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Are Haitians ready to abandon these things to attract more tourists?
Woy, Woy it’s Carnival Time! Whether you like it or not, Carnival is everywhere: on the radio, on television, in discussion on public transportation. Just as it is done every year, many people will be discussing the economic impact of this event and many will be sharing their ideas on how carnival can economically benefit the country. In this article, I will attempt to answer the following questions:
- Does the Carnival have a major positive impact on the country’s economy?
- What can be done so that more Haitians derive an economic benefit from this event?
The answer to the first question is simple. Let me be frank: the Carnival does not have a major positive impact on the country’s economy. I know many of you will disagree with me. Some of you may even decide to stop reading this article because it’s clear which direction I am heading. Please be patient and let me explain. If you are a musician, if you own a recording studio, if you are a construction worker who makes Carnival stands, if you are a street vendor around the Channmas area, it is clear that you benefit economically from Carnival. If however, you are a street vendor, but not in the Channmas area, or a factory worker, if you are the employee or owner of a small business that is closed during holidays, it is difficult for you to truly benefit. Although many people do benefit economically from Carnival, for many other sectors, economic activities slow down during this period. If you think about it, you will realize that there are a lot more people in the second category (the category whose activities slow down during Carnival) than the first category (those with economic activities that relate directly to Carnival).
But don’t put words in my mouth. The lack of a positive economic impact from Carnival events does not mean Carnival is not important for the country. Objectively, whether you like Carnival or not, it is a big part of many Haitians’ lives. One can find many reasons to explain the positive impact of this event from a cultural, sociological and even psychological perspective. And since the Carnival is so significant, it may be worth it for the government to finance it even if it negatively affects the economy. However, we must not delude ourselves about the economic impact of the Carnival, but rather evaluate whether the psychological, sociological and cultural benefits justify the economic sacrifice the government and other sectors make for it.
Now, let us look at the second question. What can be done so that the country can benefit more from this event? In my opinion, the only way for the country to benefit economically from Carnival would be by attracting more tourists. For Carnival to attract more tourists, big changes would need to be made in the way we celebrate Carnival itself. However, there is one little problem: I am not sure that the Haitian people want to make these changes.
Let’s think about this for a minute. Do we really think a foreigner who does not understand much of Haitian culture will want to go to Channmas (or Les Cayes, Cap Haitien, Gonaîves for that matter) in a crowd of people going nuts over musical rivalry between Djakout and T-Vice? Or to sing “Ti pati pa’m kanpe” (a clever metaphor that they would not be able to appreciate without understanding the language) while the floats play a style of music that they do not understand? Not to mention, the sense of insecurity that a tourist might feel in the midst of a crowd that, to them, may seem out of control.
Again, do not put words in my mouth. I am not saying the feuds between the bands are a bad thing. I also have no issue with “Ti Pati’m Kanpe” Quite the opposite! I just think that if a foreigner is not interested enough to understand how this country functions, Djakout vs. T-Vice or a carnival song with clever lyrics will not mean much to them. This will not push them to buy a plane ticket plus lodging to take part in such a show. We all know when a tourist travels, even if they wish to see another culture, they do not necessarily wish to do a sociological study. They want to relax in an “exotic” environment, but one that is not drastically different from what they are used to.
As it currently stands, I do not believe that our Carnival looks “exotic” enough to a foreigner. For it to be more “exotic” that would require for the Carnival to be more about the traditional costumes, parades and marching bands. It is true that the Jacmel Carnival does tend to lean towards that, but even the Jacmel Carnival would need to put in more effort in this department. However, if the National Carnival were to look more like the ones in Jacmel, Brazil, or Trinidad, there would be less space for band feuds like Djakout/T-Vice, less space for floats with loud music, and the public would have to sit in the stands to simply watch the parade go by. Would Haitians truly love and enjoy a Carnival celebrated this way, with less opportunity to dance in the streets? Are Haitians ready to abandon these things to attract more tourists? I don’t have the answer to this question. But, it is something we need to ask ourselves seriously.
Photo Credit: Samuel Dameus