People of all ages are involved in the celebrations. Only 4,500 people currently live on the island, and there’s a heartwarming sense of camaraderie. The week is filled with tours of cultural and historic sites, social hikes, and calypso and soca competitions, as well as an Afro Madras fashion show and even a car race in the restricted area, giving people another excuse to spend time together and enjoy the beautiful nature that is dominant in that part of the island. There are day and night parties, and performances by local and international bands, all culminating in the final day’s main St. Patrick’s event.
The last day starts early, with the 5 am ‘jump up’ (even if in ‘island time’ it’s more like 9 am!). The meeting point is the secondary school, where a DJ on a truck with a huge sound system plays soca music – the most popular genre in this part of the world – followed by hundreds of people jumping, singing and dancing, bringing the ‘fete’ (their term for party) to the roads of Salem. As those raucous celebrations draw to a close, the official St. Patrick’s parade begins.
People of all ages meet up in Salem centre. Some wear traditional clothes made from the national green, orange and white Madras fabric that represents a mix of African and Irish heritage. Others wear the Masquerades, colourful costumes originating from folk rituals, with tall head-gear, ribbons, small mirrors, bells and masks. The ritualistic dances and prominent masks are symbols of war, guardianship and fertility.
There are other groups wearing different traditional dresses from the African heritage, as well as school classes, modern dancers, steel pan performers, drummers and other percussionists. After parading through the roads of Salem, they perform on the stage at the Heritage Village.