The creative origins of Trinidad Carnival can be found in Africa.
It is through the cultural retention of Africans brought to Trinidad during slavery that the characters and practices that we now call traditional mas, developed in Trinidad and the West Indies.
Take a look at these videos the first is the Dogon tribe of Mali doing their funeral dance, take a look at the costumes, amongst them are the precursors to ‘Cow Mas’ ‘Moko Jumbies’ and the creation mask that Minshall put on the 1982 King of Carnival ‘Calalloo Dancing Tic Tac Toe Down the river’.
The other video is of a recycling plant in Bamako Mali, there they are turning scrap metal into pots and pans for future use, there is one shot of a guy beating a huge metal bowl into shape, there is something in that shot ,something in the clatter of beaten metal that clearly portrays the limitless creativity of these people, and yes a link between them and those who harnessed that creative ability to create by beating a steel oil drum into the last musical instrument of the twentieth century and a symbol of cultural resistance the Steel Pan.
Dancing Dogon 2 from Stef on Vimeo.
The Dogon people in Mali are famous for their masked funerary dances. Their elaborate masks are intended to placate ancestral spirits. They represent the whole world of the Dogon with a wide variety of totem objects including people, mammals, birds and reptiles. Dancers often wear the Kananga (creation) mask – this dance involves leaping high into the air in a state of frenzied excitement, then bending low down to touch the ground with the top of the mask.
Living Bamako 2 from Stef on Vimeo.
One of the strangest places in Bamako is the “recycling plant”.
It’s more a garbage belt where hundreds of people turn all kinds of used metal into pots, pans and cutlery.
It is recycling in its most primitive form.
Ever wonder what Trinidad and Tobago Carnival will be like without the contribution of the freed African slaves, without their cultural resistance that survived over 300 years of slavery and the oppression of the ruling class that followed...well look closer at Carnival today and ask yourselves where are the descendants of theses creative titans today, what positions of power or influence do they hold in the 21st Century?
Why are they missing?
And if you can answer those questions then you might understand why mas today is a copy of a copy of a repetitive theme, it’s not creatively growing because the roots are missing.