SOME call it a parade. Others call it the largest block party in North America. More than 40,000 revelers march in fantastic outfits of brilliantly colored plumes, shimmering bolts of rainbow-hued fabric, and intricately patterned foil. As the marchers bob and swirl to live steel bands and recorded calypso music blaring from the backs of flatbed trucks, this ``parade'' soon stalls in a gyrating mass of humanity. About 900,000 spectators have turned out for the annual West Indian-American Day Carnival. The revelers eat goat roti and jerk pork roasted over smoking charcoal grills, and guzzle the water from coconuts expertly split by machete-wielding vendors. Some laugh and talk to friends in patois or Creole. Others shake their hips to the propulsive beat of soca blasting from speakers stacked on sidewalk corners.
Groups break off from the procession and take to the side streets. Spectators jump into the procession and become participants. ``Devil men,'' wearing little more than imitation leopard skin pelts on their blackened bodies, bang congas as they move against the marchers. The celebrants strut for the allotted six hours, but many do not bother to complete the 2.5-mile route.
The carnival, held over the Labor Day weekend, is marked by four nights of calypso and reggae concerts, steel-band contests, and children's pageants on the parking lot of the Brooklyn Museum. On Labor Day, it's climaxed with the huge carnival procession along Eastern Parkway, a six-lane boulevard that bisects the heart of central Brooklyn.
The festival, linked to the pre-Lenten carnivals of the islands, is the great unifying force in New York's burgeoning Caribbean community. In a city where ethnic identity implies political entitlement, the carnival draws together immigrants from scattered island nations and stakes a major claim for ``pan-Caribbeanism.''
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