Seychelles carnival otherwise known as Carnaval International de Victoria held recently was all pomp and celebration of a people’s culture, flair for fun and life in its sweetest form, writes GBENGA OLUBOYE who was part of the celebration.
Seychellois love for life and its celebration to the fullest has never been in doubt. It shines through the moment one sets foot on this pocket of islands, which is one of Africa’s best kept secret that many people across the world are beginning to discover.
If you call it Africa’s new frontier you may not be wrong because it is exactly what it seems to a first time visitor like this reporter who visited the country on the invitation of the country’s Tourism and Culture Minister, Alain St.Ange.
The visit, which turned out to be an historic, memorable and ever cherished one for me, was on the occasion of the celebration of the country’s yearly carnival, which is called Carnaval International de Victoria. It is one of the many events of the people that aptly depict their penchant for life and celebration.
It was an event that was witnessed by a number of tourists from across the world. This is one country where tourism is booming and it is the main source of revenue earner for both the government and the people. Beach and coastal life is on the high here as well as night life but the carnival event is when the country witnesses one of its glorious moments with everybody coming to the party.
It is an occasion for everyone, ranging from the lowly to the highest, children to the aged and government officials, including the president of the country who actually doubles as the main host, to catch fun and get their groove back.
A day before the night of the formal opening ceremony, which held at the Stade Popiler with the president, James Alix Michel in attendance, St. Ange hosted a pre-festival press conference, using the occasion to reel out impressive results about the country’s tourism and the carnival itself.
Just to underscore the importance of the carnival and its growing following, over 23 foreign carnival troupes and 124 media houses’ representatives from across the world, attended the event while a new hotel, 40 chalets Carana Beach, was opened on the eve of the celebration in Mahe, one of its main islands.
Last year the country’s arrival figures, according to the minister, rose by 19 per cent on a year-on-year basis with over 275,000 visitors coming to the islands by air and cruise liners while for this year, in spite of the many global challenges, for the first three months the numbers were already 11 per cent ahead of that of 2015.
“It took the Seychelles 40 years to reach 130,000 arrivals, and in the space of the past seven years we more than doubled that figure. It shows we are doing something right. When a market goes soft, like after Paris, we are now able to accelerate growth from other market places. This development must be safeguarded,” the minister said.
Guests at the media parley were later treated to the world premiere of the film ‘Aldabra, Once Upon An Island’ featuring the Seychelles’ second UNESCO World Heritage site after the Vallee de Mai on the archipelago’s second largest island of Praslin.
Located nearly 1,000 kilometres south of Mahe is the Aldabra atoll, often described as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, closer to Madagascar and Mauritius than to the capital, Victoria. Then came the day of the carnival proper, with Victoria, which is the country’s capital city, taking on a new colouration as all the streets’ corners and crannies decked in pomp and celebration from Bois de Rose Avenue to Palm Street, stretching all the way to Manglier Street and filled with people of all colours and different customs amidst colorful floats as the sixth Carnaval International de Victoria got underway.
Leading the roll call were St. Ange; Principal Secretaries of the two departments – Benjamine Rose and Anne Lafortune; and the Seychelles Tourism Board team led by the Chief Executive, Sherin Naiken, with the parade commencing at 3pm from Bois de Rose Avenue, and down 5th Avenue.
Also in the mixed crowd were such notable personalities like the former president of Seychelle, Sir James Mancham, vice president Danny Faure, designated minister Vincent Meriton, and other ministers as well as government officials, and a number of international dignitaries, including South Africa’s Tourism Minister, Derek Hanekom; Madagascar’s Tourism Minister, Roland Ratsiraka and the Conseillere Regionale of Reunion Island, Faouzia Vitry.
Just before the outburst of energies and boisterous celebration, the formal opening ceremony witnessed two brief speeches by both the Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles Tourism Board, Ms. Sherin Naiken and St. Ange who used the occasion to also showcase his trilingual nature by addressing the crowd in English, Kreol and French.
In her opening remarks, Naiken said: ‘‘The Seychelles carnival makes a strong statement at a time of great international turmoil. The Carnaval International de Victoria points the way to a better world – one in which we can live together side by side with no regard for differing ethnicity, faith or political persuasion.”
While St. Ange attempted to paint a picture of what the celebration holds for the people as he said that “through culture you will find your soul, and through culture you will consolidate your respective tourism industries.”
The performance of the annual carnival theme song was one of the opening acts, which set the tone for the celebration with the whole crowd erupting in feat of celebration and enveloped by sounds of music and later by enchanting dances and gyrations by the likes of the steel bands, Brazil, China, Vietnam, India, Sweden, South Korea, and Ethiopia alongside South Africa and Reunion Island. Both were the two co-host countries for this year’s carnival event.
