take to the streets in a sea of paint, mud, and powder, dancing to the beat of steelpan drums and soca music.
The history of Jouvert can be traced back to the emancipation of enslaved Africans in Trinidad and Tobago in 1838. The newly freed enslaved people celebrated their freedom by going to the streets with music, dance, and costumes. Over time, this celebration evolved into Jouvert, which has become integral to Trinidad and Tobago’s cultural identity.
The celebration has undergone several changes over the years, but the essence of Jouvert remains the same: a celebration of freedom, culture, and community. It’s a time when people come together, regardless of their social or economic status, to enjoy the revelry of Carnival. The festival also serves as an opportunity for people to express their cultural identity through their attire, dance, and music.
Attending Jouvert is an experience like no other. As soon as you arrive, you will be greeted by a sea of people covered in paint, mud, and powder. You will hear the sound of steelpan drums and soca music in the air, and the smell of local food and drink will surround you. People dance and sing as they move through the streets, and the energy is contagious.
Jouvert: Dutty Mass
One of the most iconic aspects of Jouvert is the use of paint and powder. The paint is usually made from flour, water, and food colouring, and revellers throw it on each other as they dance. The powder is made from corn starch or talcum powder and covers people in a cloud of white dust. Some people also use mud or oil to protect their bodies, adding to the carnival spirit.
While Jouvert is a celebration of freedom and cultural identity, it is essential to note that safety is a top priority. Attendees are advised to wear closed-toe shoes, cover their eyes and mouth, and keep an eye on their belongings. Alcohol is also often consumed, so staying hydrated and mindful of your consumption is essential.
In recent years, Jouvert has become more organized, with designated routes, security personnel, and first-aid stations. Despite these changes, the festival has maintained its authenticity and remains a grassroots celebration open to everyone.
In conclusion, Jouvert is a unique cultural celebration that should be on every traveller’s bucket list. From the vibrant colours and music to the energy and spirit of the people, Jouvert is an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime. So grab your paint, powder, and dancing shoes, and immerse yourself in one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most exciting celebrations!
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Source: Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago by Lise Winer.
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