with fellow participants is done in English and a popular
topic in Aruba was discussing the selection of the next
host City for the FECC 2000 Reunion. The City of
Corrientes, the mother of Argentina's greatest Carnival,
is in competition with Santa Cruz de Tenerife of the
Canary Islands. Spain's Canary Islands are located a few
hundred miles off the Northwest African coast and their
City run Carnival also wishes the recognition and
prestige of hosting FECC 2000. While it is possible to
call a Congress of all Carnival groups and interested
parties, it has been done only once previously. In 1994,
a May Carnival gathering in San Francisco organized by
the then head of Carnaval San Francisco, Roberto
Hernandez brought together representatives of Brazilian
Carnival including the powerful LIESA plus the English
speaking ICCA (International Caribbean Carnival
Association) Unfortunately, for Hernandez, the benefits
were not deemed tangible enough to those who were
responsible for the bills.
FECC President Henry van der Kroon of Holland is a great man of boundless energy, who has nurtured the organization since its inception in 1981 when 17 representatives from the nations of Holland, Belgium and Greece met at Patras Greece. Today there are 48 member countries and many more Carnival Cities and organizations who belong. Both the President and Carnival love pomp and ceremony and the FECC (called "fete" for short) often watches its President awards medallions to heads of state, Carnival dignitaries and each other. This honor is then followed by the three fete cheers; "Yasou, Yasou, Yasou!
One of our hosts is famed Aruban designer and band leader Marcia Stomper. She maintains a busy travel schedule representing the FECC in the Americas. She is particularly active where Spanish is spoken near Caribbean waters like Mexico, Central America, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Domincan Republic. Like most Arubans, Marcia speaks fluent English, Spanish, Dutch and well as the home-grown dialect. Her graceful manner and dedication to Carnival festival arts has resulted in a growing demand for official FECC presence at events. Indeed as borders become less relevant in a global society many NGO's (Non-government organizations) are being asked to do more by City-states. Yet, limited resources is a constant concern. One of the ways Mrs. Stomper is meeting demand is to bring a music or a cultural group production with her. Besides Latin America never lost the knowledge that music and dance travels across cultural barriers faster than words ever will be able too.
In 1992, the FECC organization received a healthy challenge from the larger more professionally oriented IFA (International Festival Association) which was interested in gaining a European base. As is often the case from healthy competition, the FECC emerged a stronger organization with many additional European members. Carnivals are alchemical creations which defy formula and represent much more than can be reduced to financial or statistical data. Long hours for little pay, engaging the people's imagination in a transforming experience may sound like typical Carnival but it is not a task uninspired professionals, bureaucrats or politicians should attempt. The magical arts of Carnival are too fragile and reviving the people's spirit for the event cannot always be successfully achieved. The challenge of growing a Carnival that engages all ages and exceeds expectations from the prior year does attract some extraordinary people.
Bramwell Flect, founder and director of the Aulsberg Denmark May Carnaval was returning to his first convention since his organization hosted the memorable 1992 FECC Reunion. Bramwell's intervening journey had included being an IFA consultant as well as his City's chief Arts funder before being lured him back to the front lines of Carnival. Aulsberg. This Carnival calls itself the "the Largest Festival in Northern Europe" and annually brings in 16 multi-cultural groups from afar for a two day parade and festival. Bramwell speaks like a man with a mission when he talks about the joy of creating a great pure Carnival for hundreds of thousands of people.
"When you turn Carnaval into a show for tourists then you lose the spontaneity and spirit of the people. Ordinary people begin to think they are not qualified to participate." He continues "Carnival must first come from the heart and then be made attractive to tourism."
One of the most vexing problems facing society is also a large concern of the Carnival leaders: How to engage the youth? In these uncertain times dominated by mercenary media, ordinary 13 to 21 year-olds have been shown few paths to success which hold any appeal. This skeptical, aggressive age group naturally seeks to test the superficial boundaries defined by authority which is something Carnivals have been doing before religion existed. The largest Carnival in the Mediterranean is on Malta and is expected to move soon from February to May in '98. Highly respected Malta Carnival President George Zumba has made it a personal goal for the organization to emphasize youth carnival arts.
