Learning about Haiti
Festivals of Haiti
Carnival (Mardi Gras) and Rara
(Feb to April)
The most festive time of the year in Haiti is during Carnival (or Mardi Gras). The festivities start a couple of days before Ash Wednesday and take place in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The days are filled with music, parade floats and people dancing and singing in the streets. The three-day carnival that ends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is traditionally a time of all-night parties and escape from daily life.
Following the Carnival in Port-au-Prince Rara celebrations, also known as the ‘Peasant Carnival’ or ‘Rural Carnival’, begin. These celebrations occur each weekend during the entire period of Lent (the 40 days preceding the Easter) and are a colourful and musical on-the-move show of Voodoo society.
Rara bands sing, dance, make music and march through the streets, displaying the wealth and strength of their Voodoo congregation. Brightly coloured and elaborate costumes adorn the dancers and musicians and represent the strength of their protective Iwa (voodoo spirit). The Iwa protects the group members from the Iwa of other groups.
The Rara bands use a variety of homemade (and often unique) instruments. They include vaccines (bamboo trumpets), drums, horns, and shakers of all sorts. The bands stroll through the countryside picking up revelers on their way into the towns. Bands in the most populous areas can have up to one thousand members by the time the day is finished, as it’s easy to become immersed in the music as the Rara band moves slowly down the road. Although the bands may look chaotic, the members follow strict ritual codes of how, when and where to dance.
As Good Friday and the end of the celebration approaches, the Rara bands appear more frequently to fill the roads with bright dancers and boisterous music, representing the strength of their Iwas and showing off their health and vitality, wealth and congregational strength.