Carnival Office of Guadeloupe: what is this “thing” or “biten” for?

Fat Sunday in Pointe-à-Pitre in 2020 - Photo: Évelyne Chaville

For some time now, the current president of the Carnival Office of Guadeloupe (OCG) has been “getting restless” in the media. It must be said that during this health crisis, many people need answers, especially regarding the cancellation of the 2021 edition of the carnival. But, let us specify that if the representative of this organization “is getting restless”, he prefers to get restless in the “big media” probably because he considers that his word is very much listened to and the Carnival Office of Guadeloupe is a body that is really essential in the organization of carnival in the archipelago.

On November 20, 2020, our webmagazine, Kariculture, sent a request for information to this office whose headquarters is located in Basse-Terre. We wanted to know : the composition of the board of directors; the various actions (for example: conferences-debates, exhibitions, trips to promote the carnival of Guadeloupe abroad, meetings with all the carnival groups or groupings etc.) carried out by the OCG during the year 2020 as well as the amount of the grant allocated each year by the Guadeloupe Region. The project leader first answered that we could obtain the composition of the board of directors and the amount of the OCG grant, but none of the actions that we listed had been carried out. Then, as if she had talked too much, this person asked us what we were going to do with this information, we repeated that we were going to write an article to present the office and its role in the Guadeloupean carnival. We told her that we also send her an e-mail.

Five minutes later, we called her back to see if she received it, this young woman never answered. We phoned her several times, she never picked up and our email never got a reply. We suppose that someone asked her to ignore our request…

Today, this astonishing reaction makes us wonder more about this famous Carnival Office of Guadeloupe. We wonder what can the OCG hide? Apart from its uselessness, we do not really see. Indeed, we can be sure about one thing : in spite of this somewhat pompous name, this office is useless and never served any purpose in the concrete management of the carnival in Guadeloupe.

The OCG was created in 2008 under the mandate of the former president of the Regional Council. The idea was to federate, bring together, organize and even professionalize the Carnival of Guadeloupe, which was basically an excellent decision. But we soon realized that some people were using this office to enter politics. Today, as if to ease their consciences, these same people willingly appear in front of the television cameras to quote astronomical figures that would supposedly generate the carnival of Guadeloupe in our economy, which is in no way an “industry” – as is the case in all the Caribbean islands – but a “tradition”, “fun”, a “voyé-monté”, a “medecine” (in short, anything we want) for the carnival lovers and the public. Let’s remember that the International Cycling Tour of Guadeloupe and the carnival of Guadeloupe are the two most popular events in the archipelago. The carnival season also allows some small traders and craftsmen to increase their sales.

Moreover, when this office was created, others wanted to hire the offspring of a political friend who did not know much about carnival, but he had studied and was very good-looking…

One can also wonder about the composition of the board of directors. Some of the groups interviewed said that they never felt represented on this body, some federations said that they “do their own business” and do not need the OCG’s support. Moreover, if the OCG was really the representative body and the spokesperson of all the groups and federations, it would have been received alone by the Prefect of Guadeloupe after the cancellation of the carnival 2021. According to our information, there was indeed an attempt by the OCG to go and represent the groups and federations, but when the Prefect was informed that the contestation of his decision would rather come from the “skin groups”, he called them to a meeting. The members of the OCG almost begged these “skin groups” to give them a small place around the table with the State’s representative ; some of their proposals were deleted or changed in the famous Charter of carnival rehearsals and training in time of Covid-19 published on last January 15 by the Prefecture of Guadeloupe.

Carnaval de Guadeloupe-Photo 47

Another grievance made to the OCG : it would have members who are totally “fossilized”. If they participated in carnival in the past, they are no longer there and some do not understand why they do not give up their place to other carnival lovers who can bring new ideas and new blood to the association.

The exact amount of the regional grant allocated to the OCG was not communicated to us but, according to some group presidents, it would exceed 100,000 euros per year (we have not been able to check this information).

However, the central question is : what is the purpose of the Carnival Office of Guadeloupe, what is this “thing” for, what is this “biten” for?

During the parades – especially the one of the Dimanche Gras in Pointe-à-Pitre – we always saw its successive presidents going up and down in the streets, giving interviews, parading like floats as if to show that they were at the head of something. But the rest of the time what does the OCG really do? What “missions” is the sole employee of the structure responsible for? She herself answered us last November that there is no report of the different actions carried out by the OCG.

In his “agitation”, its current president said last November to a local weekly newspaper that he wanted to encourage further reflection on the advanced age of the carnival lovers and, last Saturday, January 16, in the national television news, he said that these carnival lovers would no longer have the means to invest 900 € in a costume because of the Covid-19 crisis and its economic and social impact. We could reply : why does the OCG not organize an online conference-debate on these two subjects and many others with all the carnival groups of the archipelago and the public? For his part, a representative of a “skin groups” told us that last year there was a web-conference proposed by the Office but that he was not there… If the OCG project manager does not even mention this event, does that mean that no group or federation responded to that invitation?

So why not expand the OCG’s “missions”? Why not establish links with the Caribbean islands for exchanges during the next parades and seminars, among others? Some Guadeloupean carnival-goers love “all inclusive” stays in hotels of the Caribbean to rest after the parades organized for several weeks in the archipelago. If members of the OCG and other carnival federations stay with our Caribbean neighbours – for example Saint Lucia, an island among many others that celebrates a beautiful carnival – they have the opportunity to meet there their counterparts and develop this cultural cooperation. It’s just an idea…

Why not also entrust the OCG with the collection and registration of applications for grants made by groups? In fact, there are several tasks that could be delegated to this association which, since its creation 12 years ago, has always been an empty shell.

Moreover, today we know the importance of digital technology, the website being like the storefront of a shop. It is surprising to note that the section called “Presentation of the OCG”, written on November 27, 2015, mentions a former president, who left several years ago, as the current president ; did the former leader in question want to leave his mark on the structure or does the new leader not want to assume all his responsibilities? In the “Documentary funds” section, there are only a few print articles from the local daily newspaper while we are in the 21st century, and there are also online articles about the carnival of Guadeloupe. In addition, it is impossible to view photos and videos… It cannot be said that the OCG does not have the financial means to update its information and maintain its internet portal…

In fact, in order to understand the role of the OCG, we must first ask ourselves about the exact reasons for its creation in 2008. At that time, did they start the house with the roof?

What is certain is that this office could have had an important centralizing role if the carnival of Guadeloupe was an “industry”. In the Caribbean islands, this is the case and there is a “Carnival Office”, like the one in Saint-Kitts & Névis, which is headed by a “Carnival Director” who orchestrated the entire digitized organization of the “Sugar Mas” at the end of 2020.

In Guadeloupe, federations and groups are “free”, as the “skin groups” who do the circuit they want during the parades. Finally, we have the Carnival Office of Guadeloupe we deserve…

*Biten (creole) : Thing

Guadeloupe Dimanche Gras 2020-90