A Melting Pot of Dreams & Crusading Creativity in the Seychelles. The Seychelles Carnaval International de Victoria:
15th century Dutch aristocrats curtseying, muscly gym-Gods pumping, Indian man-horses rocking, whirling, twirling, colours spinning, hearts jumping, energy flying, dull everyday-life defying.
Reality normally pales in contrast to my dreams but this day was different, a million dreams and imaginations had come together to make this day possible. Here you could see and feel the inner workings of people's minds, their most creative impulses materialized in their varied costumes, dances and acts. I was immersed in thousands of stories and imaginations, in numerous cultures, histories and ways of living -I was part of the living flow of energy that is the Seychelles Carnaval International De Victoria.
Now in it’s sixth year, this annual three-day event brings representatives from the worlds’s best carnivals, as well as cultural groups from the community of nations -(in 2016 alone, over notable 26 countries participated)! The carnival is usually held in April and takes place in the capital, Victoria, on Mahe Island, Seychelles. (Should you be tempted by the floats, costumes parties and other activities, there is, conveniently, an international airport on Mahe island…).
Let me return to indulge in my memories… Enormous brightly-coloured fabric, and fabricated, birds soared above the crowds –a Majestic Macaw –a mixture of azure, saffron and crimson – peered imperially down, a fiery flamingo flamboyantly fandangoed -head held high, a humble, hummingbird hovered hesitantly -in sensitive contrast to it's two predecessors. Each bird was suspended on sticks and operated by humans who hadn't just learnt to imitate the movement of those birds but who seemed to feel their individual rhythms as they echoed their personal, and universal, quirks.
But it was not only the birds who claimed the skies -Gigantic, grinning Giants gestured generous hugs towards the great gathering. Scroll your vision down and you would see the high-spirited humans who operated them semi-hidden in their trouser folds –much like great conductors - visible to all and yet ignored by all.
A young woman painted green –a symbol of our old earth- sat semi-camouflaged on a green truck soaking up the sun and the electric, elated energy of the man dancing beside her. Twice I saw her drift into private, perhaps philosophical, pondering, her inner calm and stillness contrasting with the creative madness around her -much like our earth transcends the, perhaps pointless, busyness of humans.
Her stillness was echoed by the intense concentration of a Chinese acrobat –he balanced a vast, ornate, oriental vase delicately on his forehead before making it spin slowly, gracefully, hypnotically on its axis.
But there was no time to philosophize as more and more acts strode, danced, drummed, drove, twirled, whirled, boogeyed, crept, cycled, spun, hopped, jumped, ran and sashyed through my vision and camera lens.
The individual characters and moods of the performers added an intriguing complexity –no two people walk, hop or jump the same.
No two bold Brazilian beauties brazenly brandish their booties the same.
No two crowd members watch, or react, the same -or even express the identical emotions the same.
No two performers receive admiration, and the crowd’s clapping, compliments or cheers, the same. -Some are shy -quiet pride only visible in their lit-up eyes- others loudly proud -even demanding more extravagant cheers from the audience! Cultural norms play a part but the individual characters and moods an even larger part and I saw some individuals start self-consciously, slightly embarrassed, before slowly transforming, giving birth to the extrovert sides of themselves, which were, at last, allowed to flourish!
So, yes, the carnival is an excellent place to both observe humans… but also to get involved! Having been invited to the Seychelles as part of a press trip, my role filming and photographing gave me permission to interact, and move with, the performers in a unique way & they especially reacted to me -or rather to my cameras.
As I filmed I was swept up by the pulsing energies around me. I let myself be seduced by them and their rhythms and found myself twirling and swirling my filming lens around, echoing the movements of the dancers, circling, riding the waves of energy as I followed the flowing costumes. Yes you can see the Carnival on YouTube and you will see the visual spectacle but you won’t feel the sun’s warmth and gentle breeze, the moments of electric energy, the rhythm of the dramatic drums pounding through your ribcage and vibrating though your heart, you won’t be able to give the performers a smile, or gesture, of appreciation and see them beam back at you, elated. So go, if you can, go!
Typical carnival schedule:
There are also deeper reasons to go.
Far too often nowadays we hear about sick events -mass killings, shootings, bombings- during which terrorists try to spread fear, during which they express hatred and intolerance.
The mass response to these events often highlight the best parts of humanity -individuals risk their lives, even give them, to help other strangers in danger. People who have never donated blood before cue for hours to do so. Volunteers open their houses, and hearts, to people they have never met. Millions, billions around the world feel sadness for the victims, and often silently, even subconsciously, send their love and support to the victims’ friends and families.
