J’Ouvert warnings were plentiful in advance: cover yourself in baby oil to make it easier to wash off everything else, be ready for every shred of clothing on you to be destroyed, pace yourself because it’s not even Carnival Monday yet.
… the devil pulled the card and he said choose one.
We registered with Mudders International after finishing up at Beach House the evening before, giving us about three hours to get home and back in time for a 2:30 am kick-off to J’Ouvert. The route kicked off with some extended waiting, but gave me a chance to really see the streets of Port-of-Spain. Amazingly, by the time we started moving, large streams of folks showed up already doused in mud, cocoa and paint. I managed to stay remarkably clean for the first hour, probably because of my relative mobility jumping along the parade route (and avoiding the hardcore dudes with turned-down paint buckets on their heads, especially a neon green-drenched fella who seemed to pop into my field of vision every fifteen minutes for the next six hours) and the bands of red and black Kryolan paint I’d already drawn across my eyes (didn’t want to invite mud on my disposable contacts).
J’Ouvert comes from creolized French patois and has its origins in the burning of the sugarcane fields and the forced harvesting of the cane by slave workers. Others can do, and have done, much more justice to the powerful social and historical themes which remain woven into the celebration.