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Carnival is not just one festival, but a series of festivities between Christmas and Ash Wednesday. The duration of the Carnival season varies because Ash Wednesday signals the beginning of the 40-day Christian Lenten period of reflection, that ends with the Christian feast of Easter. Carnival was created through unique art forms out of the confluence of cultures - European, African, Indian, Asian - assembled here in the centuries since Columbus.
From 1783 for half a century, the French developed their Carnival , which was noted to be a season of gay and elegant festivities extending from Christmas to Ash Wednesday. These festivities consisted of dinners, balls, concerts and hunting parties.
The Africans started to participate in the festivities from 1833 after the Emancipation Bill was passed. The Africans brought Canboulay to its festivities. Canboulay was first played on August 1st, Emancipation Day , but subsequently took place after midnight on Dimanche Gras, the Sunday before Carnival.
In early celebration of the festival by the masses activities were held over the three days preceding Ash Wednesday. However in the face of over 60 years of criticism from the upper class about the low standard of Carnival and strong feelings expressed about the desecration of the Sabbath, in 1943 Carnival on the street was restricted to the Monday & Tuesday.
Carnival celebrations were banned for the duration of World War II.
This now extinct character, owes its origins to pre-emancipation days; a time when Carnival was celebrated exclusively by the plantocracy. While the slaves and free coloureds were confined to their own segregated celebrations, the plantocracy, on the other hand, was free to imitate the dress and customs of their slaves. The Negue Jadin (or field slave) was one such beloved Carnival costume.
Upon the abolition of slavery, former slaves were free to celebrate and adopted the Negue Jadin character in their celebrations, albeit ironically.
This costume consists of a mask, tight-fitting satin or khaki breeches, a bright, plain coloured shirt with a decorated "fol" (heart-shaped panel of contrasting colour sewn on the chest and bordered with swans down). The 'fol' was sometimes decorated with tiny mirrors and rhinestones.
Currently, the Negue Jadin costume is incorporated in various other traditional carnival celebrations, including the Calinda (stickfighting).
Stickfighters or Calinda or Kalenda
The Kalenda (Calinda), a stick dance, owed its origins to pre-colonial times, as early as the late 1700's. The term Kalenda emerged as a general term for the stick-fight, the dance, the songs and other performances that accompany it. Contrary to some mythology, Kalenda is not a hybrid of African stick fighting and European fencing, but is more closely related to the African-descended martial arts.
Kalenda, a lively and skillful dance, is an elegantly violent cultural practice that requires dancers to engage in mock combat with their sticks (bois) in the middle of circle called a gayelle to the accompaniment of drumming and singing, often in patois. They were led by a lead singer (chantuelle or chanteuse) whose duty it was to either encourage or deride the dancers. The chantuelle, in turn was backed up by a chorus of women.
A highly ritualised display, Kalenda is an integral attraction of modern Carnival celebrations, with the finals being held in early hours of Carnival Friday (the Friday before the Parade of the Bands).
Dragon Mas draws its origins from traditional Jab Jab or Devil Mas. While sometimes referred to as King Beast, the Dragon is a metaphorical representation of the forces of nature; a fiery beast from hell, that comes to bring destruction to all. Sometimes, the Dragon is restrained by chains held by imps.
As the story goes, the Dragon cannot cross water (holy water) to continue his path of destruction. His frustrations come across as a dance while the Imps, led by the King Imp, continue to tease and restrain him. The dance is one of the most beloved masques in traditional carnival celebrations.
The costume is straightforward with scales, a dragon head with a movable tongue, large elaborate wire-framed wings and a long scaled tail.
One of the lesser-known traditional characters, Soumayree typically consists of a woman on a horse, similar to the Burrokeet costume. It is based on the Hindu rite where the horse was used in worship to the goddess, Durga (Kali).
