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#445970 - 09/06/12 01:03 PM How Carnival has evolved
Marty Offline

It started back in 1975 Belize and has morphed into the single hottest ticket in the national September celebrations. Belize’s carnival is a fusion of culture, color and creativity in which young and old, men and women are willing participants. Its birth is traced to the tenth of September celebrations which were thought to be drab and dry and desperately needed an injection of life and excitement. Over the next thirty-seven years, carnival has blossomed into a major industry; a celebration of freedom and abandonment. Tonight, we begin a three part series of the history of our carnival. We delve deep into our archives and talk to the organizers of the first carnival to see and hear how it has evolved. News Five’s Delahnie Bain reports.

Delahnie Bain, Reporting

“Carnival is freedom and abandonment beyond description. It is a visual experience coupled with the aromas of Caribbean delicacies and sounds of joyful laughter. Carnival is truly art in motion.” Those are the words of Lawrence Vernon, one of Belize’s most prolific archivists and the researcher, who was commissioned by the National Institute of Culture and History in 2008, to delve into the history of Carnival in Belize. While in other countries, the carnival is a celebration held before the Lenten season, it came to the Jewel as part of the September celebrations.

Lawrence Vernon

Lawrence Vernon, Researcher

“It was in 1975 when a few parents put their children in costumes and this was an effort to liven up the tenth of September which was sort of a drab affair with parades. And so to liven up the September celebrations really, these parents saw the need to dress up their children in costumes and let them parade in the streets for a few hours. These were encouraged, I think first of all by Henry Young, from the Committee of Forty and Soli Arguelles. They were sort of pioneers in bringing carnival to the streets.”

Soli Arguelles, Original Carnival Organizer

“I had a dance school and at the time, Ms. Fairweather was starting a dance school, we thought that it would be good exposure for the kids to start learning how to perform on the street as well as on the stage and we needed to bring back some discipline into the way the kids were dancing on street. That was the reason and I liked costuming, I liked to dress children up for dance shows so I took some good students that were kind of prone to going out on the street and we had at the time, it was about eighteen little girls. We had little music and we had little drummers and we had—it wasn’t all the big steel bands and the big boom boxes of today. It was small drumming people and it was something that we really enjoyed just for the day to bring back the patriotism and to show the children—and me, for my part, I wanted to give them a memory.”

Soli Arguelles’ dance students were one of about five groups that participated in the very first carnival road march. It was small, but it quickly became a huge hit, prompting more bands to join. The first groups also expanded in the following years.

Soli Arguelles

Soli Arguelles

“We didn’t have anything structured like the way it is today, it was just street dancing—and we had like Miss Theola Pinks, who decided she wanted to get the poor kids involved and she started. We started as a group of women, Ms. Flowers and all of us, doing costumes because we liked it, we liked doing things for the children and we started making maybe like head pieces and very cheap costumes. But we saw the joy it brought into the girls and children and they looked forward to doing something, dressing up. The second time I had my senior dancers get involved and we made lovely space costumes. I could always remember my husband making a space ship. At that time we had no tools but we made a space ship and we made the girls—at the time the movie came out “Close Encounter of the Third Kind”, so I called it “Close Encounter of the Dance Kind and we had the girls in spaceships.”

Karen Vernon of the National Institute of Culture and History has been involved in the carnival since it started in 1975. She still vividly remembers the excitement and the hiccups of that first day as they got dressed up and danced through the streets.

Karen Vernon

Karen Vernon, Carnival Reveler

“My first experience in carnival, I maybe was fifteen or sixteen years old and this used to be the Belizean Women for Cultural Preservation. Carnival used to start right out here by Court House Plaza and my first experience with the costume was of course, the ladies were trying their hand at this and they bought some discounted material, which of course, wasn’t as strong as it was supposed to be. And before the carnival started out, I mean the costumes—we were butterflies so we had wings and the wings were ripping apart and they had to be running behind us pinning and sewing as we went along.”

With time, the bands mastered the art of costume making and put countless hours into choreographing dance routines; it was clear that as the carnival was growing, it was also becoming highly competitive.

Lawrence Vernon

“In the 1980’s a group of five women formed what was to become the carnival group C-Jam. And from then the competition actually started in that there were several groups which competed each year for a prize. The costumes, of course, became more elaborate and as I said, the competition was always vibrant.”

Soli Arguelles

“I borrowed, begged and stole from everywhere we could get aluminum wiring and cellophane. At one point we even dressed the kids in that blue plastic that the tires came in. We made costumes out of the blue fringes and it took us almost all year to get all the costumes ready but we used to do a whole lot of work.”

Karen Vernon

“In those days it used to be choreographed moves. We used to actually go every Sunday to a location and practice you know, five six, seven eight, one, two, three, four moves to specific music along the way. And at that time the Paslow Building was still there and that was the judging point and we used to do a full choreographed routine right down by the bridge foot and you know it was fun going through the streets, making sure that the costumes would go around the narrow curves and it was a different kind of excitement from today, but it was exciting.”

Tune in on Thursday for part two of our carnival series.

