Carnival in Cayman, as in all Caribbean countries, is an integral part of the local culture and around this time most would be readying themselves for colourful street parties.
However, the COVID-19 health crisis has changed that as people are shuttered in their homes and mass gatherings are banned. Cayman’s carnival was delayed until later this year as a result of those restrictions, but organisers are giving revellers a chance to party at home instead.
The COVID-19 lockdown has forced organisers of the 37th annual Batabano parade and CayMAS to turn to creative means, like virtual events, to entertain their loyal followers and to keep the momentum going for Carnival 2020 in the absence of a street parade.
“No formal decision has been made to postpone the event for the rest of 2020; we are adhering to the government’s decision in terms of health and safety for our people,”
Cayman Carnival Batabano chair Donna Myrie-Stephen said in an email response to queries from the Cayman Compass.
This year was billed as a unified carnival, with Batabano and CayMAS being held within the same weekend under the umbrella of one national event.
But the COVID-19 crisis quashed that plan, and CayMAS director Craig Fredrick said his committee has decided to postpone its event to 2021.
“I honestly don’t see our tourism recovering until early 2021. We decided … to pull the plug on what we were doing for 2020 and just hold it off, with the amazing costumes that all my designers did this year, and do it properly for 2021, which financially helps me a great deal,” Fredrick said via Zoom video.
He said CayMAS will relaunch its 2021 event in either June or July, based on what decisions government makes in relation to COVID-19 protocols.
A similar decision was taken by the Braccanal Committee, which hosts its carnival on Cayman Brac.
In a statement last week, that committee announced that it was postponing this year’s Braccanal to 13-17 May 2021.
“The decision to postpone Braccanal is an imperative one and came after much consultation and deliberation. We do apologise for any inconvenience this postponement may cause, but we hope our decision will be understood,” the statement said.
It added that all pre-purchased packages and tickets will be honoured and valid for Braccanal 2021. Refunds, it added, are available upon request.
Virtual parties planned
On Grand Cayman, to keep the carnival spirit going, both Batabano and CayMAS will be hosting virtual events.
Myrie-Stephen, who usually opens the parade in a majestic costume, said, “I will miss the expressions on the many faces along the route and especially the hugs of the spectators. We are such social people, hugging and kissing and embracing a friend on the road will especially be missed,” she said.
It will also be bittersweet for Batabano head marshall Wendy George, who said she will miss interacting with the “police, masqueraders, spectators and especially [DJ} Preston of Hot [104.1], who usually is the lead truck broadcasting the parade live”.
The committee is aiming to have an actual street parade in October, if government has by then given the all-clear on mass gatherings.
“We are, however, only on ‘Pause’, and we will get through this with the safety and social distance measures in place, the love, passion and commitment to this product, as well as the unified support of the entire carnival fraternity. All the Batabano Mas Bands will be missed. However, together we will continue to be #BatabanoStrong knowing this too shall pass,” Myrie-Stephen added.
Fredrick said CayMAS, together with Hurley’s Media, will also host a virtual carnival concert, on Saturday, 16 May, with the aim of creating an “epic” carnival experience.
“This is not just about the people or the artists or the VJs that will be a part of this, but also to create multiple screens for people to be able to get in your old costumes, preferably Swanky International, get a drink in your hand, and whether it is your living room, front yard, back yard, rooftop, once you have access to carnival, be able to participate for the whole period of time that we normally do carnival,” he said.
The event, called CayMAS SD (Social Distancing) Carnival, will be hosted from noon to 6pm, with live performances from artists, including Alison Hinds, and a number of local and international DJs.
“It is a free event… we want people to be a part of it,” he said.
Fredrick said the event has a second and important feature – it will be a fundraiser for Meals on Wheels.
Special social-distancing T-shirts will be on sale, he said, and part of the proceeds will go towards the non-profit, which delivers meals daily to Cayman’s infirm, housebound, disabled, elderly and other vulnerable residents. The organisers have also created specialty face masks.
“We will have a donate button throughout the whole day at the event where people can donate specifically to the Meals on Wheels programme. We are looking to help them as much as they’ve been able to help the community over the last 22 years,” he said.
Fredrick said a lot of major artists have been hosting live online concerts where you can log in and see yourself.
“That is the atmosphere we’re trying to create where you feel a part of this whole experience,” he said.
Fredrick added he is looking forward to hitting the road next year.
“Until then, everyone stay safe; we got to stay strong and let’s get through 2020,” he said.
Those interested in participating can log on to both events’ social media pages for links and registration.
Batabano virtual street parade: Saturday, 9 May, at 1pm
Meeting ID: 863 553 9260
CayMAS SD Carnival: Saturday, 16 May, at noon
Register on www.caymas.ky