By D.A. Robin
PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten – St. Maarten’s Carnival Grand Parade drew hundreds of revelers and thousands of viewers to the streets of Philipsburg, Sunday afternoon, May 1. Nine troupes performed in one of the most hotly anticipated events each year.
Meet the Revelers
St. Maarten’s revelers come from different backgrounds. Some grew up here in the tradition. Some are newcomers, seeking a fresh experience. Carnival is a life-long tradition for many.
They say they come for the energy, for the culture, for the mood. They say Carnival brings out special feelings in them for their home. The route is grueling – several hundred meters from St. John’s Estate to the Festival Village in Philipsburg.
At six points along that route are judges from Carnival’s officiating body, St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation (SCDF), who will be rating troupe members on their performances and awarding prizes at the end. Carnival’s Second Day Parade is traditionally less restricted, and revelers demonstrate that often.
Every year, a new group of people play mas for the first time in St. Maarten Carnival. They sit through hours of makeup to prepare for this new experience, joining hundreds of others who have grown used to sleeping in beads and face paint the night before.
They gather with their troupe mates, adjusting costume straps, fixing headpieces and masks.
They all tell 721news.com that they have similar expectations: great fun, amazing music and pure joy.
Diofanny Diaz is an 18-year-old student, who will be leaving for the Netherlands in a few months. Before Sunday, she had never joined a troupe, donned a costume and jammed for Carnival.
She decided she wanted to have that experience.
“This is my last year on St. Maarten enjoying Carnival. I wanted to try it out,” she told 721news. “You know, Carnival is Carnival, and you can’t miss it.”
She chose to join GEBE Survivors’ senior troupe for first time. She said she expected to make amazing memories.
“I feel great about today. You know, Carnival is a time that you come and enjoy yourself…to have fun, enjoy the music, the food, everything,” Diaz said.
Nasheka Bryan of French St. Martin, had similar motivations. She plans to leave for France soon to pursue a law career and wanted to ensure she got to enjoy Carnival from within.
She also jammed with her troupe during the French St. Martin Carnival celebration in February. “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it next year, so I want to make this the best year,” Bryan said.
She wanted to win the coveted title of best troupe, along with others who will be performing. “I’m looking forward to being the best troupe.
I will do what I have to, break my bones if I have to, to wine properly and dance,” Bryan said, smiling.
Chakyba Priest isn’t exactly new to the parade scene. When she was younger, she jammed with troupes, but hadn’t in years.
This year was the first time, as an adult, that she joined the parade.
“I just felt like I wanted to come and do it again,” Priest said.
She would always enjoy the Carnival experience. “Carnival comes once a year, so when it does just have fun,” she told 721news.
Priest was part of the white section of GEBE Survivors.
For Atlanta, Georgia native Ariel Reynolds, Carnival is becoming second nature. She has jammed in parades and J’ouvert in Atlanta and in Miami, Florida. However, St. Maarten, which she calls her second home, would be a new experience for her.
“I want to experience a new island vibe. I’ve never played mas on an island,” she said, adding, “I wanted to see if this island heat is going to kill me or not, and to see if I’m about this life.” Reynolds joined tens of thousands of revelers for the J’ouvert morning jump-up on Wednesday, April 27, which she called a warm up.
She is a recent graduate of Georgia State University, who flies to St. Maarten fairly often to spend time with her mother who moved here years ago. She said Carnival is just another of many great excuses she finds to come to and enjoy the island.
“I’ve never been to anywhere else that I would call my second home,” she said. She was among many members of the Island Revelers troupe members in red and white. She added with a smile: “I’m looking forward to having a good time with my fellow troupe members.
Hopefully, they won’t look at me like I’m crazy because I’m from America, and this is my first time.”
At 13, Nicole Garri already has a Carnival pedigree.
She has been jamming with parade troupes for eight years.
“It’s just something about Carnival that makes me feel happy,” Garri said.
Keila Gumbs is into her fourth-straight year jamming with Carnival. Gumbs says she enjoys “the beautiful costumes, the good music.”
She was among the Erika 360/UTS-Chippie promo team troupe. “You know everybody wants to be part of Carnival,” she said. “And then every year, it’s something different.
It’s something beautiful.”
What does Carnival mean to her? “Carnival means fun. It means culture. Like the logo says: ‘Come experience life.’ It’s life,” she stated.