Playing Carnival In Grenada

When late August rolls around, it means carnival time on Grenada. After attending a pan practice, and seeing the colorful parade costumes being made, we were excited for the celebration to begin, and to attend some of the events.

Carnival was introduced to Trinidad by French settlers in 1783. Banned from the masquerade balls of the French, slaves would stage their own mini-carnivals in their backyards. They used their own rituals and folklore, but also imitated and sometimes mocked their masters’ behavior at masquerade balls.

As Grenada’s largest cultural event, carnival is celebrated as a public holiday. Called Spicemas, the ten-day celebration includes event such as “Pree Day,” (a soca reggae show), competitions for the best steel pan band at Panorama, bikini cruises, all-white attire parties and the highlight of the celebration, Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Attending events or participating is referred to as “Playing Carnival,” and we were ready to bring on the play!

The first event of Carnival Monday was J’ouvert (pronounced joo-vay), and began before dawn. Participants, known as “Jab Jabs,” gather on the street that runs along the carenage (or bay) in St. Georges, covered in paint and/or motor oil (yep, motor oil…used motor oil), and parade through the streets. The celebration continues through sunrise, lasting into the late morning. I’d definitely heard of carnival parades, but this J’ouvert thing was new to me, so I did some digging.

In some of the French-based creole languages of the Caribbean, J’ouvert means “dawn” or “daybreak”. The origins of the street party come from the emancipation of slavery in 1838, which provided Africans with the opportunity to not only participate in Carnival, but to embrace it as an expression of their newfound freedom.

It is believed that some J’ouvert traditions are in remembrance of civil disturbances in Port of Spain, Trinidad, when people smeared themselves with oil or paint to avoid being recognized. The original “Jab Jabs” were thought of as devils. They wore very little clothes, horned helmets, were covered in black from head to toe, with a tail, and their tongue dyed red.

Hmmm, we didn’t know what to make of this event. Unsure of a Carnival street party in the dark, with people covered in paint and used oil, we polled long-time cruisers in the area for information, as well as cruising friends who’d been to Grenada before. They all endorsed J’ouvert, saying it was not to be missed, but told us to wear clothes that we didn’t mind throwing away afterward. What were we in for??

With peaked interest and cautious excitement, we gathered with friends at  Prickly Bay Marina…at 4am, and loaded into a van that would take us to the downtown street party. As we approached St. Georges in the dark, groups of oil-coated figures lined the streets, making their way to the carenage area, chanting and rattling chains; there was no turning back now.

The van dropped us off, just as there was enough light to see, and we made our way down to the main street – straight into the oily crowd.

We decided that “liquid courage” was a good idea, and turned to find the nearest bar. Armed with drinks, we walked our white, oil and paint-free bodies into the crowd…let the games begin!

As the sun began to rise, we were able to get a more clear view of our surroundings. The crowd was full of men, women and children of all ages, making their way up and down the street. They were covered in paint, oil and even chocolate, with many wearing shower caps to protect their hair (quite a look!). People, black with oil, held onto chains as they snaked through the crowd, while others stopped to dance in the street.

Along the way, there were “oil stations,” trucks and carts with buckets, jugs and drums of oil available, in case you needed “freshening up.” As the morning progressed, we smeared ourselves with muck along the way. Scott found some people doling out paint, and decided to add some color to his oil.

Tractor trailers, stacked high with huge speakers acted as “bands,” blaring out music, with deejays entertaining the crowd from overhead.

Now I can safely say that an event like this would be drastically different in the U.S., full of stumbling drunks, fights, fights and more fights, with an occasional stabbing or shooting thrown in for good measure. Here, drinking was secondary to dancing and laughing, and the street was a sea of oily, friendly, happy people.

Back at our liquid courage starting point, we met up with our friends who had scattered throughout the crowd. From the bar above the street, we had a good view of the oily crowd.

Pick up time was approaching, so we made our way back to meet the van. It arrived, interior covered in plastic (smart man), and when our group of cruiser Jab Jabs were all present and accounted for, we climbed in and headed back to the anchorage.

Now I’m not one for nude bathing in public, but there was no way we were going to risk getting paint and motor oil inside the boat, or even in the cockpit, so Scott and I tied up the dinghy, stripped off our clothes, threw them on the swim platform and hit the water to get as much oil and paint off as possible before stepping foot on board. We quickly shoved some food in our mouths, and hit the bed; it was 9am, and we were exhausted. Round two was just around the corner, Monday Night Mas that same evening, so a big nap was in order.

