Thursday, 30 August 2007

Carnival: Forty years not out!

Leeds Carnival (official title Leeds West Indian Carnival) celebrated its fortieth birthday on Monday, attracting crowds of over 100,000 people to my local park. It started in 1967 as a local neighbourhood event and since then has grown and grown, as has the influence of Leeds's substantial African-Caribbean community. Notting Hill is better known and larger, but unlike Notting Hill, Leeds Carnival has been a street festival from the very beginning. This year Britain celebrates two hundred years since the kidnapping and abduction of African men women and children to a life of slavery in the West Indies and Britain was made illegal; the abolition of the slave trade formed the major theme of this year's Carnival.

Planning for Carnival begins a year ahead with a great deal of competition between the various troupes and designers, and a great deal of secrecy surrounding the designs. Below is the winning Carnival Queen, a truly amazing costume.

Though there were a whole host of other amazing costumes:

The troupes are formed of both adults and children, the children's troupes being one of the most enjoyable aspects of the events: I particularly liked the blue birds:

The colour and spectacle of the event in local streets is truly amazing:

And age is no barrier to participation:

It can be an exhausting event, though this year not as hot as it often is: masqueraders come prepared with fresh drinks (at one time, in the days when the steel bands had to be pulled along by teams of strong men it must have been even more exhausting)

From a textile point of view, many of the costumes are truly works of art: I loved the detail of the embroidery in this one.
But my overall favourite was this one: first you notice the sheer beauty of it and then the chains:

Then you get the view from behind - the slave ship and the dead faces in the water:

Yes, Carnival is fun, and joyful, full of music and dance and laughter. But it is also serious fun: the celebration of a culture (it has been an important part of validating African Caribbean culture in Leeds, established at a time when people faced even greater racism than they do today even though many had lived in Leeds since the mid-forties) and a shared history. For me it is not only inspirational but awe-inspiring.


carrie said...

I love carnival costumes - the slave ship one is particularly good.

Jill Smith said...

Sandra, the one you liked is my favourite , its fantastic. Wish l lived near as l would love it and would see it as a lot of things are not assible but thanks for showing the pictures for us. Can l ask you if you would let me put a bit about it and the link on my blog
Jill Smith

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Thanks Adam but I think you have the wrong person!

Barbara said...

beautiful photos and I enjoy your angelina postcards! Wonderful!