VOL. 36, NOS. 3 & 4 DECEMBER 1990
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
KONNU AND CARNIVAL
CARIBBEAN FESTIVAL ARTS
1 Junkanoo in the Bahamas
29 Carnaval in Cuba: Another Chapter in the Nationalization of Culture
42 The Robber in the Trinidad Carnival
54 Grenada Mas' 1928 1988
NOTE FOR DISCUSSION
65 The Politics of Protest in Free Jamaica The Kingston John Canoe
Christmas Riots, 1840 and 1841
77 Ala(r)ms of God Konnu and Carnival in the Caribbean
109 The Best Philosophers I Know Can't Read and Write
112 SELECTED READINGS
117 NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
118 INSTRUCTIONS TO AUTHORS
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
The Hon. R.M. Nettleford, O.M., Professor of Continuing Studies,
Everton Pryce, School of Continuing Studies, Mona (Associate Editor)
G.M. Richards, Pro Vice-Chancellor, St. Augustine, Trinidad
Roy Augier, Pro Vice--Chancellor, Mona, Jamaica
Keith Hunte, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Cave Hill, Barbados
Lloyd Coke, Department of Botany, Mona
Neville McNorris, Department of Physics, Mona
All correspondence and contributions should be addressed to:
School of Continuing Studies,
University of the West Indies,
Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
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This double issue of Caribbean Quarterly seeks to continue the discourse on one impor-
tant aspect of Caribbean popular arts set in train as far back as the 1950s when an entire
issue was devoted to the Trinidad Carnival (Vol. 4 Nos. 3 & 4, 1956). The Carnival was
then and remains the most vibrant of Caribbean festival arts. That volume of Caribbean
Quarterly was to be republished thirty-two years later by the Paria Publishing Company
of Trinidad and Tobago in acknowledgement of the continuing vibrancy of that Festival art.
The growth and dynamism of the Trinidad Carnival have inspired academic studies and
published accounts a-plenty, some of which seek to place the annual event in its correct
perspective as merely one manifestation of that genre of festival arts forged over time out
of the collective imagination and collaborative action of the mass of the population as
cultural response to and interaction with new and less than hospitable social environments
throughout the Caribbean region.
The St. Louis Art Museum in Missouri found good reason, then, to mount an exhibition
of three such manifestations in the form of (1) the ancestral Jonkonnu (or Masquerade)
which flourished in Jamaica in the early nineteenth century and has since declined but is
still to be found in Belize, Bahamas, Bermuda and the Leeward Islands; (2) Trinidad
Carnival with its off-shoots in such metropolitan centres as Brooklyn (New York), Toronto,
Boston and London to which West Indians have migrated in their hundreds of thousands;
and (3) Hosay the Islamic (East) Indian festival, itself in transition in the face of cultural
cross-fertilisation and the very process of creolisation which gave Caribbean form and
substance to its older cousins.
The volume of scholarly essays accompanying this Exhibition are written by two
accomplished cultural anthropologists, Tom Nunley and Judith Bettelheim. Their work is
the subject of the insightful and, creatively crafted review article by the poet-historian
Edward Kamau Brathwaite and reproduced in this volume.
Dr. Bettelheim who has studied Jamaican Jonkonnu extensively now turns to Carnival
in Cuba for this issue of CQ. She is interested in what the festival, whose history she has
traced from the 19th century, has become for Afro-Cubans. Despite the manipulation of this
form of popular arts for nation-building purposes Dr. Betlelheim believes that even the
transposed performances which are now reserved for folkloric presentations are double-
coded, carrying powerful messages of assertion of what is, indeed, a rich heritage for the
Afro-Cubans while being official indicators of the new (presumably improved) status of the
same Afro-Cuban in post-revolutionary Cuba.
That such festival arts have been a form of "masking" for survival by an oppressed and
marginalised mass of people is a common feature of all versions to be found in the region
as Clement Bethel and Ruth Wuest assert in John Canoe in the Bahamas and The Robber
in the Trinidad Carnival respectively.
As such these festivals found themselves in confrontation with the political authorities
throughout history until they were appropriated by officialdom either in the service of such
causes as heritage tourism or to celebrate national achievement as in the case of the
Bahamas where, according to Mr. Bethel, the festival has been used to celebrate anything
"Bahamian", from the homecoming of Sidney Poitier, the celebrated Bahamas-born movie-
star, to an election victory. Most of the newly Independent Caribbean have found the
festival arts as convenient agents of national unity even though they my be allowed to
deteriorate into points for political partisan policy and action.
The Robber "masque" of Trinidad Carnival has, on the contrary, disappeared in the face
of Independence argues Ms. Wuest who sees the raison d'etre of the character (a mockery
of the colonial establishment and cultural self-assertiveness) as being lost. But that raison
d'etre remains among the people from below in all of Caribbean society, and Trinidad
Carnival at home-base continues through its calypsoes to mock authority, albeit of native
stock, through the clever manipulation of words organised into the most ingenious lyrics
some of which have been banned by nervous governments.
The historical festival arts may even undergo traumatic shock as Nellie Payne in the
Grenada Mas' says happened to the Grenada carnival when it was changed from the
pre-Lenten period to Independence time. But even so, on her own account, continued
participation in the historical Carnival is made possible by the visit to Trinidad at Carnival
time of many Grenadians to "play mas" in the neighboring island. Elements of old
Grenada mas' may indeed be relegated to folkloric presentations as has happened to
counterparts in Cuba with the comparsas and in Jamaica with the Jonkonnu.
The Jamaican experience is of particular historical interest to a number of native
scholars viz. (Gloria Wynter, Shelia Bamett, Cheryl Ryman). A once flourishing festival art
has all but disappeared from the traditional Christmas calendar though efforts at its revival
have been on that nation's cultural agenda since the 1950s. Dr. Swithin Wilmot in his essay
The Kingston John Canoe Christmas Riots, 1840 and 1841 reminds the reader of the
vitality of this Jamaican festival arts in the early 19th Century when issues of governance,
of authority and free expression among the mass of the population were high on the agenda
of public concerns following on the abolition of slavery.
The Jonkonnu ceremonies afforded the ordinary people and the freed blacks excellent
opportunities for expressing solidarity, maintaining their collective vision of a free society,
which was still something new and, to some, dangerous. Like Clement Bethel, Dr. Wilmot
shows in his discussion the organic connection between social, political and cultural forces
in the development of Caribbean society since Abolition and more specifically underlined
the cohesive power of shared sensibilities manifested in such phenomena as the festival
Edward Kamau Brathwaite focuses on this dimension of the festival arts, but he does
more in his review article.He uncovers the paradoxes of Caribbean cultural reality and
exposes the reader to a wealth of information of historical rad cultural significance not
lest among them the African parallels to Carnival. But he also points to the Caribbean
American essence of these expressions native-born and native-bred, giving to humankind
opportunities for access to new modes of aesthetic energy and artistic/psychic experience.
Small wonder that moving from the St. Louis Museum in Missouri to the Smithsonian
Institution in Washington, D.C., the Exhibition, of which the book reviewed is an extended
catalogue, has broken records of attendance. In the meantime the Caribbean Festival arts
continue in their kinetic, artistic and socio-political dynamism. These are to be experienced
in the much developed versions of both Trinidad Carnival which has at last migrated since
1990 to the once resistant Jamaica and Jonkonnu which is still enjoyed by native
Bahamians on Boxing Day each year and extended to the tourists throughout the winter
season in the form of the "Goombay Festival".
They continue to be for:ns of expressions asserting cultural identity and, even when
attracting the support for possible appropriation by native governments, continue to close
ranks so as to defy any official authority that would seek to threaten the spontaneity of their
form of trenchant social commentary through satirical lyrics or to censure the uninhibited
body-language of the reveller in his/her quest for total freedom, if only for a day!
This double issue of Caribbean Quarterly then, is designed to contribute to the
on-going dialogue/discourse concerning one of the Caribbean's most powerful of popular
expressions both of its inner dynamics and the force of its collective energy.
JUNKANOO IN THE BAHAMAS*
Yet, even now, weeks afterwards, I have a very clear
mental picture of the queerest Christmas I ever
spent...and in my ear still runs the monotonous un-
ending rhythm beaten out upon their drums, trum-
pets and cowbells...
In a Forgotten Colony, 1917
"Cowbells. You know, it's an extraordinary
thing...when I was abroad I was talking with some
friends, and I said, 'You know, the one thing that
sends me into ecstasy, even now, in my old age, is the
sound of a cowbell on a December night.' And they
thought I was crazy. But you know, it was
Christmas!...the whole sound of Christmas. When
they started practice, you know, you could hear...
And I said, 'On a damp still night, if you heard a
cowbell,...(even now, it gives me a thrill)'...and they
were surprised to hear it because it couldn't mean
anything to them at all...but to me it meant
Christmas...just to hear one cowbell..."
Nassau, December, 1976
"Stop Junkanoo?! Man, dey couldn't stop dat! Uh-
Nassau, December, 1976
* Chapter of unpublished M.A, thesis.
Twice every year, on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) and New Year's Day, from 4
to 9 o'clock in the morning, thousands of Bahamians and winter visitors throng Bay
Street, Nassau's main thoroughfare, to witness the brilliant parade of fantastically
costumed Junkanoos dancing to the traditional music of cowbells, horns, whistles and
The festival was not always so widely accepted in the Bahamas. At times it was
viewed favourably by the Government; on other occasions it was threatened with total
extinction. A study of its development, therefore, provides a penetrating insight into the
social, political, economic and cultural conditions which prevailed at various periods in
the history of the islands.
In tracing this development the following discussion will be divided into four histori-
cal periods: (a) 1800-1899. (b) 1900-1919, (c) 1920-1947, (d) 1948-present.
1. Historical Development
There is little information in the extant literature on the conduct of the
slaves during their Christmas holidays. A journal for the years 1831-32 kept
by Charles Farquharson, a plantation owner on San Salvador confirms the fact
that the traditional three days holiday was also granted the slaves in the
Bahamas. But the only information relating to their recreational activities
during this period is contained in the entry for 26th December, 1832 and states:
Wednesday. 26. Some of our people gon (sic)
abroad to see some of their friends and some at
home amusing themselves in their own way threw
(sic) the day, but all of them at home in the evening
and had a grand dance and keep it up until near
It is known, however, that a John Canoe "king" was a "fixture" in the
Bahamas as early as 18012 and scattered newspaper accounts confirm that
annual celebrations took place, particularly in Nassau, the capital.
During the period following Emancipation it was the custom for the
Bahamian Militia Band to usher in Christmas morning with music. The
Market place on Bay Street was the hub of activities and was open from early
morning to 9:00 a.m. It was here that John Canoe and his followers danced
and it is interesting to note that in one of the first accounts of his appearance.
he is dancing on stilts. The following article describes a typical Christmas
morning in Nassau in the mid-19th century:
Another Christmas Day has passed, and the fes-
tivities of old have commenced "right merrily." The
Yule Log and Wassail Cup of our fatherland are not
seen here, but these are not the only signs of
Christmas. We have in this distant isle other, and as
cheering reminiscences of the period, and, although
no carrol (sic) is sung, the morn is ushered in with
music. The Militia Band and the fifes and drums of
the Regiment break on the slumberer's ear, and
answer for the "Waites;" and the sound of footsteps
at the dawn of day, added to the din of voices and the
noise of "crackers," give intimation of the joyous
The markets were open yesterday until 9 a.m.
They were unusually thronged, and the show of meat
and vegetables was extremely good. Several prize
oxen, decked out in ribbons, were led over the town,
previous to falling a sacrifice, and "John Canoe"
came forth on stilts in style, much to the gratification
of his numerous train of followers. Christmas has
commenced well, and we trust it will end so. We wish
our friends and patrons the usual compliments of
(The Nassau Guardian,
Dec. 26, 1849)
In addition to the stilt dancers, which remained a feature of the festival
until some 30 years ago, two other characters, under the guise of Neptune and
Amphitrite also made an appearance each year. The first mention of these
characters is found in the Guardian of 30 December, 1854 in the following
Christmas with its customary festivities has been
passed by all classes of the inhabitants of our little
isle, amidst much mirth and gladness. Christmas
Day was ushered in by the sound of music from the
Militia Band and closed by the burning of an effigy
of the soi-disant "Peripatetic," which last con-
tributed not a little towards the amusement of those
who live in the Eastern district where it was burnt.
Various grotesque figures, intended to represent
Neptune, Amphitrite and others preceded by fifes
and tambourines have no succeeding days exhibited
themselves in our usually quiet streets exciting the
greatest merriment among the lower orders.
It perhaps seems strange that these two characters, based on Roman and
Greek mythology, should find themselves in the midst of an essentially West
African festival in the Bahamas, but the explanation, as we shall see, lies in the
folklore of the sea, and Bahamians, above all, are a sea-faring people.
Neptune appears in the Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore and Symbols
(1961) as an "ancient Italian divinity of moisture, provider of the perpetuity
of springs and streams...identical with Poseidon3 as chief god of the sea." He
is "portrayed as a stately elderly bearded man carrying a trident, sometimes
astride a dolphin or horse."4
Amphitrite, according to the same source is (in Greek mythology), the
wife of Poseidon and Queen of the morning sea. She sends sea monsters and
drives waves against the rocks and is depicted in art as a Nereid of queenly
mien with moist flowing hair bound in a net.
The character Neptune was central to traditional initiation rites per-
formed at sea on the occasion of the crossing of the equator, and Horace Beck,
in his work Folklore and the Sea (1973), wrote:
There were other means used to train the green
hand (young sailor) and initiate him into the fellow-
ship of the sea... There were...certain rough
ceremonies, on special occasions, that welcomed
him into the ranks of shellbacks (seasoned sailors).
Chief among these ceremonies were those pertain-
ing to "crossing the line" or the equator, and on
longitude 180 degrees. The former made one a son
of Neptune, the latter a member of the order of the
These initiation rites stemmed from the ancient seaman's belief that
strong tidal currents and disturbed waters were the result of the action of
subaqueous monsters and in order to propitiate them, some kind of ritual
varying from human sacrifices to prayer had to be performed. A successful
crossing led to festive activity. As man's knowledge of the sea became more
sophisticated, however, human sacrifice was abandoned and by the end of the
16th century the ceremony had acquired its present form.
Characteristic of these rites is a visit from someone disguised as Neptune.
Sometimes he is alone, sometimes accompanied by his wife Amphitrite and a
motley court. Any young sailor "crossing the line" for the first time is seized
by Neptune, who, with the help of the crew, lather the poor novice's face with
tar, roughly shave him and then douse him with salt water. Having successfully
survived this ordeal, the green hand is proclaimed a "son of Neptune."
Although Beck makes no mention of the fact, these initiation ceremonies
also occurred at the crossing of the Tropic of Cancer. Lady Nugent, wife of
Sir Charles, Governor of Jamaica from 1801 to 1805, describes their crossing
into the tropics thus:
29th (June 1801) Pass the Tropic. Neptune and
Amphitrite came on board, and there was a
masquerade throughout the fleet, which lasted al-
most the whole day. General N. and I were un-
molested, and allowed to see all the sport without
any annoyance. Some poor men were sadly pulled
about, and shaved in the roughest manner, though
all was done in perfect good humour.6
There are no available descriptions of the costumes worn by the
Bahamian Neptune and Amphitrite, but in order to be recognized as such,
they must have followed closely the traditional costumes worn at sea. Of
interest, therefore, is the following description of Neptune's costume as seen
on a sea voyage in the 1870s:
A navy blue blanket for a robe, thrown over his head
and fastened under the chin, was draped over his
shoulders and trailed behind. Its edges were
trimmed with gulfweed, and bunches of rope-yarn,
painted green to give it the effect of eelgrass right
from the bottom of the sea, were sewn on for the
occasion. He wore a crown which was painted red
and a canvas mask which had two holes cut for the
eyes, and another for the nose, which protruded and
was also painted red, while around his mouth and
over his chin was a fringe of rope-yarn, for whiskers,
the ends of which were picked out, blossoming into
bunches of oakum over which he frequently squirted
tobacco juice. In his right hand he carried a five-
pronged grainstiron fitted with a pole, for a trident,
from which dangled pieces of rope-yarn to give the
effect of green seaweed and in his left hand was a
speaking trumpet. His big sea boots were much too
large, but were in keeping with the rest of his cos-
There is every reason to believe that the sea god and goddess made their
first appearance in a Bahamian Junkanoo Parade, not in Nassau, but in one
of the south eastern islands of the chain, possibly Inagua, for only these islands
lie south of the Tropic of Cancer. Furthermore, the Heneaga Salt Pond
Company was established in 1849 to develop the salt ponds of Inagua and the
next 25 years were the most prosperous in the history of that island. Craton
wrote that "at the peak of production additional salt onds were opened on
Rum Cay, Ragged Island, Exuma and Rose Island." This meant heavy sea
traffic from the north and if the initiation ceremonies occurred on every ship
crossing into the tropics on its way to Inagua, the idea was bound to take root
in that island sooner or later.
To substantiate this argument, older Inaguan informants stated that in
their Junkanoo parades there was always an Old Neptune figure. In addition,
further support came from an informant from near-by Ragged Island. She
stated that Junkanoo was not known on that island but that a masquerading
figure called Neptune, usually with two or three followers appeared every
Christmas and went from door to door singing and dancing.
While Neptune continued to roam the streets of Inagua and Ragged
Island every Christmas, both he and his Queen soon disappeared in Nassau
and by 1857 we read of their demise in the capital in the December 30th edition
of the Nassau Guardian.
If we except the noise made by Chinese crackers and
other fireworks, the festivities of Christmas have
passed off quietly enough in our little isle. The rep-
resentatives of the illustrious "Johnny Canoe" of
former days have dwindled down to two or three,
and as for "Neptune and Amphitrite" they have not
left their watery domain at all this season.
It would seem from this account that Junkanoo was fast approaching
extinction. But there were two factors which prevented it from completely
dying out. First, it was connected with another traditional custom that of
"burning the Guy" on November 5, Guy Fawkes Day. This tradition originated
in England and commemorates the foiled attempt on the part of Guy Fawkes
to blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder in 1605. Throughout
many of the British possessions the day was celebrated with fireworks and the
burning of an effigy of Guy Fawkes. In the Bahamas the effigy was burnt to
the accompaniment of cowbells, horns, whistles and goombay drums the
traditional music of Junkanoo. Crowley provides an accurate account of a
Bahamian Guy Fawkes celebration which he witnessed at Fresh Creek,
Andros in an article appearing in the July, 1958 edition of Man.9 To many a
Bahamian, November 5 represented the beginning of the preparation period
for Junkanoo. After November 5, the musicians did not put away their
instruments, and on many a night after the Guy Fawkes celebrations were over,
one could hear little groups of musicians here and there practicing the music
for Christmas Junkanoo. In this way the two events tended to reinforce each
Secondly, white Bahamians belonging to the ruling merchant class of the
day participated freely along with the blacks on both these occasions. Powles,
in 1888, cites this as the main reason for the preservation of Junkanoo during
the time he was in the Bahamas.
I doubt if any of them have the least notion of who
Guy Fawkes was, or what he did, but they would not
omit observing Guy Fawkes' Day on any consid-
eration. Every 5th of November his effigy is carried
in procession with bands of music and torches, and
solemnly hung on a gallows prepared for that pur-
pose. The darkies are fond of processions, and never
miss an opportunity of getting one up.
About Christmas time they seem to march
about day and night with lanterns and bands of
music, and they fire off crackers everywhere. This is
a terrible nuisance, but the custom has the sanction
of antiquity, though no doubt it would have been put
down long ago if the white young gentlemen had not
exhibited a taste for the same amusement.10
Moreover, it seems that even as early as the 1890s the Junkanoo festival
was beginning to assume added dimensions which tended further to reinforce
its significance to the Bahamian people. The Nassau Guardian of 24 Decem-
ber, 1890, for example published the following notice:
We have been informed that tomorrow morning a
Masked Army will muster on the Eastern Parade
whence they will proceed down Bay Street to the
Royal Victoria Hotel grounds, and then to Govern-
ment Hill where they will deliver an address to His
Excellency the Governor. The members of the army
are young mechanics and cigar makers who are
desirous of obtaining advice as to whether they shall
go to Cuba or wait here for employment. They are
supposed to arrive at government Hill at six o'clock,
and at eight o'clock to partake of a breakfast with a
few of their invited friends.
The period of the year (Christmas Time), the time of day (overlapping
with the early Christmas morning Junkanoo Parades), and the masquerade
aspect of the affair leave little doubt in the author's mind that these marchers
were Junkanoos. We know from numerous newspaper accounts that each year
on the anniversary of the Emancipation of Slaves and particularly during the
periods of severe economic depression the combined Friendly Societies in
Nassau organized marches on Government Hill, the residence of the British
Governor. There they officially presented their grievances of the year past in
the hopes of having them redressed.
The Junkanoo march referred to above was in all probability organized
by the same civic-minded groups as a subsequent report states that the
marchers on this occasion were led by the Grants Town Friendly Society Band.
(Nassau Guardian. 27 December. 1890).
The 1890 articles are the earliest documented accounts of the people
using the Junkanoo festival as an agent for social change and as a vehicle to
prod the Government into effective action. As such this represents an early
forerunner of the present day practice of employing Junkanoo bands to
mobilize the people during election campaigns.
The Friendly societies were always most circumspect in their behavior.
There were, however, others who were not so orderly. As the country ap-
proached the turn of the century, therefore, the Government became increas-
ingly concerned about the indiscriminate marching about "day and night" at
Christmas time and in 1899 the Street Nuisances Prohibition Act was intro-
duced. In order to allow the Junkanoos specified time to celebrate, however,
the Rules and Regulations of the Act were waived from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on
Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve and from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Christmas
Day and New Year's Day. My older informants stated that during the evening
hours only semi-costumed stragglers wishing to "let off steam" could be seen
wandering over the city, but that the traditional period from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m.
was reserved for the "real" Junkanoos complete with costumes and music.
