The inception of carnival in the Caribbean is a bit complex. It’s origin is connected to colonialism, religion, and ultimately freedom and celebration. Carnival in the Caribbean derived from Italian Catholics Carnevale in Europe, which spread to France and Spain. French and Spanish slave traders brought this tradition with them when they colonized Trinidad, Dominica, Haiti, Martinique, and other Caribbean islands. Historians believe the “present-day” Caribbean Carnival started in Trinidad and Tobago in the late 18th century when French colonizers began their high-society tradition of Fat Tuesday masked parties on the island.

African slaves were excluded from participating in the celebrations and extravagant masquerade balls. However, with slavery ending in 1834 freed African slaves transformed the pre-Lenten European celebration into a celebration of the end of slavery that allowed them to celebrate their African heritage and culture and freedom through costumes, song, music, and dance.  African dance and music traditions remodeled previous forms of carnival celebrations in the Americas, as African drum rhythms,  stick fighters, enormous puppets, and stilt dancers started making their appearances in the carnival celebrations. Many of these components, dressing in masquerade, music, and dancing, continue to remain paramount to Carnival.
From Trinidad and Tobago, Carnival spread to many other islands, where the tradition fused with the unique local cultures, such as salsa showcases on Antigua, and calypso in Dominica. Some celebrations have even moved off the Easter calendar and are celebrated in the late spring or summer such as Batabano (Cayman Island), Vincy Mas (St. Vincent), Spice Mas (Grenada) and Cropover (Barbados).