The name Jouvert comes from the French - Jour Ouvert which means day break or morning and it is the start of Carnival. It was introduced to Trinidad by the French settlers in 1783,this was in slavery times and as such the slaves were not allowed to join in with the French masquerade balls so they used to hold their own mini carnivals in their own backyards mocking their ‘masters’.
In 1838 when the slaves were emancipated the Carnival was embraced further and became a huge street party, embracing their newfound freedom. Jouvert which is in the early morning was seen as ‘for the people’ and is followed by the Carnival parade (pretty mas) with the bright costumes with beads and sequins and feathers which was seen as intended for ‘the establishment’
The Jouvert celebrations start before the crack of dawn and proceeds a little after sunrise and the tradition includes mud, paint, even oil being thrown around. It is normally a colourful event like the Carnival parade, but the colour comes from the paint rather than colourful costumes. It starts around 4am the Monday before Ash Wednesday.
There are now many carnivals around the different Caribbean islands but the Trinidad carnival is seen to be the biggest and best. It is based around tradition, folklore, culture and religion.
My very first experience of Jouvert was way back in 2003. My husband was from Trinidad and Tobago, we met in England where he had been living for 10 years and we had been together for two years when he decided that he wanted to leave the cold rainy days in England and return to his home country of Trinidad and Tobago. We moved to Tobago at the end of February 2002 so missed out on the Carnival that year. The following year we decided to go over to Trinidad so I could see and experience my first carnival. It was total sensory overload, the music, the colours, the food everything was bigger, louder, tastier than I had ever experienced. How the masqueraders managed to move, walk dance in some of the costumes was beyond me, the heat of the day was exhausting, but everyone was having fun and didn’t seem to notice the heat.
Tobago;s carnival is nowhere as big as Trinidad’s, however it has been getting bigger and bigger as the years have passed and I personally love the jouvert that is now being held here in Tobago. There are three places you can jouvert, for people staying in the north end of the island there is Roxborough, then the capital of Scarborough has Jouvert and more recently Crown Point now has Jouvert celebrations. As I live in the southern end of the island I always go to the Crown Point jouvert which has been fantastic each time I have been.
For the first three years we joined The Green Jumbies which was a band organised by The Shade night club, then two years was with the Tobago Housing Resorts band then this year we ‘freelanced’ !!
Most of the jouvert bands will charge you a ‘members fee’ which usually comprises of a costume which can be anything from a T-shirt to a costume, all inclusive of drinks, some bands offer snacks, a must is the music truck, security and of course paint, mud or what has become popular is the use of cloured powder to spray everywhere.
There are several judging points along the route, the first judging point they like the bands to remain ‘clean’, so the paint is usually held back until the first judging point is passed and then it is free for all! The bands are judged on the following criteria: visual impact, relation to theme, presentation and finally Creativity / Authenticity.
The young, with endless energy, will often start the celebrations on the Sunday night, however myself, being ‘more mature’ got up early at around 2.30/3am to get dressed and ready. One useful tip is to put baby oil, or even suntan oil on your skin, this will help stop the paint from sticking. You are going to end up in a mess so putting on beautiful make up really is not worth it. Comfy and preferably old trainers are a must, as you will be on your feet for quite a few hours walking up and down the streets between each judging station until you end up at Pigeon Point where you can soak your weary, tired and painted bodies in the sea.
So all the band members gather in a designated area, the drinks truck will be loaded up, the music band will be blasting out this year's Soca songs and you will mingle and drink and dance until it is time to set off. The first part of the jouvert is in the dark as you ‘chipping’ along the road. (Chipping: The act of rhythmically shuffling your feet to the beat of Carnival music while in procession down the streets.) When you get to each judging station all the band members are asked to gather behind the music lorry and the banner that gives the judges the name of your band and the them of your band. Once everyone is gathered the music truck will pass the judges and the band members are expected to put on their best dancing, ‘wining’, and enthusiastic performance for the judges. (To ‘wine’, if you don’t know, is to move your hips and waist in a “winding” motion, hence the name.)
In between each judging station the band members can roam around, find friends who are in other bands and generally have a free and fun time.
The streets are lined with people watching, the bars are normally open even at that time in the morning, people have set up food stalls serving all sorts of different delicacies one of my favourites are Doubles - (Doubles is a common street food originating from Trinidad and Tobago. ... Doubles are made with two baras (flat fried dough) and filled with curry channa (curried chickpeas) and various chutneys)
If you are a bystander watching the revelry do not wear your best clothes - you must expect to get dirty from flying paint or people coming up and wining on you. It’s all done in the name of fun so enjoy and maybe next year you will become a member of a band.
If you do not want to play in a band then you are always welcome to ‘freelance’ which is what a friend and myself did this year. Unfortunately last year in March my husband passed away and he absolutely loved jouvert with all the paint and fun and frolics, so this year I was not sure if I would be able to cope without him dancing, wining and generally having a blast, so I decided not to join a band that way if it got ‘too much’ for me I could escape and go home. Although it was definitely not the same without him or being part of a band, I am happy to say, with the help of a friend, we drank, danced and we did have fun. Raymund, you will be missed so much at these types of events.
One great thing, Jouvert is just a short taxi ride from Chaconia Suite, Blue Marlin Suite, Mahogany Villa and Villa Bimiti. This means that as soon as you have had enough of the music, the paint and the drinking and you want a lovely warm shower to clean yourself up, you do not have to go far just a quick 15/20 minute drive and you are back home, safe and sound ready to relax for the rest of the day. .