This period together with the last quarter of the previous century was
characterized by unrelieved economic depression. The last economic boom
for Bahamians had been occasioned by the Blocade running during the
American Civil War; and there was no respite from the depression which
followed until the Prohibition period of the 20s, when a number of Bahamians
became rich overnight through rum running.
My informants, who were young people during the early years of the
century, stated that Junkanoo at this time was characterized by rival masked
and costumed bands, representing the various districts of the island. These
"gangs", each headed by a leader, "dancing backwards a curious kind ofpas
seul one step forward and two steps back"11 would "rush" along Bay Street
in the opposite directions and the resulting clashes sometimes ended up in
brawls and mock fighting. It is said that Bahamians waited patiently for
Christmas, when they could, under disguise of Junkanoo costume, avenge
themselves on persons who had wronged them during the year. The metal
cowbells, at these times, served a dual purpose, and the whips carried by some
of the Junkanoos came in handy as weapons. Junkanoo then was energetic,
spontaneous and abandoned.
Many looked upon this "rushing" up and down Bay Street as a senseless
waste of energy, and the Tribune voiced these sentiments in its editorial of
January 3, 1911.
The New Year holiday was heralded early on Mon-
day morning by the customary noise of horns, bells
and drums and the grotesque masqueradcrs dis-
ported themselves along Bay Street with an energy
and vigour which if put into their pursuit of their
avocations during the year will be to some purpose.
The "grotesque masqueraders" noted in the foregoing extract wore cos-
tumes very different from those seen today. They were inventive, individual
and frightening. Money was scarce and therefore the costumes were made
from any cheap materials available. These included newspaper, tissue paper,
sponge, banana leaves and "crocus sack", the coarse brown sack in which
imported food stuffs were contained. The doby was completely covered and
on the head was worn a fantastic hat, usually conical with a broad brim, or in
the shape of a wasp's nest. The face was always disguised in some way,
sometimes being blackened with charcoal, whitened with flour, or covered by
a mask. The mask, apparently was the most frightening aspect of the costume.
This might be a stocking drawn over the head, or a hand-made cardboard
cut-out construction, or a wire gauze mask which was painted. The most
terrifying type were those referred to as "sifter faces". These were "store-
bought", meaning factory manufactured, and were made from a wire, gauze-
like material. "Pinky-white" in colour and totally devoid of expression, these
masks were contoured and had two slits for the eyes. One informant thought
that they were imported from Germany; another suggested that they might
have come from Japan.
The masks may well have been imported from Germany for this was the
period when considerable shipping traffic was being conducted between
Europe and Central America by the Hamburg-Amerika Line and the royal
Netherlands Line. Furthermore, Inagua was a port of call from whence
contract labourers from all the islands were recruited for work on the Panama
Canal, the Mexican Railways and the mahogany industries of Central
The idea that the masks came from Japan may have been suggested by
the slit eyes and expressionless features, both of which combined to produce
a somewhat oriental effect. It is perhaps worthy of note here that Monti in his
excellent work on African masks makes mention of the fact that:
the Balumbo group composed of different tribes
scattered over Gabon and the republic of the Congo,
such as the M'Pongwe, the Mashango, the Eshira
and the Bakota find the basic expression of their
own art in the mask. The most noted and widely
spread mask shows a graceful female face, which is
white under the dark elaborate hairstyle, with elon-
gated eyes, and lips parted in a light enigmatic smile.
There is a surprising resemblance to certain theatri-
cal masks of the Far East. The masks are worn by the
initiates of the mukuy society in a dance performed
on stilts and are thought to have the function of
symbolising the spirits of the dead.12
The creative individuality of the costumes was also noted by Defries in
her description of the Christmas masquerade she saw in Nassau in 1916.
The general impression I got as daylight broke was a
mass of people who had been looting one of the
anthropological collections of the Natural History
Museum in New York and had then gone crazy! The
masks were cheap and machine made and were in
imitation of white people.
When dawn broke...the Commandant ap-
peared, imaculate in white, and he seemed oblivious
to the fact that in the dancing throng there were
more than one parody of his uniform! There was
even a "kiltie", and there was a parody of a British
"M.A." The latter never danced at all, but walked
sedately, carrying a book and an umbrella always
alone. Quite a number even of the dancers were
alone and I did not once see male and female dance,
as we do, in couples.
Several solitary men danced with closed
umbrellas, as in the "cake-walk".
Some of the dresses would not have disgraced
any masked ball; the shapes of the hats worn were
very interesting and the effect of them was fine. A
few of the tallest hats were surmounted by little
Many of the dresses were variations on Pan-
taloon, and not the least remarkable thing about
them being the choice of colours displayed. The
combinations were not only striking and original but
often quite beautiful as well.13
The element of parody in the Bahamian Junkanoo of this period is
strikingly similar to that noted by Patterson in the Homowo festival of the Ga
people of West Africa. He wrote of the latter:
The improvised masks seen in this section (of the
procession) are often native caricatures of local
Singing also played an important part in Junkanoo of this period. Im-
provised songs, providing a social commentary on the year's events were
popular. Often important local dignitaries were derided in these songs, but
my informants were reluctant to divulge the words as many of the victims were
still alive. The texts of some of the more innocuous songs (which are still sung
today) are presented below. The preoccupation with food, as noted in two of
them, may have been a reflection on the general food shortage characteristic
of the period.
Ex. 1 Mama, Bake De Johnny Cake (Sung at Christmas Junkanoo)
CH,164)s J =I It.
Cl.i.-MS isn-iM' I M tiM4iDo ,JAISWJ,6YvllA 'AUA MAtr ir Jto-A. l ,
TAdAAdZkAab )W&" mgi-ef
Atif fs Im IAu, 804 iAi A YRD I MAr ITr cJI- DEf.
Ex. 2 Spare me Another Year O Lord (Sung at Christmas Junkanoo)
I ID I J I I P 1 I J I I r I
sf He I AJ-o*J 1ei l I 0o LonD. xAe s fr ,- i YEe z- LaD
7jnjT Id J .n -tj
SEA'mSad4C Th-tA-AJA -AI ifit iu/ILJiD &4-AJA -AlA 4Ff tf4-AI oiEt ?LAR od LoD .
TRAuSelitd Frfa MEffoki
Ex. 3 A-Rushin' Through De Crowd (Sung on Both Occasions)
F 1-F F PI
h- al.,JI' AJ#r-M!1.u6.4 DcffA.JD. 4'iiiJ' A- iJ.' AfN ad LMw efi CAaD
7dA.JWf,&f PAIN p2EMoC9
This was also the period for tricks and pranks. At Christmas time, the
young men in the city would remove gates and fences from their hinges,
obstruct the streets with boats and carts, and remove bridges covering water
drains. The Tribune of December 27, 1913 advocated that these hoodlums
should have the knowledge injected into them
through the medium of their dermis with a cat-o-
nine-tails and lengthened curtailment of the liberty,
which they put to such ill use.
All in all, this newspaper was anything but pleased with the conduct of
the Junkanoos. In a nostalgic commentary of December 24, 1913, the editor
Yes! In the old days ones slumbers were undisturbed
in the early hours of Christmas morning as indicated
above, and we think more rationally than now. When
we woke up in the old days it was to hear the melody
of the militia band, serenading their officers and
local officials, or the less pretentious fiddle and tam-
bourine orchestra serenading their patrons or the
revellers enjoying in their own way the pleasing as-
surance that "Christmas comes but once a year."
Things have changed and we are forced to
admit not for the better. The dawn of the great
festival is now ushered in by a senseless din of dis-
cordant horns and bells by no means silver-toned.
and the beating of anything that can make a noise.
A horrible incongruous celebration of the
Nativity of "The Prince of Peace."
Nearing the end of the period under discussion, the Bahamas was faced
with the prospect of total economic collapse. World prices for sisal and
sponge, the two chief export commodities, had declined. The War had put an
end to the Hamburg-Amerika Line operations in the Bahamas, and with it the
end of contract labour in Central America. And to make matters worse, almost
2,000 Bahamians who had served in the War were returning home only to face
But the Bahamas was once more saved by the intervention of fate, this
time in the form of the Volstead Act, passed by the United States Congress
in December, 1919. This Act made it illegal for Americans to manufacture,
import or sell intoxicating liquors, and thus began the highly profitable
"Bootlegging" period in the Bahamas. Liquor supplied from Britain was
smuggled into the United States at enormous profits. Every available vessel
was pressed into service and the American Coast guards were no match for
the experienced Bahamian seamen. Fortunes were made overnight and as Bell
wrote in 1934, everybody in the Bahamas profited, for
neglected churches were renovated with liquor
money, charities were refinanced, life in general
took on a splendour and a spaciousness.15
The Bootleg period lasted until 1933 and during this time many changes
were seen in the Junkanoo costumes. They became more flamboyant; there
was a greater concentration of interest in the head- dress; and although the
traditional steeple and bee-hive hats were still much in evidence, more
elaborate figures, such as animals, birds, flowers, ships and other objects were
now worn on the head. In addition the tissue paper fringe costumes, which
had always been a traditional part of the parade, gradually replaced those
made from newspaper, sponge and sacking.
And the Junkanoos continued to sing as they paraded. One of the songs
from this period inadvertently celebrated the new found liquor prosperity.
The repetitive text is found below:
Ex. 4 Neeley, Your Rum So Sweet
ur Cum &v I/urH*
,to3T4,.- A Stfifsei, 19%4
Mr. Neeley was the owner-operator of a dance hall and drinking house
called "The Weary Willies" which was situated "Over-the-Hill" in New
Providence. The local preachers were scandalized by this particular song
because the tune used was identical to that of a favourite church anthem
called, Jesus Your Name So Sweet.
Another song popular with the Junkanoos recounted the story of the fire
which destroyed the Old Colonial Hotel in 1921.
Ex. 5 Do A'Nanny
I 4 j i r i J I r "i.'
/ ~J & h'o-tU lu'iO .l D r r~as ,/fu A' A,' ,N
InmK iAJ' SmuomAv LifJ'l, rhtI
d d I
DOa 'AJInAA ,V o -- Zj D AUj-,tJAI DOA' AJA*>A .)D A' AA/.d i/J c to_ V
7 I --------I II ----------------
^A A' A/Ad-A, dbo_____
2. De hotel burn down to the groun'
No more dancin' in dis town.
Eh-eh, do a' nanny, do. Chorus
3. Dere was a woman who thought it safer
to bring out all of her tissue paper.
Eh-eh, do a' nanny, do. Chorus
4. Dey use de water from the swimming' pool
Das how dey save the Central School.
Eh-eh, do a' nanny, do. Chorus
5. Dey try dey des' to put fire out
But de hose it burs' and wouldn't spout.
Eh-eh, do a' nanny, do. Chorus
6. When de fire was at its height
De Commandant sen' for dynamite.
Eh-eh, do a' nanny, do. Chorus
First verse transcribed from memory.
Words for additional verses from
Nassau informant, 3 April, 1977
It is noteworthy that during this period of prosperity, the authorities and
the press seemed more kindly disposed towards the Junkanoos, and immed-
iately following the end of Prohibition, a voluntary committee with members
drawn from a cross section of civic minded Bahamians, was formed to
encourage participation in the parades. This committee raised funds by public
subscription so that cash prizes could be offered for the best costumes in
Another change in the organization of Junkanoo took place at this time.
The Church authorities had for decades been complaining that the Junkanoo
celebrations interfered with Christmas church services. Defries had noted this
as early as 1916, when she wrote:
At eight o'clock the people began to scatter, but all
day long in all the streets you might meet detach-
ments of them and hear the strange beat of their
bells and drums, while in the churches negro voices
rose on the air singing in unison Christian hymns!
In 1938, therefore, Boxing Day,7 the day after Christmas, was also
declared a public holiday and the Junkanoo Parade was shifted from
Christmas morning to the morning following. The date of the New Year's Day
parade was unaffected by this change.
In spite of all these efforts to keep everyone happy, however, the world-
wide recession of the 30s, which led to considerable hardship in the Bahamas,
began to take its toll, and, as has been noted whenever the people were
discontented, their attitude was reflected in the behaviour of the Junkanoos.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that we read the following editorial in the
Guardian of 29 December, 1939:
One of the objectionable features of the New Year
celebration here is that miniature John Canoe
Parades sans costume or organization, appear
sporadically on busy streets for several days before
and after New Year's Day at the imminent risk of
stragglers being struck by passing vehicles. Often the
spirit of the marchers is a bit truculent and vehicles
of all sorts are deliberately impeded. Drivers of
motor cars and cyclists are helpless against this sort
of behaviour since it does not justify ploughing a
road through the inconsiderate merry-makers. Per-
haps the phenomenon of the irresistible urge to
march to the rhythm of cowbell and tomtom would
be of interest to the psychologist, sociologist or just
plain tourist but to the average resident it is a bit
overdone to put it mildly. The impulse appears too
strong to be resisted but, even in a gay holiday
season, some courtesy and care is needed in public
This 'truculunt' behaviour was only indicative of a move on the part of all
the peoples of the West Indies towards change in their social conditions.
Labour problems were endemic in the West Indies at this time and there were
serious riots in Barbados (1937), Jamaica (1938), St. Vincent (1935), and
The Inevitable riot in the Bahamas occurred in 1942, It rose out of an
unresolved wage dispute, when Bahamian workers employed on the construc-
tion of the air force base in New Providence, discovered that they were being
paid considerably less than their American counterparts. The rioters stormed
Bay Street, smashing windows and looting shops. The Government was stag-
gered. This type of behaviour was so out of keeping with the peace-loving
nature of the average Bahamian. The Company of the Cameron High-landers
garrisoned in New Providence was summoned and the rioting quelled, and
shortly thereafter a settlement between the two factions was reached.
The Government, however, was badly shaken. As a precaution against
any similar disturbances breaking out in the future, all public gatherings were
banned, and this ruling, as a matter of course, included the .lunkanoo Parades.
But a custom so embedded in the psyche of a people dies hard and
although the Junkanoos were not seen on Bay Street for many years, the
following newspaper reports attest to the fact that they were very active
elsewhere on the island.
During the early part of last evening a hundred or
more people paraded through several streets in the
Southern District, ringing cowbells and healing
drums, in spile of the fact that an order under the
Defence Act Regulations strictly forbids these
parades. The police are undoubtedly taking the
necessary steps to prevent this breach of the law.
The Nassau Guardian,
December 22, 1942
A fairly large "John Canoe" parade was seen last
night in the neighbourhood of Oakes Field in spite
of the present regulations forbidding such gather-
ings. Many of the men taking part in the parade
carried large sticks with which they tapped passing
cars, though no damage was done. The incident was
reported to the police and we trust that every
precaution is being taken to enforce the regulations
in this respect.
The Nassau Guardian,
December 24, 1943
New Year's Eve parade Dispersed
During New Year's Eve and New Year's morning
the Police were obliged to disperse several crowds
of men who were parading through some streets
ringing cowbells and making other noises. Several
men were arrested and convicted in the Magistrate's
Court this morning on charges of disturbing the
The Nassau Guardian,
January 3, 1944
This unhealthy state of affairs continued until, partly as a result of repeated petitions to
the Government on the part of the Junkanoo Committee, and partly because the
Government itself began to view Junkanoo as a powerful tourist attraction, the parades
were again officially recognized in 1947.
On this occasion the Guardian commented:
A Committee, recently formed, has raised by public
subscription money enough to provide valuable cash
prizes for the best costumes, and this incentive will
no doubt provoke competitive efforts to restore
some of the glories of carnival times of former years.
But this in itself is not enough. It will be remembered
that it was the gradual degeneration of our annual
John Canoe Parade into a mere pretext for
hooliganism that eventually led to their disap-
pearance. It is by their conduct perhaps more than
by their costumes that the public will judge the
masqueraders this New Year. Seemly behaviour is
by no means incompatible with the carnival spirit;
jollity need not induce riotousness or intemperance,
but these former rather banish the latter. It would be
well if these considerations were taken into account
in the awarding of the prizes. The John Canoes are
being weighed in the balance; and it rests entirely
with them not to be found wanting. The police will
be expected to exercise great vigilance.
The Nassau Guardian,
December 29, 1947
d. 1948 the present
The return of the Junkanoos to Bay Street three days later was greeted
by enthusiastic crowds. In the following few years, however, it was noted that
the number of non-costumed "rushers" far exceeded the number of costumed
Junkanoos. For the next decade, therefore, the Committee was concerned
primarily with re-organization of the Festival, for while, each year, the cos-
tumes grew increasingly elaborate, the attendant problems of logistics had to
The '60s' and '70s' saw many radical changes in the Festival. In seeking
tighter organization of the Parade, many new regulations were imposed. As a
measure of protection for the costumes, no non-costumed persons were
allowed on the streets during the parades. In order to ensure that this ruling
was followed, the parade route was cordoned off. This tended to isolate the
costumed paraders and also to accentuate the gap between performer and
audience. In addition it was decided that, in order to protect a tradition that
seemed uniquely Bahamian, only those costumes entirely made of paper
fringe would be eligible for awards.
Significant also during this period was the increased participation of
females in an event previously regarded as the sole premise of males. In
addition, a greater number of white Bahamians began to take an active part
in the festival and in general a broader cross section of the population is now
represented. Today, for example, it is not unusual to see the Prime Minister
and other Ministers of the Government "rushin" in the Parades.
The Junkanoos, themselves, have become better organized. Today fewer
individual entrants are seen as they are gradually being replaced by large
bands. Numbering between 40 and 200, these bands are sponsored by local
business houses, which finance the now expensive construction of the cos-
tumes. Striving for originality, each band selects a theme, which is carried out
in every detail by all members of the band.
Designing and constructing the costumes begin months before Christmas.
Large sheds are used for this purpose as the costumes are made in secrecy so
that rival bands do not see each other's designs until the date of the Festival
itself. The technique of applying the paper fringe to the under garment of the
costume has become more and more refined, and the former coarse fringing
has given way to a fringe so fine that it resembles shredded coconut.
Each band provides its own music. The musicians, who formerly had
clustered around the principal drummers in "gangs", are now strung out in
long lines so that all members of the band can hear the rhythms. In some cases
when the band is especially large, more than one group of musicians is
The costumes have become so enormous, in some cases cumbersome and
unwieldy, that a height restriction of 11 ft. had to be imposed. In addition,
because of the huge size, two-way Junkanoo traffic on Bay Street became
virtually impossible. As a result, a circular one-way route utilizing more streets
was introduced in 1973. While it must be admitted that the new arrangement
makes for a smoother flow of traffic, one no longer hears the interesting clash
of contrasting rhythms which used to occur when one band passed another
going in the opposite direction.
To many an old-timer, who remembers the spontaneity and sheer fun of
the pre-'60s parades, the Festival has now become too organized. They claim
that the Festival has now become nothing more than a parade of costumes.
Furthermore they contend that even these costumes, brilliant though they
might be, have lost the essential element of the old masquerade parades, for
today masks are no longer required.
All these points may be valid, but the spirit of Junkanoo is not entirely
lost. Every Boxing Day and New Year's Day, there are still those who cannot
control the irresistible urge to "rush". In order to qualify as "costumed"
Junkanoos, they attach the barest minimum of paper fringe to their every day
clothes, take out their cowbells, drums and whistles and join the parade. These
"scrap gangs", as they are called, add much to the spirit of the occasion, (and
in many cases, the best music), and the fact that they are often composed of
youngsters augurs well for the future of the Festival.
While many changes were taking place in the costumes, organization and time of the
Festival, information gathered from older informants indicates that the music, at least
insofar as the present century is concerned, remained relatively unchanged.
The fifes and tambourines, noted in 1854 in the Guardian, has fallen into disuse by
the turn of the century and only a few minor changes have occurred in the composition
of the Junkanoo instrumentarium since then. The former emphasis on singing has today
been largely replaced by a wider selection of melodic instruments, notably the trumpet,
saxophone and trombone. In addition slight changes in the type of idiophone used have
been noticed over the years. For example, older informants state that in the old days
there was sometimes a Junkanoo who scraped a jawbone in the parades. While this
instrument is no longer in evidence, the rim of a tyre struck by a metal rod has been
introduced in the last ten years.
Despite these minor changes, which have been noted as a matter of record, the
traditional Junkanoo music is central to the very essence of the Festival, and, as the
foregoing historical account of its development has demonstrated, it is the only intrinsic
element which can be considered indispensable to the Festival as a whole.
Music accompanies all Junkanoo activities and continues unabated until the Festival
has ended. Certain rhythms are associated with specific activities, for example, march-
ing to Bay Street, "rushin" in the Parade itself, celebrating a victory, and even, when the
Junkanoos are exhausted, as an aid to conserving energy. In all cases, however, the
music contains certain inherent characteristics, which, to a Bahamian, render it unmis-
takably recognizable as Junkanoo music.
The choice of instruments, for example, is unique. While no chordophones are used,
a wide variety of idiophones, membranophones and aerophones are employed. Of these
the most important are the membranophones, which are confined to the native goom-
bay drums. As the musicians are active participants in the Parade itself, the drums are
always held under the arm and suspended from the shoulder by means of a strap. They
are invariably played with the bare hands.
The idiophones most generally used are the locally made cowbells. Three methods
are used in playing.First, when played in pairs, they are held, one in each hand and
shaken. Secondly, they may be struck, one against the other. Often a particular "beat"
requires that both these techniques are used. Lastly, when one bell is used, it may be
struck externally with its clapper. The tyre rim struck by a metal rod is likewise played
in the same manner.
A variety of aerophones are used and include such instruments as the conch shell,
whistles of various descriptions, toy horns, fog horns, bicycle horns, bugles, trumpets,
saxophones, and trombones, among others.
The music is generally multi-linear in texture with each section of the ensemble
having its own characteristic function. Rhythmic features are predominant, while
melodic elements perform a secondary role. The ensembles today are large, and a
typical group of 80 musicians might comprise 60 cowbell players, 15 drummers, and five
players of melodic instruments. Cowbell players often double as whistle blowers.
