Jouvert opens the day. This year it takes place early on Monday 16th July. It launches the pinnacle of Carnival.
Jumpstart the day
It is still dark out but the “jumpers” are already converging at the designated starting point, usually right outside the city centre. “Jumpers” (revellers) are the participants in Jouvert and Carnival. Unlike the much longer Carnival route taking place later that day, Jouvert is a wild, inclusive jaunt; a jumpstart to all the bacchanalia that is to come. It is the “espresso” that gets the show on the road!
In local parlance, a jouvert is really any party that either begins or ends at daybreak. It is not uncommon to have an all-night party with the ambition of “making a jouvert”, that is, going to, or even beyond, the crack of dawn. Or, as with some community festivals, the day begins with a jouvert. But there is only one Jouvert (capital J) and that is the opening of the two-day epic masquerade that is Carnival.
PREPARE TO GET DIRTY!
Unlike Carnival, Jouvert is a freer and more intimate affair, with none of the megatrucks emitting their megatons of sound. Jouvert is dominated by small bands of drummers with a sound-system or some African drums and rattlers – the scaled down version of what you will see and experience at the Carnival road march later in the day. And whilst the parade is spectacular to watch and hear, the real excitement is in the intimacy of “jumping up” with friends and friendly strangers around a band of these musicians. Also unlike Carnival, there will be none of the flashy, expensive, licentious costumes that the season is known for. For Jouvert you dress in the plainest clothes you own; a T-shirt and shorts or jeans will do because, whether you are in a band or not, you will be dirtied, muddied, paint-splattered. In fact, this is the point of Jouvert: there is no distinction between spectator and participant. You may have arrived intending to pass your morning as a casual observer but you will not evade the mess, you will be smeared.
TAKE ON THE DEVIL
No one is quite sure how or when the Jouvert tradition began but some basics have remained constant. There will always be the instigators of chaos, the mischief-makers, the “devil’s little helpers”. These are the ones walking around with buckets of paint, oil, powder, coloured mud. In the old days molasses was used. In Saint Lucia’s sister islands, such as Grenada or Trinidad, these party-makers are still called Jab Jabs (little devils). In traditional Christian festivities of Europe, the Devil’s Hour was from 3 am to the break of dawn. It wouldn’t be surprising if Jouvert in the Caribbean developed out of the idea that we can beat the devil at his own game by usurping his hours and using it for playful fun and good communal cheer.
So, this coming Carnival season, make the effort to rise early (or stay up all night) to join in the cheer of Jouvert and exorcise your demons with play and mud!