"The soil of Carnival cannot be ignored. We have first class craft but training humor and comedy is more difficult." Zumba comments in regard to efforts to expand mentoring programs between veteran float builders and youth. The case in point was the 1997 arrest of 50 girls dressed as nuns. Emphatically he adds, "This is darkness, we must put this away."
The 17th FECC Reunion host is lucky to have the Caribbean Dutch Antilles Island of Aruba play host. Aruba is a Carnival culture and you know it when the natives tell you they are the #1 Caribbean Carnival because a greater percentage of their population participates than in Trinidad.
Aruba maintains the highest standard of living in the Caribbean and it is done with a little bit of oil, and much tourism and gambling (plus Carnival!). The desert island must produce its own water from the sea and is currently debating how many hotel rooms is enough. The island population of 90,000 host 600,000 tourists in 7,000 hotel rooms, timeshare resorts and cruise ships. The eleven small casinos and sunny with a pleasant breeze beaches are the main attraction. Because the oil industry, tourists, and television stations have been predominantly American (USA-style), so is the culture. Aruba does not answer to the capital island of the Dutch Antilles, Curacao which is located nearby, 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela. Curacao's oil industry is Dutch run and it's culture, particularly for Carnival, is rather different from Aruba.
Aruba Carnival begins with the Torch parade on the first Saturday in January. This is the first of three major processions produced by the prestigious Tivoli Club and features your favorite costume from Carnival past. Aruba loves their Queens and the highlight of the Queen contest is a non-judged segment which features elaborate club sponsored presentations where special effects alone might cost $50,000 (US). Before the contest begins, a Queen's supporters have launched an election style campaign complete with posters and sometimes even a jingle like in 1996. The Santa Cruz carnival committee is credited with pushing the envelope on Queen presentations beginning with a 1989 Queen entrance on a fire truck ladder. In 1996 their candidate Joally Croes achieved an unprecedented threepeat by winning the 42nd Aruba Carnival Queen title following victories for children and youth.
The Carnival features traditional Caribbean parades with calypso, soca or roadmarch, steelpan, brassband plus the Dutch Antilles own tumba. The Calypso Monarch title is the most heavily contested and prestigious music contest but there are others. The five peak days of Carnival are pre-Lenten meaning Carnival Friday through to Fat Tuesday whereupon the collective creative fires are extinguished by Ash Wednesday beckoning the beginning of Lent. Aruba Carnival energy is powered by contingents of dancing costumed paraders and their music. An Aruban Carnival signature is the "road-piece costumes" known for their intricate detail and the skill of combining colors, familiar themes, and motion in a manner which can turn heads quickly. Marcia Stomper's has her own band and is considered one of Aruba's most accomplished costume designers.
Two books have just been published on this fascinating Carnival although at press time both were seeking USA distributors. Aruba Carnival, is a beautiful celebratory book filled with colorful history and vibrant photographs by the former editor-in-chief of the morning daily Aruba Today Vanja Oduber. The cover of the second book features a Marcia Stomper road piece and contains a very comprehensive historical analysis. Titled The Development of the Aruban Carnival, it is by Dr. Victoria Razak of New York University.
Two of the more unique characters of Aruban Carnival are Queen consorts called Poncho and the Prince. Each Carnival club drafts a pair in voting conducted with money, a reluctant nominee can avoid the role by spending big bucks on another candidate. The Island wide competition judges for presence and humor. The winning pair will guard the ceremonial key marking the suspension of ordinary time and become the mystic rulers of the chaos known as Carnival time outside of time. The last part of this ceremony with high government officials is a police escort to lead the Carnival kids parade.