Junkanoo music functions primarily as an accompaniment to marching, and is
therefore in simple duple or quadruple time. The drums, sometimes divided into two
sections lead drums and second or bass drums are responsible for providing the basic
rhythms. Local musicians state that there are three basic.lunknnoo "benis": (i) The 11111
Beat, (ii) The Fast Beat, and (iii) The Slow Bent. Each of these beats has a distinct
function and is played at specified times during the Festival.
(i) The Hill Beat
The name of this rhythm derives from the fact that most of the groups taking
part in Junkanoo lived in the general vicinity south of a range of hills on the
outskirts of Nassau. This general area is today colloquially known as "Over-the-
Hill". The Junkanoos had to march over this hill on their way to Bay Street and
for this march they used a rhythm which served the purpose of conserving their
energies for the rigorous parading which lay ahead. This particular rhythm came
to be known as the Hill Beat. Sometimes it is used in the Parade itself, when the
Junkanoos, after many hours of steady music making, become exhausted. The
rhythm is somewhat military in character and may have been influenced by the
Band of the Bahamian Militia during the last century. All drums provide the basic
rhythm for the "beat" as follows:
Ex. 6 The Hill Beat
t t t
(ii) The Fast Beat
It is this rhythm and its variants that are most often heard during the Parade
itself. The basic pattern is again provided by the drums, which in this case are
divided. The lead drummers play tile following rhythm:
Ex. 7 The Fast Beat (Lead)
t tt tt
I PP .. .. .. I
while the second drummers play this rhythm:
Ex. 8 The Fast Beat (2nd or Bass)
,PJ P : .1
Sometimes a single drummer will play the resultant of these two rhythms
combined as follows:
Ex. 9 The Fast Beat (resultant 1 drum)
(iii) The Slow Beat
When a group gets tired it may resort to either the Hill Beat or the Slow
Beat, the basic rhythm for the latter being as follows:
Ex. 10 The Slow Beat
t t f t tt
Within the framework of these basic beats, each group strives for originality
and as a result many variants may be heard at the parades. Tempi also vary from
group to group. Some play the rhythms at a brisk speed, while others prefer a
slower more deliberate pace. The tempi indicated in the foregoing examples are
typical of the faster speed.
While the drums provide the basic rhythms for the various beats, the
cowbells establish a rhythmic pattern which remains the same until the "beat" is
changed. Nketia, the eminent Ghanaian ethnomusicologist, refers to this rhyth-
mic pattern as the time line, and describes it as a unifying point of reference to
which all the other instruments may relate.s Noteworthy here is the fact that in
Ghanaian music, it is also most often the bells which supply the time line.
In the examples of cowbell rhythms which follow, the symbols u and d indicate
the up and down positions of the cowbells when shaken, while s indicates when
they are struck together. The most basic cowbell rhythm is produced when the
bells are simply shaken up and down. This produces the following rhythm:
Ex. 11 Cowbell Rhythm 1
4 SM. .
In order to produce variety, however, a combination of the updown motion and
the striking motion is used. The following example serves to illustrate a typical
rhythm in which both techniques are used:
Ex. 12 Cowbell Rhythm 2 CAYE!)
P. D u.D u P U D
A similar combination of techniques is used in the cowbell rhythm for the Hill
Beat. Note that it exactly duplicates the drum rhythm for the same "beat".
Ex. 13 The Hill Beat (cowbells)
It- 11 D u B u U Ili J a D U
Occasionally, a single cowbell, whose clapper has been removed, is struck
externally by this clapper. The tyre rim struck by a metal rod is used in the
same way as a solo instrument. In these cases, the rhythm produced cannot be
said to provide the time line as it is for the most part inaudible to a large
majority of the players in a particular group. Its function, therefore, is to enrich
the texture rhythmically by increasing the density. Typical of these rhythms
are the following:
Ex. 14 Cowbell or Rim struck externally (1)
Sr, .. .. r7 .
Ex. 15 Cowbell or Rim struck externally (2)
Also serving to enrich the texture rhythmically are the nonmelodic
aerophones, such as the conch shell, the whistles, the toy horns and the bicycle
horns. These instruments sometimes perform a solo role, but most often are
heard in pairs so that an antiphonal effect is created. One instrument produces
the call, while the other supplies the response. Frequently these rhythmic
phrases overlap. In order to create interesting contrasts, instruments of
different timbres are paired together. For example a high pitched whistle
might be answered by one of a lower pitch or a conch shell might be answered
by a bicycle horn. To increase further the antiphonal effect, the two instrumen-
talists are positioned at some distance from each other in the marching
formation. Typical of these Call and Response rhythms are the following:
Ex. 16 Call-and-response rhythm (1)
17 ? F7 n I P 17 jP I
Aim fTIa --i-
L OiW fis le -
I ---------- -----
Ex. 17 Call-and-response rhythm (2)
I ^ ^f> ^ \ \
- .-. i ". '-T -, i-;-
- J I -- I ---- J J i
" s M.
As has been noted earlier, melody plays a secondary role in Junkanoo music.
Many of the groups are content with the complex rhythms produced by the
combination of instruments already discussed. Some, on the other hand, increase
the textural richness by adding complete melodies or melodic motifs. When a
tune is used in its entirety the song chosen is usually a Junkanoo song, folksong,
or a local song made popular within the last year. Most frequently, however, short
melodic motifs, most often employing pitches of the major triad, are used.
Typical of these are:
Ex. 18 Melodic Motifs
Sr- fr II 'X ~Jr Ir P r 1
; I IFl .. ,,, I; ,;
In order to get the full impact of Junkanoo music, all of its component parts
must be heard simultaneously. The two examples which follow, therefore, are
transcriptions of Junkanoo music recorded in Nassau at the New Year's Day
parade earlier this year.
Ex. 20 The Fast Beat
^ ^-rr PEA1 jJJ1' ?-
OIW JaLdIfLO 4 7
Toio akl LL 4
LiAO L h 1
A(Aza mun *
SP. f > P
7, , 7 ^ fT
'LLu 1b d ui U u ) '( ; u U
ltY t t tl'P
177 P 77 T Z79
n ~~ \ f \m "
Ex. 21 The Hill Beat
fb I A A)
CWaUJ &JL I
L 010 4W .9,91
;; p P
oP 0 7
?t .. ? P
In conclusion it should be noted that, while the music discussed in this
chapter is primarily associated with the Junkanoo Festival, it is by no means the
only occasion on which it may be heard. Junkanoo music lies at the very core of
the Bahamian mentality and as such is central to his being. Whenever Bahamians
feel the need to celebrate an event of deep significance or national import they
Y I -
PP Pm '7 '1fn Pm P
17 P PAP
do so with Junkanoo music. For example, when Sidney Poitier, the Bahamian
actor, was awarded an Oscar for his performance in "Lilies of the Field," he was
greeted at Nassau International Airport by numerous bands playing Junkanoo
music; when in 1967, it was learnt that the predominantly white ruling minority
Party had been overthrown by the present Government, the sounds of Junkanoo
music echoed throughout the city; and when in 1973, the Bahamas gained its
Independence and became a sovereign nation, the event was marked by perfor-
mances of Junkanoo music. It must be acknowledged, therefore, that this music
is much more than the mere accompaniment to a masquerade parade. It is deeply
rooted in the cultural heritage of the Bahamian people and as such represents
their past, their present and their aspirations for the future.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Charles Farquharson, Joumalfor1831-J2 Nassau. 1957, p. 83.
2. Reid, "The John Canoe Festival," Ph)lon. 1942, p. 9.
3. Greek god of the sea, identical with Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.
4. Gertrude Tobes, Dkicnonanrof.lytholog: FolkloreandSimbols New York, 1961.
5. Horace Beck, Folklore and theSea, Middletown, Conn., 1973, p. 116.
6. Frank Cundall (ed.) Ladr.\ugent 'JounmalJamaicaOneHundred'YearsAgo London. 1907. p. 9.10.
7. Frederick Pease Harlow, The. Wakhgofa Salor. Salem, Mass., 1928, p. 178-9.
8. Michael Craton, Hlstoo-oftheBahamas London, 1963, p. 222.
9. Daniel J. Crowley, "Guy Fawkes Day at Fresh Creek, Andros Island. Bahamas." .Man, v. 58. July, 1958,
10. L. D. Powles, TheLandofthePinkPearl, London, 1888, p. 14748.
11. Amelia Defries, InaForgotten Colony; Nassau, 1917, p. 74.
12. Franco Monti, Afnrian. asks London, 1969, p. 131-32.
13. Defries, InaForgotten Colony; Nassau, 1917, pp. 76-77.
14. Orlando Patterson, TheSocjlopgofSlavey; Jamaica, 1973. p. 246.
15. H. McL. Bell, Bahamas: Isles ofJune London, 1934. p. 191.
16. Der ies, InaForgotten Colony; Nassau, 1917, p. 78.
17. Boxing Day, 26 December, traditional English holiday.
18. J. H. Kwabena Nketia, The.lfuslcofAfnca, New York, 1974, pp. 131-33.
CARNAVAL IN CUBA: ANOTHER CHAPTER IN THE
NATIONALIZATION OF CULTURE
One way in which to understand the structure and cultural significance of Carnaval in
post-revolutionary Cuba is to compare the cabildo's (a brotherhood based on an
African nation of origin) participation in the nineteenth century Dia de Reyes celebra-
tions with comparsaI groups' participation in Carnaval today. In this comparison I am
especially interested in the dominantly African Cuban cabildos or comparsas. There is
ample documentation of African Cuban cabildos during the 1700s. An announcement
for a slave sale of 1799 even identifies a "22-year-old Mandinga negra" by the location
of her cabildo meeting house. By 1792 these cabildos had become so visible that
government regulations attempted to control the time and place of their public proces-
As a municipal corporation, the cabildos ostensibly could distribute lands, impose
taxes, provide police services, etc. In actuality, in Cuba the cabildo was a mutual aid
organization, organized by neighbourhood and ethnicity. Membership was usually
hereditary. As an organization capable of clandestine dealings and political maneuvers
based on self-determination, the cabildo was the only self-perpetuating institution
around which new social forces could rally.
Both cabildos and the Abakua society (from Abakpa, a Yoruba term for the
Ejagham peoples of Calabar), another type of dominantly African Cuban brotherhood,
were at various times in Cuban history considered dangerous and capable of anti-
authoritarian propaganda. Although the Abakua had a definite historical connection
with the Ejagham peoples of Eastern Nigeria, in Cuba its membership often was
composed of African Cubans from other ethnic groups. By the mid-1800s some Abakua
groups were considered so dangerous to established authority that government
authorities began to patronize the cabildos de naci6n instead. By the early 1800s the
cabildos de naci6n were made up of both free Blacks and slaves. These organizations
provided outlets for creative energy and self-expression and maybe even undercut the
possibility for harboring potential political resistance by their official stature in Cuban
society, though this was not always the case. In 1812 the Cabildo Shango Teddum was
the headquarters for the uprising called La Conspiracion de Aporte. The leader of the
uprising and president of the cabildo was Jose Antonio Aponte, a free Black.
By 1823 the stage was set for official public recognition. In that year the cabildos de
naci6n were first given permission to perform publically in Dia de Reyes celebrations,
or Day of the Kings, January 6. In fact official Dia de reyes celebrations in the area of
Habana were instituted during the government of the Captain general de la Isla de
Cuba, Dionisio Vives, 1823-1832. On this day, Dia de Reyes, each cabildo "re-enacted"
an important national (homeland) celebration, behind the official saint and banner of
cabildo. Converging at the government Palace in Habana, the official representatives of
each cabildo received a monetary holiday bonus and the spectators also gifted them.
Eyewitness accounts of mid-nineteenth century Dia de Reyes celebrations stress the
"fantastic" costumes worn by the Black participants and the fact that each parading
group was led by a solitary Black masquerader, dressed either as a "tambor major" or
in military fashion. These accounts also mention that each group elected a king and
queen, who often paraded beneath a parasol.
But the cabildos were not always co-operative. In 1835 the "lucumis" (people of
Yoruba origin) staged an uprising in Habana. [From olokumi- "my friend" in Yoruba]
A powerful organizer of this uprising was Juan Prieto, the foreman of the Cabildo
Lucumi known as Ello y Oyo, perhaps referring to the ancient Yoruba kingdom of Oyo.
By 1844 an Abakud group had formed an official cabildo and established a reputation
for being the most aggressive and boisterous of the cabildo groups in Habana. Slave
emancipation was a slow process in Cuba, extending from the 1870s through the 1880s.
The cabildos gained more and more power and became separatist organizations in
which free Blacks could rule themselves, own land, etc. Their existence was a threat to
any government, so officials began demonstrating less and less support. On December
19, 1884 by official decree both public processions of cabildos and Dia de Reyes
celebrations were prohibited.
An interesting note to this issue...The Cuban ethnologist Lydia Cabrera reports that
whites had been initiated into AbakuA as early as 1857, with the official initiation of the
"colored" Andres Facundo Christo de los Dolores Petit, who died in 1889, and that this
created much needed increased support for Abajua. Petit helped to solidify the tenden-
cy to "integrate" these societies, believing that by institutionalizing this tendency per-
haps Abakua would not be so badly persecuted. The North American anthropologist
Harold Couriander also commented on the participation of whites in Abakua as late as
1941, stating that at the initiation he witnessed, of the six initiates, four were clearly
By the latter 1800s other neighbourhood organizations began to establish a public
presence. In Santiago de Cuba, the Baracoa Brothers organized the Cabildo Carabali
Isuama in 1894.3 According to documents available in Cuba, the Carabali Isuama
claimed ancestry from Calabar, Nigeria, but I think there is an important historical
confusion here. The Carabali Isuama, like the other important early twentieth century
cabildo in Santiago de Cuba, the carabali Olugo, must have originated from the Igboo
(Ibo) area of Nigeria where the Isuama live next to the Elugo (Olugo?), north of the
area of the Kalabari Ijaw (Ijo).4 Carabali Isuama operated on two levels, a public
cabildo who danced and marched during street festivals, and a private cabildo who
supported the mambises against the Spanish (see below) and who held private
ceremonies. By the second decade of the twentieth century the Cabildo Carabali
Isuama was a permanent presence in the summer during festivities for Saint Santiago
(James) and Saint Anne, on July 25 and July 26.
By the latter 1880s parandas or groups of musicians and singers organized
localized competitions. During the Christmas season in Habana neighbourhood par-
randists competed by decorating the facade of their neighbourhood church. By 1900,
these same groups were carrying small floats through the streets on Christmas eve.
Although the cabildos were no longer officially recognized, they continued to exert
an influence on Cuban society. For example, during the War of Independence 1898-
1902 the Cabildo Carabali Isuama of Santiago de Cuba used their drums to carry illicit
weapons and medicine to freedom fighters and even transmitted coded warnings with
their drumbeats. (These warnings were probably similar to the coded secret script,
which also can be danced, of the Abakud, known as nsibidi in Ejagham and anaforuana
in Cuba. Nsibidi has been documented in use in Habana as early as 1839).5
Although in 1884 by law the public processions of cabildos were outlawed, private
meetings and celebrations continued. Officially the cabildo began loosing whatever
power it had accumulated. In the Matanzas Carnaval of 1875 the big hit was the
comparsa called "Los Negros Congos", organized by the mulatto Andres Solis, and
composed of twenty couples performing a choreographed routine.6 By 1900 comparsa
groups had also added small floats to their public processions.7 It seems that by the turn
of the century, in some areas, traditional African Cuban culture was already moving
toward a folklorized public presence. The cabildos developed into and integrated with
other social groups to form comparsas. Comparsas are traditionally organized by
neighbourhood. Many of these comparsas, especially those incorporating masquerades
and processional street dancing, were relegated to the neighborhoods where they
originated, and at times banned. During the period of increased tourism in the 1930s
and 1940s they were allowed to function again. In addition to subsuming the cabildo,
they also include the neighbourhood parranda, or groups of musicians and singers, and
the charanga, a small neighbourhood party group.
Many scholars and informants from Habana credit Fernando Ortiz with being
responsible for the relaxing of the restrictions against pre-Easter season comparsas
outings in the capital during the 1930s. I have still yet to determine the specific nature of
the restrictions against comparsa groups. I am inclined to believe that only certain
groups could obtain permission to parade, and the more political and more African
Cuban groups had the most problems. Be this as it may, official newspapers still carried
sensationalistic and derogatory stories about "cult activity" in Cuba, often accompanied
by related stories of the kidnapping of white Cuban children for these activities. (The
implication being that these "cults" were comprised of African Cubans.) When Cour-
lander attended an Abakua meeting in Guanabacoa in 1941 he commented that at least
200 people were in attendance and that although some parts of the all-night ceremony
were conducted inside a lodge, there were outdoor performances in a 100 ft. long
courtyard, accompanied by music and singing. The area of Guanabacoa8, neighboring
Habana, is predominantly Black, the old dockyard and harbor and a traditional center
for African Cuban culture. Even in this relatively "protected" environment, with an
attendance of at least 200, the authorities could have been well aware of ceremonial
activity had they wanted to and could have stopped the ceremony.
Today in Cuba the costumed dancers representing members of the Abakud society
are called the ireme. Traditionally these same costumed dancers were known as
"diablitos" or little devils or fiafiigos, individual members of Abakud. The Abakud
society still functions as a brotherhood of initiated individuals, and David Brown was
told by practitioners during his recent fieldwork that there are about 33 active potencias
AbakuA in Matanzas and 20 in Guanabacoa.9 As yet I have not found mention of their
participation in Carnaval as an organized group during the twentieth century, although,
as discussed below, individuals dressed as ireme do perform. Most of the visual
evidence of their public performances derives from nineteenth century Dia de Reyes
celebrations around Habana. In 1941 Courlander was invited to the initiation men-
tioned above (this was an Abakua celebration, not a Carnaval event) by one of Fernan-
do Ortiz's informants, an African Cuban, Alfredo Zayas, who claimed Mandingo
ancestry and had lived in Matanzas. Zayas owned an Abakud ireme costume and other
ireme dancers appeared at the initiation. Certainly Ortiz's influence around Habana
may have helped to promote the continuation of the Abakud society there. In the early
1920s Ortiz published a series of ireme images in a major early work on African Cuban
culture. These included the by now often reproduced mid-nineteenth century engraving
by Mialhe and the 1880s paintings of the Andalucian-born Cuban costumbrista Lan-
daluce. Lydia Cabrera, who did most of her research in the 1930s and 40s, published her
first work on this subject in 1959, La socledad secret Abakud, which as it turns out was
the last book she published in Cuba10 before leaving. Both this publication and her El
Monte of 1957 included photographs of Abakud ireme. Most of my fieldwork has been
in Santiago de Cuba, and to the best of my knowledge there is no organized Abakui
brotherhood in Oriente Province. Although it is evident from the interviews. I have
conducted, that Abakui based knowledge is still important for many individual Cubans.
Today in Habana, neighboring Matanzas, and Santiago de Cuba, on the eastern
end of the island, Carnaval is celebrated in July from the 18 to the 27,in honour of the
Revolution, with the final complete carnaval parade being held on the 26. This date
commemorates the assault on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba, on July 26,
1953, which was specifically planned to co-incide with traditional Carnival in that city. It
is not unusual for governments to officially change the date of carnival celebrations. In
Bermuda the traditional Gombey festival used to take place between Christmas and
New Years, but today most Gombeys come out in August during the national holiday
for Cup Match. Nassau's Junkanoo parade is held on Boxing Day so as not to compete
with Trinidad Carnival. And in Luanda, Angola, carnival has been moved to March 27,
celebrating the date of South African withdrawal from Angola during the second war of
liberation, 1975-76.1 Breaking away from the Christian calendar and establishing a
political date for carnival celebrations is becoming more and more common. But Cuban
Carnival's history is a little more complicated, especially in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba's
second largest city and the city with the largest African Cuban population.
According to the Catholic calendar, carnival is usually celebrated in February or
March, during the period just prior to Lent. In Santiago de Cuba this celebration was
called Winter Carnival and was private in nature, supported by certain organizations
and their clubs, like the Philharmonic Society, the Club San Carlos, the Club Catalonia,
or the Club Galicia. Membership was restricted. Most of these organizations had their
own buildings where they could meet, rehearse, and sponsor galas. Winter Carnival was
nicknamed carnival for the "blancos Cubanos"12, meaning Cubanos with more Spanish
than African heritage.
But there was also a Summer Carnival, a Carnival Santiaguero that originated
during the period of slavery. Held after the sugar and coffee harvest, Summer Carnival
was originally intended as a period of rest and divertissement for the labourers (the
Blacks) and was eventually nicknamed "Carnaval de las classes bajas" (or Carnival of the
lower classes) or the carnival of the mamarrachos. Literally translated mamarrachos
connotes a grotesque, comic figure, usually used derogatorily. In Santiago de Cuba
mamarrachos came to signify costumed characters who assumed sarcastic and funny
poses and who participated in summer Carnival, which also coincided with the celebra-
tion of Saint Santiago (St. James) day on July 25.
By the 1920s Summer Carnival became the only Carnival in Santiago de Cuba. On
Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the month of June, everyone in Cuba knew one
could go to Santiago de Cuba to party. It was the pre-Carnival season. The major
patrons were local industries: Polar, la Cristal, and IHatuey beer; Barcardi rum, and
Eden tobacco. Many of the participants in Summer Carnival were the newly un-
employed sugar and coffee workers, who were quite willing to remain in Santiago de
Cuba after the harvest and work for these commercial patrons.