We later learned that locals cover their bodies in shortening before the J’ouvert celebration. The kitchen staple becomes a Jab Jab’s best friend, acting as a primer for the skin before the oil, and making removing the stuff easier afterward…..a tidbit that would have been great to know ahead of time, as my arms itched for days afterward!

Here are some video scenes of our J’ouvert morning:

Carnival Monday ends with Monday Night Mas, a street “jump up” that begins well after dark, and continues until the wee hours of Tuesday morning. The parade is made up of “bands,” groups of people  wearing brightly colored t shirts and waving fluorescent wands, who dance down the street behind trucks of huge speakers. The trusty van dropped us off just before 8pm, and we secured a spot at our J’ouvert bar, to wait for the parade to begin.

As usual, this event was on “island time,” and the parade didn’t start until after 9:30. We could clearly hear music thumping from the many trucks of speakers, long before the parade arrived. In the distance, a glow of color appeared across the carenage, and before long, a sea of fluid, vivid color flooded the street. Sadly, my camera is terrible at night, so I borrowed some online photos of the colorful parade.

You could pay for a shirt and lighted wand, and march in the parade, we chose to just be spectators, knowing our stamina most likely wouldn’t make it to the end of the street party.

Things were just getting into full swing, when it was time to meet the van for pick up, but we enjoyed our time watching the colorful display of light and sound. It was just as well, we were still dragging from our J’ouvert party the night before, and still had one more day of play ahead of us.

Spicemas concludes in a big way, with Carnival Tuesday’s Pretty Mas, a costumed parade where fancy, feathered masqueraders fill the street. This is where the costumes that we’d seen being constructed would be unveiled, full of color and texture. Again, you can pay to have a costume made, and join in the parade. This was very tempting for me…not so much for Scott. Lucky for him, the cost was out of our budget, and we were again happy spectators.

We arrived downtown in the mid-afternoon, and waited in the Grenada August heat for the parade to begin. It wasn’t long before the first wave of colorful costumes came into view.

Each group was lead by a member wearing an especially ornate costume, in same color and theme of those that followed behind.


There were many children in costume as well, who seemed to be old pros at this Carnival thing.

Trucks of all shapes and sizes made their way down the street. The “bands” blared music that thumped in our chests, while mobile bars quenched the thirsty.

Surrounded by music from the many trucks, the paraders danced their way down the street.


Even this woman on the sidelines, in her 90s, couldn’t resist the music.

The ornate costumes were adorned with feathers, beads, sequins and lace, each one more beautiful as the next.

Many costumes symbolized Grenada’s plants and spices, such as sugar cane and nutmeg.

A group appeared, who were much different than the rest of the costumed crowd. They looked almost clown-like, with small mirrored pieces covering their costumes, webbed masks and bells around their ankles.

We learned that these men are referred to as Shortknee, and the mirrors function essentially as talismans, “protecting” the wearer by reflecting his enemies.

The Shortknees don’t have a band truck to follow, so they make music by a rhythmic stomping of their ankle-belled feet (the little bells are called “wooloes”), while chanting songs that are meant to “out” individuals who have offended the community’s moral codes. Shortknees reprimand in song, and express approval in showers of talcum powder. They must have approved the hell out of us, as the cloud of powder was so thick, we could taste it.

As it got dark, we headed back to what was now our “home” Carnival bar, where the music and dancing of Pretty Mas was still in full swing on the street outside.



Inspired, our friend Di learned some moves from some of the locals who shared our viewing area.

Our trusty van arrived to take us home, and again we arrived back on board Sea Life ready to collapse into bed; this playing Carnival really takes it out of you! The non-stop events of the past few days were a whirlwind of oil, lights, feathers and fun. We had a ball with our friends, as well as the friendly and inclusive local people. Spicemas was definitely a highlight of our stay in Grenada.

Here are video scenes from the very pretty, Pretty Mas:

And many, many more photos, of our time playing Carnival, in Grenada.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”




Hashing In Grenada

The day after we arrived in Grenada’s Prickly Bay, our neighbor, David came over to welcome his fellow power boater. Having been in Grenada for over a year, on his power catamaran, Windchime II, he was a wealth of cruiser knowledge for us: how and where to catch the bus, what stores were in town, where to get good food and drink deals…and that we had to “hash.”