The weekend before the traditional pre-Lenten Carnival week sells out the hotels months in advance because everyone wants to see the Saturday night magic fantastic Lighting Parade produced by Bibi Arends of the Tivoli Club. Hundreds of generators, computerized light timers, smoke makers, black lights with plenty of glow-in-the-dark costumes plus the skill and dedication of highly organized teams have made this parade one of the great wonders of Carnaval anywhere. As is so often the case in Carnival cultures Bibi is excited about the possibilities for '98 when the Lighting Parade will take place on Valentine's Day, February 14.
Besides bringing the FECC 2000 convention home, Gladys Shaefer of Argentina has another mission. She wants to build a strong American component of the FECC. Yet the turnout among the 150 attending reflects only ten American countries and there is no one representing ICCA, the International Caribbean Carnival Association.
As President Hank can testify, the road to success is a steady climb. Gladys together with Marcia Stomper of Aruba seem up to the challenge. The times favor greater gatherings as trade and cultural exchanges continue to accelerate in the hemisphere. Gatherings where you can reflect with peers on your accomplishments and formulate new motivational goals are necessary fuel for the alchemical annual reinvention of the forms which occur at carnivals. While the cost and technical barriers to international communication continue to plummet for those with internet access there will never be a substitute for shaking someone's hand, dancing or sharing a meal.
Most agree a stronger voice for Carnival interests in Latin American and the Caribbean is needed. Shaefer is not only Chair of FECC-Latin America but also officially represents her Carnival City of Corrientes. She states her goal as "to complete the structure of full integration with the global Carnival community devoted to pure manifestations of the people."
The long running controversy within the FECC is; when will the non-European members be given voting rights? This issue belongs to the President who sees it as a mechanism to build the Latin American FECC. Artful President Henry van der Kroone appreciates the energy of a well managed controversy and was disappointed that outreach efforts to American Carnivals did not result in a larger representation on Aruba. According to van der Kroone, this would allow the issue to be advance to the next level of voting on changing the organization's name.
"I am, as President, opposed to giving full rights to non European members or countries unless they get better organized" he firmly says. At the opening Congress, van der Kroone had told the members "We must fight to see that Carnaval is recognized as a nationally recognized heritage. Your task is to fight for unity and prevent any sort of grumble. I need more support for this effort."
The case for equal voting rights was dutifully made by Ernest Nieveld of Curacao "We feel we should have a member on the FECC Board. We should be accepted as an organization to your organization." The response to this entreaty indicated the controversy would remain an issue indefinitely.
When asked to comment on the future of the FECC, 55 year old President Henry van der Kroone says "I need more strong people with the strength of languages to teach leadership and knowledge to. At this time, there is no opposition to me and that is not good."
Next May, the FECC Reunion 1998 will be in Macedonia. This new republic just north of Greece, is now just emerging from half a century of domination by its neighbors. Renowned for its fine wines and beers which often accompany a hearty cuisine, Macedonia has been entertaining visitors for 5000 years. The head of the FECC delegation is architect Aleksandar Cicimiv who is also a museum curator who plans on showing off some of the many fascinating ancient ruins from 5000 year old Goddess figurines to Roman baths to Greek Orthodox monastaries. Their Carnival while not extravagant is a fascinating and innocent mix of fantasy, religion and poignant invention mostly concentrated in a huge pre-Lenten magical art parade. This will be the first year there will be information on attending the convention located on the world wide web at www.carnaval.com which will have information on joining or forming a FECC chapter as which City will host the FECC 2000 .
The prize of hosting the prestigious FECC 2000 convention was won convincingly by Santa Cruz de Tenerife their delegation was headed by an elected official, Dámasco Arteaga whose delivery ably enhanced by his assistant's elegant English and love of Carnival. Hopefully we will see Antonia Rodrigues again. Good sport Gladys Shaefer of Argentina did not miss a beat following the election announcement, quickly announcing that her City will be bidding on the 2001 FECC convention. Business complete the delegates headed for the beautiful Caribbean waters before heading back to the real world.