This combination the unemployed and the commercial sponsor-contributed to the
popularity of July Carnival. It also gave a new impetus to another carnival tradition, the
mascara a pie, the name given to solo performers who marched alongside the compar-
sas or paseos and often interacted with the crowd. Some would wear placards advertis-
ing their patrons' products, while others, costumed like clowns or fancy dancers, passed
out free samples. (The mammarrachos also paraded solo. They would go house to
house in the morning before the organized Carnival festivities began. At each house, the
mamarracho would recite a verse of poetry. In return he would receive a special,
traditional payment, a sum of money tied up in a ribbon which would be pinned to his
costume.13 Sometimes members of a comparsa would accompany the mamarracho,
giving the neighbourhood a preview of the Carnival parade.14)
The more popular mascaras a pie included the man on horseback (a stuffed hobby
horse), the skeleton, the man dressed as a pregnant woman, a witch (as in Snow White),
a vulture, the devil, a frog, a native Indian in loin cloth, and the very popular wedding,
consisting of a costume with a man's face on one side and a woman's on the other.1 he
commercial companies also sponsored entire comparsas, like the popular Los Indios
Hatuey, sponsored by the beer company of the same name and led by the infamous
Rompe Coco. I heard many stories about this man who could break a coconut on his
head, thus the name, and who performed fantastic acts during Carnival. One of the most
famous was his portrayal of the Indian Hatuey, whom the Spanish captured and killed.
In the carnival version Rompe Coco had himself tied to a stake and after a burst of
smoke cleared he had disappeared.
Eladio "Tatica" P6rez has been working with the Comparsa Paso Franco for 35
years.He was 64 years old in 1989. Before the Revolution, he recalled that Paso Franco
was supported by a variety of interests, including Eden tobacco, Barcardi rum, and city
government. Comparsa members would sell lottery-type tickets on the streets and in
return the comparsa would keep the profits while the winner would receive a silver
pendant with the commercial firm's name on it.15 During the 1940s and early 50s
especially, Carnival in both Santiago de Cuba and in Havana became more and more
commercialized. The 1959 Revolution altered the patronage and the structure of the
Carnival groups today are either the traditional a) comparsas (which developed
after the cabildos were outlawed), organized through strong ncighbourhood and ethnic
ties, b) paseos, originally formed by members of the "Creole aristocracy" and the most
recent type of carnival group16 and the powerful c) congas. Congas do not usually
include costumed performer or dancing couples, but rather accumulate power and
prestige by gathering a crowd of dancing followers as they march throughout the city.
But in Carnival today these categories are rather fluid, and most Carnival groups are
organized either by neighbourhood affiliation or by labor unions and industries.
Carnival today does not meet stereotypical expectations of parading agitprop-style
street performances. In Santiago de Cuba in both the 1987 and 1989 Carnivals, the five
year old Paseo Textilera, composed of factory workers and their friends, included two
hundred and fifty dancers whose performances of choreographed cabaret routines
were accompanied by a live drum ensemble and recorded popular music. Other groups
included the Paseo La Kimona, with kimona-clad dancers and men dancing as ninja
spirits. The participation of these groups, sometimes with elected queens and kings like
the older cabildos, parallels the cabildo organization of the older Dia de Reyes festivals.
In both festivals official government patronage controlled the appearance and presen-
tation of the participating groups.
During my most recent fieldwork in Santiago dc Cuba I was aware of growing
controversy regarding the support given to the various carnival groups. Paseo Textilera,
although only five years old, has an entire textile factory and its workers at its disposal.
They have ample rehearsal space. During Carnaval 1989 I noticed that all the female
dancers, perhaps over 100, wore matching leather shoes, quite an accomplishment in
Cuba where it is often difficult to find a supply of shoes at all! The Paseo La Placita is
also substantially supported. La Placita originates in a neighbourhood famous for its
revolutionary fighters and subsequent political leaders. In carnaval 1989 its costumes
were some of the most varied, complete and luxurious. Competition between those two
paseos has been so intense for the past four years, and their backing has been so
obviously more substantial, that the jury in 1989 decided to award them a first place tie
in the category of paseos, in order to give some other paseos an opportunity to be
ranked. This proved a controversial, but momentarily pragmatic, decision.
In Santiago de Cuba the actual carnival parade is quite distinct from Carnival
celebrations. The later does not include costumed performers, but rather is a dancing
and eating/drinking street party held in specially designated areas of the city. It is a
common joke in Santiago de Cuba that one cannot buy chicken in the market during
Carnival, because it is being reserved for the special street vendors. Most traditional
analyses of carnival celebrations world-wide stress the importance of what is usually
called rites of reversal, when there is a suspension of all hierarchical ranks, privileges,
norms and prohibitions during the carnival celebrations. The commoner plays king, the
folk take over the streets, and as Mikhail Bakhtin17 so eloquently points out, festive
laughter is directed at everyone, even the carnival participants themselves.
In traditional carnival, there is a thin line between the spectator and the participant,
for carnival performances occur in public, in the open, in a town square or a main street.
Most often the spectator is swept up into the narrative of the action. This is basically still
the case in Port of Spain, Trinidad, where the mass bands may end up parading across
the Savannah stage in front of the footlights and television cameras, but they have
marched to the Savannah, from their respective neighborhoods to Frederick Street
and up the length of the street. Street interaction happens not only on Mardi Gras, but
during the three days before. The Carnival Roadmarch of Monday and Tuesday in-
cludes thousands and thousands of revelers. But that is not the case in Habana or
Santiago de Cuba today. In Santiago de Cuba the Congo-comparsa groups do not dance
together in the streets. Their parade is limited to a 4-5 block area of the Alameda, which
is cordoned off by bleachers and grandstand. There is no street mingling of the carnival
groups whose costumes and concomitant characters permit a genre of interaction
usually reserved for this occasion. In Santiago de Cuba even the audience is restricted
(and I use the word audience very deliberately), for tickets for the Carnival parade are
hard to come by and certain sections of the grandstand are reserved by invitation only.
It is in front of this section, where the jury also sits, that the various groups actually put
on a performance. Bakhtin warns that carnival must not be confused with what he terms
the self-serving festivities fostered by governments, secular or theocratic. For Bakhtin,
carnival is revolution itself, while others regard carnival as a safety valve for the passions
of the folk, which might otherwise lead to revolution. But, I believe, by the late twentieth
century that the definition of carnival itself is changing. In most celebrations that I am
aware of, competitions restricted to special cordoned-off areas are the norm. More and
more, authorities are restricting street interactions and carnival parades resemble
theatrical performances restricted by a proscenium arch.
Before the Revolution in Santiago de Cuba, all day long costumed carnival groups
would mingle with the folk on the major streets in town. The streets would be lined with
what Santiagueros refer to as kiosks, or stalls selling food, drink, etc. As conga
musicians marched down the street, people would pour out of their houses and join the
procession. Or cars with loud-speakers would play a favorite tune, and instruct the
people to run to their homes, get a sheet, and come out in the streets and dance.
Eventually the entire street would be packed with dancing people holding the sheets
above their heads. Today, the stalls which sell food and drink and the music are
restricted to certain hours, and the recorded or live music is limited to a stage area. In
1988 I attended Carnival in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, living with a family in the Belmont
section, the home of Jason Griffith's famous sailor bands. One day as we were resting
from the previous night's activities a section of a mas band from the neighbourhood
marched by. Soon the entire block was following behind the musicians. This genre of
street interaction is extremely limited in Santiago de Cuba. A few times I have seen
members of a theater group, the Cabildo Teatral Santiago, borrow costumes and go
house to house in certain neighborhoods, singing, in character, and asking for dona-
tions. Today, this is a deliberate activity designed to help nostalgically recall traditions
and provide amusement. Also, in 1989 a delegation from a sister city, Santiago de
Caballeros, the Dominican Republic, visited Santiago de Cuba during Carnival. Ac-
companied by members of the Casa del Caribe, affiliated with the Ministry of Culture,
two costumed and whip swinging, masked performers danced down the major street
Marti, the heart of the Conga Los Hoyos neighbourhood, past their Foco Cultural,
during the day-time non-carnival hours. This too was a special performance, not a
carnival-type street intermingling.
Other types of carnival performances appear to be a form of folkloric homage.
Costumed ireme Abakud dancers appeared with the Paseo Suefo during the Carnaval
1987 in Santiago de Cuba. One of these Paseo dancers, Ludvik Reginfo Perez, is a
24-year-old African Cuban artist who has been passionately involved with traditional
African Cuban culture since he was quite young. His participation in carnival as an
ireme and his involvement in traditional culture exemplifies the attitude and cir-
cumstances of the impact of this heritage on a child of the revolution.18 Ludvik moved
from Habana to Santiago de Cuba in 1983. While growing up in Habana he apprenticed
and studied with older men who were knowledgeable about traditional culture, who
were his "godfathers", and who claimed ancestry from Kongo. These teachers taught
Ludvik from older books they owned, books that were written in Spanish, but they
translated them into both "Palo (Kongo) and Santo (Yoruba)". Ludvik copied these
books by hand and now uses his notebooks for reference and for inspiration for his
designs. Ludvik's father, Antonio Perez Prats, is a well-known Santiago musician and
leader of the carnival group, Paseo Suefio. Ludvik serves as the Paseo's assistant
director and assistant choreographer. For Carnaval 1987 the Paseo Suefio imper-
sonated iremes of the AbakuA Society as their theme. Although Abakua was only active
in Habana and neighboring Matanzas, and to the best of my knowledge there are no
Abakud potencias in Oriente Province, Prats learned about the tradition in the Univer-
sity in Santiago de Cuba and his son learned more while working with the Ministry of
Culture in Habana. Neither men belong to an Abakua potencia or any other organized
African-based religious group. But, as Ludvik pointed out, Abakua plays a major role in
African Cuban history. "Everyone knows the ireme".19 Surely Ludvik's own intense and
personal involvement with traditional African Cuban culture influenced the choice of
theme for the 1987 outing of Paseo Suefio. While living in Habana, Ludvik worked with
members of the Folkl6rico National, who were also anxious to obtain his innovative
African Cuban based artwork. (He calls them disenos, not pinturas.) And one special
book he owns, which includes motifs and translations of traditional African Cuban
material, was published by the Folkl6rico Naci6nal in the early 1960s, in the first few
years after the Revolution.
Abakua ireme dancers are an important and colorful aspect of Cuban folklore. They
may even be considered picturesque by many. The Cuban scholar Moliner Castafieda
considers the appearance of Abakud society ireme dancers in contemporary perfor-
mances a form of "folkloric propaganda", a superficial reflection of a historical
phenomena.20 The same may be true for the frequent appearance of Yoruba-based
costumed characters in festivals, carnivals, and dance presentations all over Cuba. In
June of 1988 I attended a ballet sponsored by the Direccion Provincial de Cultura,
Santiago de Cuba, which was a joint project of the Conjuntos Folkl6ricos Santiago and
principal dancers from the Ballet Royal de Wallonie, Belgium. Entitled "Ercili", the
main characters were Ercil (Erzulie) and Ogun Guerrero (Ogun the Warrior). The
narrative was loosely based on the stories told in the Cubal-Haitian community located
in the mountains above Santiago de Cuba and research conducted by scholars at the
cultural organization, the Casa del Caribe, in Santiago de Cuba.
During Carnaval 1989 in Santiago de Cuba eight out of nineteen groups included
tributes to traditional African Caribbean culture in their repertoires. Some recreated
the courtly entourage, so prevalent at the turn of the century and reminiscent of Fancy
Dress Jamaican Jonkonnu. Others included choreographed routines paying homage to
the spiritual leaders of the Santerfa religion, and still others incorporated songs and
dances learned from the Afro-Haitian Cuban communities of Oriente Province. The
Cabildo Carabali Isuama's song included the chorus "Africa, Africa, we cannot forget
you." A section of the Paseo Suefio sang: "My Mother, my Father came from Haiti. I
dream of Haiti."
The Paseo Los Pinos also included a Afro-Haitian Cuban section. The performers
were dressed in white with red kerchiefs and head-ties, and the Ogun "impersonator"
wore a blue kerchief and carried a machete. As he danced in the center of a circle
created by the other performers, he directed attacks on the other dancers and then
turned the machete on himself. Although the Paseo did not announce the title of this
sequence, its homage to Ogun is obvious from the following description from Haiti:
The vacillation of Ogou's anger, its tendency to
switch targets from his enemies to his followers, has
historical precedent. This is a facet of his character
which is present in the Yoruba tradition, which the
slaves no doubt brought to the island of
Hispaniola...Orou's anger comes full circle and ul-
timately is directed against himself. This is the
dimension of Ogou's character that reveals itself in
the final movement of his ritual sword dance, when
he points the weapon at his own body.21
The performance of this Cuban Ogun, of a dancer from the Paseo El Tivoli22 who
performed a possession ritual often associated with the very traditional Afro-Haitian
Cuban Tumba Francesa groups so important in Oriente during the nineteenth century,
and the performance of the Santeria spirit (orisha) Oshun in the Paseo La Placita
underscore a particular dilemma. These three solos were particularly well performed,
very convincing. I suspect that for the last section of her dance, Oshun was in a
possession-performance. The choreographer ran out to support her and embrace her as
he accompanied her to the side lines. I honestly cannot determine if I was watching
actors or practitioners, or a combination of both. And unfortunately I was not able to
interview these performers. These are cultural performances, supported by centuries of
practice and belief. While the presence of traditional African Cuban folklore is very
strong in contemporary society, I also feel that many participants in these folkl6rico
presentations, and others perhaps, appreciate this heritage in a personal way that goes
Ethnic or national heritage is still important in Cuba, although much of its public
presentation is reserved for folkl6rico presentations. These folkl6rico elements have a
long history in public performances. I have been fascinated for years by the fact that
only one place in the Americas, in Cuba, did an Ejagham tradition from Nigeria implant
and survive. But even more fascinating is the fact that in post-revolutionary Cuba, the
Cuban version of this same Nigerian based brotherhood, the ireme fiafiigo of the
Abakua society still plays a major role in contemporary cultural performances. How
does an emblem of a controversial and historically (at least) subversive powerful
African Cuban brotherhood function in contemporary Cuba? Ortiz's publications have,
in post-revolutionary Cuba, reinspired a new generation of festival artists. In Cuba
today ethnic dance theater or danza folkl6rico is often used as a restoring device for
national pride. In the earlier twentieth century, the predominantly African Cuban
Abakua society was declared illegal; their performances were often held in private.
Today the characters who represent the Abaku6 society members perform during
carnival, for Cubans and tourists alike. And AbakuS ireme dolls are sold at all tourist
hotels. Do these tourist items and the folkl6rico performances violate cultural values?
Carlos Moore has recently published a disturbing and controversial account that speaks
to just this issue, although many of his conclusions are contrary to official policy.23
Cuban cultural policy claims that public aesthetic display is important in resurrecting,
preserving, and/or rejuvenating traditional culture, especially when that culture was so
deprecated in pre-revolutionary society. But I wonder.
Public display often can diffuse the power of an image, especially if that image was
once restricted in its use and symbolic interpretive potential. The Abaku6 society used
to have a secret language, and today these same once private ideograms are used to
decorate banners in conference halls. Ludvik uses these same ideograms in his artwork,
interpreting them freely. For him they are an emblem of his African heritage, an
emblem to be used proudly in a public context.
Have national cultural institutions appropriated imagery from a powerful African
based Cuban brotherhood and thus assured the continued demise of that social force?
Certainly by incorporating the performance of Abajua ireme dancers or performances
by a costumed Shango or OshunP into carnival, expression of ethnicity get aired
publicly. Where does one draw the line between public expressions of ethnicity ac-
complished with pride and "folkloric propaganda"? At this particular point in my
research I believe that these images, these carnival performances, are double coded.
For African Cubans they are powerful messages, reminders of a rich and powerful
heritage. According to official culture they are indicators of the new status of the
African Cuban in post-revolutionary society.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. I am here using the term comparsa to designate the entire variety of groups who today participate in
Carnaval. although as I demonstrate later in this essay, comparsa is only one type of carnaval group.
2. Harold Courlander, "Abakud Meeting in Guansbacoa", TheJoumalof.\egroHjison, Vol. XXIX,
October 1944, p. 466.
3. Nancy Perez, et al., E/Cabido Carabala suama (Santiago de Cuba: Editorial Oriente, 1982) p. 12.
4. In Nigeria the Kalabari Ijaw (Ijo) live just south of the Igbo (Ibo), in the area of the Niger Delta. The
original members of the previously discussed Abakud brotherhood originated in the area of the town
of Calabar, Nigeria, and northward, in the area east of the Cross River. Carabali Isuama is more exactly
Kalabari and Isuama, Isuama being an Igbo (Ibo) group living inland (east) and upriver from the
Kalabari Ijaw (Ijo) near the Niger River. The confusion is the result of a conflation between the town
of Calabar and the cultural group Kalabari Ijaw (Ijo).
5. See Robert Farris Thompson, FlashoftheSpirt, (New York: Random House, 1983) p. 229.
6. Licenciado Israel Moliner Castafteda, "Las Comparsas", 1987, unpublished manuscript.
7. Virtudes Felu, "La Fuesta Cubana", ReivlucionyCultura, #9. September 1985, Habana, pp. 47-49.
B. A very important museum of traditional Cuban culture is today located in Guanabacoa. To the best of
my knowledge, this museum houses the largest and most important African-Cuban collection in the
world. Its location in Guanabacoa reflects the importance of this area to Cuban history.
9. David Brown, personal communication, August 30, 1989.
10. Her Anaforuana, a book about Abakud script and symbols, was published in Madrid in 1975.
11. David Birmingham, "Carnival at Luanda"' TheJoumalofAfncanHiston, 29 (1988). p. 96.
12. Interview with historian Nancy Perex, July 18, 1989, Santiago de Cuba.
13. Perhaps this is the origin of costumes in Cuba and the Dominica Republic which are covered with small
ribbons held on with safety pins.
14. Interview with Carnival enthusiast Pedro Martin Loreant Guerrero, July 22, 1989, Santiago de Cuba.
15. Interview, July 24, 1989, Santiago de Cuba.
16. Licenciado Carlos Alberto Cruz-Gomez, "El Carnaval en la Plastica Cubana", in the papers of the
Ministerio de Cultura Habana n.p. April 1985.
17. Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabel/aiandHjs World, (Blooming: Indiana University Press, 1984).
18. I interviewed Ludvik for the first time in Santiago de Cuba on June 5, 1988. Before actually meeting him
I saw him perform in Carnaval 1987 and asked the Ministry of Culture to help me locate the artist who
had designed the costumes for the Paseo Sueflo.
19 Actually, this is not true. When shopping for ireme souvenirs in Habana, none of the younger store
attendants were able to help me, while many of the older ones did know about the tradition. I also
questioned children of friends in Santiago, and they knew nothing of the Abakug tradition: they were
white Cubans with no interest in traditional culture.
20. Moliner Castafteda is the Especialista en Estudios Culturales de la Provincia de Matanzas. This quote
is from an itnerview conducted on July 21, 1987 in Habana.
21. Karen McCarthy Brown, "Systematic Remembering, Systematic Forgetting: Ogouin Haiti" in A./n7ca'
Ogun. Old Worldand.\Ven; ed. Sandra T. Barnes (Bloomington): Indiana University Press, 1989) pp.
22. Tivoli is the original Haitian-French neighbourhood in Santiago de Cuba.
23. Carlos Moore, Castro. The Blacks. andA frica. (Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies. Univ.
of California. 1988) see especially chapter 19.
THE ROBBER IN THE TRINIDAD CARNIVAL
The structure and content of the Trinidad Carnival has continuously changed. Intro-
duced by French planters at the end of the eighteenth century, its first transition took
place with the participation of the black population after emancipation in 1834. Over
time the carnival's European and African traditions have merged into a unique Trini-
dadian art form.
Especially since the festival's integration into the wider society during the first half
of this century, it became a media of communication between the different ethnic
groups in Trinidad. Their common history of domination and their struggle for inde-
pendence offered the basis for a recognition of the carnival as the national festival.
Many innovations have been introduced to the carnival during the last eighty years. One
of the most significant is the masque of the "Midnight Robber". The robber derives
from Trinidad's oral tradition which he merges with modern western cultural elements.
The masque's most poignant characteristic is his speech, the "robber talk" he rattles off
in order to get ransom from the spectators.
Although patterns of verbal performances are found throughout black communities
in the New World a comprehensive study of the speechmaking practices in the Carib-
bean carnival tradition does not exist so far.1
In the case of Trinidad, the "robber talk" grew out of the story-telling traditions of
the islands, the riddle-telling of the "Pierrot Grenade" and the "Wild Indians" talk. It
relies furthermore on the Trinidadian concept of boasting, one of the basic forms of
The character of the Robber shows not only a con-
cept of bravery and plunder and a general glorifica-
tion of the self that was almost necessary for an
oppressed people to survive. The Trinidadians have
always had a tremendous respect for words, the
sound of words if not the meaning of words. One
way of understanding why we are such a musical
people but at the same time such a nonverbal people
has to do with the fact that it is the sound which is
sort of institutionalized by these characters.2
The concept of boasting and the respect for words has to be seen in the context of
the development of the creole in the Caribbean.
Ashanti, Yoruba, or Congo people who were brought to the New World were
generally unable to maintain their social structures in the new setting and the language
and culture they developed over the years was composed of a mixture of elements. The
language of public discourse and command was either English, Spanish, French or
Dutch. The Creole on the other hand served as an instrument of communication
between persons displaced from their origins, and between all of them, and the world of
whites. A triangular system was established in which this process of "transculturation"
took place. These creative processes consisted of several layers and had their basis "not
on the simple two-way contact between European master and African servant,"3 as
Nettleford has phrased the matter.
Later, the newly created language had to be transmitted to the newcomers, in the
case of Trinidad, especially Indians and Chinese labourers. This triangular system
which up to now holds together the different language particles has created a new
"nation language" as Brathwaite has labelled it:
Nation language is the language which is influenced
very strongly by the African model, the African
aspect of our New World/Caribbean heritage.
