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J'ouvert (/uv/) is a large street party held annually as part of Carnival in many Caribbean islands (primarily in the Lesser Antilles) and in areas where Caribbean peoples have immigrated.

J'ouvert is likely a gallicization of jou ouvè, the Antillean Creole French term meaning "dawn" or "daybreak" as this is the time at which the festival is typically held. [1]


J'ouvert is celebrated in many countries throughout the Caribbean. J'ouvert is also celebrated in many places outside the Caribbean as part of Carnival celebrations throughout the year, with the biggest celebrations happening in places around the world with large Caribbean ex-pat communities.[2][3][4]

Traditionally, the celebration involves calypso/soca bands and their followers dancing through the streets. The festival starts well before dawn and peaks a few hours after sunrise.[5]

Carnival was introduced to Trinidad by French settlers in 1783, a time of slavery.[6] Banned from the masquerade balls of the French, the enslaved people would stage their own mini-carnivals in their backyards — using their own rituals and folklore, but also imitating and sometimes mocking their masters’ behavior at the masquerade balls.[7]

The origins of street parties associated with J'ouvert coincide with the emancipation from slavery in 1838. Emancipation provided Africans with the opportunity not only to participate in Carnival, but to embrace it as an expression of their newfound freedom. Some theorize that some J'ouvert traditions are carried forward in remembrance of civil disturbances in Port of Spain, Trinidad, when the people smeared themselves with oil or paint to avoid being recognized.[citation needed]

The traditions of J'ouvert vary widely throughout the Caribbean. In Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada, a part of the tradition involves smearing paint, mud or oil on the bodies of participants known as "Jab Jabs".[8][9][10][11]

In other countries, J'ouvert is celebrated on the first day of August (Emanicipation Day), and yet for other West Indian countries J'ouvert is observed the night before the daytime "Pretty Mas" parade. Pretty Mas, a bright and festive version of the celebration, features colorful feathers and beaded costumes and is more popular and commercially publicized. J'ouvert values the transgressive dirt, while Pretty Mas celebrates the transcendent glitter.[12] J'ouvert can further be contrasted with Pretty Mas such that J'ouvert is said to be for "the people" while Pretty Mas is intended for the establishment.

Barbados does not celebrate J'ouvert, but instead celebrates Foreday Morning, which is often likened to J'ouvert.[13]

In popular culture[edit]

"J'OUVERT" is the title of the 10th track of Brockhampton's 4th studio album, iridescence.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Allsopp, R. (1996). Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage. 1. Kingston: Oxford University Press. p. 776. ISBN 0-198-66152-5.
  2. ^ "After Bloodshed, NYC Promises a Safer J'ouvert Festival" ABC News
  3. ^ "In pictures: Fifty years of the Notting Hill Carnival" BBC News
  4. ^ Caribana Wikipedia
  5. ^ "Up Close at Trinidad's Carnival" Smithsonian.com
  6. ^ "'Mama Dis is Mas': A Historical Overview of the Trinidad Carnival, 1783 – 1900" Archived 15 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine National Library and Information System Authority
  7. ^ "History of Carnival" Archived 2009-08-31 at the Wayback Machine All Ah We
  8. ^ "Traditional Mas Characters - Jab Molassie", National Carnival Commission of Trinidad and Tobago
  9. ^ "Carnival - Traditional Carnival Characters" Archived 15 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine National Library and Information System Authority (Trinidad & Tobago)
  10. ^ "Up Close at Trinidad's Carnival" Smithsonian.com
  11. ^ "A Carnival Theme Rooted in our Traditions by Dr. Nicole Phillip" GroundationGrenada.com
  12. ^ Sheriff, Nai-Whedai (2014). "J'ouvert Speaks to the Present" (PDF). Journal of Emerging Dance Scholarship. World Dance Alliance. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  13. ^ Donaldson, Tara (11 August 2014). "How to Do Barbados Crop Over Like a Local". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  14. ^ "BROCKHAMPTON on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 2018-09-20.

External links[edit]