Carnival returns to Port-au-Prince, but celebration is more subdued

Editor’s Note: CNS staff writer Dennis Sadowski and staff photographer Bob Roller arrived in Haiti yesterday afternoon to report on the aftereffects of the January 2010 earthquake.

People walk along a street in Port-au-Prince March 8. Much misery remains more than a year following Haiti's devastating earthquake. (CNS/Bob Roller)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The pre-Lenten celebration of Carnival returned to the Haitian capital this week, but not with the usual sense of jubilance that marked the three-day affair prior to last year’s devastating earthquake.

Last night’s celebration featured a parade through the dusty, potholed streets of a neighborhood near downtown. Brass bands, vibrant dancers and street theater were all part of the festivities. Young people dressed in colorful — sometimes scanty — costumes and glitter faces. Others wore elaborately designed and decorated masks reflecting Haitian tradition. Clearly, most were made by the people who wore them.

The parade was also a chance for supporters of the two candidates in Haiti’s March 20 presidential election to show whom they backed. More than a few people were plastered with posters depicting popular singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly and former first lady Merlande Manigat, who are in the runoff election after two months of controversy marred Haiti’s attempt at a smooth, democratic transition in power.

Overall, long-standing revelers said, the themes this year were more subdued. But CNS photographer Bob Roller, who roamed the crowds in search of just the right image, seemed to think participants and the throngs along the parade route were trying to get back to normal after a year of horrendous hardship.

This year’s Carnival went off amid a bit of controversy. It was organized despite the loss of long-time financial backers who felt the festive affair was not far enough removed from the quake 14 months ago which claimed more than 300,000 lives. About 800,000 people still live in spontaneous settlements in ragged tents and squalid conditions.

The Haitian traditions continued today, Ash Wednesday, as the Christian world embarks on the six-week Lenten journey. From now through Easter, “rara” bands will traverse neighborhoods singing songs about life and events of the past year. Traditionally, the songs recall some of the not-so-fortunate news of the community from which the band hails in a ritual meant to evoke remorse and regret.

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