Jamaica Carnival was introduced to Jamaica in 1989 by soca loving patrons who would often travel to Trinidad to party. The devastation to Trinidad from Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 as well as election in 1989 resulted in the cancellation of Trinidad Carnival and so revelers decided to bring the party to Jamaica. In 1990, with much success, Byron Lee established Jamaica Carnival.
Jamaica Carnival takes place in the country’s capital of Kingston and consists of a number of pre-parties leading up to the main event. The annual event is comprised of different parties. Each party is hosted at a different location across the island such as J’ouvert or Beach J’ouvert, which consists of body painting. A cover charge grants patrons unlimited access to the bar for the duration of the party. Beach J’ouvert is held at James Bond Beach in St. Mary. Soca-robics (a bi-weekly soca themed exercise program held during the entire season leading up to the main event) is held at Mas Camp, which is located at Independence Park in Kingston. Bacchanal is the main event. These events commence in January and span roughly 12 weeks ending on the weekend following Easter (on the Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday). Jamaica Carnival sees the coming together and total cessation of the division of the socio-economic barriers for the duration of the festivities.
Jamaica Carnival starts out with a road march through the streets of Kingston. Large groups of revelers dress in costumes consisting of different themes and vibrant colors. Each group is assigned their own float. Each float is displaced about 30 yards a part from another and usually led by the individual group belonging to said float. Floats consist of a place to rest and medical staff who are in place to tend to exhausted revelers and those suffering from heat stroke and dehydration. They are also equipped with a detox bar for revelers who have over indulged in the freely distributed alcohol. Each float is also equipped with its own DJ and music.
Jamaica Carnival starts approximately at 7am and lasts for about 12 hours. Revelers follow a pre-determined route in Kingston, which is blocked off to regular commuters for the duration of the march. Jamaica Carnival road march ends at Independence Park, which is located next to the parking lot of The National Stadium. At this point a number of local and international artists are featured, including Allison Hinds, Destra and Machel Montano, just to name a few. Each individual group is then judged on certain criteria and top placements are given awards.
The Jamaican Constabulary Force (local police) is deployed all along the pre-set route to maintain crowd control and protection for the revelers. There are also selected volunteers known as marshals who are assigned to the individual groups of revelers. These marshals are tasked with overseeing their designated groups and ensuring that revelers who are unwell or showing signs of fatigue are taken to the medical team assigned to that float. Private Security firms are also employed to oversee crowd control and to ensure that general security is upheld for revelers and marshals.
Jamaican Carnival remains a social event that most Jamaicans look forward to every year. Each year garners new revelers both locally and internationally, many of whom are willing to travel long distances for the Grand Bacchanal that is Jamaica Carnival.