Friday, 12 February 2010

The Unspoken in Carnival - Bikini and Beads and the Traditionals

It's easy to forget how frightening Blue Devils can be. As a child I was terrified of the devils who would surround you and demand small tokens of money before moving on. Sometimes they had other devils on chains; others wore hideous masks.
That the 'mas' has become sanitised is beyond dispute. The issue of "beads and bikini" mas which has taken over the streets is still a sore point for many purists. But I like to look at it differently. Each Carnival character developed as form of protest or to give form to an unspoken sentiment.
Devils were meant to be devils.Like most of the traditional characters, they grew out of a need to make a statement against some ill in society, some form of oppression or social injustice. Devils, in particular, were meant to represent the pagan. In post-Emacipation 19th century Trinidad society, the Catholic Church still represented the plantocracy.
Devils thumbed their noses at the plantocracy's elite.
The ritual of demanding money a form of parodying the church's demands for money.
A way of paying the piper.Saying that, I will make my case for "beads and bikini" costumes. I believe there is a different form of protest and expression of liberation taking place in these bands. Women of all shapes and sizes can tranform themselves for two days and take to the streets without fear of judgment. It allows each female masquerader to feel uniquely beautiful with their glitter and their beads. There will be beautiful bodies certainly (a la Brazil) but on the streets you will also find older women, large women, women who may not have worn a bathing suit for years - but they will come out for Carnival. As a firend of mine said in a FB post - we've earned our bodies.
So "bikini and beads" make not be making the social or political case that many of the older tradtionial art forms have made for the last century, but it is serving another cause. Woman power!
It is refreshing to see the traditional characters returning to the streets. Sailors, bats, bady-dolls, red indians and dame lorraines (to name a few, there are many more) all tell a story of the social history of Trinidad. Which is important, because we are not a people to work it out on paper.
Traumatic events tend to re-enacted on the streets or find their outlets via any artistic form but the written one.

Trinidad's Carnival is complicated on so many levels - but it is an example of a nation healing wounds with annual precision.
In this way we are unique.
It may explain why visitors often describe the transformation of the country as extraordinary or magical. A sense of entering something otherworldly.
Happy Carnival everyone.

8 comments:

Pam said...

Thanks so much for the tour and the insite.

Nicole said...

A very nice post, with great pictures. I so do love our mas, in all its forms.

trinigardener said...

Hi Nicole,gurl yuh make mah heart sing:))))))))))))).I am snowed in and came across your blog thank you so much for your candid viws on Tinidad.I was born in Petite Valley 38yrs ago and have no idea where it is.However I consider myself a Trini.I love calypso and a well made pot of callaloo.I had Roti about a year ago in Florida and dream of visiting my great country.I love gardening as much as I love to whine lol.It was a god sent to run across this site so thank you.I just got my hands on some spanish thyme to plant from a gardener in Hawaii,my plant died in an unexpected frost here in Virginia.Well Nicole I look forward to hearing from you and to read your fascinating blogs.Its saturday now are you making soup ?

islandgal246 said...

Remember the Jab Jabs...they used to scare the life out of me. And those in the green robes who used to throw perfumed water on you if you didn't give them any money, I can't remember their names. Ole mas can't done!

LceeL said...

Trinidad is a magical place to begin with - and Carnival makes it doubly so. I can't make Carnival this year, but I hope to next year.

Anonymous said...

Great post Sharon, I know I have told you this before, but you are a really really talented photographer. Wow. Such beauty
Love Diana

WizzyTheStick said...

Very interesting view of 'bikini mas' I hadn't thought of it like that before.

Babara said...

Your carnival looks so exotic and magical. I like all the colors and even the blue devils ;-) !!