Thursday, February 24, 2011

Carnival... aka Haiti's Version of Mardi Gras

For those of you that would like to learn a little more about "Haitian Mardi Gras", I found this message from the Embassy pretty interesting. Haven't had much happening here in Les Cayes yet, but this weekend there will be a few concerts to start the kick-off.

The U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince issued the following Warden Message on February 22, 2011:

The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti is issuing this Warden Message to inform the U.S. Citizen Community in Haiti that this year’s Carnival celebrations are officially scheduled to take place in Port-au-Prince from March 5 – 8. While these are the “official” dates for Carnival, traditionally festivities begin several weeks prior, running all the way through to the final day. This year is no exception, and Carnival celebrations have already begun on Sunday evenings. It is expected that all the carnival-related inconveniences (traffic, random “Ra-Ra” bands in the streets, road closures, crowds, etc.) will increase as the official dates approach.


As part of these celebrations Ra-Ra Bands will be out in the streets, with increased frequency on Sunday afternoons and evenings leading up to Carnival. Bands generally remain non-violent, but band members may crowd around vehicles, blocking them in, banging on windows, cracking bull whips, twirling knives and machetes, and making a lot of noise. It can be a potentially dangerous situation.

If while driving you should get caught in a Ra-Ra band, you are advised to do the following:

· Keep windows rolled up and the doors locked
· Put the car in park until the band passes. You will be in the most danger if you attempt to drive through the crowd.

Ra-Ra Bands will continue to be found in various parts of the city and countryside every Sunday through Easter.


This year’s annual celebration of Carnival is expected to bring tens of thousands of partygoers and observers who aim to partake in the fun these festivities have to offer. Carnival usually means large, raucous, crowds of revelers , many of whom are intoxicated. While Carnival can be a fun, it is also inherently dangerous. To avoid danger, revelers are advised to exercise good judgment and good personal security awareness.

Strong-arm robberies, assaults, and pick pocketing remain the most likely threats against those who are victimized by crime at Carnival.

Special care should be taken if visiting the area around Champ-de-Mars, which is the traditional Carnival area. There and elsewhere, we recommend the following security precautions:


· American citizens are strongly advised to take advantage of private or “controlled access” viewing stands or vantage points on private property as a means of viewing Carnival parades and festivities, if at all possible.

· When at all possible, avoid walking through, or stopping in the large crowds of people that amass immediately adjacent to, and along the routes of Carnival processions. Stay to the periphery of condensed activity, as these areas are to be considered safer in general.

· Avoid getting swept into “Ra-Ra” band groups. These spontaneous celebrations tend to be especially raucous and are prime opportunities for criminal elements to take advantage of the unsuspecting participant or observer.

· Travel in groups, and stay in groups for the duration of the event. Never leave any person alone in a large crowd with plans to “meet up” later.

· Keep a cell phone at all times at a minimum, with emergency contact numbers programmed. It is also recommended that you carry a flashlight.

· Avoid wearing flashy or expensive jewelry.

· Keep money and wallets in front pocket. Avoid taking purses or other bags, and refrain from putting bags on the ground or hanging loosely from one shoulder.

· Keep your identification on you at all times.

· STAY ON MAIN ROADS. Do not take “shortcuts” when walking to or from the event. Stay on the main roads AT ALL TIMES, even if it is not the most convenient route. Most crimes against persons at events like this occur before or after the event, when people wander onto dark side streets to get back to their vehicle.

· Anticipate gridlock. Ensure that you leave adequate time to return to your residence.

· Avoid confrontations of any type, and quickly move away from any incident of violence or overzealous behavior that might trap you or otherwise risk injury to you. Know your best route of escape and be prepared to move in that direction.

· Have a plan. In the instance your group is separated, have a pre-determined rally point, along with a drop-dead time to meet at the end of the night.

· In the event of emergency, call the local authorities and ACS or the embassy duty officer immediately.

American citizens must clearly understand that security conditions in Port-au-Prince can literally change in a matter of moments. While Carnival is intended to be a fun and positive cultural experience, some inherent threats persist. By adhering to these recommendations, American citizens can mitigate many of these threats, thereby allowing for a much more positive and safe experience in Haiti.

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