Carnival: A Mass Plays Mas’  [Caldwell Taylor]

Draft: Not for Quotation, Citation or Distribution

Link to part 1


[Part 2 of 2]


Grenada Jab Jab

“The molasses Negro [Negre Molassi] wears nothing. His whole body and face is smeared with an atrocious mixture of soot and molasses” 

– Lafacdio Hearn, after viewing Martinique’s 1887 Carnival. See Hearn’s “Two Years in the French West Indies” published in 1890.

Jab in Haiti

“A band of bare-chested horned men whose bodies are covered with sugar-cane syrup mixed with soot and charbon [charcoal] In Haiti these Carnival characters are called lanceurs de cord”.

The lanse kod character of Haiti blacken their body as much as possible

The Lanceurs de Cord characters of Haiti blacken their body as much as possible

– Novelist Edwidge Dandicat in “After the Dance: A Walk Through the Carnival of Jacmel”

Frenchman Xavier Marmier [1808-1892] saw the Carnival in Cuba, where blacks smeared the bodies with tar to mark the January 6 Carnival- the Dia de Reyes(Day of Kings).

See Marmier’s Lettres sur l’ Amerique.

IS True :The Jab Jab [Diable Diable] is the major figure of scatology in the Grenadian Carnival .

It is well worth noting that once upon a time the Catholic church granted what it called “comic licenses” . These licenses excused risque and obscene interludes in the course of the celebration of the Mass. The Church’s risa pasquale  – the so-called “Easter laugh”, was a sexually suggestive act which gave a profane colour to the sacred event.

About the sacred-profane dichotomy poet W. H. Auden [1907-1973] wrote:

The value of a profane thing lies in what it usefully does, the value of a sacred thing is what it is”.

“Of course a sacred thing may also have a function but that not its primary role”, responds Joyce Carol Oates.

Pieter Bruegel [c.1525-1569] brought the sacred and profane to a face-off in a painting entitled The Battle Between Carnival and Lent.
A panel from Bruegel’s “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent”, 1559.

A panel from Bruegel's “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent”, 1559

A panel from Bruegel’s “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent”, 1559

There was also a time in Trinidad when the Carnival “opened” before the altar of the Port-of -Spain Catholic cathedral. Starting in the 1920s , and continuing until the 1950s the Roman Catholic Les Amantes de Jesu Society [ Lovers of Jesus] “gave” the grandest of the pre-carnival balls.

Carnival and Religion make an odd couple: Both seek the extinction of alienation and estrangement ; they both wage real and fanciful wars:he Veillee Croix aka vecco] is the outstanding symbol of Heraclitus’ miracle of the unity of opposites.

Veillee croix = cross wake/ cross vigil.

[End of part 2]

(c) Caldwell Taylor

Caldwell Taylor is  writer and cultural commentator. The former teacher and diplomat is a graduate of Windsor Law School . 

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