Carnival, Mas, And The Road: Part 1 of 4
When you think about what makes carnival, carnival — there is one answer.
And that answer is…. THE ROAD.
You can have a line up of fetes and no road and have a carnival like experience.
You can go to carnival and do all the fetes and not do the road and still say you went to carnival.
But if you go to carnival and there is no road, then, “Did you really go to carnival or did you go to a carnival like experience?”
The Movement Of
The road is the road but now some carnivals have created an experience that separates road and mas. In years prior when you played “mas” you were on the “road.” Now there are some carnival that will allow you to play “mas” without a “road” experience. This new phenomenon which has impacted the J’ouvert movement, where one can actually have a “paint party” and call it J’Ouvert without doing J’Ouvert on the road. This most certainly has it’s benefits in terms of safety, cost reduction, reduced need for law enforcement, less city permits and county ordinance imperatives to adhere to and most of all, and I will repeat myself, safety.
But, this movement has removed one of the bigger issues of the whole carnival movement and that is the MOVEMENT in and of itself.
Any movement’s ability to shape, change and transform communities and persons is based upon touch. It’s based upon the kinesthetic and affective qualities of the learning experience. When you do not move around the community on the road you miss and important part of the movement and the culture. You actually stifle the culture and kill it at is roots as well as social and physical interplay between masquerader and bystander/onlooker. Case in point, in Miami, there's no one to wine on the side of the road with. Because no one is there. So that whole part of the experience which is written about in several books and dissertations is not available.
If you speak to any anthropologist who has done a great deal of work on the carnival movement and mas they will tell you that there is something incorrect about taking mas off the road and putting it into a park like setting. Or removing mas completely and just fetting with no road experience. You will literally over time kill the carnival experience as it should be and turn it into a series of fetes culminating with a big party in a park with trucks that have music. That is not mas and that is not affecting the masses and the surrounding communities. Even the gospel had to spread through travel and through touch.
A Little Background
I am a graduate of Howard University. I grew up in Miami, Florida with the Bahamas Goombay Celebrations and Junkanoo bands in the street during Goombay and Martin Luther King Day. I have been familiar with rake-and-scrape from you. However, I was not introduced to the Trinidad style carnival until I was a student at Howard University and saw the Mas bands coming down Georgia Avenue in Washington, DC. I still remember people coming on the side and throwing me a wine. I still remember asking myself, “What in the hell is going on here?” I had never seen anything like it. I sat there for hours just watching. I was in awe. From the costumes, to the mud, to the skin, and the wining…. I was mesmerized.
I had been touched by the movement. By the movement of the masses through mas.
Those moments from the early 1990s laid dormant in my mind until I attended Miami Carnival years later on a whim. I just decided to go. And after returning from Miami Carnival, I got on the phone and called my friend Winston Williams and he said, “If you think that’s something, you should do Trinidad.”
IN LESS THAN 24 HOURS I HAD MY HOTEL, FLIGHT AND COSTUME PAID FOR!!!
There is some student right now on the campus of Howard University, who will never experience the bands coming down Georgia Avenue. They will not see the big trucks nor hear the music echoing of the building and reverberating off of their chest. They will not get hit with mud. They will not catch a wine from the side. They will not have the mental representation of what carnival is or all that it can be. And because of this a faction of people will never get introduced to carnival through the experience of mas. And if you don’t think this is important then you need to get on Google Scholar and read the research about Mas. About what it is, what it means, what is expresses and why it is there. Its not about just fetting. Fetes are a part of the whole song of carnival. Where mas is the crescendo.
And when I speak of Mas, I speak of Mas with the road experience. Because mas without the road is just a costume party in a park. It’s nice but it’s not what you want. It’s like bad sex. No matter what anybody says, as long as you orgasm, it beats no sex at all. So we take it because its what we are given and over time those that know better will be less than those who are new. But it does not change the fact that it wasn’t good. It’s what was available..
We have to find a way to maintain and preserve our cultural.
Business Is Business
But We Can't Lose Sight
of The Preservation of
The Cultural Experience
We cannot get caught up in what Michael Raynor calls “The Strategy Paradox.” In his book, “The Strategy Paradox” Mr. Raynor speaks of how committing to success can lead to failure. We have had very successful carnivals in Miami as of late, with no road experience. And we have had very successful carnival experiences in Washington, DC with no mas and no road. BUT…… (and that’s a big BUT)…… Are we doing the wrong thing and allowing the wrong things to culturally permeate the fabric of the surrounding societies, communities and experiences of the revellers? And will the overall impact be beneficial to the carnival movement as a whole?
Maybe I’m just rambling. Maybe I’m somewhat off. Or maybe I’m on point.
Whatever the case, Carnival is Mas. Mas is movement. Movement happens with and through the people. So you all tell us what you think.
Thank you in advance for reading and sharing your opinion.
Rhadi Ferguson, PhD
The Carnival Doctor