English it may be in terms of some of its lexical
features. But in its contours, its rhythm and timbre,
its sound explosions, it is not English...4
Accordingly, one can argue that the robber speeches presented here appear as
Standard English on the surface only. A closer look, however, reveals the use of a code,
applied by the masquerader in order to entertain the audience and achieve status at the
same time.5 The robber's eloquence, his use of rhythm, and his costume are inseparable
parts of his show.
The "Midnight Robber" first appeared in the carnival in the early years of this
century in bands of 30 to 40 members. In the 1950s, robber bands decreased in size,
consisting of six or seven members only. Today, the robber bands have disappeared
completely and only individuals roam the streets for ransom.6 Nettleford has aptly
described the historical experience that brought about the masque:
...the rituals and dances for worship and expiation,
...which have recorded the memories and collective
wit and wisdom of generations, the masquerades
which have masked reality by the use of irony to
transmit poignant coded messages of deep social
significance all such expressions emanating from so-
cial interaction now serve as the living archives of
our patrimony as well as the testament of a valid
collective experience signifying the germ of a defini-
In the past years the robber appeared as an individual masque, played by older men
exclusively, and chances are that the two will die together in the years to come.
Apparently the masque has become purposeless in today's carnival. What was its good
in the old days? An interview with a masquerader playing "King of the Graveyard" in
1980, reflects some of the fascination with the masque:
I have been playing robber since 1938. I like the old
talk, robber and Indians. I like to meet robbers from
other districts and battle against them to see who is
the best spokesman. At one time I had as much as
sixty-four speeches in my brain and you don't have to
walk with a book you got to have them here.8
Today, draped in a shirt with a long cape, pants made from bags, and a whistle, a toy
gun, or a dagger for accessories, the robber threatens his victims from underneath a
huge brimmed hat for cash to be stashed in a sack or coffin he carries along. The
robber's movement is stylized through his costume. His hat and shoes tell the story.
Because of the hat's wide brim and size the robber has to move a certain way. The shoes
add to the movement. Sometimes wire is used, or bedroom slippers "for easy moving
around because a robber has to be a man this is elusive, you got to move fast."9
The framework of the speech and contest of the robber act reaches back to his
predecessors, the "Pierrot Grenade" and the "Wild Indian" of the nineteenth century
carnival. The "Pierrot Grenade," himself a descendant of the "nerge jardin," was a
satire on the well-dressed traditional Pierrot and on migrant workers from Grenada
from whom he acquired his name.10 He was dressed in rags, sported a grotesque face
mask, and was famous for his spelling expertise. The "Pierrot Grenade" boasted deep
learning, resembling a scholar displaying his erudition.11 The masque's spelling exercise
led to a witty, improvised dialogue with another Pierrot whom he challenged with a
boastful "do you wish to do battle with me." Hill describes his speech which today is
The spelling technique...is to break a given work into
its syllabic component, to make of each syllable a
new word, and to build a story around all the new
syllable-words. By developing his story upon one
syllable at a time, he reaches a point where he can
bring them all together to spell the original word.12
Another traditional masque now disappeared from the carnival is the "Wild In-
dian." He played short skits in a language incomprehensible to the audience. "Lan-
guage classes" were held for the "Wild Indian" before carnival and they, as well as the
robbers of roughly a generation later, held contests:
Forty, fifty years ago in Sangre Grande a White In-
dian Band used to rehearse, on carnival Saturday
they had a mock battle, the loser would not go to
carnival at all because he was supposed to be
defeated, the other Indians would come out.13
Cowboys from pulp magazines and later from western movies provided the model
for the basic robber outfit. The cowboy's wide-brimmed Stetson was converted into the
"temple," a large hat with fringed brims resembling the image of an East Indian
"tadjah"; the chaps served as a pattern for the flour bag pants. The cape, however, was
most likely adopted from the movie hero "Zorro". Many variations exist of the basic
form described above, giving evidence of the creative mastery and great skill of the
robber players. Carnival, the time of masking, provides the opportunity to disguise one's
everyday role with a more dramatic one. For this event, robbers draw upon their role
heritage where different cultural backgrounds have blended into a Caribbean ex-
Fifty or sixty years ago "bag robbers," "hunting robbers," or "white robbers" were
the most spectacular ones. For extra attention, some of them rimmed their hats with
electric lights in the 1950s.14 The following description shows the mastery of adaption:
For the Midnight Robber costume we just get a bag
and we fringe it out, cut it out in small pieces, we got
flour bags which we dyed in different colors and
sewed it on to our pants. We get a black shirt and get
a black piece of cloth, either velvet or satin and draw
a big skeleton on it after the name of what you
portraying, like Tucson Wayo, King Grabbeler, Rox
Roy. For the shoes sometimes fellars bend some-
thing, mold it out, make a mold out of dirt and cover
it out with paper. Some make a big tiger head or a
big dragon, or a big snake. I used wire, you see when
you walk on the wire, sometimes it looks like some-
thing that is really alive. For the headpiece you wear
a broad hat with fringes. You have a coffin in your
hand, used as a cashbox, that is where the money
goes. Long ago I used to have a big pair of dark
shades and I get a rope, fringe it out, dye it in
whatever color and that got me a beard or mous-
The multitude of costumes called for an equal number of names the masqueraders
adopted for their robbers. A name was used by the masqueraders for many years and
they became known by it even if they varied their costume. Obviously, the sound of a
name is more important to a robber's brooding and threatening character than the exact
meaning or origin of the words. This also goes for their speeches where emphasis is put
on long, elaborate words, or words that have nothing else in common but a similar
Now as de dawn of dust on dis glorious morn has
again illuminated its oriental horizon I can bawl any
notorious ... as again made my daring appearance
between man, beast and reptile. Today, I'm back on
de war path dressed in battle array, ready to kill,
brutalize and slay, to suffer wrongs and endure pain,
if even death should be my gain. For as I look to de
ages of de sixteenth century, invoking my crimes
through de past I can hear de aids of dying men,
women and children begging me to be merciful unto
them; for I am the great human vampire patrolling
de streets by day and terrifying de nation by night. I
with my fearless, peerless character built an empire
of crimes having no less than half a million trained
outlaws under de influence of my supernatural
power. Government in every country today is offer-
ing large rewards of money for my capture dead or
alive, for while I'm alive no human being cannot
strive. I toss towns and villages while de inhabitants
lie in slumber, seizing young babies from their cradle
in inumerable numbers and placing this curled and
twisted tongue of mine upon their blue-red vein to
enjoy de sweet nectar of blood to quench my burning
thirst. And as I walk de streets I can see heads and
shoulders, peeping thru doors and windows, fingers
pointing towards me wit dreadful oath, saying, dere
de maniac killer goes. Towns and villages is lighted
up at night in order to observe my appearance but
dey become helpless; every day over half a million
machine guns had been pointed at me but dey are
useless. Scientists in Europe, Asia, Africa, and
Australia today trying to trace back to de ancient
days to find from whence I came and when I was
born but it still lies unknown to de entire world dat I
came into existence like a cyclone in human form,
for my speed of travelling is faster than light dat
make me elusive. De voice has spoken16
What appears utterly meaningless at first, the robber's monologue of empty threats
illuminates the communicative structure that underscores the Trinidad Carnival. The
carnival is more than a reflection of society. It holds what Victor Turner has called a
"magic mirror" up to society.17 The carnival communicates messages in a reflexive
manner, a masquerader often being subject and object at the same time. The mirror
which the robber holds up to his audience does not reflect the picture of something as
it is thought to be in reality but his presentation of a fictional character breaks the ray
beamed to the mirror again and flashes back the image of an image of a robber. His
show of bravado attributes to Caribbean history as well as western cultural influences.18
These elements make for a grand staging where the robber is the synthesis of old and
new world cultures.
The robber's delusion of villainy is spoken with a measured, solemn voice in almost
one breath. Once in a while the speech is broken by a rhymed line like "to suffer wrongs
and end your pain if even death should be my gain." A vague pattern of phrases and
subjects is recognizable. In several speeches, for instance, a description of what the
robber will do with the blood of the victim has been rehashed.
In fact, one of the speeches collected by Crowley is very similar to one recorded in
1980, and might have been given by the same masquerader.19 Strong evidence are the
lines "my father was King Grabbla, who grab the sun, moon, stars..." in Crowley's
example and the phrase "my name is King Grabbla, who grabbed the sun, moon and
stars..." of the following speech:
Hark, hark you scrums of de earth, you twoheaded
serpents, you dog of a Saxon: Stand back, for it was
written in de Book of Midnight Robber that all mock
men as you should be buried alive. Away down from
de high class regions from de phantom graveyard
comes I, de indominable son of de impregnable in-
credible. My name is King Grabbla, who grabbed de
sun, moon and stars, created darkness, bite bits with
my ivory teeth and chew, shorten de season, feeds
upon wasps. At de age of one, my renowned com-
pound was too strong for human constitution where
I was placed into prison for ninety-nine years: a
reward of nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-
nine dollars was all for my discovery. There I studied
crime-words and punishment for all mockmen as
you. As de dawn of morn has just begin to illuminate
de oriental horizon it seem to me as though you want
to make a perfect getaway hark, it is too late. For
dese two hypnotical and magical eyes of mine have
already doomed your position. At de age of two, I
killed my great grandmother Izubuma; at de age of
three I drowned my mother Cecilia into a spoonful
of water. So stand back mockman and tell me if it is
your cowardice or bravity dat cause you to travel
into dis dismal track.20
The phrase about the "dawn of morning" which "illuminate the oriental horizon" is
as common in robber speeches as self mocking expressions like "at the age of three I
drowned my mother Cecilia into a spoonful of water." According to Crowley phrases
and subjects reoccur in speeches by way of re-arrangement. Comparing the 1980
speeches with the examples given by crowley in the Caribbean Quarterly of 1956 it
appears that the same phrases are still used today.
As in the speech below the spectator is often addressed as "mockman" while the
robber speaks about himself as the "master criminal" in a satirical role reversal:
Stop mockman for this is a midnight holdup as the
dawn of morn has just begin to illuminate the orien-
tal horizon it seems to me as though you want to
make a perfect getaway but hark, it is too late. My
mother's name Cecelia: I"m de man that command
my grave to open and speak to my dead; if I shall
only say....I shall turn your body into vapor. Throw
those two long negative hands of yours into the air,
do what I command you to do, keep them there. For
the morning is like under the night when I wake I see
there are many lives here too, so please mockman
come across with some of your hidden treasure, else
we shall surely die. I'm the man that cause coward
men to do brave deeds and die, rob robbers as
myself, for even down to the suckling beasts from
their mother's breast, fathers mourn, women groan,
children weep, when meeting this high master,
criminal master of crimes, animal tamer, high class
gambler rickety-ticky-compeddler, marksmen gone
joker. I am one of the world most steeljaw and cop-
perbowel, ironclaw, he monster and high master
criminal dat ever breath the breath of life into man.
So stand back mockman or else you shall surely
The following "robber talk" also illustrates the sound effects created through the
choice of words:
Away down from de high class region of the phan-
toms graveyard came I, dis impregnable, insur-
mountable, and unconquerable. My sudden
appearance is to accomplish the destruction of my
father's deadly expedition; for in dese powerful
hands of mine holy warfare becomes challenged,
headed with the warrant of death, written by kings
and signed by monarchs, and to my challenger I
stand impregnable, insurmountable, and uncon-
querable. I even challenged de moon, de sun and de
stars that can't even be provoked by any highly bru-
tal effusion, for I can exterminate, organize and even
demoralize the tradition of men, women and
children. For it is I who have fed and graduate the
highly selected mountains of the Himalayas, for I
fought, conquer, ate, and drunk de blood and flesh
of prehistoric monsters dat is de dragon, de
luciphobia, de hyfiphobian and de hypollos which
weighted no less than fourteen tons. If a dagger
should fence into my heart, it would only prove to be
evil infection of my physical fitness; a bullet or
several of bullets bursting into my skull will prove to
be de same, for my canet of coffeesweetened with
gasper, de gull from de cobra, de blood from de
rhinoceros and de milk from de breast of the worm
"Ivosocrepus." At night my bed was made of a pillar
of fire, which I lie and dream of the Mississippi river
overflowing with de blood of my defeated victims. So
anyone tampering with me will be taking a chance,
will be taking his last step to eternity, and to my
challenger I stand impregnable, insurmountable and
The combination of words in phrases like "I stand impregnable, insurmountable and
unconquerable..." or "I can exterminate, organize and even demoralize the tradition of
men..." have no specific meaning but serve as a show of the robber's ability to handle
"big" affairs and even bigger words. These "big" words are used in a tripartite construc-
tion, a formula of speech often found in oral performances in the Caribbean. It has the
effect of emphasizing the fierceness of the robber. The self-absorbed exhibition of
education and ability "to inspire through the use of fine words well placed together"23
results in a small transfer of money and is the sole purpose of the boasting speeches.
The nature of the robber's creativity is to rearrange perceptions, experiences, and ideas
into new shapes of consciousness.
A comparison of the 1956 examples with the ones from 1980 show the continuity in
your blood shall be taken to make
wine to quench my dangerous mind
My renown compound is too strong
for human constitution
My father was King Grabla, who grab
the sun, moon, stars, and rain, and
create darkness upon the face of the
I wheeze in the wasp
Away down from the vast eyeless regions
of the lost centuries came I,
invincible, undauntable, impregnable
Now be quick, and deliver the hidden
Snowy peaks of the Himalayas
At the age of two, I drowned my
grandmother in a spoonful of water
to enjoy de sweet nectar of blood to quench
my burning thirst
My renowned compound was too strong for
My name is King Grabla, who grabbed de sun,
moon, and stars, created darkness, bite bits
with my ivory teeth and chew, shorten de
season, feeds upon wasps
feeds upon de wasps
Away down from de high class regions from
de phantom graveyard comes I, de indomin-
able son of de impregnable, incredible
so please mockman come across with some-
of your hidden treasure
the highly selected mountains of the
at de age of three I drowned my mother
Cecilia into a spoonful of water
a dog of a Saxon like you
you dog of a Saxon
Expressions such as the ones above are passed on from one generation to the next
and borrowing each other's phrases is common.24 The Bible, as well as school books are
resources for the speech making. For instance, the phrase "the sweet nectar of blood to
quench my burning thirst," is a deliberate reversal of transubstantiation. On the other
hand the source of phrases like "you dog of Saxon" of which Crowley assumes that it
comes from a historical film, might no longer be known to the masqueraders.25 Being
handed down from one robber to another they have taken on a life by themselves and
have become part of the traditional robber vocabulary.
The robbers, "Pierrot Grenades," "Wild Indians" used their speeches to parody the
educational system in the Caribbean of which Brathwaite has said that "all of those
things that we had to read about Robin Hood...King Arthur...all of these things really
haven't given us anything but empty words." As can be observed in the above speeches,
when written down, this part of Trinidad's oral tradition loses all of its meaning, "that is
to say, the noise that it makes is part of the meaning, and if you ignore the noise (or what
you think of as noise...) then you lose part of the meaning."
Incidentally, the boasting of the robber and his eloquence resemble that of a
mumming on Nevis. There, the speech and the name of a band called "cowboys" show
a close relation to the robbers of Trinidad. The "cowboys" are similarly concerned with
the sound of words and the mocking of scholarship:
That song reminded me of Moses standing on the
banks of the Red Sea. It fills my heart with phil-long-
losophy, entrong-losophy, joken and conomaltus.
Impro, imperium, pompry, comilatus, allus com-
igotus which is to say I come here today without any
Sound, or to borrow Brathwaite's term, noise, is important throughout the Carib-
bean. This performance pattern, however, may not be confounded with that of dramatic
performances. The robber belongs to the "men-of-words" as folklorist Abrahams has
aptly labelled the Caribbean speechmaking tradition. In this context, Lamming cor-
respondingly contends the importance of the sound of words:
So I made it a heaven of a noise (the poem) which is
characteristic of my voice and an ingredient of West
Indian behaviour. The result was an impression of
A dual process of establishing "authority" and recognition through the display of
scholarly verbosity and simulatenous mockery of the British educational system is the
most conspicuous element of the robber's act. The masque, in terms of its social
meaning, represents a hero figure of a new cultural orientation which offers interpreta-
tions applicable to the changing conditions of the Trinidadian society in the first of this
century. The robber is one of the most communicative elements in the carnival, interact-
ing with the audience on the basis of the already mentioned pattern of confrontation.
Such competitive interaction as the robber performs is found in many ways in the
The robber is the response of a small and relatively isolated society to modern
western cultural influences. Whereas most cultures of small societies inevitably die
upon contact with foreign influences, the robber supports the opinion that the originally
fragmented Caribbean culture can be transformed into an indigenous one.
The probable extinction of the robber has to do with the relatively rigid concept of
the act. He is one of the masques that lost their raison d'etre with independence. No
essential changes concerning the content of the speeches took place over the years.
Today, the robber still uses the same concepts of mockery as during the pre-inde-
pendence period for which a secretive and reactive ambivalence was adequate. Then,
"robber talk" commented on the Trinidadians' desire of self-determination and free
creative expression under colonial rule. But creativity, as Nettleford has written, was
"constantly under threat...by his (the black man's) belief in the superiority of all things
excepting those peculiar to him".8
Independence brought democratic participation and a cultural self-assertiveness for
which the robber lacked the words. The masque remained what it was and did not alter
its speech. Thus it lost its points of attack so that today young people cannot associate
any of their ideas with the robber's grabled gibberish.
The robber makes for a fascinating masque synthesizing old elements of the oral
tradition such as its wordiness and sounds with alien images of liberalization and
freedom of the individual from authoritarian rule, such as the cowboy figure. Its disap-
pearance reflects upon the development toward self-reliance that Trinidad has ex-
perienced since independence.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Daniel Crowley's article "The Midnight Robbers" in the CanbbeanOuarterl of 1956 is the only one
dealing with the robber mask. No further research has been done on Trinidad's speech masks. Roger
Abrahams, however, has discussed the Tobago speech band which might have been influential to the
robber; Roger D. Abrahams, "Patterns of Performance in the West Indies," The.lfan-of-oIf~isirthe
WestLnd~s; Baltimore 1983; Roger D. Abrahams, "Speech.lfasin Tobago," TheShnnkerto Dragster,
W. Hudson, ed., Austin 1968.
2. Interview with Pat Bishop on Trinidad and Tobago TV, Feb. 1980.
3. Rex Nettleford, Can'bbean Culturalldentiy The CauseofJamaica, Los Angeles 1979, p. 185.
4. E.K Brathwaite, Historyofthe Voic; London 1984, p. 13.
5. Reisman in an article on Antiguan conversations pointed out that approval is given to a person who "is
felt to be able to live up to the image he's creating. At the same time it is still felt as amusing, as joke."
Karl Reisman, "Contrapuntal Conversations in an Antiguan Village," Richard Baumann and Joel
Sherzen, eds., Ep/loathions/htheEthnographyofSpeaAkng Cambridge 1974, p. 118.
6. Daniel Crowley, "The Midnight Robbers," CaranObbe uarterry4 (1956), p. 265.
7. Nettleford, p. 183.
8. Interview on Trinidad and Tobago TV, Feb. 1980.
9. Interview on Trinidad and Tobago TV, Feb. 1980.
10. Errol Hill, The Tniadad Camival'.Mandatefora.\ rtionalTheatrez Austin 1972, p. 92.
11. Andrew T. Carr, "Pierrot Grenade," CabbeanOuarterly4 (1956).
12. Hill, p. 92.
13. Astor Johnson, Interview on Radio Trinidad, "The Message of Mas," Feb. 1985.
15. Interview on Trinidad and Tobago TV, Feb. 1980.
16. Recorded by Trinidad and Tobago TV, Feb. 1980. Special thanks to Ray Carthy for his help in
transcribing the speeches.
17. Victor Turner. The.4nthopologof'Performance New York 1988.
18. In order to survive during their long oppression, the Trinidadian people used many techniques of
swagger and boldness (see also Roger Bastide, Afnican Ci77iVsartinsh the.\ rewWor/d New York 1971).
19. Neither Crowley nor the TV interview provided their informants' names.
20. Recorded by Trinidad and Tobago TV, Feb. 1980.
21. Recorded by Trinidad and Tobago TV, Feb. 1980.
22. Recorded by Trinidad and Tobago TV, Feb. 1980.
23. Crowley, p. 268.
24. Cf. Crowley.
25. Cf. Crowley, p. 270.
26. George Lamming, ThePleasuresofE u London 1960, p. 62.
27. Cf. Abrahams, p. XVII.
28. Rex Nettleford, WMrvr.. fror IdentityRaceandProtestnJamaica, New York 1970, p. 232.
GRENADA MAS' 1928-1988
Grenada was settled by the French in 1650 and France being a Catholic country,
Carnival (Carni vale, Italian, i.e. flesh farewell) was a festival celebrated for 2 days
before Lent. It is presumed that our Carnival dates back to France's sojourn in our land,
and, that with the abolition of slavery the Merry Monarch was able to add considerably
to his following.
Much of our folklore has been kept alive through representation by individual
masques who portrayed la diablesse the devil's wife with a cow's foot -; loup garoux
(pronounced lig-ah-roo) the human vampire; vampire bats and other legendary char-
acters. We owe carnival masques much for this and although portrayals have changed
wherein new forms have replaced the old and there is much greater participation, this
custom of carnival is still celebrated annually in Grenada, but not always at the tradi-
For those who are too young to remember and for those who would like to
reminisce, come with me to revisit the Carnival of the 1920s.
The genuine spontaneity and near-innocence of "mas" in Grenada around the 1920s
was an attractive factor. Parents sent their children accompanied by nurses to par-
ticipate in a mild way by throwing confetti on the players who in turn sprinkled the
children with Mavis* powder, delighted in their young screams of excitement and
pretended refusal. Children too were adorned for fancy dress parades usually held at
York House, so from young, the seed of "masquerade" was sown.
The word Carnival was seldom used. One spoke of Masquerade or simply Mas'. Old
Mas' was played on Monday; Pretty Mas' was played on Tuesday. Let us look at a diary
for Monday Mas'.
