The best of the rest (1)
Accompong Maroon Festival
Where? St Elizabeth, Jamaica _.
How long? 1 day
June 1 is the most important day of the year for Jamaican Maroons, descendants of the escaped African slaves who lived wild on the island and waged ferocious war against the British in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Maroons from across Jamaica flock to commemorate the signing of the June 1, 1739, peace treaty, which ended the First Maroon War and granted their ancestors semiindependence. You have to be up early: celebrations start before dawn, with drumming, dancing and chanting at the nearby Peace Cave, followed by a procession by the elders and much blowing of horns and banging of Goombay drums. After the ceremony, the dancing, singing, feasting and drinking raves away pretty much uninterrupted all day and all night. Spectators are welcome, but outsiders need to bring a pretty robust sense of humour and a stomach for rum, as the Maroons are a pretty wild lot, not least when they celebrate their independence and warrior heritage. All are welcome, but Brits are advised to adopt American accents for the day.
Where? Hawaii, USA
When? September and October
How long? 6 weeks
The Hawaiian islands come to a standstill each year for these awesome festivals (®www.alohafestivals.com), a sixty-year-old event designed to celebrate Hawaiian culture and which is in fact the only statewide festival in the entire USA. The Big Island of Hawaii hosts traditional ukelele music and hula dances against a backdrop of rain forests, vast mountains and lava deserts, while the smaller, more developed islands of Oahu and Maui boast high-octane partying. Wherever you are, try to hit a “hoolaulea” or block party. Honolulu and Waikiki Beach see the biggest celebrations, with a downtown street party attended by over a quarter of a million people.
Bay to the Breakers Festival
Where? San Francisco, USA
How long? 1 day
Held every year since 1912, Bay to the Breakers (®www. baytobreakers.com) is one of the largest road races in the world, with around 75,000 participants. The course is 12km long, running from the Embarcadero to the ocean, with competitors ranging from serious athletes to people just along for the ride – the race starts at 8am and finishes early, so that Footstock, the accompanying music festival, can get going in Golden Gate Park. It’s all rather corporate and organized these days, with lots of sponsorship and merchandise for sale, but makes a fun day out nonetheless.
Belize National Day
Where? Belize City, Belize
How long? 3 weeks
Belize’s National Day festivities embody one of the great qualities of Caribbean and South American events, namely why cram a party into a day or a weekend when you can roll out the fun for almost a whole month? Just imagine Notting Hill Carnival lasting for three weeks and you get the idea. The extravagant celebrations start on the first weekend of September, with carnival parades, firework displays and all-night parties on pearl-white beaches to commemorate getting rid of the Spanish in 1798, and culminate with the mother of all jump-ups on Independence Day on September 21. Belize only gained independence from the British in 1981, and the novelty in post-colonial Belize City is a long, long way from wearing off.
Where? Parintins, Brazil
How long? 3 days
One of South America’s great parties, Boi Bumba (®www.boibumba.com) is a riot of colour, dancing, pageantry and parades on an island deep in the Amazonian jungle, and as remote as any major festival, even in Brazil, gets – it’s a two-day boat journey from “nearby” Manaus. Surrounded by more than 1000km of rainforest on all sides, the isolated location is key to making the festival special. Whereas partygoers in Rio or Salvador gather for the parades and disperse into the city afterwards, in Parintins the sixty-thousand- plus crowd is contained by the Amazon itself – over the three-day frenzy, the festival becomes a private party of familiar faces and dancing bodies.
The event’s origins lie in the northeastern Bumba Meu Boi festival (it was introduced into Parintins by immigrants from the state of Maranhao), telling the story of Pai Francisco, his wife Mae Catarina and their theft of a prize bull from a rich landowner. But it tells it on a huge scale, in a purpose-built forty-thousand-seater stadium called the Bumbodromo. Here, two competing teams, Caprichoso and Garantido, parade a series of vast floats made up of thirty- metre-tall serpent heads, jaguars, macaws and other rainforest creatures, which change like scenes from a play, wheeled on by troupes dressed in Indian costumes and surrounded by one-hundred-strong drum orchestras and scores of scantily clad dancers. Against this spectacular backdrop, a whole host of characters tell the story, led by the beautiful feminine spirit of the rainforest, the Cunha- Poranga, and an Indian shaman, both of whom emerge, in a burst of fireworks, from the mouth of a serpent or jaguar on the most spectacular of the floats. Fans of each group are fiercely partisan, and roar their encouragement from the stadium stands throughout.