Walkin’ the Walk

Walkin’ the Walk

Island Notes 47

It may not be Marti Gras in New Orleans.  It may not rival Trinidad’s Mas or the festivities in Rio.  But pound for pound, Bonaire’s Karnaval rates right up there.  I have been to three so far, and each one has its own particular flavor. Much like the calypso singers with a political edge, Bonairians use Karnaval as a public display for social protest.  At my first Karnaval parade, one group marched as medical workers-doctors, nurses, and ambulance drivers.  Their gripe?  The Netherlands Antilles government based in Curaçao had been slow in funneling money to Bonaire’s only hospital causing a disruption in services.  To show their disapproval, parade participants held gigantic hypodermic needles five feet long.  No matter how hard they pushed the plunger, nothing came out.  Others walked around as wounded patients, spurting non-stop fake blood.  Another dressed as a surgeon, held broken medical tools, unable to perform his job.  The point was made—get us our money now so we can can get on with it.

This year’s mobile commentary reflected the precarious political situation in which the island now finds itself.  The Netherlands Antilles, a group of five former Dutch colonies, is dissolving as of October.  Each island is trying to define what kind of relationship it wants with Mother Holland.  Bonaire is having a difficult time with this.  Too much Dutch influence is seen as a threat to all things Bonarian—culture, way of life, island tempo.  Too little connection and the island could get itself into serious economic straights.  Bonaire is struggling to find that right balance.  This year’s Karnaval featured a float that vividly showed what is at stake in these critical times of decision.  It was called De Gouden Kraan, the Golden Faucet, and it symbolized the economic dependence that the island has to the Netherlands.  A ten-foot tall, gold colored faucet arced out of the top of the float.  Dribbling out of the spout was a meager amount of water symbolizing that the days of healthy subsidy may be drying up. Individuals walking around the big display had their own Gouden Kraan and were drinking copious amounts of libations at a furious pace.

In the meantime, the party rolls on.  Karnaval revelers are walkin’ the walk.  And the politicians are talkin’ the talk. It will be interesting to see how this all works out by year’s end.

All photos by Hettie Holian.

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