Apparently, hashing is an incredibly popular weekly hike on the island (followed by drinking), attended by locals, cruisers, expats and visitors. We’d been told about this popular event by cruising friends who’d spent time on Grenada, so it was already on Scott’s radar. David gave us details about catching a bus to the hash, and advised Scott to take a pair of gloves to wear, as the trail would be muddy.

I dug around online, and discovered that hashing started in Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur. Apparently, in 1938, three British expats were members of a prestigious social club, and wanted something physical to do that wouldn’t get in the way of their beer drinking (brilliant!). The club’s dining room was referred to as the “Hash House,” due to its terrible British food, so that name seemed as good as any.

The men started a “fun run,” based on the hounds and hares concept, and hashing was born. Trails through the beautiful Malaysian countryside were marked in flour, leading back to a drinking establishment, where “merriment and irreverent camaraderie ensued.”

Today, there are hash “kennels” in 110 countries and territories around the world, with Britain, the U.S. and Canada having over 100 kennels each (who knew?). An international hash is held every two years, in different locations around the world, and is attended by over 4,000 hashers.

Grenada’s kennel, the Hash House Harriers (“drinkers with a running problem”) was started in 1985, and is one of the largest kennels in the world, with 150-300 people of all fitness levels participating each week, which again include local Grenadians, cruisers, expats and visitors to the island.

The group of assorted runners and walkers assemble at a previously designated rum shop, a sports field or pasture, at different locations on the island each week. After an initial briefing by the leader (known as The Hash Master or Hash Mistress), hashers set off toward the trail, shouting ON ON.

Here’s “What to Expect,” as found on the Hash Harriers site:

  • Competitiveness is frowned upon in a hash. FRB’s (Front Running B?..s) are looked down on. Hashers who cut corners, SCB’s (Short Cutting B?..s), are regarded with equal disdain.
  • Run or walk at your own pace, at your own risk and with the knowledge of your own limitations. If you are unhappy about the trail ahead of you, turn back and follow the trail back to the rum shop.
  • No embarrassment is caused by cutting short your hash for any reason – it just means that you get to the beer ahead of the rest of the pack.

Hashers follow a trail of flour or shredded paper, taking the “pack” through some of the most beautiful parts of Grenada. They return to the start location a few hours later, to consume large quantities of beer, and “undo all the good that this running and walking has done to them.”

Many hashers have nicknames. It is said that your parents had no idea what they were doing when they named you, and a that a hash will fix that. A hash name is a fond nickname bestowed upon a hasher after a certain number of runs, on special occasions or when the hasher has done something so absurdly stupid that the kennel couldn’t wait to name them.

It is considered bad form to call a hasher by a name other than their nickname while at the hash. “Of course, if your parents gave you a really embarrassing name like Archibold or Cuthbert, you might keep that as your hash name.” Nicknames in the Grenada group include Rigor Mortis, Fungus Among Us, Rancid, Frog Legs and Yours for a Carib. One man was named Bo Peep, for consistently losing hashers on the trail, another received the name Grab the Pussie, after rescuing a cat from a tree and the Hash House Harrier’s most senior hasher, “Spring Chick,” is 84!

Grenada was pretty darned warm in July, and the thought of hot, humid, muddy jungle hiking did not intrigue me, despite the post drinking, so I sent Scott off to hash on his own. Hours later, he arrived back at the boat, covered in mud, and crawled into the cockpit. Even though he’d scoffed at the idea, Scott had taken the gloves that David suggested. It was a good thing too, as he needed them to grab at trees, for help in pulling  his legs out of the more than ankle-deep mud along the trail.

Unaffected by a weekly mud bath, Scott set out every Saturday for a day of hiking and drinking with his fellow hashers.

Each week Scott came back exhausted, covered in mud and sweat, claiming that at times he thought his heart would explode on the trail, but always with many amusing stories. He told me that several people would go to the hashes and skip the hiking, instead hanging out at the rum shop until the group returned. This idea appealed to me, and would allow me to see and document the odd event called hashing.

Instead of a rum shop, the hash I decided to attend has its start and end at a sports field…hmmm. There was a tent set up to serve as a bar for the day, but the beer wasn’t iced before the hash….and, there wasn’t a bathroom….HMMM. As this wasn’t my first “island” event, I’d come prepared with bathroom supplies, and decided to walk a bit of the trail for photos, while the beer was icing.

