â€œThe February 26 to Match 1st period marks the apex of our Carnival, but the fun actually starts weeks before,â€ said Muriel Wiltord, Director Americas for the Martinique Promotion Bureau. â€œBeginning now, in early-January, Carnival queens parades and competitions are held each weekend in towns throughout the island. The fÃªte is infused week after week with a merry madness in the bigger towns and cities, especially Fort-de-France.â€
Carnival celebrations reach a fever-pitch beginning on Dimanche Gras or Fat Sunday as Martinique becomes awhirl with daytime parades of costumed marchers strumming strings and strutting to a Carnival beat. Puppets, called bwa bwa, festooned in fantastic dress, are carried about, while nÃ¨gres-gros-sirop â€“ revellers whose bodies are covered with coal tar and sugarcane syrup â€“ break through the crowds playfully frightening children.
The spectacle grows on Carnival Monday. This is the day for Martinican burlesque; Mock Weddings with men garbed as pregnant brides or floozies, and women done up as reluctant bridegrooms.
Shrove Tuesday is Red Devils Day, highlighted by glorious parades, with all eyes on armies of tots in brilliant red-devil costumes carrying homemade tridents. A mask of animal skin and horns is worn with a red cloth jumpsuit adorned with hundreds of glittering mirrors and small bells that jingle when in motion. The Red Devils dance until sundown when their elders take over in a celebration that may seem like Carnivalâ€™s climax. This is just a preview of more to come, though.
For the rest of the Christian world, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is a time to pray. But in Martinique, itâ€™s a time to play. And play they do. Local rums, reputedly among the worldâ€™s best, flow like water. Emotions run high and hot. It is the Day of the She-Devils (La FÃªte des Diablesses), when some 30,000 revelers gather to mourn the end of Carnival and the symbolic death of Vaval, King Carnival. Only two colors are worn: black and white. For revellers not in mourning attire, any kind of crazy get-up is okay, so long as itâ€™s black-and-white.
Visitors to Martinique during Carnival Season can safely join parades, or watch from bleachers set up on sidewalks lining the parade routes, or from hotel balconies overlooking the streets and squares.