It seems that we in Grenada are on an unmasking crusade. The Prime Minister, a few years ago, promised to unmask the mass men in Parliament; Terry Forrester, a Mitchell loyalist for over thirty years, threatened to unmask Mitchell himself; and now the police say: ‘No Mask in Mas.’
I consider the banning of masks in carnival an irony and a tragedy since carnival itself has been a product of both African and European masking legacies.
Let us look at some related terms: Masque, Mask, Masquerade, and Mas.
Masque -A European theatrical performance so named because the performers used masks.
Mask – A covering to hide or protect the face or; a false face used for entertainment.
Masquerade – To disguise oneself; to go about under false pretences.
Mas – An abbreviation of masquerade.
The foregoing definitions show quite clearly that when mask is taken out of carnival what we’re doing is playing mas without the M.
Carnival was brought here by our European colonisers and an important feature was masked balls at the estate houses. After Emancipation when the ex- slaves were allowed to participate they brought their African masking tradition into the festival.
According to Professor Maureen Warner-Lewis in an article on carnival in her book, “Guinea’s Other Suns”, ‘From the eighteenth century there have been written reports of mask making by Africans in various parts of the Caribbean: Belize, Bermuda, Haiti, Jamaica, The Bahamas St. Kitts, Nevis, Guyana, Grenada and Trinidad. These masking activities were called by different names – Gumbe, Jonkonou or Kumbula. Masking was an integral part of West African culture”.
The police have said that they are not responsible for removing mask from the mas. Who then made the decision? Where is the Ministry of Culture and Heritage in all of this?
We expect them to be both torch bearers and gate keepers of our culture and heritage. Is it a measure to prevent crime in the carnival?
The U.S.A. which has more reasons than us to be wary of crime has not banned masking in their annual Halloween parades.
Carnival in our country has been relatively peaceful in recent years. Why can’t we wear mask in our premiere cultural festival when people with a foreign culture wear them daily in our country?
With this type of poor leadership it is no wonder why all of our traditional festivals are dying out.
Elwyn Mc Quilkin