Carnival is Mas

Some of you who read this blog are not Antiguan or even Caribbean so when I talk about Carnival I’m not quite sure what you picture (some of you do have Caribbean Carnivals where you are as it’s become one of our more popular exports – wherever  Caribbean people reside – Miami, Toronto, Notting Hill, Boston, New York, Atlanta etc. – there is a Carnival). But beyond the wining and soca, the rum and debauchery, there is a history rooted in our liberation as former enslaved people brought to the Americas from our home continent of Africa centuries ago. In Antigua, Carnival (which celebrated its 60th anniversary as a summer festival – the Caribbean Greatest Summer Festival to hear us tell it, though Rihanna and Barbados’ Cropover might have something to say about that – this year but existed as a Christmas season mas before that) intersects with Emancipation Day, August Monday, and there is a small adjacent, but not integrated, Emancipation celebration that’s more about honouring the ancestors and seeking justice for the lives eaten up by hundreds of years of enslavement. And then there is Carnival proper which begins with pre-fetes, and includes pageants (Queens and Teens), music competitions (soca, calypso, pan), and, of course, mas…because Carnival is mas. And in Antigua that mas takes up two business days (three if you count Children’s Carnival though Children’s Carnival unlike the other two days is not a national holiday) known as Carnival Monday and Tuesday at the end of which prizes are dispensed. I wanted to share some of the mas in this space.

How it works is that you have different mas bands (or troupes) and they play different themes (a new one each year) – from mythology to lost civilizations to things in nature to things in the great beyond, and beyond; it’s about history and fantasy, creativity and expression. There are adult categories and junior categories. I’m going to share pictures from Junior (i.e. Children’s) Carnival first because those are the only mas photos I found on the Antigua Carnival facebook (and it works out fine since this is a youth-focused arts blog); but don’t ask me to say who is who nor what they’re playing.

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The source for the images in the slideshow is Antigua Carnival on facebook.

I wanted to show some of the adult themes as well.

Staci Mua RussellopeningInsane

In order, the top image is a modern take on the John Bull by Stacey Russel (Stacey and Dem) – the John Bull is a traditional mas character who used to scare the devil out of us when we were kids. It is based on the masked African witch doctor and back in the day there was a cattle tender with a whip, and the horned character would charge the crowd, and people would scatter; it was a whole thing. Read more on the John Bull here. The second image is a member of a mini-mas group called Just Friends, because that’s literally what they are. Me and my crew played behind  them this year (but more on that in a minute). The third image is Insane Mas. All three placed in the competition this year. Read the full results here. Sorry there aren’t more adult pictures but it’s hard to pull more without pushing beyond fair  use boundaries – as it is these three are public posts from the mas pages (Stacey’s and Insane‘s) and the Carnival page on facebook.

Finally, this year, as I blogged here, two friends and I (as one media person repeatedly intoned “all three” of us) decided to do our own thing this year. An ulterior motive was showcasing a character from my most recent children’s picture book With Grace – a mango tree fairy. So yes, this is a shameless plug for my Caribbean fairytale (please pick up a copy for the young one in your life) but it’s also mas which we all love and have played many times together and apart over the years. These costumes are made by my friends (with funding from Titi Rent-a-Car, Townhouse Megastore, and Pink Mongoose) and inspired by the art work in the book (illustrated by Cherise Harris). I think we did okay.

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That’s it!

Okay, fine, here are some more of the kids (love how much fun they’re having):

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-by Joanne C. Hillhouse, resident blogger and author

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