Long Mouth Mas': At ages 8-16 boys from the Grammar School formed their own
band. They played Old Mas' on Mondays chiefly to torment the High School girls on
their way to classes, hoping they would not be recognized as they disguised their voices
by speaking in high treble. These boys spent weeks prior to Masquerade making their
* a brand of body powder popular for its price, smell and red container
long-mouted masques, a crude masque made in crude fashion. A mould of mud was
built peakwise to a height which would obtain the length of mouth required and over
this, wet newspaper was slapped in many layers stuck together with flour and water.
When this dried (sometimes it took days and was covered at night with a wooden tent),
it was lifted off and the cumbersome matrix was worked on. Eyes were gouged, mouth
was sawn 3/4 way down the length and horrific teeth were cut. The jaws were held
together with elastic so the player could open and shut them at will. The masque was
then painted in black or brown with red eyebrows and white decorations to enhance its
evil appearance. One or two members of this band would be dressed like skeletons -
black with white bones.
So we see that the seed of masquerade sown when young enough to be escorted by
nurses had developed.
Pizane: This band-to-be met after Church on Sunday prior to Masquerade. It was
a ritual wherein wild, clever jokes and imitations aided by green bananas and coconuts
which added the curve or bulge needed to assume the grotesques were played out. The
jokes always aimed at their employers. At five on the Monday morning as the last chime
from the Anglican Church tower faded, Pizane hit the road. Some 30 strong and all
men. Conch shells with their lonely, eerie and exciting sound were blown as this band
heralded the beginning of Carnival. Dressed in white see-through nighties decorated
with crochet, some with a visible menstrual cloth which was sprinkled with red ink or
annatto, others wound in white sheets, wearing wire masques and carrying a pot*, the
Pizane swept through the streets at a rapid pace stopping only to "wine" and stir their
pots with sticks or old cookspoons. By 6:30-7:30, exhausted, they returned home to
dress for work. Children called Pizane "Okel Mas" as Okel was the organizer/leader of
The Little Boys: By the time the Pizane had left the streets, little boys with
homemade cardboard masques and dressed in rags appeared. They beat 5 or 1-lb
butter pans which were held by string around their necks. These bands never exceeded
5 in number as they were teams of Green Street boys, Jouilles Street boys, etc., and who
collected the pennies placed on the doorsteps of their route.
Jab Jab: As the morning wore on, jab jabs made their appearance. This comprised
one adult male in crocus bag, tarred, cow chain around his waist and cow horns on his
forehead. The cow chain was held by a little boy, tattered and blackened. Two other
boys attended, tarred too, one beating a kerosene pan and the other a 5-lb butter pan.
The jab jab had six-inch fingernails made of tin which he clicked as he rolled his eyes
from side to side in frightening fashion, chanting his plea:
*pot chambre ( a chamber pot bedroom utensil)
Eau tee lee, eau tee lamb6
Eau tee lee, eau tee la
Gi' Jab a coppa
To pay 'e passage
To go back to hell!
Eau tee lee, eau tee lamb6
Eau tee lee, eau tee la!
There was rivalry among the jab jabs as to which could be the most fearsome. They
walked for miles, from home to home proud to display themselves. They jabbed without
offer of prize or purse, they played to receive a drink or two, a shilling or two and, above
all, to keep the diable tradition alive.
Clowns: By midday one or two "pretty mas" would appear but as this was ole mas'
day, they were mostly clowns with head-dress of beautiful coloured tissue paper ships,
their bells tinkling as they chipped.* These entered the yards of many homes lifting and
stamping so their tiny brass and tin bells jingled in time.
The clowns came from greenville, Belmont, Sauteurs, Gouyave, Victoria and St.
David's, just about from all over the island. All wore crowns or head-dress of ships,
were dressed in satin tunics which were peaked and doubled layered at the bottom so
many were the bells which were sewn on the peaks. They announced their approach by
whistles which had a rolling sound and the slapping together of flat pieces of wood
which had been joined together in clever fashion and slipping and forth with a brack-a-
dack sound. These clowns were the Carnival speechifiers. They represented Biblical or
Historical characters. For example, William the Conqueror, Nebuchadnezzar or any
important ancient character, as yearly they engaged in verbal battle. Memory, pronun-
ciation, factual information and the ability to assume were important. The school-
masters in each district helped with the speeches, typical of the following:
"Honourable ladies and gentlemen who live in this
grand and princely house, I come on this auspicious
occasion to tell you that I, Duke of Normandy and
William the Conqueror, born in the year 1027 suc-
ceeded to the throne of England after Edward the
Confessor stamp, stamp, stamp, tinkle, tinkle,
tinkle I defeated Harold II in the Battle of Hastings
in 1066 when I with my straight and vigorous arm
shot him and kill him with an arrow in his kingly eye
stamp, stamp, stamp, tinkle, tinkle, tinkle In my
reign I crushed with a mighty blow all Saxon ree-sis-
tance stamp, stamp, stamp, tinkle, tinkle, tinkle -
*"Chipping" is a form of marching with feet scraping the road.
Among those who bowed to my good ruling was
Lanfranc the then Archbishop of Canterbury -
stamp, stamp, stamp, tinkle, tinkle, tinkle I placed
the Domus Dei in Winchester Cathedral after I
revived the tax abolished by my worthy pree-dee-
cess-or stamp, stamp, tinkle, tinkle -and
honourable ladies and gentlemen, that feat which I
accomplished is the basis of all taxation today -
stamp, stamp, stamp, tinkle, tinkle, tinkle."
And, on and on the clown would speechify, hardly drawing breath and in singsong
monotone until the householder gave him money to send him on his journey to his other
By four o'clock, the town was full of masqueraders and spectators. From the size of
the crowd one could estimate how big Tuesday "Pretty Mas" would be. Around 6:00
p.m. the streets were emptied as dances were being held a little later in halls and private
Now to the very different Tuesday Mas'!
Pretty Mas': Pretty Mas' began drifting into town by foot and by bus early Tuesday
morning. The thump jump of the jab jab's pans (they played on Tuesday as well), the
chipping of feet on the roads, the clack of wood on wood, the shrill whistles filling the
air with excitement gave notice of the big day. By 3 o'clock from the top of Halifax Street
to Fishmarket was thronged with people players and watchers the open marketplace
was filled as were all existing windows and verandahs overlooking the scene.
Donkey Mas': The air vibrated with sound as the donkey mas' moved in time to the
tune of drums and penny whistle. The donkey was made of a wooden frame with frilled
coloured paper head, very often small in comparison to the body which was covered by
a skirt of red, yellow and black satin and which hid the lower part of the rider, who,
when he moved, the donkey moved too in beautiful movement. Attending the donkey
were two or three women dressed Martinique-style sashaying around the onlookers
each with a polished calabash as they "passed the hat" for the donkey.
Moko Jumble & Lady Katy: An 18-ft Moko Jumbie stamped his way behind the
donkey and adding to the noise of his drummers was the thump of Lady Katy's goatskin.
She too stamped in time to her drum, whirling every now and again, her skirts made
from 3 bolts of flowered cotton billowed in the breeze. Through a slit in the back of her
dress one caught a glimpse of a stilt and the tightly muscled calf of the player as he
moved. Moko Jumbie and Lady Katie met halfway down the street to stamp and circle
amidst loud cheers. Both masques were played by men.
Every now and then a bank of Youngsters in costume and masque (chiefly Grammar
school boys) would arrive at the top of Halifax Street and with screams and tremendous
speed hurl themselves to the bottom. There exhausted, they sat on the sides of the
street, proud to be in this unusual and unaccustomed position.
Pierrot Grenade: More excitement filled the air as the Pierrot Grenades appeared
leaping, their tongues rolling in shrill whistle. The sunlight sent hundreds of dazzling
reflections from the myriad mirrors sewn to their red, yellow, blue and green costumes.
These were the accepted "Pretty Mas".
Snakemen: The prolonged "oooooo" that filled the air assured one that the
Snakemen had arrived. These stalwarts had red & white and black & white crebo
weaving around their torsos, repulsing yet fascinating the viewers. Some of the
snakemen had sleeping snakes in shoeboxes and the curious could pay a penny to see
them. There were also in some of these containers obscene cardboard figures which,
alas, shocked no one. The snakemen were dressed somewhat like bucaneers or simply
with 2" coloured headbands.
Whipmen: These were bands of men also dressed in brightly coloured satin,
wiremasked and with cloth headties which had 2 peaks like large ears on either side of
the head. They cracked long, plaited whips and were given room to perform.In mock
battle the attacked defended themselves with sticks. However, injuries did take place
and this practice was banned. The year after this was law, the men appeared armed with
bottles and stones which they tapped, singing
"No stick, no whip
But bottle and stone."
Bottle and stone were also outlawed.
Stickmen: These men were fighters who danced with their sticks or "bois" in time
to drumming. They warded off blows with dexterity, however, sometimes one drew
blood and another fighter would take his place. Perhaps to prevent tripping, their
trousers, usually white, were an inch or two shorter than normal.
Cha Cha-O: This is a dangerous dance. Two large bamboo rods were laid on the
ground, held by two men who banged them together lengthwise, rhythmically. A dis-
guised but unmasked dancer would hop in and out between the banging poles to the
time of music or sometimes to singing and clapping. Should a step be missed, an ankle
could be smashed. The dancer after a period would be lifted in the air while standing
with one foot on each rod, and above ground would dance to the singing of:
"Cha Cha-O, Cha Cha-O
Take care you break you' back
Hol' 'em Cha Cha
Hol' 'em Cha Cha"
Tamboo Bamboo: This was definitely country mas" who came to town. One heard
with a thrill the musical throbs and sighs as bamboo stumps hit and lifted from the
ground. The bamboo was cut in different length of 3 to 5 feet and as thick as possible.
The players were disguised in coloured satin, white or dyed stockings with frilly silk
garters on their calves. Some had their stockings braided with ribbons. The length of
bamboo afforded different depths of sound, and timing was beaten on the sides of these
"drums" with slender sticks. The players, depending on the length of bamboo control-
led, were called "cutters" or "fullers".
Matadors: The most beautiful and stately mas'. Women in patterned gowns with
skillful head ties and magnificent petticoats in which yards and yards of crochet, layer
upon layer were displayed through the skirt's opening. Only women played this Mas'.
Earringed and braceleted they moved with elegant rhythm.
Through the years to the 30s Mas' was alive as the unofficial conductors worked
ceaselessly but they were ageing and by the 40s many had died and World War II took
a number of players who had volunteered to serve King and country. Despite the fact
that a schooner or two from Trinidad came filled with revellers, Carnival had shrunk. In
the 40s, official organizers offered prizes to induce better costuming and larger bands.
But, the old true spirit of spontaneous frolic began breathing its last.
Carnival could never be Carnival without the behind-the-scenes workers. There was
the official conductor who busied himself reminding the stores to stock confetti and
Mavis powder; who went into the country to stir up the stickmen, donkey mas' and
snakemen and, who saw that the vendors had enough ice to make "snowball", enough
coloured syrup for the shaved ice and sufficient sugarcakel, jijiree cake2, peppermint
sweeties ground nut flats and ground nut sugarcakes black pepper tarts and
coconut tarts to satisfy the crowd; who saw that the little boys collected shack-shacks 7
from the flamboyant tree to shake their own time. These "instruments" were
decorated with coloured ribbons.
There was also the sewer of costumes who toiled with her hand-operated sewing
machine until all she could do was guide the material while someone turned the handle.
All this, done for love and the satisfaction of making Masquerade the best ever.
The "individual" who planned a year in advance his costume, who kept this plan a
secret until he appeared on the streets in his own interpretation of Satan, the Moon,
King George V, etc. etc. Tribute is paid to Louis Salhab who made representation
yearly as he hopped up Scott Street without music but with the cheers of Masquerade
lovers to spur him on.
There were also the side shows the oneman orchestra, his contraption of drum,
cymbals, mouthorgan and fiddle tied together with wire; the Serenaders with their
heavily white-powdered faces wearing straw hats and red bowties, making sweet music
- they stood in isolation as they played before moving into the throng to stand apart
again to serenade others; the Tailor causing great amusement as he darted to and fro in
his bland wire mask, measuring without future intent anyone he could take the size
With the demise of the traditional Carnival, a new form emerged. The 50s, 60s and
70s saw a Mas' from where jour ouvert became more and more popular. In the 1970s the
date of carnival was changed for the first time in history.
After the cancellation of Carnival in 1974 due to the Independence crisis, in 1975 the
pre-Lenten date was changed to May in order to use this event to celebrate Grenada's
first year of Independence. The May date was used in 1976, 1977, 1978. The changing of
the date was traumatic, and Carnival was a faint shadow of its former self. A new
concept had to be encouraged. No ashes, no forgiveness of sins, no absolution on Ash
Wednesday? The very word "Carnival" had lost its meaning! In 1979 Carnival was
cancelled due to the revolution of March 13 but Carnival was played in 1980, 1981 and
1982 without masques and in the month of August. There was a two-fold reason for this:
many players had become accustomed to visit Trinidad for this pre-Lenten Carnival as
this island held an enormous affair thus Grenada was left with few participants for their
own pre-Lenten festivities. Secondly, Grenada needed a tourist attraction for the month
In 1984 the organizers of Masquerade in Grenada had full rein.Competitions and
Calypso as it now existed with its lascivious innuendos became part of the great show.
The true Jab Jab disappeared and it was now represented at Jour Ouvert by huge
bands of blackened, greased men and women, their chief aim being to behave indecent-
ly and to blacken with their oil all those who were not playing. This is reputedly great fun
for the Jab Jab but unless this smearing of oil ceases, there will be many less spectators
at any future opening ceremony of Carnival.
This representation of Jab Jab has taken the place of the Pizan6.
There are no longer any stickmen in town and as most of them had originally come
from around the countryside, it is not surprising that they now prefer to remain in their
parishes where performances are better understood and appreciated
Playing "Pretty Mas" is, however, gaining popularity among the young and well-to-
do. This may well lead to bigger bands and fewer spectators.
Mention must be made of Chantimelle, a village in St. Patrick's. This village has a
history of playing the fiercest mas'. Spites, vengeance, "paybacks" were shelved until
Carnival. On the Monday and Tuesday prior to Lent and EVERY year, war broke out
in Chantimelle. Police were stationed in this otherwise peaceful place, young bloods
from the capital hid themselves so as to view all that took place and a saying, "You
playing Chantimelle mas' wid yourself' was used to anyone overstepping the boundaries
of good behaviour.
Many are the dedicated band organizers who deserve official commendation for the
time, energy, money and love they pour into Carnival and, although today's efforts are
not based primarily on tradition and presentation is more of the "Mardigras" type of
exhibition, it is nevertheless worthy of praise.
In the week known as Carnival week prior to Mas' many fetes are held. There are
also Mas' camps (a Trinidad innovation), where one can view costumes before they are
worn. On the Sunday evening, Dimache Gras, also adopted from Trinidad, takes place,
in which competitions for Carnival King, Queen, junior Carnival monarchs, and Calyp-
so King and Queen are selected.
Prizes are offered for the best dressed, most original, etc. etc. bands and a great
display of talent supervised by organizers and sponsored by local firms is exhibited. The
competitors vie earnestly for the large and attractive inducements offered at the various
The Steel band has its own competition at a "Panorama" beating wherein classical
and calypso music is played by the rival bands for selection of the year's winners. Prizes
are very worthwhile and the steelbands can be heard practising months in advance of
the festival. Within the past decade or two steelband is the accepted Carnival music.
During 1979-1983 instructors and pan tuners were commissioned from Trinidad to
improve the standard of Grenada's pan orchestras, as was the importation of better
instruments. Grenada boasts approximately nine functioning steelbands but few of the
instrumentalists have any knowledge of formal music. A table of these bands is listed
Steelband music has come a long way since its initial "beating" in the early 40s.
Today, for each orchestra there is an arranger who knows music and who is responsible
for the band's production. From its inception the steelband has participated in Carnival
Quantity Parish Name
5 St. George's (Belmont) South Stars
(Carenage) Angel Harps
(Temple) City Symphony
(St. Paul's) Comancheros
(Melville Street) New Dimensions
2 St. John's (Florida) All Stars
1 St. Mark Sissons Syncopaters
1 St. Andrews Volume II
Calypso Tents also traditionally Trinidadian have become part of the Mas' scene.
These concerts are usually held at local cinemas or in the open air games areas of each
With the sound of canon from Fort George, Carnival 1988 erupted at 5:00 a.m. It
boasted a town full of modern Jab Jabs. The roar of thousands of voices repeating "jab
jab, jab jab" rises to fill the air. The Jabs chip to their music made by empty cans, bits of
iron or steel, and bottles being beaten with sticks or spoons. The individual ole mas' on
this morning who amusingly depicts some prominent person has grown less in number.
Later in the day a few clowns and Pierrot Grenades appear. On Tuesday morning and
afternoon, however, a few bands of these masques made a welcome showing.
The Mas' route for the jump in the streets on Tuesday was extended to include the
flat Carenage through Tanteen, around the Mang roundabout and back into town. The
dancing was hypnotic, convulsive "wining" to disco music or steelband.
Tuesday afternoon displayed approximately 8 bands, each 30-100 strong, depicting
such themes as "Life is a Beach", "Going to the Market", or advertising products for
local firms. The players and onlookers, many of whom were tourists disported themsel-
ves with enormous enthusiasm.
Gone was the tapping of bottle and stone, the throb of guitar or fiddle, the slapping
of wood on wood, the crack of whip. Gone too was the innocent, genuine spontaneity,
and, while we bear in mind the old Grenada maxim: "jour pas vier chez jour maipoui"*,
we face the fact that Carnival in Grenada is bigger and more spectacular, it is also
enjoyed by a very much larger cross-section of society.
Mas' leaders have been planning the 1989 Carnival from the very moment carnival
1988 beat its last note, and, those who see carnival '89 will be in for an even bigger treat
than last year.
*Today not like yesterday!
1. A candy made of grated coconut and sugar flavoured with cinnamon.
2. Bene or Sesame seed candy, boiled and made with wet sugar.
3. Any candy was called a "sweetie".
4. Peanut brittle's equivalent.
5. Candy made of peanuts, sugar and ginger.
6. A tart whose filling was a spread of red butter sprinkled with ground black pepper.
7. The pod of the flamboyant tree.
NOTE FOR DISCUSSION
THE POLITICS OF PROTEST IN FREE JAMAICA -
The Kingston John Canoe Christmas Riots, 1840 and 1841
The historiography of post-emancipation protest in the Caribbean has focused on class
conflict on the estates and has emphasized strikes and riots precipitated by planters'
strategies to coerce free labour.1 This essay seeks to broaden this approach by discuss-
ing conflict over leisure and culture and to establish the broader political dynamics
surrounding the confrontation over the traditional Christmas John Canoe in Kingston
in 1840 and in 1841. The discussion will demonstrate how this assault on mass culture in
the immediate post-emancipation period was intertwined with political power struggles
in the Kingston Common Council. The essay suggests that, although the majority of the
black and coloured Kingstonians were excluded from the formal political process by
restrictive franchise arrangements, they were drawn into the political conflict between a
new group of politicians, black, coloured and Jew, and Hector Mitchel, the Mayor of
Kingston, whose political power base was the white merchant class and conservative
elements among the coloured population.2
The slaves' John Canoe Christmas parades had developed from the seventeenth
century and were well entrenched by the time of emancipation. Increasingly, free blacks
and coloureds also participated and white planters and merchants provided financial
support and the costumes gradually reflected the European tastes of the patrons.
Nevertheless, the drumming and dancing which were central to John Canoe, continued
to reflect it's African origin.3 In the post emancipation period, the European elite
discouraged John Canoe because of the so-called 'debauchery and demoralisation'
which it encouraged. However, many realized that the moral weapons of Christianity
and education were the best means to challenge remaining elements of African culture
among the freed population. Nevertheless, Hector Mitchel decided to forcibly suppress
John Canoe not only because of what he described as it's 'disgusting orgies of African
barbarism', but also because of the politics in the Kingston Common Council.4
The Kingston Common Council was established in 1801 because of the growing
concern in the city over the influx of Haitian refugees and their slaves. Unlike other
local government institutions in the island, the elected members of the Common Coun-
cil were also magistrates with summary powers to maintain law and order within the
confines of the city.5 By 1840, Mitchel had been on the Council for over twenty years
and had been its Chairman, as Mayor of Kingston, for eight years. He ruled the affairs
of the City as if he was a 'Monarch' and stoutly resisted governors Sligo and Smith when
they tried to correct abuses in the institutions of the City during the Apprenticeship.
