The month of Notting Hill Carnival, the biggest celebration of Caribbean culture in the United Kingdom, has come and gone in a matter of two dance-fuelled, vibrant days. Millions of people attend the annual carnival that falls on the bank holiday weekend at the end of August and this year was the 50th anniversary of this event.
Whether you have attended the streets of Notting Hill for carnival before, or not, it is important to understand why this festive event started in the first place.
Notting Hill Carnival began in the early 1960s. Carnival in general, originating in Trinidad in the 18th century, was introduced to African slaves once the French settlers began to arrive. Fancy balls were held where masks and wigs were worn. As the slaves were banned from such events, they would hold their own little carnivals, using their rituals to celebrate, but also mimicking their masters’ behaviors at these balls.
Carnival became a way to express the rich culture and individuality and once slavery was abolished in the 1800s, the freed slaves took to the streets and hosted their own carnival, growing more elaborate and taking over in popularity against the European balls that they had initially imitated.
Carnival is celebrated all over the Caribbean to this day and falls during Lent in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as differing months on the various islands.
In relation to the British Caribbeans who celebrate their culture at Notting Hill, it all began once West Indian migrants arrived at the end of the Second World War. Notting Hill was one of the areas which had the highest population of West Indians, in a community affected by immense poverty and racial tensions. The Notting Hill Race Riots (1958) prompted a ‘Caribbean Carnival’ the following year and the annual Carnival resulted from 1964.
Whatever your perception of carnival, understanding the history behind it and importance of unity and culture within such an event, cannot go amiss. The colorful costumes worn by beautiful women of all shapes and sizes, accompanying the floats bursting with feel-good Soca music, the Jamaican food, Caribbean flags waving around and general energetic vibes are like nothing else you will experience in London.
Author: Jasmine Lee-Zogbessou
Jasmine is a third year journalism student at the University of Sheffield.