Words by Jesse Serwer
Photos by Christopher Mitchell

Quiet times, reflection and piety have descended on the typically vibrant Caribbean. At least in theory. It’s Ash Wednesday which means, among other things, that the pre-Lent Carnival season has passed and, with it, the raucous bacchanal that typifies this time of year in the region.

In addition to the two big ones in Rio and Port of Spain, smaller Carnivals took place this past week across Brazil and Trinidad & Tobago, as well as on the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Carriacou, Dominica, Guadeloupe and Martinique, and in Baranquilla, Colombia. The rush of hitting the streets in costume to revel in the last days of flesh-based enjoyment is not exclusive to Caribbean islands and South America’s East Coast — similar celebrations were also observed this week Cape Verde, Tenerife in the Canary Islands and, of course, at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

One of the most distinctive Carnival celebrations in the Caribbean happens a little earlier. Jacmel Kanaval is typically celebrated one week before kanaval celebrations in Port-au-Prince and other, smaller Haitian cities. As a result, Jacmel attracts Kanaval addicts and feters from other parts of Haiti who can’t wait to join in the bacchanal, and international visitors.

Jacmel, Haiti’s la ville créative, is known for its artisans, particularly those specializing in papier-mache. Kanaval is their time to shine. The costumes most synonymous with Jacmel Kanaval are grotesque and phantasmagoric, beautiful in their ugliness. Dragons and beasts with disfigured, distorted faces populate the streets, along with more casually-attired revelers and the court of Kanaval queens.

True to the town’s reputation as the artistic capital of the country, Jacmel Kanaval gives its bigger counterpart in Port-au-Prince a run challenges when it comes to showmanship. Photographer Christopher Mitchell, a Jacmel resident, brings us these images of Kanaval in Jacmel.

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