Sunday, 3 February 2008

Traditional Mas- Carnival!

Tomorrow is Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad is leaping and pulsing with that peculiar energy that takes over the entire island at this time. This year I have tried to find the Traditional carnival displays because this is where the traditions still live. My friend Abigail Hadeed is an amazing photographer and she has been documenting steelbands and traditonal mas for the last 20 years. I went out with her on Wednesday night for the Traditional Mas competition at Victoria Square. We saw Red Indians, Sailor bands, Blue Devils, Bats, Dragons,
Pierrot Grenades, Baby Dolls, Cow Mas and many more. These are closeups of Fancy Indian. I quote directly from the site
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Among the most spectacular mas costumes, Fancy Indians are based on the indigenous peoples of North America. The wearer decides how expensive or expansive he wants this costume to be. The headpiece in its simplest form, has grown over the years in splendour and size is worn with feathers sticking up, and more feathers making tails down the back. More elaborate headpieces are built over bamboo or wire frames supported by the masquerader's body. A masquerader's 'wigwam' is worked with ostrich plumes, mirrors, beads, feathers, papier mache masks, totem poles, canoes and ribbons. Bands of Indians can comprise a warrior chief and his family, a group of chiefs, or a group of warriors. The Fancy Indian is the most popular variety of Indian mas. A feature of this mas is the language or languages they speak, in a call and response pattern, possibly adapted from the Black Indians of the New Orleans Mardi Gras and their characteristic movements. Other kinds of Indians that are disappearing are generally known as Wild Indians. These comprise Red Indians (Warahoons) and Blue Indians, which have links with the indigeneous peoples of Venezuela. There are also Black Indians or African Indians.

The Midnight Robber is one of the most beloved colourful traditional carnival characters. Midnight Robber, is immediately identifiable by his extravagant costumes and distinctive speech, called “Robber Talk” The "Robber Talk" is derived from the tradition of the African Griot or storyteller, and the speech patterns and vocabulary are imitative of his former master and is characterised by its boastful, mocking style was derived from a variety of sources: the Bible, literary texts and school readers and speaks of the Robber's invincible ancestry as well as his terrifying exploits.

Abigail set up an impromptu outdoor studio with a backdrop. So my photographs are really thanks to her support system. To see this type of masquerade is truly good for the soul. People throw themselves into the spirit of their portrayals with a fervour that speaks of the restorative power of drama. I find it difficult to imagine that all of these talented perfomers are around me everyday as bank clerks and managers, grocery attendants and middle management. And on Wednesday morning it will be as if it never happened. That is the magic of Trinidad.
Robosomething - he was very successful- but I'm not sure what he was supposed to be.

Abigail shooting these members of the Native Indian band. The girl in pink is Trinidad by heritage but lives in New York and returns to play with her family every year. The diaspora returning home to live the culture.

Abigail showing some young subjects a shot.
Felix Edinborough has been playing Pierrot Grenade for many years. He is the master of this art form. Again says it better than I could- so I quote in full- Click on text to go to the site- it is well worth a visit.

The Pierrot Grenade is a descendant of the Pierrot known for his elegant costume and fierce fighting prowess with a whip or bull pistle, and was followed by a band of female supporters who fought on his behalf against other Pierrot groups.. Pierrot Grenade was a finely dressed masquerader and deeply supreme scholar/ jester proud of his ability to spell any word in his own fashion and quoting Shakespearean characters as Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony and Othello at length. Pierrot Grenade, is a satire on the richer and more respectable Pierrot. The Pierrot Grenade gown consists of crocus bag (burlap), on which strips of coloured cloth, small tins containing pebbles, and small boxes that rattle, are attached. He may wear a hat or a coloured head tie on his head, and his face is covered with a mask. The mask provides anonymity for someone who delights in making barbed comments on "respectable" members of the community. This Peirrot is dressed in a satin gown covered with bells hung, with a velvet heart shaped breasted piece bordered in swansdown decorated with sequins and mirrors. Under his velvet beret he wore an iron pot to protect him from blows of opposing Pierrots' short steel or lead lined whips. A long train of strips embroidered with gold braids, stockinged feet in light shoes decorated with swansdown and bells completed his costume. The Pierrot was eventually driven from the streets after numerous arrests and goal sentences for fighting. Pierrot Grenade (supposedly from neighbouring Grenada) inherited his predecessor's love of oratory (speaking).