One of the most beloved and well-known of the traditional carnival characters line-up, the Midnight Robber graces stages and audiences with his colourful exaggerated costumes, based on the American Wild West, inclusive of an oversize cowboy hat with fringed brim. The hat’s crown comes in different shapes and colours, such as a, coffin. The Robber usually has a flowing cape adorned with symbols of death, a black satin shirt, black pantaloons, and black shoes/boots. However, modern interpretations can see the Robber in a variety of colours outside of the traditional black.
His unique speeches, called “Robber Talk”, are haughty invocations with origins from a variety of sources, including the Bible and other pieces of classical literature, like Shakespeare. The Robber is also known for his trademark whistle that he blows before he addresses his audience. Often the Robber will have a prop gun, sword or dagger and a wooden money box in the shape of a coffin with which he will “threaten” his audience.
A traditional masque (a form of 16th and 17th Century festive courtly entertainment) popular in the early 1900’s, the Venezuelan/Amerindian-based Sebucan was traditionally performed at Carnival time at Tamarind Square, next to the Catholic Cathedral.
The Sebucan, which resembles the English Maypole dance, is composed of striking patterns, complicated weaves and fascinating motifs. Participants typically wore costumes, paper crowns, such as masks and hats, and were musically accompanied by guitars, quatros and maracas.
While it is now no longer performed at Carnival time, the Sebucan is sometimes performed as part of traditional carnival celebrations, or by primary and secondary schools as a celebration of the blooming of the beautiful poui and the transition from the dry season to the rainy season.
The Moko Jumbie derives its name from West African tradition. The “Moko” is an Orisha (God) of Retribution. The term “Jumbie” was added post-slavery. The Moko Jumbie was regarded as a protector whose towering height made it easier to see evil before ordinary men.
As a masquerade, these characters make long strides balanced on stilts that can be from 10 to 15 feet in height. In the past, the Moko Jumbie was sometimes accompanied by a dwarf in similar costume but without stilts, to accentuate Moko's height. He danced all day through the streets, collecting money on a plate from the people crowded on the second-floor windows and balconies. Often the stilts are painted in stripes or decorated with coloured fabric. The Moko Jumbie is usually dressed in brightly coloured costume that consists of long pants or skirts and a simple shirt. The Moko Jumbie may also wear a hat.
The Burrokeet, which originated from the Spanish word burroquito (little donkey), is designed to look like a dancer riding a donkey. The costume comprises a decorated donkey's head typically made from coloured paper.
The body is covered by a long satin skirt with a sisal tail, sometimes decorated with flowers. The bit, bridle, and reins are made of coloured cord.
The rider wears a large matador straw hat and performs a dance that mimics that of a donkey. Sometimes, the Burrokeet performer will stage a dance called Burriquite, which originated in Venezuela.
The Baby Doll character, a common sight during late 19th Century Carnival, is a satirical portrayal of a mother with an illegitimate baby. Often the masquerader portrays a gaily dressed younger woman, with a frilled dress exposing her legs, gloves, and a large poke bonnet or mob cap. In all instances she carries a doll representing the illegitimate child.
The masquerader usually stops male passers-by and various audience members, accusing them of fathering the child, then embarrassing them into giving money for milk, clothing, other needs, and/or to simply cease her accusations.
One of the most known and beloved of the Traditional Carnival Characters, the Sailor Mas was introduced in the 1880s when British, French and American naval ships came to Trinidad. The costume, which is relatively lightweight and inexpensive when compared to other traditional Carnival costumes, typically consists of a beret with the name of the ship on the rim of the beret, a tight-fitting short sleeve bow-necked striped jersey, bell-bottomed Melton pants, and black or white shoes.
There are several dances to go along with the Sailor Mas portrayal, such as the Crab, Marrico, Pachanga, Rock de Boat, Skip Jack and the Camel Walk.
There are several variations on the Sailor Mas including:
Free French Sailor
Flour Bag Sailor (made out of flour bag with a sailor cap and tie)
Redhead Sailor (with a hood with red hair on his head made out of rope and red dye)
Head Mas Sailor (with a head mask representing the band’s concept)
and the Sea Bees (with blue dungarees and blue chamber shirts with a white sailor cap).
