Written by: Anna-Marie John
I have clear memories of attending Carnival celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago when I was very young.
I watched as the men in the mud teased me on Jouvay morning, the way the Jab Molassie would look me dead in the eyes and make me pay them to move away. I remember the Tassa and African drummers beating loudly in sync as if they have been in that time and space before.
I remember the way my mother threw her arms in the air and held me tight around the waist to dance with her on Carnival Tuesday.
I would feel different bits and pieces of raging energy. As I got older, I recognized that the Carnival space offered me freedom, the space to be me, to shout and jump and dance and scream and hug the entire universe with both my arms.
Often, Trinidad and Tobago can be observed through the external eye as being an array of exceptionally designed concepts coming to life in the form of Mas— this is true. These concepts may take the form of both modern or traditional representation. Nevertheless, they are the years and months of dreams, prayers and intentions of Mas Makers.
In the Carnival, there is always that one person whose costume was made at home, who comes out into the street and plays their ‘Mas’. Or that person, who stands at the side of the Steelpan band and scream to the top of their lungs while wukin’ freely to the sounds of our people.
‘Mas’ can be understood as an event or a time of year, but for me, Mas is self-discovery.
From the Kambule to Dimanche Gras, carnival calls us to understand our history and ancestral memory. To recognize too, that we must honour that presence of the spirit of Carnival and understand that it is also an ever-present energy.
I performed on a Dimanche Gras stage one year and all I could think of was the powerhouses and unimaginable talent that stood there before me. I thought of the sweat and tears of Mas Makers preparing their Mas to cross the stage in anticipation. Mountains of shining costumes passed by me as I stood on the side, looking on in absolute astonishment. Built from written stories then into wires with cloth and diamonds, mounted on a person to portray. To portray the Mas, but to live in it too. I think of the calypsonian warming their voices and preparing their bodies to tell our stories and the stories of the world, all woven together with satire and honesty.
Thinking too of their process, their Mas.
In another instance, I stood on the road, bois in hand and thinking of our ancestors who fought for the Carnival.
Re-enacting it. That power has never left me. That power of resistance and war.
Walking through the streets of Port-of-Spain and observing the dichotomy of the Sailor Mas and the beautifully feathered Mas. The way they exist together. In the same way, societies do. Different races, socio-economical groups and communities. In the midst of it all, I reflect on my Mas.
My process. My Indo-Caribbean Process.
It has been difficult for me to find space in my homeland. I question whether I exist as more of one or less than the other. A balance of given names like John and Kajol, existing in one being.
I have found strength in the Mas. I have discovered that in me, there has been an omnipresent spirit of the Carnival, that never leaves but adapts.
I have planted my feet firm in the realization of wholeness and the East Indian stick fighters from whose seeds I have grown.
We live a Mas, a song we sing to ourselves every day and embody characters that we live through. We wrap our bodies in the warmth of our minds and every cell in our body shakes with the rhythm of what we know as our Mas.
What is your Mas?
As a Caribbean person, it does not matter where you wander, you carry your home in your arms. I have walked Georgia Avenue, Washington DC and spoke in my thickest and most real Trinidadian Creole and this is my Mas.
I have felt the Jammettery manifest itself in my unapologetic nature. The fearlessness and truth of my existence.
I have found, through the Carnival, my Mas. My Mas stays with me, it stays with us all. We may quiet it but it is there, in the tapping of a foot, boiling of the blood, raging of the heart, in the preparation and meticulous planning. Your Mas is there.
Your Mas is your process. Your Mas is your truth.