(Published in Cayman Airways Skies, March/April, 2011)
Get ready to jump up and let your spirits soar! Cayman’s carnival Batabano hits the street this spring, bringing with it an abundance of colour, vibrancy and upbeat tempos, which are bound to wash away the stresses of day-to-day life.
An intrinsic part of Caribbean culture, Cayman’s very own Carnival has grown to become one of the most eagerly awaited events on the yearly entertainment calendar and very much part of Cayman life.
An excuse to don some colourful and fun costumes and dance the night away, Batabano was first introduced by the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman in 1984. For the past 10 years the carnival has been organised by an independent committee of volunteers, and has grown into an action-packed, two-week affair, including a wide range of events.
“Batabano gives us an opportunity to express unity and for a period of time once a year to forget our stress and be as one regardless of religious, financial or social divide,” Donna Myrie-Stephen, event organizer and chairperson of the Batabano committee, says of Carnival’s main aim.
“Now set to celebrate its 27th year, Batabano is dedicated to preserving Cayman’s distinctive Caribbean heritage and culture,” she adds.
The name Batabano was chosen as a salute to Cayman’s turtling heritage. The name refers to the tracks left in the sand by turtles as they drag themselves onto Cayman’s beaches to nest. Finding turtle tracks on the beach was, and still is, reason to celebrate in Cayman, thus, the name Cayman Carnival Batabano.
Carnival is a true Caribbean tradition — a cultural kaleidoscope of music, dance and pageantry with roots mirroring the region’s diverse history of African and religious influences. The colourful costumes reflect Cayman’s vibrant landscapes and traditions, and the music is the very rhythm of life in the islands. From Trinidad and Tobago, to Jamaica and the Virgin Islands, carnival is the Caribbean’s cultural expression of the arts.
The heart and soul of any carnival are the Mas Bands, which take to the streets in a whirlwind of vibrancy and splendour. Working with costume designers, local corporations, government bodies, districts and groups of individuals all come together to put on a beautifully colourful and vibrant parade. Snaking its way down West Bay Road into the heart of George Town, the parade is undoubtedly the highlight of Batabano.
During the parade, many costume designers showcase Cayman’s diverse flora and fauna, from giant stingrays and turtles to Cayman’s unique blue iguana. Others use it as an opportune time to comment on a local or worldwide social issue. Each year the costumes and choreography become more elaborate as groups compete for prizes and this year will be no exception.
Thousands of spectators line the street to savour the sights of carnival and join in the festivities, with many coming out well in advance of the start of the parade to ensure the best vantage point. Wave rags and an abundance of colourful beads are thrown by the passing masqueraders, soca music booms from the colourfully decorated passing floats and everyone “jumps” to the contagious beat. Renowned bands from Trinidad lead the parade each year, ensuring the crowd gets into the carnival spirit.
Once the parade is finished, the Food Festival and Street Fete kicks off. Showcasing a lip-smacking array of Caribbean fare by local food vendors, the Food Festival offers the perfect opportunity for masqueraders and spectators to fulfil their every culinary desire, while satisfying their hunger too.
Street dances cap off the day during the Street Fete, with local DJs and international bands playing the hottest soca beats around until late into the night.
Junior Batabano, started in 2005, gives the youth of Cayman their very own carnival. The event has grown from a small parade to a full one-day carnival, featuring a wide range of activities to keep the entire family occupied.
Schools across the country come together to showcase their creativity in their very own street parade, giving the youngsters a dedicated opportunity to shine. Junior Batabano also serves as a unique educational tool to teach Cayman’s youth about the Caribbean’s culture and heritage, as well as the art of costume making to be passed down for generations to come.
“Junior Batabano offers a fantastic platform for the children’s artistic development as they get a chance to help design and create the colourful costumes they parade in,” Myrie-Stephen says.
The parade is held a week before the adult parade and is followed by a Family Fun Day, featuring a host of wholesome activities which can be enjoyed by all.
This year, Carnival runs from May 6-14. For more information, including parade routes and a calendar of events, visit http://www.caymancarnival.com.