Looking back to last year’s carnival in Martinique, the event commented less on the economic crisis (as was planned in the aesthetic design of elements such as the vaval – the papier-mâché figure which is burned and whose demise is mourned on mercredi des cendres), instead producing impromptu, creative responses to the scandal surrounding the reactions of Serge Letchimy, the president of the conseil régional de la Martinique, to comments on ‘civilisation’ made by the then ministre d’intérieur, Claude Guéant.
This year ‘LE’ thème, as I am gathering from friends and the usual social networking channels, is undoubtedly, and perhaps unsurprisingly ‘le mariage pour tous’. A debate which is surely suited to being played out via the cross-dressing and mariage burlesque performances of Martinique carnival. What questions arise then when such a debate is subsumed into the carnival scenery?
The theme is represented (along with other salient issues – the debate around the continued use of the pesticide Chlordécone in Martinique being one, depicted above bubbling from a champagne flute) most prominently in the vaval, designed and constructed by an artistic team led by Martinican artist Hervé Beuze, and ceremoniously unveiled on Dimanche gras in Fort-de-France.
It is also reflected in the music released for the carnival period, providing a platform for local artists to contribute and sing their pwen (points). Joko, a carnival veteran, who regularly cross-dresses for the video clip for his annual carnival tune, this year, seems to cut a more serious figure, with his uncharacteristic – during carnival at least – masculine bandana and cane in hand. The ditty which will inevitably be echoed in the streets by the throngs of carnavaliers on the island is entitled, ‘Gouinette – Macoumette’ and makes fairly explicit his feelings towards the proposed laws.
The final image I’ve come across over the past few days is the caricature above, taken from the des-intéressés Martinican news and media blog. This is a sharp observation not only of the specificity of this year’s carnival but also evokes the continued imposition of universally assumed social categories and norms, whether in the form of imported European Gay Pride parades (considered in the Antilles to be “peanuts” in comparison to carnival) or idealised family models. The scene seems to suggest that the density of Martinique’s carnival, and its local traditions, does not always translate easily for tourist spectators. Why do men cross-dress at carnival time in Martinique? I still personally have many theories but no definitive answer, which is perhaps the way it should be.
One book I thoroughly intend to read though is Stella Magliani-Belkacem et Félix Boggio Ewanjé-Epée’s essay, « Les féministes blanches et l’empire» (2012), which might perhaps chime with questions of (ir)relevancy surrounding the marriage debates in Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Somewhat ironically, Serge Letchimy was critiqued this week in the Martinican blogosphere for ‘se drapant dans la jupe de Christiane Taubira’ – hiding in the skirt of the Guyanese minister of justice. Bearing reference to the education provided by a mother in encouraging her son to go outside and play with the other boys, refraining to take a stance publicly on same-sex marriage rights in this political context, it would seem, threatens to dint the minister’s manhood. If, as Joko sings, ‘dans la nouvelle société, les messieurs [can become] les mamans’, les madames can wear the trousers whilst the men can surely (if only once a year) drape themselves in any skirt that takes their fancy.