The essence of any carnival are the masks the participants wear. They conceal the face but make the joy and exuberance manifest, and the carnival is ultimately a celebration of life. Disordered as most carnivals are, they are an exaltation of that order in the universe, which if not always clear and palpable, it remains nevertheless humanity’s most fundamental yearning.
Carnivals were originally periods of festivity before Lent, the last sound before the long silence in an uninterrupted cycle of clamour and stillness, the response to the human intuition that life is a rollercoaster ride.
The first carnival masks were used to mock the rulers and poke fun at objects of authority. To the impunity afforded by the carnival’s timing, masks added an extra layer of immunity as people could flout sumptuary laws, escape responsibility for acts committed during the carnival period and indulge in extravagant behaviour.
What happens at Carnival stays at Carnival. The joy excuses the means of enjoyment.
A walk through the streets of our cities today will reveal the existence of a sad carnival of sorts. Masks everywhere, but joy nowhere to be found. Instead, a heroic resistance that our antibodies have a lot to learn from. This open-ended carnival is also a celebration of life. Perhaps not the carelessness characteristic of most other carnivals, but the assurance that together we shall overcome the threat of the masked enemy, that hiding our faces behind gauze or homemade masks and staying away from each other is the best way to ensure that we will meet each other’s gaze soon.