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VIII) Carnival in the 1890s

The Canboulay procession was replaced by a mimed burlesque known as the Dame Lorraine (Allong 1984). The Dame Lorraine is named after a term used to refer to a stylish woman in society and was a grotesque parody of the behavior of the French planters at their annual balls. The Dame Lorraine was held in barrackyard theaters for public audiences on the Sunday night before Carnival Monday. The performance usually began at midnight and continued until dawn when the costumed performers, who were often members of society themselves, their identities well concealed so as not to be recognized, would flood into the streets with the audience and join the bands of masqueraders portraying characters out of Trinidad's folklore in the Jouvay.

The Dame Lorraine performance consisted of two acts. The audience sat on three sides of an informal stage and a string band provided the music. The first act was a grand parade of people dressed in 18th century French aristocratic costumes. A pompous butler would announce the names of couples as they entered. An elegant dance followed and servants and slaves would be seen peeping in through windows (Crowley 1956:45).

Act two was a parody of the first in which the butler would be replaced by the Maitre L'Ecole, a master who, carrying a big book in which he took roll of his "students" and tamarind switch and wearing a frock coat and high crowned hat or academic gown and mortar board, would teach the "slaves" how to dance. The pupils were dressed in rags imitating the aristocracy in a form of burlesque. All participants were masked and men played all the parts. Each pupil had a "prominent physical protuberance" which gave the character his or her Rabelaisian name: Misie Gwo Koko (Big Head), Ma Gwo Bunda (Big Stomach), Misie Gwo Lolo (Big Bottom) Gwo Patat (Big Chest), Ma Chen Mun, Koka, Bude, Toti or Misie Mashwe Tune (Crowley 1956:45). The Maitre gave instructions to the pupils to perform certain steps alone, in pairs or as a group and the movements emphasized their physical deformities to the amusement of the audience. All dialogue was in patois (Hill 1972:11).

Jour Ouvert or jouvay also began shortly after the elimination of Canboulay in 1884. The word "jouvay" comes from the folk tale of the soucouyant who is said to shed her skin at night and fly through the air to attack her victims yet must return before daybreak. Upon returning home she is unable to recover her skin because someone has sprinkled salt on it and as day approaches she cries out "Jouvay, jou paka ouvray" (daybreak or no daybreak). The characters of the jouvay were the characters of the night featured in folktales. People would portray these folkloric figures like the soucouyant, the loup garou or werewolf, Papa Bois, a guardian of the creatures of the forest, and La Diablesse, a demon who appears to drunken young men on dark deserted roads as a beautiful woman and lures them to their death. Jouvay marked the formal beginning of the Carnival processions (Hill 1972:86).

Another common element of the Carnival was the playing of old mask or ole mas'. After people tired of playing of folkloric characters ole mas' became an established part of the early morning celebrations of jouvay. Ole mas' is an inexpensive and witty masquerade emphasizing punning and buffoonery. Toward the turn of the century Carnival festivities extended from the beginning of the New Year to Ash Wednesday. At any time during this period groups dressed in any kind of old rags would raid private homes under cover of darkness. Most homes had a trunk in which costumes from past Carnivals or no longer fashionable items of clothing would be stored in anticipation of a spontaneous urge or invitation to play ole mas'. The goal of ole mas' was to dress in such a way as to make some kind of amusing commentary on a recent event or to imitate the people one visited by aping their mannerisms and form of speech, to make fun of people and have them laugh at themselves by teasing, caricaturing, lampooning, mocking, and parodying them (Hill 1972:86).

Tranvestism and other reversals were employed to make detection difficult. No part of the body would be left uncovered; gloves, socks, or stockings covered the hands, while masks of wire, papier mache or rubber or even paper bags and pillow cases were used to conceal one's identity. Or the face and head would be blackened with burnt cork while the voice was altered as well. Ole mas' was and remains one of the areas of reversal in the Carnival and under the security of concealment people would often do what they would never otherwise do.

The legislation of 1884 prohibited masking before 6:00 a.m. on Carnival Monday and therefore ole mas' players on foot carried their masks in their hands until they were about to assault their unsuspecting prey. Groups would vary in size from a just a few to fifty but were usually small groups of no more than fifteen. These mummering groups were usually formed through social connections and often included both men and women.

The marauding party would surprise the inhabitants of the chosen house and engage in all sorts of antics in an effort to amuse. If the host was a good sport he would offer whatever food and drink he had and a party would develop with dancing and singing. If the revelers did not find their arrival warmly received they would proceed to another house in search of a more amenable victim. Some people were fearful of ole mas and dreaded the approach of the Carnival season concerned about who would descend on them this time. These people were known to be apprehensive about ole mas and therefore offered a more enticing prey to the masqueraders who would, if necessary, lay siege to any fortress like home they wanted to enter.

Musically the bamboo-tamboo band soon emerged as the accompaniment to street processions at Carnival replacing the skin drums which had been banned. Different lengths and thickness of bamboo were used to create different tones and sounds by banging them on the ground, striking them together in the hands, or beating them with a stick or piece of metal. These bands included other forms of percussion such as bottles struck with spoons and shack-shacks (similar to maracas). These musical forms were never restricted by legislation. European instruments such as the clarinet, violin, bass, and brass instruments came into prominence as the music for Carnival in the period just before World War I.

The African-creole urban working class Carnival of ritualized violence and aggression, the settling of conflicts, and the pursuit of rivalries was altered by the control of public organizations and restricted by law (Lee 1991:426). The self-regulated and orchestrated contests of skill by the jamet bands were replaced by costume, music, and singing competitions organized by merchants. Merchants who imported masks and materials sponsored bands and offered prizes to encourage wider participation in the Carnival while advertising their products. In 1900 Ignatious "Papa" Bodu, a merchant, Borough Councillor, and early supporter of kaiso established one of the first major competitions at Marine Square with the hope of improving the moral tone of the Carnival (Brereton 1979:163).

The elites continued to hold Fancy Dress Balls and Fetes Champetres at their country estates as the middle classes gradually returned to the streets masked and disguised and paraded on Monday and Tuesday afternoon in decorated carriages or on foot. Masquerade bands began to be organized by young men attending the better secondary schools and store clerks (Pearse 1956:34).

Toward the end of the century the jamette bands were replaced by band unions such as the Calvary Band Union of New Town and the White Rose Band Union led by Julien White Rose (Anthony 1989:12). The band unions were composed of men and women dressed in matching costumes according to a color scheme which identified each band. At the front of the band a banner depicted the seal of the union and the name of the band (Anthony 1989:14).

As these competitions redirected the emphasis of the Carnival away from cultural forms of social protest other channels for the expression of political discontent were created. Organizations calling for racial consciousness and appealing to race pride aroused great interest and excitement among the urban poor as well as the middle class African creoles. The Pan-African Association founded by H. Sylvester Williams, a Trinidadian lawyer based in London, in 1897 to agitate and lobby on behalf of the colored and black members of the Empire was enthusiastically embraced upon Williams visit to Trinidad in 1901. Williams established many chapters among the black middle classes but despite an initial flurry of activity and growing interest in racial consciousness the Association broke up soon after Williams returned to London.

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~~SweetEvil~~