Channel 5


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#446048 - 09/07/12 03:28 PM Re: How Carnival has evolved [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

The History of Carnival in Belize Part 2

The origins of the Belizean carnival have been traced back to 1975 by Researcher Lawrence Vernon. The event is now firmly in the calendar of activities for the month of September; it didn’t get there by sheer luck, in fact there were conflicting views on where the bacchanal would best fit because it was quickly evolving. That settled, the big break came when the local bands were invited to the grand Miami carnival. Freelance Reporter Duane Moody has part two of our carnival series.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

The revelry was not without controversy and according to Arguelles; things started changing after independence in 1981. A difference of opinion, she says, is why we now have a road march and a uniform parade as separate events on the September calendar.

 

Soli Arguelles

Soli Arguelles, Original Carnival Organizer

“That’s when they started saying no we’re going to have two parades, the tenth of September people and it broke up your diligence, I wanted one parade. Then Mr. Bennett, rest his soul, that was Hart Bennett from the Port and he was of the same opinion. We were of both different political parts but we came together and we said we’d like to do some marching, we wanted to make the uniform parade something pretty and that’s when the idea came that we would leave the frolicking marches for the tenth and do the uniform parade for the twenty-first. We also had a time when there was a big ruckus because they didn’t want the carnival attitude on the tenth of September because the little old ladies wanted to do their parade on the tenth. And then these girls, in that era, it was getting too pompous for them you know, the girls were dressing in these fantastic costumes, we got people creative and competitive and I thought it was good but then we ended up with three parades and to me Belize [City] is too small for three parades. We stretched ourselves too thin that we were exhausted; for twenty-one days I was tired.”

 

Still, the carnival continued to evolve and later in the eighties, Belizean groups got to experience it on a much larger scale when they were invited to participate in Miami.

Lawrence Vernon, Researcher

“I think it was in the 1980’s, 88 or somewhere around there, we were invited to Miami, the Miami carnival group and we sent carnival groups from Belize to participate in the Miami carnival and this continued for a few years and for some reason it died out. But that was good exposure for our carnival groups, especially in terms of not having to be dedicated to a special choreographed step or a special austere costume and the movements of course when those groups came back to Belize, influenced quite a lot of the other groups to participate in carnival.”

Karen Vernon, Carnival Reveler

“I’ve been actually maybe three or four times. The group back then used to actually work at trying to get the entire group over there, ship the costumes ahead of us, even to the point of trying to get visas for some of the persons who didn’t have visas to travel. And that time, they used to have excursions to carnival from Belize to Miami so you know you used to get a cheaper flight. My first experience, I mean I got to Miami and of course I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it was going to be bigger and better but not anything on the scale that I experienced. One of the things that I remember about carnival, apart from the beautiful costumes and colors was the vibration of the music, the big trucks with all the speakers. We weren’t used to all of that here and I think all that evolved and we have reached that point now.”

 

Karen Vernon

The experiences abroad and influence from the Caribbean eventually changed the look of carnival in Belize. The costumes, in particular, became more elaborate… but also more revealing.

 

Karen Vernon

“I remember a year we had on a leotard and tights under the costumes that we used to use so you know it was definitely much more covered up. I think we got into that revealing stuff when the groups started going to Miami for carnival and seeing what carnival there was like and then we started to use the swimsuit, two piece or full piece depending on your choice. And it was then that things started to get revealing and more so today it is.”

Lawrence Vernon

Lawrence Vernon

“The costumes I believe have become more innovative because at one stage we actually had people from the Caribbean coming in to show us how to make costumes and especially the bigger costumes that they use today for the king and the queen and they also use to parade through the streets. I should mention first of all that the tradition of carnival goes way back. It came down through North America, Canada, into South America, the Caribbean and eventually reached Belize. We adopted what we thought would have suited our purposes in carnival and as I said earlier the costumes were just very modest, very austere compared to today where they have become more revealing. So over the years, to more embellish the image of carnival to make it more attractive, the costumes followed suit. As I said, today we have more revealing costumes which some people might have objection to but it is an attraction in streets and you can see from the crowds that line the streets that it has become over the years a real crowd pleaser, so to speak.”

 

Misty Williams

Even today, the mas bands continue invest more time and money in their costumes, especially those for the king and queen competition. A younger reveler, Misty Williams, has been involved in the carnival for the past ten years and she says the different groups are still molding their individual styles when it comes to the costumes.

 

Misty Williams, Eternity Mas Band

“I’ve been in since 2002 in a junior carnival band, Mahogany Masqueraders, I think that was the first time they came out. I danced with them two years and then I was not in the carnival itself participating because we were a junior band, until we had our own band Eternity Mas Band in 2007. But in the meantime, I was still a part of the junior band, making costumes and doing the whole nine. Maybe the only thing I think has really changed would be the costume making because from then certain things were like almost everybody used to make the costumes the same way, the same—almost the same concept of getting it together. I think now we have really stepped it up in Belize and we’re trying different things with our head pieces and our body pieces. So costume wise, yes it has and I think throughout the years you can see the change in the way it is being made and stuff. But other than that, it’s the same thing, the same feeling, the same everything to me.”

Channel 5


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