This Emancipation Day, August 1st, I find myself in the birthplace of Caribbean Carnival, on the island of Trinidad. Although Trinidad’s festivities take place before Lent begins, reflecting its largely Catholic majority, Barbados’ Carnival Crop Over and Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival (formerly Caribana) take place during this Emancipation season.
This time of year marks the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British colonies. Although there were other forms of indentureship and servitude in existence after slavery, it meant a lot for my ancestors to be freed from a life of slavery.
As you may already know, Carnival in any Caribbean nation and across the African diaspora is a “serious thing.” All year long, people pour their resources and energy into preparations for an event that lasts but a few days. To some, it may appear frivolous and maybe even a bit fanatical, but when you consider what is inspiring this fervor — the fact that our African enslaved ancestors were freed from hundreds of years of bondage — it is completely fitting. Today in Trinidad, we prepare to celebrate Emancipation Day with our brothers and sisters across the African diaspora in the Caribbean and all over the world, including Canada. We don bright colors and African prints and watch a parade.
Although I’d never been to Trinidad before today, its Carnival lived in my imagination and inspired my book. Tomorrow, I make my way to Barbados where I will play Mas’ with Crop Over revelers from around the world, casting off our cares and woes, rejoicing in costumes and pageantry under a hot Caribbean sun. Each Carnival song calls to a part of ourselves in which we forget our pains and losses so that we can celebrate our lives, our freedom and our shining moment.
For Malaika in my picture book Malaika’s Costume, it is to forget for a moment that she is poor and living without her mother who has migrated to Canada for work. She finds joy and solace in celebrating Carnival. As I don my costume at Crop Over in Barbados, I will remember my joys and losses this year, including my younger brother who recently passed away. I will celebrate because I’ve survived, and I love and continue to live the dreams of freedom that my ancestors had. And through celebration and festivities, I will keep their memories alive and create new ones.
Written by Nadia L. Hohn
Illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
It’s Carnival time. The first Carnival since Malaika’s mother moved to Canada to find a good job and provide for Malaika and her grandmother. Her mother promised she would send money for a costume, but when the money doesn’t arrive, will Malaika still be able to dance in the parade?
Malaika’s Winter Carnival is coming soon!
Watch for Malaika’s Winter Carnival, to be published on September 1, 2017!