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West Indian Association Brings Carnival Mardi Gras in Okinawa

By: Brandon Arakaki

Date Posted: 2000-03-10

Come Sunday, March 26th, the West Indian Association of Okinawa (WIAOJ) will be organizing a Carnival Mardi Gras on Camp Foster. The Carnival will take place from 3:00 to 6:30 p.m.

According to the Association’s leader, GySgt. Jamesky Mardy, the purpose of the event is to promote cultural diversity among the military families and the Okinawan community. All military and private organizations are invited to participate in the event, which will be conducted in accordance with the directives of the Marine Corps base.

Military and private organizations that wish to participate must complete registration forms and return them by March 17th. Authorization to join in the festivities will only come after that first step has been made. All participants will be expected to display cultural, traditional and ethnic exhibitions, particularly when approaching the VIP stand. The West Indian Association is also calling for a demonstration of creativity during the festivities.

Carnival Mardi Gras is a unique kind of cultural celebration that has been continually evolving through thousands of years. The tradition was born in Egypt as part of thanksgiving practices, long before the birth of Jesus Christ. >From Egypt, it was taken to Rome, other parts of Europe, then across the Atlantic to the Caribbeans, Latin America, and most recently the United States and Canada. Along the way, many elements have either been added to, or shed off from, the Mardi Gras carnival.

There are presently over 30 different carnivals in North America. The tradition has been celebrated in Trinidad and Tobago for over 200 years, after it was first introduced there by French Catholic settlers in the 1700s. In those early days, according to historical records, the celebration consisted of gala costume parties, music, drinking, singing and revelry. However, it was reserved only for the aristocracy. Later, with the abolition of slavery, emancipated individuals were allowed limited participation in the festivities. That was when they initiated the culture of “caricatures” to make fun of their former masters. In the absence of sophisticated musical instruments, the ingenuous uses of empty boxes, sticks, cans and other items have always given the celebration a uniquely Afrocentric flavor.

Nowadays, in the States, the Carnival in New York is considered as one of the greatest celebrations of the Caribbean and West Indian cultural heritage. There is a West Indian American Day Parade on Labor Day each year, but the New York carnival is just a one-day event including steel band music festivals, a youth carnival, reggae, calypso, soca and other musical genres indigenous to the Caribbeans. In New Orleans, there is also an annual Mardi Gras Carnival, considered to be the most elaborate in the United States.

Okinawa’s West Indian Association may not be able to organize an event that will match those now taking place in North America, particularly New York, New Orleans and the Caribbean countries themselves. However, according to Jamesky Mardy, they are determined to make the miniature version of the event on Okinawa just as interesting and captivating.

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