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Carnival reminiscences – Part 2

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Last week, I digressed from the promised second part of some personal reminiscences on Vincy Mas in order to make some comments on matters of international concern. As fate would have it, just as I was about to resume my obligation, I came across one of the stalwarts of mas in SVG in the sixties, crossing paths in the Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados – can’t wait for Argyle to come on stream.{{more}}

That stalwart is none other than Bernard “Supie” Hewitt, of Rose Place and Bridge Boys fame, here because of a death in his family. My condolences go out to him and his family. Bernard was the very fulcrum of Bridge Boys organising, and it was around his home at Rose Place that all kinds of “Bridge” planning and partying took place. He was also a prominent masquerader and the virtual anchor of the Bridge Boys, which produced not only mas, but the Eagles Sports Club as well.

Whereas, as I mentioned in the first part of this article, most mas bands of the fifties and sixties tended to be community-based, “Supie’s” Bridge boys emerged from the collective school experience shared by its principal organisers. Typical of the times, a forerunner from the same school experience was a portrayal of the Cuban Revolution (was it 1960?), Castro, Che and all. Indeed, it is amazing in those days when radio was still out of the reach of most of our people, and there was no television or Internet, how international developments influenced our Carnival.

The mas was one aspect, in the case of the Cuban portrayal, revealing the romanticism of the revolutionary era, which was to sweep through the sixties and seventies. But there was more as well. Our calypso compositions reflected in part international developments in the Cold War era. The doyen of the calypso art form here and musical icon, our own Caribbean Pete, Olson Peters, who, incidentally, retired undefeated, came up with a commentary on global politics which included this memorable chorus:

“If is not communism, is nuclear weapon

Or racial discrimination

Kruschev in Russia and Castro in Cuba

Have the people bawling for murder

In de Caribbean dem damn politician

Mash up de Federation

And McMillan up in Britain

Say, ban West Indian discrimination”

Yes, our calypso bards were on the ball, even way back then, and the one and only Mighty Sparrow was to come up with his own classics from the Cold War – “Kennedy is de Man fo’ dem” and “Sputnik in de Sky”. In mentioning Sparrow, I hope the CDC keeps track of memories of our own “Young Sparrow”, the schoolboy king who has now retired from the public service and is employed with DeFreitas Associates.

From one topic, it flows naturally to another related one, for mention of the schoolboy king, brings poignant memories, not all pleasant of what Carnival meant for children of my generation. I barely remember Children’s Carnival in the Courthouse yard, but as much as we looked forward to Tuesday (they even used to refer to Carnival Tuesday as “Shrove Tuesday” in those days, a religious term since it was the day before Lent, until our changeover in 1977), you had to get past Carnival Monday first.

What a challenge it was then. In those days, there was no public holiday on Monday, so we had to go to school. It meant having to encounter “Charity” and the Wild Indians, all over the streets, bells jingling, but living up to the name “wild”. Then, there were the Monkey Bands, with the legendary “Kong” scaring the life out of not only little schoolchildren, but their grown-up teachers as well. Talk about negative portrayals of Africa and African people! There was also a drawback to the brutality of slavery in what we used to call “Boozie Back”; one man with a load on his back, being mercilessly beaten by his pursuer with a “boo-too”. It was not until much, much later in my adulthood that I was informed that it was really “Bruise de back”, imitating slave punishments.

Yet, Monday was exciting nevertheless, what with “Wining Donkey Man”, Bois-bois dancers on stilts and the colourful women in African wear and their trays serenading from place to place. Monday was also “Ole Mas,” with not only the J’Ouvert portrayals but Ole Mas competition in Victoria Park . Costumes from the previous year would be brought back, some still in remarkable condition, with people like Bertie Bramble and Leroy “Otis” Rose in prominence. And, who could forget the creativity of Reid, the mechanic, creator of all kinds of costumes from the insect and animal kingdom!

Ole Mas competitions were not restricted to Victoria Park only; some fete promoters, notably Haddon Hotel, would have competitions in fetes and I was honoured to be among a group, including persons like “Dove” Liverpool and Dick Lowe, who not only won at Victoria Park, but also in private fetes.

Finally, our one true invention, the pan, was at the heart of the festival. Very significantly, in the absence of the trucks, and “boom boxes” of today, it was the pan which provided free rein for our expression. There was even pan in fetes too, and intense competition on the road and in the Park, with Ricardo “Cardo” Sam, Edgerton Woodley, “Tannie” Peters, all now deceased, at the forefront, but also some still alive like “Kibba” and “Big Bull,” as well as the popular J-U-C steelband from Sion Hill.

Yes, “all ah dat was mas”. The memory may not be perfect, but the concern is how do we manage to keep our Carnival roots anchored and let the festival not just reflect glitz and glamour, wine and dine, but also keep grounded in its rich historical roots.

ENJOY YOUR FESTIVAL!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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