There are also Fancy Sea Bees, which were popularised by the Dem Fortunates Steelband of Belmont.
The King Sailor's costume typically consists of a white drill or corduroy pants and shirt with a sailor collar. There are epaulettes on each shoulder, a red sash across the chest, a crown on the masquerader's head, cords, medals and war ribbons on the left side of the chest and a walking stick in his hand.
This sailor belongs to the Engine Room; this costume is made out of a vest, waist cloth in his back pocket, an officer's cap, a pair of goggles, a large pair of gloves, a decorated iron stoker, swans down, metallic dust, braids and tinsels.
The Fancy Sailor was an off-shoot of the King Sailor. The fancy sailor costume consists of papier-mâché headpieces, decorated and painted to look like birds, animals or plants. The sailor outfit is decorated with ribbons, medals, braiding, swans down and other embellishments to match the headpieces.
The White Sailor: A white Coast Guard hat, white short sleeved jumper with a stripes in a box shape around the neck, long white flare bottom pants, black or white shoes.
Indians are one of the most colourful and interesting of the traditional mas characters; containing elaborate feathered headpieces sometimes built over bamboo or wire frames. The headpiece is supported by a structure that covers the masquerader's entire body. Indian Mas may incorporate any number of effects including papier-mâché masks, canoes, ostrich plumes, mirrors, beads, feather work, totem poles, and ribbons.
Indian Mas falls into two categories – Indians Fancy and Indians Authentic. Indians Fancy can be described as any imaginative or fanciful portrayal of American Indians. Indians Authentic is any authentic portrayal of the Wild Indians of the American continent, including Black Indians.
There are five types of Indians: Black Indians, Blue Indians, Fancy Indians, Authentic Indians and Guarahoon/Wild Indians/Red Indians
Guarahoon / Wild Indian / Red Indian – The oldest examples of Indian Mas. They are based on a peaceful Amerindian tribe from Venezuela called the “Warao”. The costume of the Guarahoon is Red. They have their own specific language.
Indian Chief – Bands of Indians can comprise a warrior chief and his family, a group of chiefs, or a group of warriors.
Authentic Indians – Tries to give an actual or true representation of Native American Indian Wear.
Blue Indians – Similar to the Red Indian Mas but with an elaborate costume with the predominant colour being blue.
Black Indians – Combines certain elements of the Red Indian with some African derived elements. They dress predominantly in black with other colours. Their faces are also painted black. They have their own distinctive speech.
Fancy Indian – An imaginative and elaborate form, the Fancy Indian is the most popular variety of Indian Mas. This form of Indian Mas is non-authentic; one of its main features being large decorated headpieces.
A spin on the classic clown/fool role, Fancy Clowns have their own antics and dances to entertain crowds at Carnival. They are dressed in baggy clothing with big red noses, wild hair, big shoes and often, white faces. They are predominantly seen in the Fancy Sailor band and show the beauty of the design of many of the original or old time masqueraders.
The Pierrot Grenade is the satirical descendant of the Pierrot – a finely dressed masquerader and deeply learned scholar. Pierrot Grenade falls under the category of Old Time Carnival and is the supreme jester in Trinidad Carnival. His name shows his strong connection to Grenada.
His costume is made by attaching multicoloured pieces of cloth to his gown-like outfit. In the old days, he wore a wire mesh mask over his face, and old hat with shrubbery attached, or simply tied his head with a handkerchief. Nowadays, however, the face is painted instead of the mask and a hood worn over the head. The Pierrot Grenade delights in displaying his knowledge and ability to spell any word. He prances and twirls about carrying a whip made of guava or hibiscus.
With origins dating back to Northern India (currently Pakistan), Gatka is a highly ritualised fighting dance form that is attributed to the god Shiva and his devotees. While it has passed through generations as a regional system of fighting, in actuality, the art is not unique to any particular ethno-cultural group or religion, but has been the traditional form of combat throughout north India and Pakistan for centuries.