First up, some pre-hash hazing… Those who show up in new or clean shoes are targeted, asked to remove their left shoe and hand it over. As a result, the crowd was speckled with single bare feet.

A beer bottle was placed in each shoe, and the offenders then had to pour the beer into said shoe and drink up. Yep, drink a beer…from your shoe….and then hike with a wet foot…welcome to hashing.

Once the shoe ritual is over, the “Hash Master” signals for the hash to begin, and it’s off to the trail.

The hashers start out together, and eventually break off to follow a runner or a walker trail. Marked with blobs of shredded paper, the trails make their way through scenic areas of Grenada, often passing by local houses and animals. False trails are laid as well, just to make it interesting.

Since I only walked part of the trail, and then headed back for the cold beer, Scott provided me with some photos from the group’s Facebook page, which give you an idea of the beautiful scenery along the hash trails.

Oh, and let’s not forget the mud…

So much mud that hashers resort to just sitting down and sliding, jumping or falling through it…

Once everyone has hashed their way through the mud and bush, and arrive back at the meeting site, the after-hash ceremonies begin. First up, a ceremony to initiate the virgins, or first-time hashers. Newbies are asked to stand together, given a welcome and then completely doused in beer by the group.

Over eager hashers, who may prematurely start the dousing, are made to stand with the virgins, sharing their beer bath. Our friend Jolene was an over eager hasher, as you can see here, she’s not too happy about getting caught, and the coming bath.

Next victims…hashers who have done something specific to catch the Hash Master’s eye. Such as these two poor souls, who showed up almost an hour after the hash had begun.

They were made to drink from the “Dotty Potty,” (named after a former Hash Mistress, who was particularly fond of doling out punishment) while, of course…..being sprayed with beer.

And unfortunately, it was this man’s birthday, so he was made to drink a beer while wearing the “Wizard Sleeve.”

And you guessed it, he was also…sprayed with beer.

This poor man received the trifecta of punishment, after being brought to the hash by a “friend.” He had to chug a beer for his new shoes (thanks for the heads up, friend), received a beer bath as a virgin hasher and then had to both drink a beer and have another beer bath for his birthday. Said friend was put on warning.

After virgins and other “offenders” have been properly “punished” and soaked, it was time for food. Barbecue chicken and oil down are hash food staples.

While we were on the island, the Grenada Hash Harriers had its 1,000th hash, and celebrated with week-long activities leading up to the big event: waterfall hashes, a rum shop hash, a karaoke contest, an island tour and a party boat leading to a coastline hash.

Scott attended the day-long, waterfall hash, followed immediately by the boat ride to the coastline hash the next morning. After his day-long trek, Scott decided to just go for the boat ride and the beach, while the others hashed. Afterward, the group spent time on the beach, and enjoyed watching the usual post-hash hazing.

When the big day arrived, I decided to attend. There were eight trails set, for all levels of hikers, as the kennel expected many would be traveling to Grenada for the 1,000th hash.

My friend Di walked the “baby” trail with me. We considered upgrading to trail two or three, but decided against it once we saw people already sliding down a mud hill at the turn off.

We arrived back at the meeting place quickly. It was again in a sporting field, but this time the beer was cold upon arrival, and there was a bathroom; only one however, for hundreds of people. It was quickly clogged, shocker…so it was back to the bushes for me.

Scott eventually arrived, after completing trail five’s much longer route, and then it was time to enjoy drinks and friends.

We were also entertained by these girls, who put on a dance show, with cues from a father with moves as well.

And this insane man walks every hash, while bouncing a soccer ball on his head.

With so many additional people, communication was confused about the check in and check out process, which tries to assure that everyone gets back safely. As a result, more than a few hashers seemed to still be out on the trail, as dusk was approaching. When they did not return, several people went back out, after dark, to re-hike the longer trails in search of the stragglers.

Luckily, many of those originally thought lost had in fact just failed to check in upon finishing. However, those who searched the trails found more lost hashers than originally thought missing. Instead of 11 people, those searching found 22 lost hashers on the dark trails. Luckily, all were led safely back to the meeting point.

So that’s hashing in a nutshell. Scott had a ball each Saturday, stomping through the mud, water and bush. He made many new friends, taking away great memories of Grenada.

Here are many more photos of hashing, the trails and the beautiful scenery along the way.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”