Form 1838, Mitchel was constantly challenged by a growing number of newly elected
magistrates headed by Daniel Hart, a Jewish storekeeper.6
In 1836, Governor Sligo described Daniel Hart, who had just been elected for
Kingston to the House of Assembly, as a 'Jew pedlar, and seller of Rotten shads, though
with a little money.'7 This description underscored Hart's humble background and
emphasised the social distance between Hart and the wealthier Kingston merchants
who were linked to the plantation economy. Hart's business interests were clearly tied
to the internal, retail economy as he was also a liquor retailer with two outlets in
Kingston.8 By 1836, Hart was also a storekeeper on Harbour Street, and had clearly
acquired sufficient property to run for the seat in the Assembly.9 He also made money
out of land speculation in Kingston. In the 1830s he bought and sold land to other
Jewish retailers in Water Lane and Heywood Street and made a quick profit of 400
pounds sterling on ten acres of land along the Windward Road.10 In the neighboring
parish of St. Andrew, he bought land from James Barrett, a black storekeeper, and
made other purchases in the Half-Way-Tree are.11 By 1838, Hart had bought Bowden
Estate in St. Thomas-in-the East,12 and he purchased the three thousand acres property
at Harris Bay in St. Catherine.13 Hart also acquired Hampshire and Philipsfield Pens in
St. David, both totalling five hundred and sixty acres.14 Clearly, Daniel Hart was
representative of the new class of local businessmen who invested profits in land which
came on the market during the uncertain period surrounding emancipation. He was the
first of a number of Jewish retailers to use their newly acquired wealth to challenge the
political establishment by organising black and coloured voters, who were looking for
alternatives to more conservative whites and coloured candidates.15
In the first stages of his political career, Hart formed an alliance with Edward
Jordon and Robert Osborn, whose newspaper benefitted from Hart's financial backing,
and he won seats in the Kingston Common Council and in the St. Andrew Vestry with
their help.16 These early excursions into local politics also revealed his strong following
among the black electors. The conservative press insisted that Hart's liberal use of
'shads and mackerels' at election time has created this alliance. However, the black
voters rallied further to hart's support as his opponents ridiculed his humble back-
ground and his lack of facility with Standard English. Both Hart and the black voters
soon turned to politics to indemnify themselves for the derision and scorn which the
better off poured on them-17
Such an opportunity presented itself in 1836 when Hart broke with Jordon and
Osborn and challenged John Samuel Brown, a coloured merchant, for one of the three
Kingston seats in the Assembly.18 Hart's resounding success underscored the role of
ethnicity and colour in Kingston politics. Skillfully exploiting old animosities between
the black and the coloured groups, and receiving the undivided support of the Jewish
fraternity, he also attracted some support from the white mercantile community who
were eager to embarrass the coloured grouping led by Jordon and Osborn. Hart's
victory was based on a coalition of black and Jewish voters and a new and important
"party" was now part of the political landscape of Kingston.19
Furthermore, the significance of this victory for Kingston politics and what later
happened in 1840 and 1841, lay not only in the depth of Hart's electoral support among
the black artisans in Kingston, but also in the support he generated among the nonvot-
ing public, the strong presence at the poll of apprentices revealed that Hart's elec-
tioneering activities had gone beyond the traditional boundaries of registered voters to
include 'well able-bodied apprentices', and 'sailor negroes'. His defeated opponents
accused Hart of mobilising the 'rabble' so as to prevent 'respectable persons' from
going to the poll, and this before 1838, when it would be 'bad enough to be jostled and
ill-treated by former servants' at the hustings.20 Therefore, Hart could boast in the
'... he was the representative of the black population.
He was sent there by the blacks and his other
friends. The white Christians had their repre-
sentatives, and he hoped shortly to see the day when
the blacks would send in their own representatives.
[Meanwhile,] his black friends looked up to him to
Moreover, Hart grasped every opportunity to solidify his support among the Kings-
ton blacks. When the Assembly debated the proposal to terminate the Apprenticeship
System in 1838, Hart unsuccessfully tried to convince them that June 28, 1838, the day
of Queen Victoria's coronation would be a more suitable date than August 1st. Al-
though the planters and the coloured representatives argued that the extra five weeks
were crucial to ensure a smooth transition, Hart freed all his apprentices on June 28th,
claiming that his black supporters in Kingston preferred the earlier date. He also
publicly defended the freed workers against wild rumours that they had immediately
refused to labour unless they were offered extravagant wages.22
However, Hart's colourful sojourn in the Assembly was shortlived.In October 1838,
he and four other representatives formed the minority of Assemblymen who supported
the Imperial Prisons Act which was vehemently opposed by the planters and the
coloured politicians because they insisted it violated their legislative autonomy. Jordon
and Osborn exploited the surge of "nationalism" set off by the political crisis which
precipitated an early general election. They encouraged Philip Lawrence, a wealthy
Jewish merchant, who had close ties to the plantation economy, and who enjoyed
undivided support of the white Kingston mercantile establishment, to oppose Hart.
Confronted by the coalition of white and coloured voters, and having to share the
Jewish vote, Hart's strength among the black constituency proved unequal to the task of
returning him to the Assembly.23 He now focused his political ambitions on the Kings-
ton Common Council, then firmly ruled by Mayor Mitchel, who could count on the
support of Messrs Jordon and Osborn, whose newspaper, the Morning Journal, was
dependent on the advertising support of the Kingston merchants.24
The enfranchisement of the Jews and the free black and coloured male population
in 1831, altered the membership of the Common Council. By 1839, of the twenty four
elected members, nine were white, eight were coloured, four were Jews, and three were
black.25 Hart became the chief spokesman for a minority group of ten, made up of three
coloureds, three blacks, and the four Jews, who were referred to as the 'Hartites'. They
pushed for a lowering of taxes and strongly supported the Governor in his efforts to
reform the Kingston prisons, and specifically, the removal of the Superintendent of the
prison, against the wishes of Mitchel, Jordon and Osborn.26 The meeting became more
stormy as each side traded abuse and invective. In one such debate, Hart's speech
became so raucous and abusive that 'people rushed into the court-house in scores to
ascertain what was the matter'. Before the enlarged audience of ordinary Kingstonians,
Hart attacked his coloured political opponents as former 'liberals' who would now
'make slaves of the people and rob them of their rights and privileges'27
Outside the Council, throughout 1839 he continued to associate himself with
progressive causes which won him increased support among the liberal voters in the
Kingston constituency. In February of that year, he was prominently featured at a large
Baptist meeting in Kingston. Not only did Hart praise the missionaries for their work
among the freed people, especially in the struggles against iniquitous rents and oppres-
sive wages, he moved the resolution to send local missionaries to Africa and offered
financial backing for the venture.28 Furthermore, when Baptist missionaries from all
over the island came to Kingston for a huge public meeting to mark the first anniversary
of full freedom, Hart's credibility among the black population must have increased as
the newspapers reported that 'there was a regular congregation of Baptist parsons at
Mr. Hart's store, Mr. Knibb being pre-eminently conspicuous'.29
Moreover, he persisted in his mobilising of the unenfranchised Kingston blacks and
involving them in the heated political issues of the period. In January 1839, in the midst
of the Assembly's refusal to do business until the Prisons Act was withdrawn, he
organised an address to the Governor, signed by over three thousand 'blacks and other
inhabitants of Kingston', pledging their support for the Executive.30 No doubt, some of
the signatures were forged, as the Kingston merchants and the conservative coloureds
insisted.31 But, Hart and his political supporters refused to be deterred and continued
to act as if they were the true representatives of the Kingston poorer classes. When Sir.
Lionel Smith was transferred from Jamaica to Mauritius, the 'Hartites' organised
another meeting which was numerouslyy attended by the blacks', to praise Smith for his
consistent support of the ex-slaves, the Stipendiary magistrates and the missionaries
during the very difficult months of full freedom.32 Soon after Hart and two coloured
members of the Common Council, Charles Lake and Alexander Forbes, who had
endorsed the sentiments at the meeting to laud Smith, travelled to Spanish Town to
meet Sir.Charles Metcalfe, the new Governor, so as to brief him on other version of
Jamaican politics and society one year after full freedom.33
Thus by 1840, Hart had built a strong base among the Kingston black and liberal
coloureds in the Kingston Common Council. He was also assured of the support of the
Jewish community, especially the retailer and artisan groups. the 'Hartites' were now in
a position to mount effective challenges to their political opponents in the Kingston
Common Council and used the elections in January 1840 to parade their electoral
strength. The elections were hotly contested, and were the first of a series of events
which raised the political temperature in the city which boiled over in December with
the confrontation between the John Canoe drummers and dancers and the police.
Mitchel and the conservatives endorsed the candidacy of four white merchants,
David Smith, George Orrett, John Nethersole, and William Titley. Jordon and Osborn
used the columns of the Morning Journal to support this ticket and called upon the
voters to rally behind 'merit and not complexion.'34 The 'Hartites' put forward four
politicians which reflected the Jew and black coalition; David Quallo and Aaron
Salmon were Jewish shopkeepers, while Henry Bethune, a carpenter, and Nathaniel
Wiltshire, a fisherman and storekeeper, were the two black candidates. The 'Hartites'
were accused by the conservatives of elevating these 'ignorant and unprincipled
upstairs' to oppose the 'talent, wealth and respectability' of Kingston35 Nevertheless,
the black and Jewish voters, and liberal elements in the coloured community, gave their
support to the 'Hartites', who won all the four seats. The conservative press, incensed at
this victory, fumed against the blacks who wished that they had remained the subjects of
the African chief, Mumbo Jumbo, instead of Queen Victoria.'36 What really disturbed
the conservatives was that in keeping with other elections, Hart had encouraged non-
voters to come to the hustings and to provide moral support for the enfranchised.
Apparently, the presence of the 'rabble', as no doubt Hart hoped it would have,
discouraged 'respectable' voters from going to the poll as they preferred to stay away
than have to push their way through a hostile crowd.37
Defeated at the polls and in the streets, Mitchel and the conservatives turned to the
Assembly to thwart this significant victory. They successfully petitioned for the altera-
tion of the constitution of the Kingston Common Council so that the members would no
longer be ex-officio magistrates, and the property qualifications for office were to be
doubled.38 In essence, the extraordinary powers granted in the 1801 Act of Incorpora-
tion, could no longer be entrusted to the Council since the magistrates were increasingly
not white nor conservative. In keeping with conciliatory gestures toward the conserva-
tives, Melcalfe gave his assent, but the Colonial Office vetoed this flagrant attempt to
disfranchise a part of the Kingston constituency.39
The 'Hartites' quickly made political capital out of this second defeat for Mitchel. In
September 1840, they organised a meeting of the 'Friends of Freedom in Kingston' to
praise the British Government for protecting their 'rights' by disallowing the Act to
amend the constitution of the Kingston Common Council.40 In the following month, the
Hartites' increased their numbers on the Council when Henry Moresby, one of the
Stipendiary Magistrates for Kingston, and who had clashed with Mitchel over prison
reform from 1836, won a seat on the Council.41 Furthermore, so as to politically
embarrass Mitchel, and this with the 1841 election to the Council less than a month
away in December 1840, Hart organised a public meeting in Kingston to censure
Mitchel for his conduct in the Assembly, and demanded his resignation. Jordon and
Osborn berated Hart for his now common practice of encouraging the 'mass of the
people', and the 'idle and the indolent' to dabble in Kingston politics, thereby under-
mining the authority of Mitchel, who commanded the undivided support of the 'wealth,
talent and influence' of Kingston.42
This meeting, and the demands for Mitchel's resignation, coming after previous
embarrassments in 1840, provoked from the Mayor a response which was calculated to
demonstrate that popular politics did not determine policy in Kingston under his
administration. Within a week of Hart's bold call for his resignation, Mitchel, unilateral-
ly issued verbal orders to the police to seize drums and to prevent the usual Christmas
The Mayor did not inform his fellow magistrates of this important departure from
the usual practice of permitting the festivities, nor were the people forewarned of the
consequences of holding their customary parades. Using powers vested in him under
public order legislation which had never been enforced, the Mayor was seeking to
re-impose his authority two weeks before the usual annual elections of the Kingston
The police set about their task on December 26, 1840, and immediately they met
resistance from the people, who turned to Hart for protection. Hart and other
magistrates hurriedly assembled a meeting to which Mitchel was invited, but refused to
attend. Confronted by the magistrate's revolt, and the threat of bloodshed in the streets,
Mitchel withdrew his order, but not before Daniel Hart championed the peoples' right
to drum and dance in the streets.44 Hart perceived the political significance of Mitchel's
attempt to suppress the John Canoe and was convinced that it was a challenge to the
'popular element' in Kingston politics. Indeed the police has pursued drummers to
Hart's store and seized drums there. Hart responded like a demagogue and not a
magistrate, no doubt convinced that the Mayor was also playing politics behind the
pretext of maintaining law and public order. When the police sergeant confiscated the
drums in front of his store, Hart threatened to use his authority as a magistrate to
instruct the crowd following the John Canoe drummers to take the sergeant into
custody for interfering with the peoples' 'rights'. Thereupon, four 'black men' held the
policeman and took the drums and returned them to the 'people'45 Hlart and Salmon
then led a crowd to the police station and provided bail for all the individuals who had
been arrested. Hart also 'liberated' the drums from the station and told the cheering
crowd to 'knock down' any policeman who dared to seize their drums again, telling the
people that he was 'giving them liberty to beat the drums for he was Dan O'Connell the
second of Jamaica!'46 At the emergency meeting of the Kingston Magistrates, Hart
produced a coloured man who had been injured in the melee with the police, and to
loud cheers from the crowd outside the meeting, accused the Mayor and the police of
'drawing the blood of citizens.47
Thus, by way of political brinkmanship, Daniel Hart and his supporters had
registered another significant victory for the ordinary people of Kingston. In less than
two weeks he confirmed this at the Kingston Council's elections which had been turned
into a referendum on Mitchel's failed attempts to suppress the John Canoe celebra-
tions. The Kingston voters demonstrated where they stood. Hart topped the poll with
350 votes, and organised the defeat of John Fowles, who had been on the Council for
thirty years, and had been nominated by Mayor Mitchel. Significantly, Fowles' 261 votes
represented 12,936 pound sterling in taxes, while Hart's supporters had paid
2,524.pound sterling Clearly, the Kingston artisans and small shopkeepers, black,
coloured and Jew, had defeated the candidate of the white merchant class.48
Furthermore, the so called 'rabble', who had no vote, also turned out at the poll to
display where they stood on the issue of John Canoe. They cheered the voters who
supported Hart and hurled insulted at Mitchel, who had to adjourn the polling because
of the jostling and assaults upon his supporters, a few of whom had their coats torn as
the crowd tried to stop them from voting.49 After the poll, Hart and Lake addressed the
blacks emphasising the end of slavery and the defeat of Mitchel's 'party' which 'would
buy and sell you if they could, nay put you in fetters and slavery tomorrow, if it were in
their power.' The crowd was further assured that the 'Hartites' were their 'friends', and
would support them, 'as long as we have a drop of blood in our veins.'50 The voters had
spoken at the polls and the masses supported them, convinced that their entitlement to
drum and dance in the streets was part of the expression of their freedom. And, to
underline the point, they held victory parades celebrating the defeat of Fowles. At the
head of the processions were drummers followed by groups dancing and 'bearing a
coffin' which celebrated the 'political death of Mr. Fowles', and by extension, Hector
Mitchel.51 The people also celebrated by drumming outside the Kingston Theatre
where the elite had gone to enjoy "civilised" leisure.52
However, the political initiative shifted significantly by December 1841. By then,
Hart, Qualio and Salmon, had been tried and convicted of inciting riot and assaulting
the police, arising out of the events on December 26th, 1840. They were fined and hart
was sentenced to three months in prison, while Quallo and Salmon received two months
each. In addition, Moresby was transferred from Kingston to St. Catherine by Governor
Metcalfe so as to remove him from the party politics of the Common Council which
required residence in the city as a qualification for membership.53 Mitchel immediately
went on the political offensive and summoned three meetings to discuss the expulsion
of the convicted magistrates from the Common Council. On each occasion, no quorum
could be formed as the other members refused to widen the cleavages in Kingston
politics.54 But Mitchel did have some satisfaction as petitions to the Governor to
mitigate the sentences of the three magistrates were refused in November 1841, assur-
ing that the Mayor's foremost political opponents would pass the Christmas season
behind bars.55 Mitchel could now deal with their John Canoe supporters.
Nevertheless, the people of Kingston were determined to have their John Canoe
with or without their political allies. Fully cognisant of this, Mitchel published his order
banning John Canoe two weeks before Christmas, and repeated it in the press right up
until December 24th. At the same time he made special arrangements to strengthen the
security in Kingston, by establishing, with his own funds, an armed, mounted police
force, and just in case that did not impress the masses, he arranged for the strengthen-
ing of the army presence at the barracks on the Kingston parade. Undaunted, the John
Canoes took to the streets on December 27, 1841, and the police were pelted with
stones and sticks whenever they tried to seize the musical instruments. Mitchel and the
magistrates were also stoned when they intervened to support the police. Having
*precipitated the crisis by banning John Canoe, the magistrate now had a full scale riot
on their hands, and the Riot Act was read in the dark of evening at 6:45 p.m. The large
crowd refused to leave the parade and attacked the police taking prisoners to the
barracks. The police opened fire, killing two men and injuring many more. Even then,
the army had to be called out before the streets were cleared and order restored.56
The sentiments expressed by the crowd as they tried to defend their John Canoe
festivities explain their dogged resistance. Some saw the suppression as partisan and
selective as the 'white people' had the 'liberty' to 'indulge in horse-racing' while the
'blacks were not permitted to pursue their pleasure'. Even after the Riot Act was read
and various magistrates were persuading the people to disperse and return to their
homes, some of the crowd told the officials that the drummers and their supporters had
a right to be on the parade because 'they were free and would not be made slaves of'.
Clearly, for the Kingston ex-slaves, John Canoe was part of their folkculture, and their
celebration of it was not to be tampered with at the whim of Mayor Mitchel and the
conservative faction in Kingston politics.
Furthermore, with the absence of their allies among the Kingston Magistracy, the
blacks assumed their own leadership in the confrontation with Mitchel. Most of the
eye-witness accounts to the tragic events on December 27, 1841, remarked on the
presence in the crowd of 'decent', 'respectable blacks', directing the resistance against
the police and appealing to the authorities to permit them to have their John Canoe.
Foremost among them was Samuel Anthony Titus, a cabinet-maker, who told the
Inspector General of police that despite the reading of the Riot Act, he would not leave
the parade because he was on the 'Queen's ground', and if the police fired, there would
be 'blood for blood.'58
The presence and activities of the better off blacks like Titus suggest the extent of
their determination to continue to struggle for their cultural festivities. Titus had
strongly supported Daniel Hart in his failed re-election bid in 1838, when with the
opportunity to cast three votes to elect that many representatives for the parish in the
Assembly, Titus, and other blacks, voted solely for Hart.59 It was nonsense to suggest,
as Hart's opponents did, that the basis of his strong support among the black
freeholders was because he 'opened up shad and mackerel barrels' at election time.60
Certainly, the link between the black electors and Daniel Hart resulted from Hart's
efforts to challenge the white and coloured conservatives by courting the Kingston
masses. Shut out by the conservatives, Hart's one route to political office was champion-
ing popular causes such as John Canoe. It is this political link which explains why three
Jewish shopkeepers were imprisoned for defending the right of the black people in
Kingston to have their long established John Canoe parades. Therefore, John Canoe
persisted in the immediate post-emancipation period as a popular cultural expression
which, when celebrated in 1840 and 1841, further politicised the Kingston Magistracy
and highlighted the colour and class divisions in the society.
1. Woodville Marshall, "'Vox Populi": The St. Vincent Riots and Disturbances of 1862,' in B.W. Higman
(ed.) Trade. Gor rnmmenrandSocientnr CanbbeanHistoriEssasspresentedroDouglasHall(Kingston,
1983) pp. 85-115; Bridget Brereton, 'Post-Emancipation Protest in the Caribbean: the 'Belmana Riots"
in Tobago, 1876' CanbbeanQuarterly, Vol. 30,1984, pp. 110-23; Michael Craton, 'Continuity not Change.'
The incidence of Unrest Among Ex-slaves in the British West indies, 1838-1876', S/airrandAbo/ition,
9, No. 2, 1988, pp. 144-170.
2. C.O. 137/256, Metcalfe to Stanley, No. 6, 29 October, 1841.
3. For a discussion of the history and development of John Canoe see Judith Bettelheim. 'Jamaican
Jonkannu and Related Caribbean Festivals' in M. Graham and F. Knight (eds.), .4fncaandtheCanibbean
(Baltimore, 1980), pp. 80-100; Sylvia Wynter, "Jonkannu in Jamaica" Jamaica Journm Vol. 4, No. 2.
1970, pp. 34-46.
4. C.O. 137/256, Metcalfe to Stanley, No. 6, 29 October. 1841.
5. C.O. 137/254, Minute to Stephen, 23 February, 1841.
6. C.O. 137/255, Metcalfe to Russell, No. 212, 30 April, 1841.
7. C.O. 137/211, Sligo to Glenelg (Private), 18 June, 1836.
8. Jamaica Archives (J.A.). 2/6/11, Kingston Common Council Minutes, 1820-1828.
9. J.A., 2/6/13, Kingston Common Council Minutes, 1834-1839.
10. Island Record Office, Land Deeds.
11. /bid Barrett was a strong political supporter of Hart's.
12. Jamaica Almanack, 1838.
13. Island Record Office, Land Deeds.
14. JamaicaDespatch, 16 June 1839.
15. S. Wilmot, 'Jewish Politicians and Black Voters in Free Jamaica', SocialHi storPro./ect.\ersleter, No.
9, June 1984, pp. 6-10.
16. Iftchman, 14 January 1833, 7 June 1835: iCgston Chrvonncl 21 September, 1835.
17. J. Bigelow, Jamaica i/ 175U(New York, 1851) pp. 21-22; igsron Chrionice. 29 August, 1835.
18. Kiton ChronCh icle 26 April, 1836.
19. C.O. 137/211, Sligo to Glenelg (Private), 18 June. 1836.
20. Watchman, 8 June 1836.
21. .lfomingJoumral 9 June 1838.
22. Ibid 11 June 1838; FalmouthPost, 25 July, 1838.
23. RoqjaGazeerr 10 and 24 November, 1838: formngJounal. 22 November. 1838.
24. C.O. 137/230, Smith to Glenelg (Private), 13 October. 1838.
25. J.A, 2/6/13 Kingston Common Council Minutes. 1834-1839.
26. .lfomingJourma,5 June, 1839.
27. C.O. 137/239, Smith to Glenelg, No. 153. 1 September. 1839, Enclosures.
28. JamaicaDespatch, 21 February. 1839.
29. bid., 30 August, 1839.
30. P.P. 1839, XXXV (107) p. 374; lfomihgJoumnal 26 August. 1839.
31. P.P. 1839. XXXV (159) p. 79.
32. JamaicaDespatch, 27 August. 1839.
33. Ibid. 26 September. 1839.
34. fomijgJournal 4 January 1840.
35. JamaicaDespatch, 10 January. 1840.
36. /bid, 10 January and 30 March, 1840.
