It is three hours to go before the beginning of the Carnaval, but there is already a vibe of eager anticipation in the air. I am surrounded by young faces painted in psychedelic colours, some with flamboyant feathers in their hair and yet others in bright wigs. People — both locals and tourists — start lining up along the main street of Victoria, the tiny capital city of Seychelles on Mahé island. Although everyone is vying for vantage positions, there is no pushing or shoving, no raised voices.
This year marks the sixth edition of the Seychelles Carnival, known officially as the Carnaval International De Victoria. And international it truly is, with contingents from over 20 countries participating in the street parade on a fine summer day. Among other things, this Carnaval is a nod to the multicultural ethos that Seychelles prides itself on, with the stated aim of “uniting people through culture.”
We have had teaser glimpses of the performances from the various troupes at the inaugural events on the preceding days, and know what to expect. I am particularly looking forward to the dancers from Brazil, in what I hope will be a slice of the Rio Carnival. If these dancers are attired in miniscule carnival costumes, the duo from Italy lean all the way to the other side, waddling about in fat suits, playing Tweedledee and Tweedledum from Alice in Wonderland.
The Carnaval begins on time, the procession led by the lumbering figure of a giant land tortoise, endemic to the islands. The float that follows presents a stark contrast, with the reigning beauty queens of Seychelles and La Reunion Island waving out to the audience. And then the music and dance pick up pace, to wind down only a good three hours later. In the parade, apart from the themed floats, each country has its group of dancers, acrobats or performers in festive dress.
Indonesian warriors in full costume, complete with elaborate headgear and jewellery waltz past; Indian dancers on decorated wooden horses stand tall on stilts, as a human pyramid takes shape in front of our eyes; the African countries flaunt the intrinsic rhythm in their bodies with hip-swirling dance movements.
Performers from the group of island countries in the Indian Ocean, collectively known as the Vanilla Islands (Seychelles, Mauritius, La Reunion, Madagascar, among others), put up a vibrant show, with colours of the rainbow on display.
My personal favourite, however, is the Chinese masked dancer — I could call him magician — who emerges from the middle of his troupe, cape fluttering in the breeze.
With a swish of his head, he changes his facemask, now a deep blue, suddenly a fiery red. Behind him, Chinese acrobats are juggling batons on unicycles and petite dancers are swaying to lilting music but I cannot take my eyes off this piece of showmanship.
The Brazilians then burst upon the scene in Carnival costumes, sashaying to what I can only describe as Carnival music, and suddenly the street turns into a catwalk. The dancers bring with them a palpable buzz in the air. The smile doesn’t slip from their faces as they wriggle their hips in time with the tunes.
And in a fitting end to the event, the Notting Hill Carnival group brings up the rear, with participants dressed as the native birds and sea life of Seychelles. Not surprisingly, this contingent takes home the prize for the Best International Float — for the fifth time in this annual Carnaval.
The excitement of the Carnaval is barely over the next morning, when we head out for a hike on the hills to see the views from Mission Point and then locate the elusive pitcher plant that captures its prey. Much like the latter, the magic of Seychelles engulfs me and holds me close. This island ticks all the conventional boxes, including azure blue skies and aquamarine waters.