Remembering Haiti Post-Carnival (Kanaval)

Haitian Carnival Masks

In March 2011, Japan suffered an 8.9 earthquake, a magnitude not often experienced. While the massive earthquake last year in Haiti was less on the Richter scale, it nonetheless did terrible damage that is still not wholly cleaned up. The gruesome scenes from Japan turned my mind back to Haiti.

In Haiti, the tragic earthquake of January 12, 2010 destroyed the Haitian Kanaval as well as countless lives and buildings. Kanaval was canceled last year.

Carnivale, Carnival, Fat Tuesday, Mardi GrasKarneval, Masopust, Fastelavn, Fastnacht, Apókreō, Shrove Tuesday — the day goes by many names.

And Kanaval, in Haiti.

Their hearts flattened by the pain and loss of that dreadful day, the Haitian people now strive to reach some sense of equilibrium as they still struggle out of the ruins of downed walls and the loss of so many life-giving people. Because they’ve suffered so much for so long,  the Haitian people will one day rebuild the buildings, such is their faith and resilience in the face of adversity. Their history of slavery, and the long domination of France, proves this time and time again.

But, along with hope, one thing that the earthquake didn’t ruin was a dynamic cultural heritage, manifested in the art, the music, the literature, the humor, the dance, and the cuisine of that remarkable country. And thus Haitians will immortalize their lost loved ones through that richness.

This video from a previous Kanaval in Jacmel, Haiti shows how Haiti embraces life.*

Banana Fritters for Kanaval
Serves 4 to 8

Based on what the French call a beignet (fritter),  these delicious morsels are worth the effort. I first ate these in Jacmel, at the Hotel Jacmelienne.

2 cups vegetable oil, for frying

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
Pinch of salt
3 T. granulated sugar
1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg
1 t. ground cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
1 t. pure vanilla extract
2 cups whole milk
1 T. unsalted butter, melted
2 overripe bananas, mashed or sliced

Confectioner’s sugar and lime wedges for serving

Begin heating the oil while you are mixing the batter. Use a Fry Daddy or a heavy pan wide and deep enough to hold about 3 to 4 inches of oil.

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix wet ingredients in another bowl. Then add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix in well. When oil is hot, drop in batter by tablespoonfuls and fry until golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve hot.

* I worked on a food-consumption study for a USAID farming systems project in Jacmel. Many of the gingerbread-style houses and buildings no longer exist, thanks to the earthquake. I dedicate this post to all those who died or were wounded in whatever way by the earthquake.

For more about Kanaval in Jacmel, Haiti, see the following:

After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti (Crown Journeys), by Edwidge Danticat (2002)

© 2011 C. Bertelsen