37. fomingJouml, 11 April, 1840.
38. Votes of the Jamaica Assembly, 1839/40, pp. 393-4.
39. C.O. 137/249, Metcalfe to Russell, No. 77, 2 May. 1840; C.O. 137/254. Metcalfe to Russell. No. 178, 18
40. BaprtstHerald 23 September, 1840.
41. .fomingJoumal, 13 June and 31 July, 1840.
42. /bid, 16, 17 and 21 December, 1840.
43. C.O. 137/256, Metcalfe to Stanley. No. 6, 29 October. 1841.
45. .fomingJornual 16 August, 1841.
46. Jamaca Standar, 17 August. 1841.
47. /bid, .WomingJoumal, 16 August, 1841.
48. .IomigJournma, 14, 15 and 21 January, 1841.
49. /bid, 14 January, 1841.
50. ./om;ngJoumal 16 January. 1841.
53. C.O. 137/256, Metcalfe to Stanley, No. 6. 29 October, 1841; Ro;qaGazette 9 October, 1841.
54. .liomingJouma/, 14, 15, and 20 October, 1841.
55. Ibid, 4 November, 1841.
56. C.O. 137/264, Elgin to Stanley, No. 59. 16 December, 1842, Enclosures.
59. J.A. IB/11/13, House of Assembly Poll Book.
60. KAioston Chironi 29 August. 1835.
ALA(R)MS OF GOD KONNU AND CARNIVAL
IN THE CARIBBEAN
(A REVIEW OF CARIBBEAN FESTIVAL ARTS BY JOHN W. NUNLEY AND
JUDITH BETTELHEIM, SPECIAL CONSULTANT REX NETTLEFORD WITH
CONTRIBUTIONS BY BARBARA BRIDGES, REX NETTLEFORD, ROBERT
FURRIS THOMPSON, DELORES YONKER, SEATTLE AND LONDON: THE ST.
LOUIS MUSEUM IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF
WASHINGTON PRESS, 1988, PP. 218)
'The feast (every feast) is an important prim-
ary form of human culture. It cannot be expl-
ained merely by the practical conditions of
the community's work, and it would be even
more superficial to attribute it to the physio-
logical demand for periodic rest. The feast
had always an essential, meaningful philoso-
phical content. No rest period or breathing
spell can be rendered festive per se; some-
thing must be added from the spiritual & ideo-
logical dimension. They must be sanctioned
not by the world of practical conditions but
by the highest aims of human existence, that
is, by the world of ideals. Without this sancti-
on there can be no festival
The feast is always essentially related to time,
either to the recurrence of an event in the na
tural (cosmic) cycle, or to biological or history
ic timeliness. Moreover, through all the stag-
es of historic development feasts were linked
to moments of crisis, of breaking points in
the cycle of nature or in the life of society
and man. Moments of death & revival, of cha.
nge & renewal always led to a festive percept-
ion of the world. These moments, expressed
in concrete form, created the peculiar charac
ter of the feasts.'
Mkhail Bakhtin,Francois Rabelais and the folk culture
of the Middle Ages & Renaissance (1965/trans Rabelais
& his world (1984),pp8-9]
aribbean is blind deaf leaf & almost dumb. Since the
death of the Amerindians we have glimpsed ourselves mainly as fra
gments:non-federating cane or tourist gardens, plural societies, crab
antilles, cut-up, cut-out, cut-throat; carcass not carnival; we have
heard mainly what others have said about us: el dorado, islands of
youth, tropical paradiseos, banana republics, yard/backyard, yard-
fool/yard-fowl, no-history deep amnesiac bed-fellows, johncrow
not jonkonnu; and our most celebrated words have perhaps been in
saying these things: the sweating bad-words from the yords, the likk
le limiting & grudgeful metaphors of (i)structured (ii)inherited (iii)un
developing fragmentation:who-you,who-say not Hosay &I turn to
Wilson Harris' carnivall not to mention Bakhtin's book quoted from
in my superscription &I wonder
'Carnival [?was the true feast of time,
the feast of becoming, change & re-
newal It [?]was hostile to all that was
immortalized & completed' IBkhtin,pl(O]
&I submit myself to shango &tokumina & to cumfa & I wonder.
&I struggle to find the words to create a literary cosmology for the
kaiso and I wonder, and then my Caribbean Festival Arts [CFA]
(they sentd me only the paperback edition r falls open at p107 &I begin to over.
stand why I have resisted attempting this review for almost two yrs
There on that page on that plate (Fig 82) of gloss miraculously captur-
ed by John Nunley's photograph, is Peter Minshall's 1987 King of G.
rnival, itself miraculously capturing the very spirit of the spirits (mo-
la, moko, konnu, katchina, ireme, Pitchy-Patchy, Midnight Robber,
Ananse, Pierrot QGenade, Shango) who travelled with us. grounded
with us here & also here transformed from ancient ancestor to senti-
ent late 20th century avatar on wheels, on armatures of
wire in cascading coloured lights, maskerading man man. ipulating
the very spirit of his culture a thousand times his size. masked man
mancrab & butterfly, the horseman walking on the ground ground.
ation of the paradox &from his hands he flies the uni. verse: a gro-
tesque kite of garbage an alami alarm with nigre jardin roarers
(the rasta rakes his hands) become the aeons of the world: look how
his mokojumbie feet, suspended in the void
are made of children's playpen building blocks the colour of the rain.
bow. watch how the Aztec & the Hopi Indians, the O(mec & the Rob-
ot World of QCter Space will recognize that grinning Skull of Ieath
with cartwheel eyes. that Robot look more closely is a Horse
[rhe relationship between the iconography of the StarWars films, Joseph Campbell's symbol-
ic mythology, Bambara sculpture, Dogn cosmology & American/Caribbean konnu is somc-
thing that perhaps some of us shd take up as one follow up to(FA]
Jack of Spade nose, the chest puffed out & proudly like aCrvantes,
like, that is, his ILn Quixote cadaver open to the elements of wind &
sound &wrapped only in a few ribbon cerements, the pelvis danc-
ing on three interlocking heart-shaped plaques or pentacles the Maa
sai or the Maya may have made, Elizabethan compass roses for the
buttocks &at the very centre of the three, the very centre of the wh.
ole collage of spirit of the dance, one red (un)beating heart surround-
ed by the rain of colour that the headress makes as if its curve down
from the Robot Robber's head is meteor & sound & rain of life that
will not wet the ground
Slithering in the polluted sli
me of the island, Mancrab, Ki.
ng Evil himself, represents te.
chnology's dark side, its prom
ise of environmental destruct.
ion. One night at the King &
Queen competitions of carniv-
al 1983, in Trinidad's capital
of Port of Spain this hideous
dancing mobile [lobster-spiky
metallic sea-ananse] moved to
the violent music of East Indi.
an tassa drums. Menacing pin.
cers clawed the air threatening
gly as the multi-armed most
er spun its dance of destruct-
ion beneath a canopy of white
silk. The automaton's [Darth
Vador] face stared out without
emotion at spellbound specta-
tors. At the climax of the dan.
ce, a compressor pumped red
paint up tubes attached to fo-
ur poles, slowly staining the
silk at the corners. Before the
dance was done, the pure whi
te silk had turned blood red.
Twisted by the winds, the dan
cing mobile stunned the cro-
Mancrab's enemy was Washer-
woman [a deep symbolic embl-
em in Caribbean mythology/re
ality &] that year's Queen, wh
om the demon finally murder-
ed in the masquerade. This sn
ow white beauty danced soca-
samba across the stage, battle
ng her adversary. To Washerw
oman and Papa Bois, the spirit
of the forest, a son named Cal
laloo was born. Those who are
black see themselves black in
him; if they are brown they
see themselves brown; if whi-
te, then white. Callaloo's se-
quinned costume glowed in th
stage lights as if he were walk
ing on glittering water. Arm
ed with moral strength and e-
thnic diversity [this though might
be authorial intrusion &aspect of id-
eological thesis of this book] Callal-
oo subdued the Mancrab & say
ed the river people from destr
auction. [CFA pp31-32. Sec also Pet-
er Mnshall's Callaloo an de Crab
(POS1984),p19+his published post
er of that segment of the pageant, The
This is the magical realism the magical reality really that this
book this report upon fundamental pan- (yes) Chribbean experience
awakens us to & marks one of the most important cultural events
in the Chribbean since Chrifesta 72 when for the first time since the
death of the Amerindians we recognized that all-a-we is one
Which is why I resisted the review. To understand what Caribb-
ean Festival Arts is saying is easy/hard enough: it not only calls
us out to see & recognize ourselves but it 'knows' full well that we
can't do that until we ourselves can understand the paradox & reali-
ty of our culture: that with us there is very much an inner & an out-
er sense of reality: inner & outer plantation in which we incubate (ba
ke/ hate/ debate) ourselves, inner & outer metropoles to which our st
rings are attached; but that above all, we are not only natives (wheth
er we like it or not) but also & at the same time & the simultanei-
ty is where the real magic & modernity & uniqueness are; the al-
ter/ natives. Every word written in Festival Arts,every photogra-
ph taken,every note made, every source referred to, challenges us -
almost as a condition to even opening this book of ourselves to un-
derstand the concept of alterity:that there are spirits in the world al-
ong with persons, parsons;that when we say nyam we call upon th.
ese spirits in a way that we don't/can't/when we say 'eat'; that ever
time we say/dream/ sing/ think/train, hammer, horn, bush,John -
[fcr more on train & hammer, see my 'Obds of the Mddle Passage', CR X:4 (1982) for horn(s)
see Robert Farris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit (New York 1983), for Jonkomnu, John
oow, John ClowBead etc, see John Rashfcrd, 'Plants, spirits & the meaning of 'John' in Jam-
aica', JaJour 17:2 (My 1984), pp62-70]
each time we beat drum,mask ourselves for carnival, enter the hou-
mfort, we even if we don't know it participate (even if partially/
&the 'partially' is probably our most serious problem) in this magic-
al inheritance of alternative. of alter/ native worlds. That Minshall's
Pierrot Grenade is also Buraq, the winged horse of Muhammed; tho.
se garden rakes of hands, thepanjtan:: the five pure members of the
Prophet's family [CFA p1231. Ibors, intruits, druids, connections, trans-
formations. No wonder that canboulay in Trinidad & Notting Hill &
Hosay in Cuyana & Trinidad give the Authorities worries
[CFA, p 25; AndrewPearse, 'Crnival in 19th CTrinidad', C 4:3&4 (1956),175-193; Bidget
Breretn, 'The Trinidad Carnival 1870-1900' Savacou 11/12 (Sept 1975) pp 46-57; Bridget
Breretcn,Race relations in Colonial Trinidad 1870-1900 (Chmbridg pp152-175;
rrol Hll, The Trinidad Carnival (Austin, Texas 1972); Ivy Baxter,Arts of an island
(MNtuchen, N 1970); Sylvia Wyntcr,'Jonkonnu in Jamaica',JaJour (June 1970) Darcus Howe,
The road make to walk on Carnival Day (london 1977)]
So that it is in the communicating (doors, intruits, connections, trans-
formations:plough becomes weapon, Ananse becomes a spider, Sha.
ngo becomes a locomotive engine, pavillions of Papillon become gar-
bage & vice versa), in the essential (religious) interbonding, sharing,
binding, that our problems arise: so much scepticism, so much super.
ior intellectual cleverness, so much desKanting, as it were; so much
fragmentation of definition; that it seems we can't even begin
From the time of the Winter Solstice, Iecember 21, with the sun lo-
west in the sky (the Christian Christmas) to the period of the Spring
Equinox, March 21 (the Christian Easter) is when most of the world's
great festivals occur
in Northern Europe it is the Goddess/ God of Ice or Death who must
be placated in her Palace of the Midnight Sun; sacrifice will ensure th
Spring. In the riverain & valleylands of what wd become the great
Euro nation-states, the concern settled in a wide arc from Equinox to
Equinox, Autumn to Spring, giving us the great OCsirian/ (Qphic tales,
the Harvest festivals, kites, scarecrows, ships of Arthurian & Yseult
death &desperado Carnival before the Winter penance
In Amerindia, where the Gods of Sky & Wind had to be specially spo
ken to, the Solstice meant pumpkin, corn, bean(stalk) shored in befo-
re the Arctic Orcle takes over &so the icons of the festivals were pu-
mpkin, corn & bean(stalk) on the great circle of the cosmos
In India lMha-Kali,Nitya-Kali, Smashana-Kali, Raksha-Kali, Shyama-Kali the Hack One
the festivals are mainly light & spring (flowers & animal & fruit) &
water (moon/monsoon) axled again upon the solstices: QCam, Iurga
Puja (does Lakshmi carry o her head a crown r ancient galleon?) Iussehra& Divali..
In Africa, ancestral matrix of most of the Cribbean people that this
book celebrates, this period is marked by Harmattan (&for the Mos-
lems, Ramadan; & for the Hebrews, Abraham): the winter solstice br.
inging in the'moving of the desert', great waves of sand drifting out
of that ocean's centre to affect the Nile, the Rift Valley, the central lak.
es & west through SeneGambia & Gana & Nigeria & west across At-
lantic on the slave trade winds to Guanahani, Ciribbean & beyond/
with the loveliest crimson sunsets of drought
In all these cultures the rituals &iconography start with food (p19/ fea.
st,'fool',fesive, festival) & vegetation: konkie & Pitchy-Patchy; & then as
god of food &vegetation in the chain of being: man, yam, nyam, nya.
me, nam (to give it only one cultural nomen. clature) & then, esp in
Africa & Amerindia,the mask of human/animal & the masks of god
- kachina & konnu & in all community in need of reassuran-
ce/resurrection & survival ('fertility rites') entering the yearly crisis
of the Winter Solstice: Divali, Dioula, Passover, Muharram, Christmas/
Easter, Powamu, Chworu, Homowo...
I c5 (o (0 olI
to dust c
Di]oG SIof cgbLassL
trum fl BMOt
thB nO ind cel7 r
hoE tog airalI
cc 0l cof m d(r
QQIto o f star
m D (t[ co S cSG8[p u [r
CC C]8p D~~l 1 g3~
an~D %h manous
mmco QG colld Dlnc
[fuQnrK in dand fihC
[l|0[f]^ BOD (l0e (c (T8sB
cogf i T s soloir
nd OQ c tor~ B t o g 1o
hrull t ho In gosQo r
searnaCan of fligh
DaoninoG oftQ hlood~r
mofl iho MqGo
EKB 7J)D 'Kites'
The 'difference' between konnu & carnival in the GCribbean is that
they became separated by history in the late 19th century. The kon.
nus that we know throughout America Plantation are the visible pu.
blicly permitted survival ikons of African religious culture. That's
why they are stylistically 'fixed', serious & conservative: the mirrors
they use are fragments of memory, intensifications of a certain xperi.
enced disaster. They (re)acquire their full meaning, memory & stat-
us only if/when we place them back into their Celede context their
Mandinka context into their Ibgon their Nupe & their Afikpo context
Among the Gelede, the Mandinka, the Evwreni, the Afikpo, the Nupe
& the Fante, to give a few examples, konnus are part of carnival
(Crnival, wherever it occurs, is a crucial link in the chain of being. Its
weakest link in a way, since it marks the community's moment of cr.
isis when the river will rise when the monsoon will swoom when th
locusts will swarm when the desert will quail when the lightning wll
kill. At that moment there will occur that twin(ibeji) &/or contradic.
tory ritual of sacrifice & festival: the bacchanalian drinking of the spl
it/spilt blood: the communal eating of the dismembered god & his/
her reconstitution through & into the elements. into a new cycle of
renewal/ resurrection/ascension or groundation when the cosmos is
re/ turned to the ancestors are re/ turned to the community is re/ tur.
ned to the living is returned to the elements is re/ turned to the cos-
mos & that happy resolution is the carnival & the konnus are like go.
Id or green or silver links of spirit of this rain
In the Qribbean,konnus arefragments (only) of this chain & there-
fore fragments (only) of the carnival. The slave masters did not per-
mit the midnight drumming in the forest assembling the ancestors
& beating out the devil. They did not permit processions through th
village (there was no 'village' in the 'proper' sense) to the ohene's
house, theomanhene's palace (no 'chiefs' permitted on the slave plan
station no washing therefore of the Stools, no durbar or display of pr.
incely power,no afternoon of priests (Okomfo Anokye(s)), of the
ohemma, women,children bringing first/fruit yams, no boatmen on
the river or hunter/farmers setting off into the forest; no un/public
sacrifices(altar ofabraham, ram or rama) no ceremony of welcome
to the leaves or stars, though this is what the GCribbean konnus are/
or rather should have been
[There is a quite helpful time duration/spatial/& illustrated description/analysis of the 5-day
Odwira (Yam) Festival at Akropang, hana by Herbert M(ble (The Art of Festival in Chana') in
African Arts VIII:3 Spring 1975, ppl 2-23,60-62,90, which includes a 'loc' at the outer (pub
lic) & inner (ritual) xpressians of this occasion. See alsoRSRattray's 1927 description for Ku.
masi in Religion & art in Ashanti (Kumasi &Landan 1927),ppl22-143. See also pass-
im Cable's Icons: ideals & power in the art of Africa (Washington DC 1989) esp his
chapters on the masked (male) dancer & the horseman]
In contrast to the FBro-Christian 2-day Carnival which precedes the
40-day long penance period of Lent, the 5-day Akuapim Ctlwira is a
'cleansing of the nation'/New Year festival that follows a priest-impo
sed 40-day season of Lent' (no drum no dance no mo(u)rn no public
ceremonial activity)just before (September) the beginning of the ha.
1st Day 93
Fodwo/ Mon day
lifting of 40-day season of anomie;one of the royal xecutioners
fires off his gun into the air to restore sound to the world
sacrifices, clearing of the paths from ancestral sites/shrines to
the omanhene's palace, so that 'the gods may come &eat'. Paths
are also cleared from the palace to the farms &to the outlying
villages owing allegiance to the omanhene &from the palace to
significant sacred & political places within the town
[f Paro kpangbahumoi masqueraders & Chribbean konnu sweepers/Bettelheim (1979, p74),
Ryman ii (1984), p55]
2n d Day
Nwun aben a/ Tuesday
OUtdooring of the New Yam, Procession to Amanprobi, place of
the ancestors. Night: Dancing in the omanhene's palace
sacrifices, 'white' Stool washing, rituals at Amanprobi, Procession
back from Amanprobi in late afternoon/early evening to the
The New Yam ceremony begins in open ground on the omanhene's palace grounds opposite the
path up fromtheriver;the left will be the Nsorem shrine and away to the right is the lpeni
Tree. The priests declare the that paths have been cleared and that the New Year has begun. Li-
bations are poured and the new yam is introduced to the gods by the oldest elder of Akropong
and by little children. A small quiet procession, with no drumming, then moves into the om -
anhene's canpound topay respect to the royal ancestors in the Royal Sool Room and then along
the town's main street intothenorthern part of town just beyond the Mpcni tree where it turns
and walks back down Nhin Sreet (that part of the town that fronts the palace) as far as the river
road then curves back towards & into the ritual area fran which it had started. On route asqfo
play akindof football with pieces cfnewyam, competingfor possession of the 'ball' with other
asrqo groups alongthe
way in akind of ritual mock battle
After the ritual washing ofthe royal domestic 'white' stools in one of the palace courtyards (a
private ceremony) the priests & people set out to the beat cf the brass-encrusted aburukuwa x.
ecutioner's drumon the4-mile journey to the old capital (c1731) and royal mausoleum at Am-
amprobi where libation & sheep sacrifice are made at the graves of royal ancestors in an espec-
ially 'secret'/sacred ritual. After this the procession returns to the omnmhene's palace at Akro
pongwith the 'Odwira' r special 'medicine' of the'tribe' alongwith sacred Sate symbols repre.
senting spiritual purification & the political continuation of the State. As the Amamprobi pro-
cession reaches town it is joined by the largest crowd so far seen at the Odwira, drumming &
dancing, soon to be met, withfrcntcnfrmn drums, by the omanhene & his retinue in black/red
adinkra (mourning) cloth. The day ends into the night with a crowded reception & dancing in
the largest of
the palace courtyards
community visiting, elders visit omanhene's palace
Kuruyao/ Th ursday
Public (community) visiting
for Ashanti,Rattray (Religion & art in Ashanti (Kumasi & Lmidon 1927), ppl22-143)
reports this as primarily apolitical activity on the part of the asantehene who visits the chief
chiefs, inc the Queen Mther, warriors, politicians, priests & shrines of Kumasi &its neighbor
rhood; courting & social activity (xchang of gifts, settlement of disputes etc); community pro-
'The Yam G(stom is like the Saturnalia, neither theft, intrigue, or assault are punishable during
the continuance, but the grossest liberty prevails, and each sex abandons itself to its passions'
rTEBowdich, Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee (London 1824)3rd ed Ln
don: Frank Cass 1966, p274] Later (op cit p279/my italics) there is this imagery, based, in-
terestingly enough on Caribbean rum: "The next morning the King ordered a large quantity of
rum tobe poured intobrass pans, in various parts of the town...In less than an hour excepting
the principal men, not a sober person was to be seen, parties of four reeling& rollingunder the
weight of another, whom they affected tobe carrying hone; strings cf women covered with red
paint, hand in handfadling down like rows cf cards ;the ccmmonest mechanics & slaves furious
ly declaiming n state palavers; the most discordant music, the most obscene songs, children of
both sexes prostrate in insensibility. All wore their handsomest cloths which they trailed aft-
er them toa great lengh, in a drunken emulation of extravagance & dirtiness'
xnrmentingcn this passage 100 years later, the ?wiser & somewhat embarrassed Rattray (op.
cit p 131) comments, referringnot only to Bs 'Saturnalia' but his interpretation of Odwira gen-
I have already been
at some pains to poin
t out. ..that we have b
een most unfair in ju
dging these customs
by these outward sign
s; yet that is what the
historians have unifor