The History of Antigua's Carnival
Antigua Queen Of Carnival 1967
Antigua celebrated its first carnival in August 1957. The celebration served a two-fold purpose: It was a tourist attraction and a commemoration of emancipation from slavery. On this occasion there were many floats sponsored by the business sector. Both the Queen show and the Calypso competition were held at the Deluxe Cinema. Miss Gloria White wasAntigua's first Carnival queen and Mighty Styler won the first Calypso competition.
From these humble beginnings Carnival has evolved into what it is today. Each year the Antigua Recreation Grounds is converted to "Carnival City" where the people gather to attend a variety of shows leading up to Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Antigua's Carnival, the Caribbean's greatest summer festival, not only stages the only Caribbean Queen Show, but also attracts thousands of visitors and returning residents every year.
Calypso is the core of Carnival celebrations. Calypsos are played by steelbands, brass bands and iron bands in competitions, to support contestants in various shows and as people jump up and play mass on the streets of St. John's.
Antigua and Barbuda traditionally celebrated what might be called "Carnival" during the Christmas season. However, on Wednesday 3rd June 1953 a one day carnival was organized as part of Queen Elizabeth the second''s coronation celebration.
Thousands of Antiguans took to the street at dawn. There were floats and a children's carnival. Mr. John Ferdie Shoul was the chairman of the one day carnival. He was called upon by many satisfied Antiguans to make this an annual affair.
It was in 1956 that Mr Maurice Ambrose, a builder and musician, returned from carnival in the Virgin Islands and presented Mr. Shoul with a master plan for carnival. A meeting was held at the Deluxe Cinema, and Mr. Shoul was delegated to approach the government for assistance and the authority to declare August Monday a public holiday.
Initially, the Antigua Sugar Factory objected to the loss of a day's work, but Mr. Shoul persuaded the managers that the crop could be reaped with speed before carnival, thus allowing "crop over" to be celebrated as well. Early that same year, the Hon. E. H. Lake, Minister of Social Services, called a meeting at the Princess Elizabeth Hall to set up sub-committees.
Jouvert, Carnival Monday and Tuesday
Carnival Monday and Tuesday are public holidays. These two days are the culmination of the festivities. Carnival Monday begins with early morning J'ouvert. "J'ouvert" is derived from a French creole word "Jour Ouvert" meaning 'daybreak'. Revellers converge in St. John's some simply wearing tee shirts, others unusual costumes. These are not the extavagant costumes that will be seen later, but rather costumes to make spectators laugh. People "jam" to the pulsating rhythms of a variety of bands.
These two days see "mass" as it is played no where else on earth. There will be costumed troups, groups and individuals and beautifully decorated floats on parade. Tuesday night is "Last Lap". All bands are on the streets of St. John's and people play mass until "fore day morning" -just before dawn, Wednesday morning.
"Christmas to Carnival", Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs. | "The History of Carnival", Antigua Carnival 1986.