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#2785: Haiti Celebrates Carnival 2000 ! (fwd)


The Island comes Alive with a flurry of sound and color
 By Darlie Gervais and Chris Chapman Haitian Times Staff 

 PORT-AU-PRINCE -- While an atmosphere of chaos and uncertainty is
replacing the traditional sounds, dance and costumes of the three-day
Carnival on Champs de Mars, the beauty of this annual festival lives
miles south of the capital. In City Hall, the motorcyclists unions are
up in arms in the capital. They said they haven't received their subsidy
from the Carnival committee. "We paid [$10 U.S.] to register.         
For four years now, it's always been the  motorcyclists who lead     
the Carnival procession," said Marcelus Andre Louis of the motorcyclists
union. "If we don't get our subsidy, we won't  take part." The musical 
group Chandel brought out one of this year's most popular carnival
tunes, "Ti Bilan (Little Balance Sheet)." But two hours before the
procession, a member of the group's management says there's a 50 percent
chance that the group won't take part. The committee withdrew funding
for their sound system, a spokesman for the group said. Many floats were
being built and painted on Sunday. The budget for this year's carnival
-- about $525,000 for Port-au-Prince and $265,000 for provincial towns
-- was announced Feb. 29. The list of groups whose floats will be funded
by the committee was published Saturday. Despite the short notice, the
carnival is in full swing. The residents of Haiti's capital are letting
their hair down to a background of music and fireworks. But some experts
are disappointed with how new technology has affected Carnival. "It
hasn't got anything to do with what Carnival has always been
traditionally," said Jean-Claude Bajeux, a former minister of         
culture. "Nowadays, it's all about big sound systems, making a lot    of
noise, and massive crowds." In past Carnivals, majestic masks and
thematic floats paraded down Champs De Mars. "All of those things have
disappeared now, it's only Jacmel's carnival which has kept that alive,"
Bajeux said. "Carnival is a celebration that allows people to let their
hair down before they tighten their belts for Lent. It's a time when
taboos are lifted. That's why everyone wore masks; it gives you
anonymity. And therefore, freedom to do things you wouldn't do          
otherwise," he said. Indeed,
Jacmel offers all of the color,eccentricity and imagination that       
one expects of Carnival in the Caribbean. For "Carnival National," one
week before the main Port-au-Prince celebrations, thousands of revelers
from around the island and overseas reserved hotel rooms months in     
advance. Whether the visitors were looking for a fascinating cultural
display, or just to be entertained, they weren't disappointed. Battles
waged between papier mache headed beasts with great wooden wings. 

Men and women painted from head to toe with a tarry black
substance surround passers-by in freshly-ironed white shirts. The 
passers-by shriek in horror or join in the party spirit, fall to their
knees and beg to be allowed to pass -- much to the crowd's amusement.
The tarry people serve as crowd controllers by swinging a rope covered
in the same gunky stuff to clear a passage for other performers. You
either move out of the way quickly or you make a mental note not to wear
your newest jeans next year. The mischievous mood is contagious in this
colorful town as a young boy pinches a reporter's thigh. Boys in lion
masks with flowing manes crack heavy rope whips. A man with a goat's
head balances a coffin on his head. Two skeletons gesture meaningfully
with crosses. 

  There's an atmosphere of violence and death, which seems macabre but
at the same time, too theatrical to be taken seriously.An afternoon
downpour does nothing to dampen people's spirits. Revelers just carry on
dancing to the hypnotic, repetitive rhythms of the walking bands with
their brass sections, drums and  cheese-grater rhythm sections. When the
sun comes back, amid chants of "men sol¸y la" (here's the sun), it seems
like the whole party moves up to another level of joyous, irrepressible
celebration. The next walking band has two sets of brass instruments.
One real, and the other bright orange and made of papier-mache. A man
sitting at a restaurant table waves his beer in the air, shaking his
shoulders and shouts, "My country is great" in English, for no apparent
reason. After this season's revelry, all would agree, it is.