After two long years, mas has come again in Trinidad and Tobago

A masquerader enjoys herself on Carnival Tuesday, February 17, 2015. Photo by Eduardo Skinner on Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0.

By Dr. Gabrielle Hosein

This article was originally published in the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday. An updated version is republished below with permission.

As the voices of Freetown Collective and Mical Teja echo from the hills and reverberate across Trinidad and Tobago, there are hardly better words to describe the moment.

After two years without Carnival, there is a fluorescence of joy and creativity like when dawn pierces a long and unnatural dark, splitting an entire horizon with a radiance that awakens. To paraphrase familiar wisdom, weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh Jouvay morning.

We are a population that experienced the longest lockdown in the region, and we all know someone wracked by the alienation, despair, grief, and loss that COVID-19 wrought.

Today, we are survivors, letting our beloved dead rise from where our bodies have held them close, for they were miracles formed of earth who could guide like the stars.

Wandering our earthly heaven now, no doubt wary of specters the likes of Picton, Chacon and Abercromby, are ancestors who will be looking and listening, judging, and urging as we cast our mortal burdens on the streets of cities, villages, and towns. They too are ghostly vibrations, given shape among us by the wind, shimmering heat and Sahara dust.

Blaxx, Mighty Shadow, Black Stalin, Brother Resistance, Anil Bheem, Singing Francine, Singing Sandra, Bomber, and Explainer. Professor Gordon Rohlehr, who made calypso music his lifelong companion. Bless them, every one.

Lionel Jagessar Senior, whose spirit will be watching his legacy brought to town for the first time. Studying his final drawings come to life, may he nod with fatherly approval. Ameen. Amen. Om Shanti. Bless us, every one.

We survivors, emerging on the other side of the pandemic’s portal with all our squabbles, imperfections, doubts, and hungers smoking blue-black like still-burning debris, are close enough to Carnival Monday and Tuesday to feel its gravitational pull. It’s a pull toward pleasure for its own sake and to occupy a brief, spectacular version of ourselves.

Honest people working hard trying to make sense in a world gone mad, sings Freetown. Sometimes, those assigned to toil scrape together the privilege of ascendance through something, anything, to feel good. For them, with all its human and costumed beauty, with all that it offers to escape morning headlines, killing sprees and cost-of-living tribulations, mas has come again.

In fetes, pan yards and concerts, people are together singing by the hundreds and thousands. Hearts and arms open, and giving performers their own lyrics back to them on stage. A crowd of strangers, of every different creed and race, but who share a love that has them raising their voices in the air. Surely, such pure vibration and sheer magic is also how we give praise.

Music is lifting people and flooding bodies of all kinds with an energy and release that is visceral enough to feel. It’s taking away people’s pain, after so much of it these past years. It’s also a unifying power come down, one that we missed having in our midst. We are reminded why how we vote hasn’t divided us more. It’s because of how we party.

Not everyone has to love mas in our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Nor does everyone have to understand why and how it matters to some, why and how it can be art, why and how it can feel like freedom, or why and when it matters.

We don’t all worship in the same way. We don’t all heal the same. We don’t all show love the same, whether to ourselves or each other. There are those who, judgmentally, only see the “immoral, lewd or offensive” in Carnival, often from afar, but mas is a get-away spirit that comes on its own terms, again and again. Just so, unapologetic and unafraid.

Here, in the home we traverse with so much fear, the atmosphere of daily life like bitter aloes, where we feel so let down and so taken for granted, mas has arrived to fill some of what people need.

In our imperfect republic, inequalities, exclusions, mismanagement, lies and poverty of the imagination remain, like ropes that separate. Ash Wednesday will return us to smoke and mirrors at media briefings, and money wasted by the millions, never to be distributed as it should be. This death of joy, this killing of togetherness, this attack on our future is more immoral than bottoms in the road and more scandalous than a free woman.

On Monday, foreday morning will find me playing St. Peter, waiting at heaven’s gate. All who must get send to burn in the fires of hell. Mas has come again. Santimanitay.

Dr. Gabrielle Hosein is Senior Lecturer at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus in Trinidad.

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