Newswise — New Brunswick, N.J. (Feb. 11, 2021) – By turning houses into stationary floats and releasing music on time while delaying the parades, people across the Americas and the Caribbean who celebrate Carnival and Mardi Gras are preparing to keep the festivals alive during the pandemic.
Kim D. Butler, a Rutgers University-New Brunswick scholar of history and Africana studies, reflects on the meaning of the festivals, their relationship to the African diaspora and how they will survive while the world fights COVID-19. The world’s largest Carnival, in Rio de Janeiro, begins Feb. 12. Mardi Gras in New Orleans will be held Feb. 16.
Q: What are the connections between Carnival, Mardi Gras and the cultures of the African diaspora?
Carnival is one of the great cultural traditions in the African diaspora. Many people do not fully appreciate how African the Americas are. In the first three centuries after Columbus' arrival, a significant proportion of arrivals from the Old World to the New World were from Africa. Because of this, we see some traditions with direct connections to Africa, like elaborate costumes and masks. We also see newer traditions that reflect the day-to-day realities of African descendants, especially following the end of slavery when they were able to fully participate. Carnival traditionally celebrates the pleasures of the flesh, including eating meat (“carne”) and other excesses to be given up during the solemn fasting for Lent, so it ends on Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday") before the official start of Lent on Ash Wednesday.
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