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Pretty mas killing ancestral mas in Carnival

Saturday, March 10, 2018

What traditions are we losing in our Carnival, how can we bring them back and what have we not yet explored? This was the main theme of mas band Vulgar Fraction’s Carnival post-mortem session, Independent Mas Speaks, held at Granderson Lab, Belmont. The panelists were political and social critic Rhoda Bharath, cultural researcher Arielle John and cultural activist Amanda T. McIntyre, and the panel moderated by Robert Young of the Cloth.

Bharath, who views Carnival through the lens of ancestor veneration, said she was shaken when two regional visitors said T&T’s Carnival was very commercialised and had no cultural elements, based on their observations. She said the ancestral mas and cultural mas felt like they were being subsumed by pretty mas, although these were all valid ways in which to experience mas, depending on the personality of the masquerader.

Bharath said Carnival comes out of yards, and it is essential for yards to take themselves to another level in educating people about mas. She said they should be continuing the work outside of the season and there is now no excuse for not recording, storing, archiving, representing and re-presenting themselves.

Bharath called on the National Carnival Commission (NCC) to put more effort into having a separate route for ancestral mas and traditional mas because there was an audience for them. She said she was not advocating for handouts but better organisation. Bharath said she didn’t believe that Carnival is dead or dying, but it can be floundering and directionless, and this could be remedied by thinking about the underpinning of the Festival.

John said in her research on the divine impulses that we celebrate within the mas, she has begun the establishment of a counter-Trinity in Carnival of the Mother, Maiden and Crone as evidenced by the Virgin Mary, the Orisha deity Oshun and the Hindu goddess Kali. She said the Virgin Mary represented the oppression wrought by European Christianity and the history of subjection and subjugation which came with it.

John said Oshun, who embodies sensuality and love, is the easiest entity to find in the Carnival. She is represented by women in their costumes, the flag women and the jammettes who were some of the earliest originators of the Carnival rebellion. She said Kali is the great destroyer, the goddess of death and rebirth, and she is evident in the stick-fighting rituals and the warring factions of the steel bands as they fought for recognition. John said while there is violence in Carnival, it is part of ritual and can be viewed in a positive light. She said we need to interrogate who the onlooker is who denounces it as barbaric.

Bharath said there are traditions in dance to be explored, especially as they relate to the various deities. She said more research and discussion need to take place on the traditions which both enslaved and bonded Africans would have brought to T&T.

McIntyre spoke about the Culture of Consent campaign and the uproar about the police warning against assault, linking it to Vulgar Fraction’s presentation Playing White in We Sh##hole Country. She said there was a sense of entitlement, or ‘playing white’, in how those with more power related to those with less, for example between rich people and poor people, men and women, and adults and children.

Bharath said we have lost sight of our culture, which has always had non-verbal cues for asking and giving consent. She said we are failing to teach young people the codes which used to exist in households, like the look which brought instant obedience. John questioned why men only respected women’s agency and right to say no when the law was watching them.


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