Body glitter, rhinestones, blasting reggae music and the twanging thud of steel drums replaced the throb of cars and trucks as marchers in the District's 13th annual Caribbean Carnival parade descended on Georgia Avenue yesterday.
Bands from the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands and tens of thousands of people from the United States and the Caribbean found their way through the heat to Benjamin Banneker High School, where stalls offered Bob Marley T-shirts, flags from various islands and curried goat.
"We're very intent on preserving our heritage," said Claire Nelson, president of the Institute of Caribbean Studies and a board member of D.C. Caribbean Carnival.
The carnival is a major event in the institute's Caribbean American Heritage Month.
The Caribbean community -- Trinidadians, Haitians, Guyanese and Jamaicans, to name a few groups -- and its fans thronged to the festival on Georgia Avenue NW, where organizers said the community has its historic roots.
At Missouri and Georgia avenues, where the parade began, marchers organized into 15 groups with their costumes based on common themes. Many participants knew each other through island associations that hold events year-round.
Clyde Thompson, leader of the masquerade band Caribe, said its theme, "Dreamscape," was "an imagination of what a dream is like" based on Roman mythology. Caribe's marchers, mainly the U.S.-born children of Caribbean parents, were further divided to represent figures from mythology.
"Neptune's Children," for example, dressed in pale green leotards, silver and blue belts, gauzy teal capes and feather and rhinestone-studded emerald headdresses and clustered around their leader, who represented Neptune's daughter. Clothed in an elaborate silver paisley dress with sea-green ruffles, she harnessed herself to a wheeled platform with arches of tulle swimming with iridescent fish and seahorses.
Meanwhile, the "Warriors of Mars" in vermilion and gold hovered around their warship, pulled by Mars, a little boy in gold pants, gold spray-painted tennis shoes and a copper-colored tunic with a giant sun at his waist.
The "Moon Worshipers" in black and white and the "Venus Star Warriors" in blue and yellow put the last touches on their outfits.
Caribe members hand-sewed the costumes for the 75 young masqueraders, which took up to two days for each one, said member Gloria Terrell. Next year, members will do it all again.
They were there, said Chris Toussaint of D.C. Caribbean Carnival, to participate in the third-largest Caribbean carnival in the country, after New York's and Miami's.
People lined the sidewalks as the masked paraders passed. Little Neptune's children were cooled by battery-powered fans in the nearly 90-degree heat and looked as though they longed for cooler weather. The Moon Worshipers waved island flags. The Venus Star Warriors swiveled their hips and shimmied. Followed by his warriors, Mars valiantly tried to make his uncooperative warship go straight.
Several blocks in front of them, 30 members of the PanMasters Steel Orchestra beat on several sizes of drums made of oil barrels, instruments that originated in Trinidad and Tobago, according to band leader Lennard Jack Jr. The 20-year-old band performs Caribbean and other styles of music.
The parade wound toward Banneker Field, where live music awaited and cowrie shell bracelets, crocheted caps and leather sandals were laid out for sale. Jerk chicken and peas and rice, salt fish cakes and fried plantains, pineapple ginger juice and pina coladas were offered.
The festival continues today. Side streets along Georgia Avenue between Euclid and V streets NW will be closed from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.