Gatka can be practiced either as a sport (khel) or ritual (rasmi). The sport form is played by two opponents wielding wooden staves called gatka. These sticks may be paired with a shield. Points are scored for making contact with the stick. The other weapons are not used for sparring, but their techniques are taught through forms training.
The ritual form is purely for demonstration and is performed to music during occasions such as weddings, or as part of a theatrical performance like the chhau dance. A practitioner of gatka is called agatkabaj while a teacher is addressed as Guru or Gurudev.
Today, the Dame Lorraine traditional character appears as a female dressed in the style of a rich planter’s wife. However, in the beginning, the Dame Lorraine was not a single character. In fact, the Dame Lorraine was a collective of characters who took part in an elaborate skit or parody of these early French Planters. Long ago, this theatrical performance would take place on Dimanche Gras.
The Dame Lorraine poked fun not only at the elaborate festivities of the rich planters but also their physical infirmities. The name of each character was in French Creole. These names were very descriptive and pinpointed certain bodily defects. At one time, the big bottom and the big breasts were worn by separate characters. Today, both are combined into one outfit, worn by one character. In the past, mostly men portrayed Dame Lorraines. As of late, mostly women portray the character.
A staple from the Golden Age of Carnival of the middle 20th Century, African Mas, like its forbears, drew its inspiration from actual history for its presentation. While traditional African masquerade used rags and spears to illustrate and perpetuate the notion of an uncivilised Africa, George Bailey revolutionised the presentation with his groundbreaking “Back to Africa,” and later with his “Bright Africa,” both of which challenged prevailing stereotypes about African nations. In many respects, the presentations showed the world that elaborate, well-designed displays of African beauty and creativity could easily match those of traditional Roman and Greek-themed presentations.
Minstrels are classified as any band of singers, disguised with or without painted faces and using instruments such as the banjo, maracas, clappers, rattle etc., simulating American negro dancers of days gone by. The Minstrel in Trinidad dressed in “Whiteface”, they parodied the white minstrels in America who dressed in “Blackface” and claimed to imitate the behaviour of blacks. Minstrel of old sang plantation songs and other American songs like “Swanee River” and dressed in a variety of costumes e.g. Uncle Sam tailcoat, pinstripe trousers, white gloves and felt top hat.
The Cow Band, which dates back to the days of the Canboulay, consisted of a small group of men dressed in costumes of sacking made from rice bags. These costumes were completely covered with dried plantain leaves. Each masquerader wore a homemade papier-mâché mask representing the head of a cow with a pair of horns. Members of the band would frolic and move through the crowds behaving like real cows. This masquerade became dormant for a few years, and was later revived by the employees of the Abattoir, and became part of the J'Ouvert celebrations.
Recently, usually on Carnival Tuesdays, the Cow Band comes out in brightly coloured costumes, with picadors and a matador who would challenge the cows. The cow character's costume consisted of tight-fitting breeches of yellow velvet or satin, with gold braid and spangles along the sides and around the bottom at the knees, a tight-fitting maroon satin long-sleeved blouse completely covered with a soutache decoration of gold braid, gloves, cream stockings and alpagatas. A well-secured cap-like contraption on the head supported a pair of highly polished cow horns. A short section of the hairy part of the cow's tail was attached to the seat of the breeches. An imported wire gauze mask replaced the cow mask of the previous day.
Devils and Jab Jab
There are several quite different varieties of Devils in the Carnival. They are nearly always called “Jabs”. Jab is the French patois for “Diable” (Devil), and Molassie is the French patois for “Mélasse” (Molasses).
The name of this mas is derived from the French patois for "Diable Diable". The costume consists of a “Kandal” or satin knickers, and satin shirt with points of cloth at the waist, from which bells hang. On the chest, there is a shaped cloth panel which is decorated with swans down, rhinestones and mirrors. Stockings and alpagatas are worn on the feet, while the headdress consists of a hood with stuffed cloth horns. The costume can come in alternating colours and be divided into front and back panels. The Jab Jab has a thick whip of plaited hemp which he swings and cracks threateningly. These whips can reduce the costumes of other Jab Jabs to threads.
