Sunday, 19 March 2017

Bodies, Sexualities and Carnival

Carnival at the University of the West Indies, (UWI), Mona Campus, has grown in popularity since the festival was first introduced to Jamaica in the early 1950’s by students from across the Caribbean. Traditionally, carnival is celebrated the week before Ash Wednesday which is the beginning of the Lenten Season. Interestingly, the space UWI Carnival occupies does not only provide entertainment and fun for the revelers in general, many agree that the spirit of carnival has given a voice to those on the fringes of society, especially in a context of homophobia and transphobia culture in the wider society. It can be argued that carnival brings together a wide cross section of the Jamaican society who otherwise would not have necessarily cross paths. While it is true that those who are immensely engaged in the merry- making tend to be from the middle class, there is no denying the fact that there is a convergence of social classes, especially for the Last Lap, which customarily takes places on the Ring Road of the University of the West Indies Campus. Additionally, it is believed that UWI carnival creates a safe space for those who see themselves as being different as it relates to their sexuality and sexual orientation.  Carnival, whether on the university campus or in general obscures the issues of sexuality, social class, education among other social indicators. Paradoxically, for a few hours there is an inclusiveness and tolerance towards the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community as the only label of importance that matters at carnival is that of reveler. There is clearly evidence of androgynous behavior at most if not all carnivals, UWI carnival being no exception, as students, past students and well wishers observe and participate in this festivity of dancing, binge drinking with gyrating sweaty bodies aboard and behind big decorated trucks slowly moving  around the Ring Road amidst the numerous stops. For the most part those in scantily clad costumes are in the minority, yet this does not deter them from entertaining the crowd and posing of pictures for many spectators and photographers. It has become commonplace to see representatives from the various halls of residence and from numerous Caribbean islands along the route as they proudly walk with flags waving as a mark of identification and pride.  There are students from islands, such as, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, and Guyana.  Fascinatingly, along the Ring Road close to the Phillip Sherlock Centre there is the usual water trunk where revelers are sprayed as they approach the vicinity. The revelers are usually geared up as they walk by and are drenched by the forcefulness of the water hose, never missing a beat to the pulsating rhythm of the soca kings and queens of the Caribbean.  The carnival air at UWI is always electrifying and permeated by marijuana smoking males, with a few females too, some barely legal to vote, while members of the security forces smartly look on to ensure the order. The music is predominantly calypso; however, other genres of music, namely, dancehall can be heard blaring from slow moving flat bed trucks. The music tends to be sexually explicit and lewd and oftentimes describe the female anatomy in demeaning ways. Unbelievably, those bawdy comments are of little or no concern to the many revelers, many of whom are females who are there for one purpose and that is to have fun, gyrate, and “get on bad”. Finally, carnival at the University of the West Indies continues to serve as a catalyst for Caribbean integration and cooperation as students from almost all Caribbean islands come together to plan and execute this annual festival in a project of love.
Wayne Campbell
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