N Touch
Monday 22 July 2019
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Scary Mas


It seemed to have materialised out of the dark shadows of the silk cotton tree — a scary creature of many colours. It attacked with vengeance cracking a long rope whip which made a frightening ear-splitting sound. With all my might, I screamed for dear life. My father lifted me up and my fears slowly dissipated.


That scene took place where the Diego Martin Main Road crossed the Morne Coco Road to form the Four Roads Junction. In the mid-thirties, there were wide open spaces shaded by enormous silk cotton trees which, according to folklore were the habitats of the bloodsucking soucouyants. That was where I saw my first Carnival at age five.


The whip-cracking masquerader was called a jab-jab; the corruption of the French word "diable" meaning "devil." His shining satin costume was bedecked with bells. Wearing a wire mask, he would smash the whip on the ground or snap it in the air like the present day "Zorro."


Strutting on stilts, the moko jumbies about three to four times the height of most men, did not scare me half as much. Their parents covered the stilts completely as they danced to the music of flutes and the beat of drums.


"Quick get the dustbin. The band coming down! "My mother commanded. Running to the pavement, I took up the silver bin with two handles and brought it inside the house. This was in Duncan Street, where the family lived for a few months.


It was jour ouvert (opening of day) 1937. Crowds of people were in the street, singing and shuffling along to the beat of pieces of iron, dustbins and bamboo. It was just a rhythm - "bang a lang, a lang, a lang" but that was the forerunner of the steel band.


On Carnival days, my mother would take us to her cousins - the St Todds on Charlotte Street. Hundreds of chairs from homes would be placed on the pavement and families would sit to look at mas on Mondays and Tuesdays.


"Stop! Stop! You mocking pretender," were the words of the midnight robber as he blew his whistle and drew his guns to make you freeze.


Then he would deliver a long graphic speech detailing how he, at age three, had killed his parents; how thousands had suffered the same fate; how he had drunk the blood of his victims and how he would kill you and grind your bones to make his bread if you did not hand over a penny immediately.


Another mas that terrified me was the jab molassie. The body of that "devil" was covered with molasses. Chains were round his neck and waist. He had horns, a tail and he attacked spectators with a long wooden fork. An "imp" was behind him beating an empty kerosene tin while the jab molassie danced like a demon from hell. He would never leave you alone until you had paid him.


"Do you know me?", the female masquerader turned and asked roughly. Her tone of voice intimidated me but I stammered. "Yyyeees, Mmmiss." To which she replied, "If you tell anybody in school, you see me playing mas, you will find out. Is licks like peas for you and your brother."


At that time, we were in upper Duke Street, near the quarry. In spite of the fact that she was wearing a white painted meshed wire mask, we recognised her as one of our teachers from Nelson Street Boys’ RC School.


Back in school, we were lucky never to be in her class and we avoided her like the plague. We made sure our paths never crossed and, of course, our lips were sealed.


This one is an old joke. A man asked his friend if he was playing mas.’ The friend told him no. The man then said, "Well, lend me your face. I want to play ole mas."

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