Dozens of Caribbean cultural groups and mas camps performed pieces of music and dances last Saturday, showcasing the tradition of J’Ouvert — the pre-dawn festival of Trinidadian origin, held in likewise fashion in the preceding hours of the West Indian American Day parade on Labor Day. The event titled “The Art and History of J’Ouvert: Steelband as Resistance,” brought the central traditions of the annual event to the steps of Central Branch library to enlighten, said one performer.
“It was a great show and I had a such a good time — it was fantastic,” said Carol Victor, one of the founding members of performing arts group, Something Positive. “It was good that we had a chance to show what J’ouvert is all about.”
Dressed as the Trinidadian carnival character of Dame Lorraine — an exaggerated costume of an eighteenth century aristocratic French woman — Victor says she is always thrilled to show her depiction of the popular figure and explain the history behind her.
“She is a significant Trinidadian folkloric character because this is how liberated slaves observed French planters and created the costumes,” said Victor.
Other performers dressed as folkloric characters like the Blue Devil and Jab Jab, where the wearer typically sports blue fraid powder and dark greasy oil, respectively.
Organizers behind the event — J’Ouvert City International, collaborated with the Brooklyn Arts Council and the Brooklyn Public Library to present the event in a four-hour educational format. In recent years, the early morning festive party has been marred by violence due to fatal incidents, which led to the eventual enforcement of stricter security actions launched last year.
But Victor says those violent occurrences are unrelated to the event and instead leads to misunderstanding surrounding the parade.
“There have been incidents that happened in the past that have nothing to do with J’Ouvert, and that is independent of our cerebration — we are just there to have a good time,” she said.
J’Ouvert is a celebration held in various forms in the Caribbean that honors the freedom of African enslavement, whilst making a mockery of European enslavers and settlers. She says the formerly enslaved marked their liberation with the festive party.
“It has a lot to do with freedom and slavery, and while there are different portrayals and names in each different country — we all have the same idea,” said Victor. “It’s a happy time but also a sad time, and every band and costume comes with a special meaning.”
Victor says if more people were taught the history of J’Ouvert, they would understand its cultural importance to the Caribbean community.
“Those of us who are doing it, we know where it derives from, but some people who don’t come from the culture don’t know, and it’s important for us to bring that to them,” she said.