Monday, 4 February 2008
Bringing Masopust to Oxford
In my British life I am a founding member of the Cowley Road Carnival, which has grown into Oxfordshire's largest community event, and am still very much involved. The Cowley Road Carnival is a multi-cultural event, celebrating the diverse communities that call East Oxford home. A year ago I successfully put together a grant application to the Heritage Lottery Fund to fund an exploration of the different Carnival traditions to be found among the communities in Oxford. So it could only made sense given the rising numbers of Czechs in Oxford for me to try and get a project going that introduced the Czech version of Carnival into the Cowley Road event.
Of course I am biased, Czecho is my other home. But it is more than that - I am fascinated by both the differences and similarities of my two countries and masopust/carnival is such a good example of it. As you can see from the video - there is so much that is familiar about masopust - the rag costumes are similar to those of some morris sides and mummers' troupes, the straw man who is sacrificed to ensure the arrival of spring, the hobby horse character (horses are always a potent symbol of fertility and wealth among the Celts - the ancestors we Brits share with the Czechs) and others. Of course the tradition of processing around the local houses asking for alcohol donations in return for a song/dance and good luck is common all over the world. But there are touches which are not common - such as the large hats covered with roses symbolising the days of the year and Christ's wounds.
There is an opinion prevalent in Britain that negates our ancient traditions as the laughable indulgence of beer-sodden bearded saddos. But people who make snide comments about morris dancers waving hankies and wearing bells wouldn't dream of mocking traditional Indian dance with its bells etc. With carnival there is an opinion in Britain that believes that only the Caribbean tradition is the true one, never mind that Carnival traditions are so deep rooted here that they predate Christianity. Perhaps by looking at another related country's carnival tradition we can come to see our own with better understanding and maybe even value them.
I will blog again to tell you how I get on with the project. Oh and if anyone out there is interested in providing some sponsorship (the Lottery money only covers 60% of our costs) to help bring some Masopust from the Czech Republic to Oxford, do get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org