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.