Traditional Carnival Characters

Carnival has always been about social expression, the voice of society is displayed on the streets of the nation in an exuberant celebration of release. Beneath this seeming abandon there often lies incisive wit delivered to the hands of the people in the natural arena - the streets. Traditional characters help to preserve the various social mores and norms of an evolving culture, a vital link to the nation's rich heritage.

Dame Lorraine or Dame Lorine

dame lorraine.
Dame Lorraine is a character through whom the behaviour of the French planters could be satirised. The character was introduced Carnival to Trinidad at the end of the 18th century. The characterisation or performance of Dame Lorraine was originally held in two parts beginning at midnight on Carnival Sunday and performed in private yards.

The first part featured a parade of people dressed in costumes of the 18th century French aristocrats. A haughty butler introduced arriving couples, after which a stately dance was performed while a slave gaped through a window at the proceedings. In the second part the butler was transformed into a schoolmaster calling the pupil's roll. The pupils dressed in ragged imitations of the aristocratic costumes displayed in first performance, had exaggerated physical characteristics suggested by their names : Misie Gwo Koko, Misie Gwo Lolo, Ma Grand Tete. Male and female players alike were masked and danced to a tune played by cuatro and bandol groups.

Moko Jumbie

Moko Jumbie
The stilt dancer known throughout the Caribbean, is a traditional folk character that was originally brought from West Africa. The word "Moko" is derived from the name of a West African God and "jumbie" or "ghost" was added by liberated slaves after Emancipation. On stilts, that ranged between 10 to 15 feet high (often brightly painted in stripes) the Moko wore long full skirts or pants, a brightly coloured satin or velvet jacket and an elaborate admiral's hat topped by plumes.

The Moko Jumbie (sometimes accompanied by a dwarf in similar costume) would dance through the streets all day, collecting money from spectators gathered at second floor windows or on balconies. He danced a jig to the accompaniment of drum, triangle and flute or to the music of passing bands.

Midnight Robber

Midnight Robber
One of the most colourful old time mas figures, the Midnight Robber, is immediately identifiable by his extravagant costumes and blood-curdling speech. Originally inspired by cowboy costumes, the Robber sports an oversize hat with fringed brim, the crown assuming different shapes (graveyard, The Red House); a flowing cape decorated with symbols of death and destruction; satin shirt and pantaloons generally in black and shoes or boots resembling an animal with moving eyes. He summons and dismisses his audience with the blow of his whistle while threatening them with a gun or dagger.

Robber Talk, characterised by its boastful, mocking style was derived from a variety of sources: the Bible, literary texts and school readers and speaks of the Robber's invincible ancestry as well as his terrifying exploits. The striking similarity to the extemporaneous delivery of today's calypsonians is immediately evident.

Burrokeet

burrokeet.
This donkey or horse man was constructed from bamboo in such a way that it gave the illusion the dancer was riding a small "burro" or donkey, when he put his head through the hole in the donkey's neck and the body of the animal fitted around his hips.

The Burrokeet tradition existed both in East Indian Hindu culture and on the South American mainland. The donkey's head was made from coloured paper on a wooden frame, while the body was covered with a satin skirt with a hemp tail.

The "rider" wore a satin shirt and a large matador's hat or straw hat and danced making the donkey caper and bow to the accompaniment of guitars, cuatros and shac-shacs.

Pierrot Grenade

Pierrot Grenade
The supreme scholar / jester proud of his ability to spell any word in his own fashion, the Pierrot Grenade is descended from the Pierrot known for his elegant costume and fierce fighting prowess. This colourful cousin is dressed in a satin gown covered with bells hung, with a velvet heart shaped breasted piece bordered in swans down decorated with sequins and mirrors. Under his velvet beret he wore an iron pot to protect him from blows of opposing Pierrots' short steel or lead lined whips. A long train of strips embroidered with gold braids, stockinged feet in light shoes decorated with swans down and bells completed his costume. The Pierrot was eventually driven from the streets after numerous arrests and goal sentences for fighting.

Pierrot Grenade (supposedly from neighbouring Grenada) inherited his predecessor's love of oratory. The Pierrot was known to quote such Shakespearean characters as Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony and Othello at length but the elaborate costume made way for a crocus bag gown. A mask, to hide his identity, usually a coloured head tie or hat completes his costume.

Jab Molassie

Jab Molassie
From the Patois for "devil" and "molasses" the Jab Molassie is one of several types of devil mas. The simple costume consists of short pants or pants cut off at the knee, with a wire tail, mask and horns and a pitchfork. The whole body is smeared with grease or mud, red, green or blue paint.

When Jab Molsassies choose to daub themselves with mud this is what is popularly referred to as mud mas. Not all of the traditional elements are transferred to this expression of the character but a good time is had by all. The Jab Molassie wines to the accompaniment of imps beating tins who attempt to restrain him by pulling on the rope or chain around his neck.

Jab Jab

A pretty devil mas resembling a mediaeval jester's costume, with bells suspended from the points of the satin shirt which are divided into panels of alternating colours. The costume is decorated with mirrors, rhinestones and swans down. A hood with stuffed cloth horns is worn and a whip of plaited rope (cracked menacingly and occasionally used to attack other Jab jabs) is wielded.

Cow Bands

Cow Bands
Cow bands or Cattle mas was traditionally played by abattoir employees. On Carnival Monday wearing dry plantain leaves and cow horns they would charge the bullfighter. On the Tuesday the band wore yellow eton jackets over pink satin knickers. The bullfighter sported a black matador's or admiral's hat. The 'bull', with wore tail and horns held in place by a head tie would attack bullfighter and bystanders alike.

Fancy Indians

Fancy Indians
Among the most spectacular mas costumes, Fancy Indians are based on the indigenous peoples of North America. The headpiece has grown over the years in splendour and size and now has to be built onto a wire frame and supported by the masquerader's body. This 'wigwam' is worked with ostrich plumes, mirrors, beads, feathers, papier mache masks, totem poles, canoes and ribbons.

Fancy Indian is the most popular form of Indian mas which also features a call and response in improvised 'Indian" language. In addition to Fancy Indians there are Wild Indians, Red (Warahoons), Blue and Black Indians.

Bats

Those who played bat mas long enough acquired the reputation of beginning to resemble the animal. Bats dress in a tightly fitting black or brown costume with a headpiece made from swans down and papier mache which completely covers the head. The mouth is used for vision and occasionally the mask is lifted for a breath of air. The wings with a wingspan from 12-15 feet are made from wire or bamboo and covered with the same skin tight material worn on the body. Claws are attached to shoes, gloves on the hands. Great pride is taken in doing the bat dance or mime, crawling, dancing on the toes, flapping and folding the wings.