The Carnival, a celebration of harmony, can be seen as another unified, multi-cultural rejection of evil and intolerance. It is not linked to any one specific, sordid event but it reacts to them all.
Indeed Sherin Naiken, Chief Executive for Seychelles Tourism Board, reinforced this saying:
“The Seychelles Carnival makes a strong statement at a time of great international turmoil. The Carnival 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’.
The carnival therefore unites everyone in an event that transcends all their different cultures, all their different quirks, sensibilities, characters, energies. Here everyone comes together despite their differences. Alain St Ange, Seychelles’ Minister of Tourism and Culture, shared the same message saying:
‘We want the Seychelles carnival to be seen as a symbol of the coming together of peoples of different colour, faith and political ideals. Rallying under one banner –that of harmony, understanding, and faith in a common future. The Carnival is about creating unity through diversity”. Consequently he announced that the theme of the 2016 Seychelles Carnival was “National Unity”.
The Seychelles is a particularly appropriate location for the ‘Carnaval des Carnavals’ (Carnival of Carnivals) since it is itself is a ‘melting pot of cultures’. Indeed, when the Seychelles islands were first settled, it was by people who were of varied ethnicities -all of which had different customs and ways of life. Since then people have come from all over the world to live in multicultural Seychelles -and all co-exist peacefully whilst contributing to the overall flavour and experience of life in the Seychelles. It is therefore extremely fitting that a carnival promoting unity should be held in the Seychelles.
A note for the cynics:
Of course one of the purposes of the carnival is also to help Seychelles’ tourism industry -something it does very successfully. Consequently cynics may claim that the carnival is motivated more by financial gain then by its’ message of unity -both motives are equally valid however and one does not diminish the other. There is nothing wrong with wanting to increase tourism, it is a practical need considering that a notable proportion of the countries’ GDP comes from tourism. This does not undermine the benefits of promoting tolerance and world unity.
This cynicism is also undermined by a realisation of quite how much the Seychelles, as a country, has to offer. Indeed the Seychelles is so rich in attractions that the carnival is by no means the only way to attract tourists. So what else does the Seychelles have to offer?
Beyond the Carnival…
The carnival aside, there there are many other reasons to entice you to the Seychelles.
But first a quick geography lesson for those that need it! The Republic of Seychelles is a country and archipelago of 115 islands. It is situated in the Indian Ocean, off East Africa -(other nearby islands and territories include Comoros, Mayotte, Madagascar, Reunion and Mauritius to the south). Ok lesson over!
The Seychelles is truly stunning -full of lush, tropical vegetation, pure white-sand beaches, crystal-clear, turquoise seas, vast biodiversity, barely touched nature reserves, rare wildlife, rich, exotic rainforests, sensational coral reefs and much, much more.
You can explore different types of islands since the archipelago consists not just of granite-based islands, but also of coral sand cays, and various other kinds of coral islands. You needn’t worry about the condition of them -the Seychelles is regarded by many as a world leader in sustainable tourism.
But do you really need 155 islands to be convinced? On Mahe alone (Seychelles’ principle island), there are over 65 silver-sand beaches to enjoy -many of which are adorned with some of the oldest granite boulders on earth!
Or you can visit Seychelles second largest island, Praslin, where the vegetation is so remarkable that it has been regularly referred to as the original Garden of Eden. Particularly incredible is an extraordinary ancient forest called the Vallee de Mai -a magical forest where visitors are dwarfed by towering palms.
La Digue Island also feels like another world -here you will feel yourself transported to yesteryear as the main forms of transport are still bicycle and ox-cart. As the transport might suggest, nothing is hurried here.
Then there’s Aldabra Island (for which you’d need a permit), the world’s second-largest coral atoll, which boasts the largest population of Aldabra giant tortoises -these centenarians can easily live to be over a 100 years old!
There is far too much on offer for me to cover here however I hope the above gives you a taste of the adventures that wait for you in the Seychelles.
So do you want to sail, dive, snorkel, fish, island-hop, relax on a beach, explore the different cultures or forests, shop, eat, drink, shop, observe wildlife or … ?
Which of the 115 islands do you want to visit?
How many of your friends or relatives will you buy a Coco de Mer for? (See google images)!
So many questions!
The most important questions to answer first though are:
Written by Natasha H, www.CreateTravelMedia.com
You can see a few of my photographs here http://www.filmingphotography.com/seychelles-press-trip.html
(More coming soon or you can email me for a link to see more).
You can see the Carnaval International de Victoria video that I filmed and edited below -(can be watched in 4K Ultra HD if you adjust settings):
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