This is one of the greatest festivals in not only Antigua, but the entire northern Leeward Islands. Locals and visitors alike circle the date on their calendars that signifies the start of Antigua's most anticipated time of year. Antigua's Carnival lasts for a period of 10 days, during which many shows, pageants, competitions and parades take place.
The celebrations all transpire in the capital of St. Johns, and more specifically in Antigua Recreation Grounds (A.R.G). This location is lovingly known by residents as the Carnival City, which is also the Antigua's main cricket field.
This is a great time of year to visit this Caribbean island, if you like lots of fun and festivity. The atmosphere is euphoric and there is just so much to see and do. The opening of Carnival begins with a street parade, complete with T-shirt troupes, steel pan bands, large colourful floats and trucks playing Carnival songs. These Carnival songs are performed by local bands, the most popular being Burning Flames and Red Hot Flames.
The winners of last year's competitions and pageants also make an appearance during the opening parade, and wave elegantly while perched upon their private floats. Folks on horseback and groups of stilt walkers also join into the festivities wearing brightly colourful costumes. It's definitely a feast for the eyes to behold.
Some of the competitions which are held during Carnival include Calypso Monarch, Party Monarch and the Junior Calypso competition. Music is the main event in the form of singing, and every competitor tries their hardest to have their name written down in history. Some of the Kings and Queens of the Party Monarch (The show with the biggest turn out every year) are Claudette Peters, Tizzy and Onyan (lead singer of the Burning Flames). A different type of competition is Panorama, in which all the local steel pan bands fight in a musical combat to be crowned the best.
Some shows are all about beauty, talent and grace. There is 'Teen Splash', a teenage pageant in which students from secondary schools across the island compete against each other. This is the only show in which both males and females enter and contend with each other. I had to be present at this show last year, because my boyfriend's baby sister entered. Sadly, she didn't win, but she said the experience was life altering.
Next in line are the Carnival Queen and the Jaycees Queen shows. The Carnival Queen show features local ladies fighting to become the next Queen of Carnival. The segments involved are: Talent, Evening Wear, Swimwear, Carnival Costume and Interview. The winner of this pageant will then represent Antigua in the Jaycees Queen show, which is similar to the afore mentioned pageant, except that the competitors hail from all many different Caribbean islands.
Finally, here comes the festivities! Carnival Monday, Carnival Tuesday and Jouvert are the events which the entire island and visitors await. The first Monday and Tuesday in the month of August finds the streets of St. John's filled with massive crowds, dressed in extremely colourful costumes, dancing to loud, upbeat music.
The streets literally vibrates with the music belting from high intensity speakers, and pounding steel pans, as the parades of troupes dance through the town. It's a melting pot of all the colours in the rainbow and locals and visitors join as one. All routes lead to Carnival City, where the different mass troupes have three minutes each to party on the main stage. Carnival mass troupes charge their members anything from USD$200 to $350 to be a part of the revelry. The price includes the costume, food and alcoholic beverages.
Jouvert is similar to Carnival Monday and Tuesday, but anyone can take part. Interested persons awake before dawn and arrive into St. John's wherever the bands are being set up. Between 4am and 5am, the bands come alive and lead the way through the town. Lots of dancing and 'jamming' takes place and alcohol flows in abundance. There are several organized Jouvert troupes such as the 'Blue Devils' who take the event to another level, throwing blue paint in the air. No one goes home in a clean state. So if you do not like to get dirty, my advice is to watch the action from the television in your room.
Whether you decide to visit Antigua during this time for the music, the pageants or the parades, Antigua's Carnival is one Caribbean festival that you won't want to miss out on!