The African roots of Carnival


 With Europe's largest street festival – the Notting Hill Carnival in London – on the horizon (and the New York Carnaval a week away), I thought I'd look at the African influences on one of the major celebrations throughout the Diaspora.

Although "carnival" has roots in Catholicism, the rituals of the festival are also inspired by ancient African traditions of street theatre and parading in costume. Parading through African villages was not only entertainment but thought to heal, calm the ancestors and bring good fortune. Costumes were created from available objects imbued with meaning (including feathers, bones, beads, shells etc.) The rhythm from African drums brought it all together. Many suggest that it is the combination of European Catholic colonialists and African slaves in the New World that created the beginnings of carnival as we know it today. This article insists that carnival is an African expression through and through with roots stretching from ancient Egypt to West Africa – a celebration of joy, imagination and sensuality there and then, as it is today.

Check out pictures from the Aalborg Carnival on Flickr for a taste of carnival traditions from all over the world, including 2007 "Battle of Carnival Bands" winner "Footprints International" from Ghana. 

Images above: carnival celebrations around the world. Credits (clockwise from top):, Alaskan Dude, oxum, Qsimple.

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