Martinique's Carnival Embraces Inner Beauty, Mourning & Free Vibes

I traded hearts for devil ears this Valentine's Day. 

Unlike other Carnival festivals, where images of Rihanna bejeweled in feather goddess like bra outfits flood Instagram during the winter months, Martinique's traditional celebrations are a bit different. They encourage cross- dressing in the best way possible! This year I clocked out of the anxiety of Valentine’s day and dressing like a girl, to experience what it’s like when an entire culture does their own thing. In the spirit of women’s month and trading hearts for sweet red devils, here’s why Martinique's festival is defined by gender cross-dressing, girls dress as dudes and vice-versa.


Let me tell you how relieved I was to witness not a red heart in sight or leading up to Valentine’s Day in Fort de France, the capital of the Caribbean island of Martinique. While people on my timeline feed were being struck with cupid’s arrow of single alone time followed by a month of women’s issues,  the entire island iconically celebrates with a festival representing the season of change. They party off everything in one’s life that no longer serves a purpose and now that I write this, February and March sounds a bit contradictory when we think about all this women’s emancipation to stereotypes that have been utterly exhausting to deal with. This is why I had to escape the "love and empowerment trauma" and go to a place that surpasses these notions.   


Martinique’s Carnival tradition dates back during slavery times (the 1900s) when it was the most fun slaves could have all year. It started at the end of January, during harvest, lasting a few weeks to celebrate the end of a hard season in the sugarcanes. What started as a harmless, fun party to take their mind off of slavery ( which started with Napoleon) continued for decades even after Martiniquais were free.  Today, Carnival consists of group takeovers of the entire downtown area, dressed in some serious gender-bending, Instagram worthy, masculine drag-like outfits.


My experience started out with partaking in The Mock Weddings which marks Day 1 of the last days to party. The colorful uniform of the day calls for men to dress like women. There's really no history as to when it started but the same time each year people get creative with reenacting funny bridegrooms. Men are literally eager to parade around town in tutus and fishnets, beads and other provocative accessories.

On day 2, everyone shows out their finest Red Devil costumes for Fat Tuesday or The Red Devils Parade. As an initiation to walk in the parade with Spot Evasion, I went through hours of preparation guided by a dude in a red tutu who was working It started with getting my makeup down like a little island girl devil which took like an hour. Then the grandpa of the parade spit some solid knowledge about the history of the parade and how it traces back to Africa. Just to make it clear, the "red devil" theme has nothing to do with religion. Red Devils mean abundance, richness, and change. Red Devils have a connection to Senegal, where the famous poet Aime Cesaire once visited and witnessed an entire village celebrate the red devils with adorned animal skin masks and horns like in Martinique. After hearing about the deep history, I still wasn't sold on rocking a baggy red jumpsuit. I looked like a character from Mario Kart. The oversized jumpsuit wasn't sexy at all. In fact, there were men dressed more seductive than me. Two hours in the costume, I felt empowered marching along the street, carrying my homemade pitchfork. Days before,  I had this idea I needed to be half naked and chosen hours before Valentine's day to get the perfect 'gram, but in reality, I was just as happy dancing in the rain alongside young thugger look alikes.

Finally, on day 3, the Martinique community is supposed to mourn the burning of Vaval, by wearing black and white costumes when the bridegrooms from day 1 hysterically march in tears. This is when I got to wear my all white, which I like to think I channeled black beach barbie. This was also the first time I looked super girly!  The town kept in character as droves of people flooded the streets one last time to party. By nightfall, the streets were filled with marching bands, trucks blasting dancehall music as girls dutty whined casually and decorative cars carrying super ghetto fabulous gangs, the kind that look gangsta in tutus and fishnets and ski masks.



Carnival brings outs some pretty trippy personalities and keeping to the mourning of vaval (the king of carnival), people marched on in serious faces, even the kids! It’s like a colorful day party that doesn’t stop until the morning, and to be honest, this is the only way to escape the buzz kill of Valentine’s day. Men in tutus gave me a new perspective on what it means to be attractive and confident. The amount of cross-body Nine West purses, fishnet tights worn by shirtless guys wearing ski masks was enough to keep staring at the fashion and join them. Check out scenes from Martinique 2018 Carnival.

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Of course, I felt weird putting on a jumpsuit to march in a parade. Apparently the feather outfits are a Brazilian tradition, but in the end, I felt a part of the culture and empowered enough to not give a f*ck about what I looked like even if it was for a day.