Haiti’s Rara Peasant Carnival

Rara is not just one festival, many towns stage their own Rara celebrations, usually staring in the countryside and heading towards town picking up merry revellers on the way.

Festival Essentials

Where: Port au Prince, Haiti, Caribbean
When: Lent to Easter – Feb/April
Happenings: Promenading revellery, dancing & noisy percussion instruments
Remember to Bring: Your own rattle

Where’s the Party?

If any one event sums up the organised chaos that Haiti embodies, the Rara festival might be it. Group singing, wild dancing and the playing of homemade instruments makes for a crazy time that is known as the ‘peasant carnival’.

What Happens at the Rara Festival?

Rara celebrations occur every Christian Easter and the festivities take place each weekend during Lent. Rara is not just one festival, many towns stage their own Rara celebrations, usually staring in the countryside and heading towards town picking up merry revellers on the way. The festival culminates in the various city centres, where up to 1000 band members at a time can be performing. Although this looks chaotic, the Rara band members actually have to follow a strict code of how, when and where to dance. Rara reaches climax when the salute is performed, an intense dance performed by a lead male.

Where to see the Rara Festival

Port-au-Prince is a great place to watch the Rara in action. Here you will find many different Rara bands trying to outdo each other and woo the crowd. There is a prize for the best song, and composed tunes are prepared for the occasion. The homemade instruments can only play one pitch, so the music is created through having a number of instruments with different pitches being played in rhythm. Offsetting the instrument are percussion beats from drums and maracas.

The history and tradition behind the Rara festival may not be obvious to the tourist eye, but the festival originates from the Afro-Creole people and the followers of Voodoo. The Rara bands can cover miles, fuelled by their hypnotic beats and a good dose of Rum. When watching Rara it is hard not to be swept up in the rush!

 

MORE INFORMATION

Books

Read up on all things Rara in Elizabeth A. McAlisters book ‘Rara!: Vodou, Power and Performance in Haiti and its Diaspora‘ (University of California Press)

 

By Lorna Musgrove

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