I’ve been in Birmingham for two years and this month I got the chance to take part in a carnival-style event, which is the closest I’ve been to a carnival-style event in the UK; and I absolutely loved it – but why is it so hard to find stories about Birmingham Carnival online?
Make no mistake, there are plenty of images that show the carnival in all its glory; as well as event details but story telling is so important to me, and it’s important to hear from as many different people as possible. Birmingham Carnival, (originally called Handsworth carnival) is an Afro-Caribbean-themed event that takes place every two years. The carnival began in Handsworth park in 1984 until 10 years later when it grew so large it was moved onto the streets of Handsworth and changed its name to Birmingham Carnival – but this isn’t the only carnival in the city. Balsall Heath Carnival seemed like another great annual event which but unfortunately it was put on pause in 2017 because of a lack of funding and resources. Resources, being people who can take time out of their day to organise the event. This makes us question how much value we place on cultural events that bring together communities.
Is the carnival still important?
We celebrate the things we love. We celebrate to remind ourselves that we are loved by someone, even if that person is you. It is hard to feel like the country you live in is your home when you’re constantly reminded that you are not welcome here by the actions of those in power – it trickles down to the everyday man who gains nothing from hate. The Birmingham Carnival is a reminder that the Caribbean community is more than the negative images displayed in mainstream media – it is a community of colour, love, laughter, great food, amazing dancers, and a list that could go on forever. As I watched videos of the Birmingham Carnival from 1984 to 2013 I noticed how it grew but the fundamentals remained the same. I noticed the variation in races celebrating as the years progressed; an acceptance of sorts. I believe external acceptance is always welcomed but I wouldn’t call it a need, not anymore at least. I say this because things we need can be forced upon us and we benefit from them, like food and water.
I believe in the importance of stories; individual and communal. Not only the positives though, there is a certain type of healing one can find by embracing the negatives when it is used for what not to do.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made throughout my life was that I didn’t pay enough attention during history classes – instead I dreamed about being on the football field. As I’ve grown up I’ve learnt to take in knowledge with every chance I get. Knowing the history of those around you is important but knowing your own history should come first – carnival’s are like a huge history lesson itself; and a pretty fun one at that.
Carnival is a mix of great fun, and great opportunity. Local businesses set up stalls and interact with those living around them. You get to see someone chosen as Carnival Queen, who remains the face of the Carnival for the next two years. The masquerade parade allows by-standers to take in all of the excitement provided by entertainers. The live music ensures that you’re never caught in any moments of awkward silence.
It is difficult to fund free events but events like this are extremely important, and disregarding them does not help us move forward in any way.
I believe in the phrase “team work makes the dream work”. Ultimately, it may fall on the community to prove how much carnival is needed. I am writing this as an outsider, embracing this culture for the first time because I see the benefits that can come from this festival. I want to see the entire world, not just the places… The people, their habits, I want to see the good in them, I want to see them at their happiest and most open. Carnival is just that and so much more.
Written by Dennis Muhirwa
See Caribbean Carnival Extravaganza this Saturday at Victoria Square, a part of Birmingham Weekender. Want to write a guest blog? Check out our themes and series’ on our Opportunities page or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.