The Mas

By Cherisse Francis

Some wukkup and ‘ guh down’on Spring Garden while others wine and take a chip around the Savannah, but one thing is certain: as long as there is Caribbean people and sweet sounds of Soca seducing our senses and tempting our waist lines there WILL be a Carnival!

Before our festivals evolved into a colourful spectacle of feathers and gems, of gyrations and gymnastics there was “Mas”; masquerade I should say. An artistic portrayal of characters created uniquely for us, by us; and if you are willing to look behind the bands and duck beneath the ropes as the bands parade down the streets overflowing roadways like the ‘spirits’ constantly spilling from your cups you will find them. Near and far, characters sweeter than the best fairytale you ever heard: they lull you into safe sleep with their beauty or keep you awake as they haunt your nightmares. This is the most beautiful part of a carnival and in our region it is now barely clinging to life as we distort its very essence. So in hopes of keeping it alive, I will tell you this story.

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The Gorillas (Photo Credit: Aneel Karim)

Hot days and sweat dripping from our backs as we watch with heightened anticipation. We hear them before we see them; the sweet sounds of the drums, the penny-whistle, the cow bell and some pots and pans woven in between to create a strange symphony and then we see them!

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Shaggy Bears

Blending perfectly with the barren ground as they roll and tumble, they cackle and howl; they do flips and tumbles and play tricks on our children who by now have dashed for the comfort between mummy’s legs. What do we call them you ask? These mischievous creatures covered from head to toe in strips of cloth resembling fur, our description is simple. In Trinidad “ The Gorillas” in Barbados, “Shaggy Bears”.

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Moco-Jumbies (Photo Credit: Aneel Karim)

They leave the arena and in their wake the giants came. Towering over us in their colourful costumes the “Moco-Jumbies” dance. They perform their stunts destined to rival the best acrobats in the world and we watch them in a we.Stilt-Walkers “ we call them in Barbadian Parlance, enchant us as we wonder how they balance on their wooden pegs and maintain balance as they get in formation.

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Stilt Walkers (Photo Credit: Nation News Barbados)

We saw it coming and we scattered, a black hearse trimmed in silver creeping up

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Midnight Robber (Photo Credit: Aneel Karim)

the road observing our fun and games. As the twilight hour set in just before the street lights switched on to chase our shadows he came “ The Heart Man” seeking to steal the hearts and souls of little Bajan scallywags ignoring the calls of their mothers through jalousie windows to “get in this house now!” But as we saw him cloaked in black we ran towards our mother’s calls. His story isn’t too far from that of his Trinidadian cousin, “The Midnight Robber”  who relishes the dark of night  with his sounds and calls; he spins his tale to taunt and tease and haunt our dreams as he steals the daily bread of men.


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The Blue Devils (Photo Credit: Aneel Karim)

As we transcend back to today the bands pass, their shadows alive with the sounds of the music trucks penetrating our reflection as we see slight remnants of days gone by. The ‘culture’ or ‘heritage mas’ they call it, and painted in blue or black or red they come, spitting fire and assaulting our senses until we ‘pay the devils’. We have made this into fun; “The Blue Devils” and “Jab-Jab” can be viewed as an estranged parent of our present day jouvert.

The Blue Devils - Trinidad

The Blue Devils (Photo Credit: Aneel Karim)

Their stories and history locked away in a dark room wasting away as we sing and dance and parade from sunup ‘til sundown and beyond; covered in paint; and soap; and ‘powda’ fulfilling our carnal carnival dreams.

So that was my story, my short attempt at preserving what is our “Caribbean Kulcha”. This is just a snippet from this Bajan girl living in Trinidad. So if you want to know more of the history and tradition behind “the greatest shows on earth” research it for yourself and tell the story because “the old Mas must live Forever!”


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