Netherlands Antilles Carnivals
Carnival is a time for great merriment and fun in Bonaire. There is great activity during the month of February for carnival as it is one of the most exciting and anticipated events of the year. Bonaireans are creative with their colourful costumes, parades, song and traditional dances. There are several different contests for events such as the "Queen of Carnival", best costume, singer and most creative costume. The people attending the festival are allowed to select the winners of each contest. The biggest event of all is the grand finale of Carnival, which occurs on the day before Ash Wednesday. This is the event where King Momo is burnt and this brings the Carnival season to an end after one month of joyous celebration.
Carnival begins in St. Maarten just after Easter and it lasts until the end of April with the culmination of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands's birthday. The ballon jump-up signals the start of the Carnival season and the "Jump-Up" parades comprise of beautifully coloured costumes, floats, live bands and the Queen Pageant.
Steelbands from other Caribbean islands also entertain the crowds who are dressed in brilliant costumes. There are several competitions including the Calypso King competition. The winner of the competition competes against the previous year's winner. There is also a junior calypso contest for children. This is a good way to groom competitors for future competitions.
The calypso contest takes place on the Sunday night and J'Ouvert begins as early as 4 a.m. on Monday morning with the "Jump-Up Parade, which lasts until sunrise. The grand finale is on Tuesday, which is called Last Lap Jump-Up, which is lead, by King Momo, the symbolic straw figure that reigns over Carnival King Momo is burnt and that signals the end of Carnival. Local folklore is that King Momo takes the sins of the village with him, thus leaving the island pure.
Editor's Note: St. Martin is considered part of Guadeloupe and St. Maarten is considered part of the Netherlands Antilles.
Carnival originated from the words Carne levale and dates back to the thirteenth century. During that period of time, people abstained from eating meats. At first, the Catholic Church unsuccessfully tried to abolish the celebrations but after their failure to do so, they incorporated it as their own traditions.
The celebrations first began as a ritual by the people who were fearful of not having a bumper crop, so that they decided to appease the gods. The African slaves had brought this tradition to the islands and it was their way of ridding themselves of "bad spirits". This depiction continued to metastasize and has become known as the Carnival celebrations.
Carnival has gone through several changes through the years, as it was first celebrated by the upper class in clubs. The celebrations have subsequently become more country encompassing and the population of the countries have become involved. People now dress as masqueraders and the celebrations moved from the clubs to the streets. The celebrations have evolved into a spectacular extravaganza with beautiful colourful costumes. The Dutch islands of Curacao and Aruba formed some organizing committees to bring the celebrations to the entire community after World War II.
Carnival officially begins in mid January and the final Farwell Parades at the end of February brings the festival to a climatic ending. The final four days are the climax of months of preparation and it features the "Tumba Festival" where the best Tumba (carnival song) is selected. The winner is crowned as the Tumba King or Queen. There is a day for the teenagers and also a day in which there is an all-day parade with people dancing and jumping through the streets.