In his speech St. Ange referred to the Seychelles carnival festival as the “United Nations of Culture,” which it truly turned out to be judging by the diverse cultural floats and countries that paraded the streets alongside the host country.
It was a perfect feast with the natural elements in their best form, as the weather was clement and the night balmy, cooperated for Seychellois to once again deliver a perfect carnival celebration, a feat for which the country and city of Victoria have become famous over the years.
A total of 37 floats were on parade on the day with each displaying rich and diverse theatrics of music, dance, magical acts and singing of all sorts. What was quite apparent and perhaps the most attractive and enchanting element of the carnival, was it global fascination as pervading the air and unfolding before the people was a classic world cultural performances because it was truly cesspool of some sorts for the various cultures of the world to answer to their names in a very enthralling and appealing manner for the people to savour.
St. Ange put the entire celebration and configuration of people in attendance in better perspective when he said: “Showcasing one’s culture is putting the people of our respective countries in the forefront. Today, the world needs to understand each other, as to know each other, if we are to see a more understanding world. Seychelles has become the melting pot for the world through culture.” Besides, the tourism and culture minister also waxed lyrical when she spoke glowingly of the theme of the carnival, which is that of unity.
“Touching on the theme for this year’s event the 2016 Carnaval International de Victoria is dedicated to unity. Here you are safe and will be safe because we, Seychelles, are proud to say we are friends of all and enemies of none, and here in Seychelles immaterial of your political affiliation, immaterial of the colour of your skin, or immaterial of your religious belief, you are welcome, and you can all stand side by side, walk side by side, and shake hands with each other, because we are all part of the children of this world – our world.”
The Notting Hill Roadshow Carnival, which was the biggest float, came in the rear and it made quite an impression on the people, gathering huge following along the way and entertaining the people to some fascinating and enthralling displays.
But not before the crowd soaking in high sound and scintillating performances from the likes of the Brazilian Momo Kings Group from Sao Paulo, Indian dancers and drummers from Réunion Island with such local heroes as Patrick Victor, Joe Samy and the Mardilo dancers from La Digue and other places within the country, creating such an ecstatic mood with the joyous sounds of ‘karnaval de karnaval Mae Sesel’ filling the air.
The night performance at the stadium climaxed with an exciting and breathtaking fireworks display. Sponsors of the carnival included Air Seychelles, Etihad, Airtel Seychelles, and among others also Kenya Airways while the over 26 countries in attendance included South Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius, Kenya, Zambia, China, Sweden, South Korea, Germany, Vietnam, Reunion Islands, United Kingdom, Cuba, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Ethiopia and Italy.
The three days global fiesta was brought to a befitting close with the children’s carnival, which debuted this year and a Family Fun Day in Freedom Square. Stage performances included high-energy dance and music from Mauritius (that brass) and Réunion with plenty tea and pandas from China, pyramidal acrobatics from India, elaborate costumes and an emotive soundtrack from Indonesia, and an excited drummer from Ethiopia. Then there were prizes presentations to the different groups for their performance thus officially putting a lid on the celebration this year.
However, the city celebrated far into the night with all night parties set up at different spots by the people. To think that the carnival is only six years old as it was first introduced in 2011 and has become such a success, so magic, artistic and entertaining as well as defining the offerings of the country and Sights and scenes from the carnival. its tourism, said St. Ange, is something for which the people must be appreciated because they fully embraced it and sold it to the world.
Therefore, he was full of praises for his fellow Seychellois for making the country proud. One of the local people best described the feeling of the country when he said that “carnaval brings out our identity as a people. I have been part of this since its inception and I am happy to see the different cultures of the world in my small capital of Mahe.”
Notting Hill Carnival came top as the best international float making it the fifth for the band, which had taken part in all six editions of the carnival. Reunion Island and Indonesia trailed behind respectively. The Ile Perseverance float won the prize for best local float; Perseverance is a reclaimed island adjoined to the Seychelles main island, Mahé. Seychelles third largest island, La Digue, retained the title for best cultural float won last year, depicting the economic activities that take place at L’Union Estate.
South Korea and Zambia won the second and third prize respectively in the best cultural float category. The Seychelles Tourism Academy charted away the prize for best school float, while China and India were acclaimed for their wonderful and exceptional showpieces La Retraite showcasing the pirates theme won the best kiddie float.
Oluboye, a Nigerian Travel journalist, is based in Canada.