The Jab Molassi or Molasses Devil is one of the oldest forms of Devil Mas. He wears wings, horns, has a wire tail and carries a pitch fork and usually strikes fear in the hearts of both young and old.
He was usually covered in a sticky black substance, which was in the old days, molasses. Its origins date back to days of the sugar estates, when freed slaves, who formerly toiled on the sugar estates, daubed themselves with the familiar and readily available molasses (a direct by-product of sugar cane) as a means of disguising themselves and playing a cheap mas. Today, the Jab Molassie has evolved to include blue devils, red, green, white, yellow and even Jabs covered in mud, and chocolate syrup.
Some of the Jab Molassies have a rope or chain tied around their waists, which another Jab Molassie holds in an effort to restrain them as they jump around wildly. The Jab Molassie is accompanied by the beating of biscuit or pitch oil pans. They also carry a whistle used to dramatise their movements. They will throw themselves to the ground and run around trying to intimidate and frighten people in the hopes of getting paid a dollar or two.
To avoid contact with him, many bystanders are willing to “Pay the Devil”.
Devils and Demons
The devil (from Greek Diabolos, "slanderer," or "accuser") as the great power of evil has been much depicted in religious and secular literature and art as the spirit or power of evil. Though sometimes used for minor demonic spirits, the word devil generally refers to the prince of evil spirits and as such takes various forms in the religions of the world.
In traditional Trinidad Carnival, the Devil Dragon Mas may be divided into three main groups of characters: Imps, Beasts, and Rulers or Gownmen.
An Imp is a character who wears a pair of scaled pants or kandal over his skin tights. He wears a simple devil mask with horns over his face. He usually moves about in a sprightly manner, swaying his hips and making sudden leaps. This character often attempts to enrage the Beast.
Imps fall into different categories. Each has a different function in the band. They are:
The King Imp may wear a crown on his head to distinguish himself from the other imps. Sometimes he wears a pair of short pants under his scales or an overall.
This Imp is like the master of ceremonies. He carries a key used to open the gates of hell.
This Imp has a flag in his hand to show the directions.
This Imp carries an axe in his hand.
This Imp carries a bell in his hand.
Scale Man - Stray Beast
This beast is less elaborate than the King Beast and two can usually be found, one on the left of the King Beast and the other on the right, protecting him.
This character is expected to dance in order to "open the water" to make it safe for the band to pass over. This process is necessary no matter the size of the waterway. Traditionally this masquerade is afraid of water.
Ladies in Waiting
These are glamorous lady devils. They wear special gowns, gloves, a pair of flat shoes and carries fans. They are always dancing. Normally five or six of these evil female characters would be waiting for one man.
This character is dressed differently from the Ladies in a waiting. She sometimes has a fork in her hand.
In classical mythology, the morning star (i.e., the planet Venus at dawn); personified as a male figure bearing a torch, Lucifer had almost no legend, but in poetry he was often herald of the dawn. In Christian times, Lucifer came to be regarded as the name of Satan. This traditional character wears a crown on his head and a large flowing cape. Normally a tall, elegant man plays this character. Lucifer is the king of the band.
This character carries a fork in his hand. Like the Imps, he also tempts the Beast often. He is the second king.
Bookman/Beelzebub Prince of Dark
He wears a gown or a long robe. He always has a pen in one hand and a large book in the other in which he takes down notes. He wears a big grotesque mask with horns over his face.
Prince of Darkness
This character wears a white outfit and over his face he wears a dragon mask. His movements are normally assertive.
The correct name for this character is the Gentleman Devil. He is one of the best dancers in the devil dragon band. He wears a top hat and a long scissors-tail coat. In his hand, he has a walking stick. In short he dresses like the perfect gentleman.Satan
To ensure accuracy information was sourced from National Carnival Commission of Trinidad and Tobago website, visit http://www.ncctt.org to learn more