Carnival is differentiated from other performance and masquerade events by virtue of expressed resistance to authority. Play in the form of dressing up and acting out reveals a society’s culture, as evinced in many diverse black carnivals connected to the Atlantic. Their commonalities are based in a shared context of the power shift from African to European hegemonies in the long colonial period beginning shortly after the Age of Discovery in the late-sixteenth century and continues, in many respects, to present day. Destabilization caused by foreign political, economic and religious imposition and the suppression of African customs led to the transformation of indigenous practices to hybrid forms that offer a shared expression of cultural unity and togetherness among those responding to foreign domination or influence.
Thousands of Africans who were forcibly transported to the Americas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries developed the first Black Atlantic carnivals, a new art form resulting from the mixing of African and European performance traditions. Carnival then traveled to African ports during colonialism in the late-nineteenth century where it was mixed again with local African practices. Black Atlantic carnivals share traits inherited from the overturning of their socio-political world and to form a unique bond. Because performance aspires to both replace the old and embody something new, black carnivals emphasize the link to modernity while unraveling its connection to Western ideas of racism and civilization.
Therefore, carnival is an amorphic art form that flows across oceans and continents that was and continues to be employed to heal cultural and political trauma in the Black Atlantic. While most scholarship has focused on carnivals in the Americas, this issue hopes to bring greater awareness to the artistic practice in Africa.