Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 16th 2014 Contents B30
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt February 16, 2014
Anderson Patrick is bandleader
and king of the Warriors of Huara-
can, a black Indian band based
largely in John John. He sits in the
front office of Zuk Massage &
Herbal Centre on Eastern Main
Road, San Juan, the business he
runs with his partner, Saleemah
Paponette. The small room is dec-
orated by clusters of trophies along
the back wall.
"This is not just mas, this is a
people," says Patrick. The band has
been approached by Vulgar Frac-
tion---an independent band with a
make-your-own-mas creative iden-
tity---for information: about cos-
tumes, dances and songs, as well as
Every detail of the black Indian
costume relates to the identity of
the black Indian: snail shells and
river beads; corbeau feathers plucked
from carcasses they find at the
Beetham---all collected to underscore
the mas s bond to the local, both
place and people.
Stewardship of the Warriors was
passed on to Patrick, who has played
mas with the band for more than
30 years, by Nari Approo, himself a
masman since 1934 and still playing.
The tradition stretches way back.
"Probably 150, maybe 175 years,"
says Patrick, noting no one can
remember a year when the band was
not on the road.
Vulgar Fraction s intention is to
pay tribute to black Indian mas
through its own tradition of playful,
subversive, masquerading. The
band s theme for this year is Black
I, a concept which will seek to com-
bine its own freewheeling style with
the costumes and rituals of black
Indian mas, thereby presenting a
band that is at once modern and
traditional, offering commentary on
both what Carnival was and what
it has become.
At least, that was the plan until
the two bands met.
Patrick recalls hearing Vulgar Frac-
tion s idea for the first time with
"I don t know what Black I is; I
had a dog called Blackeye once," he
says with a laugh.
The responsibility for continuing
a tradition unbroken by more than
a century of history is not borne
"We have never stopped: one set
of people who are bringing out black
Indian every year," says Patrick.
The misappropriation of black
Indian traditions is of particular con-
cern at a time when the Warriors
feel misunderstood by the thing that
motivates them to take to the road
every year. They are not like Vulgar
Fraction, which does not register
and crosses the stage at the Savannah
to make a point about the partic-
ipatory nature of Carnival. The War-
riors want to be judged.
The shifting criteria by which Car-
nival bands are judged, however, can
be frustrating to a group whose pri-
mary goal is to uphold the standards
of the past. Patrick understands the
way crowds and judges see them:
as old, rehashed.
"We are traditional mas---tradi-
tional to the custom that we do." He
is alluding to past criticism of the
band for appearing to wear the same
clothes, year after year. It is a crit-
icism which fails to acknowledge the
band s focus on sustaining its history.
Nonetheless, concessions have been
made. The band plays different
colours to differentiate itself from
Each colour has significance: blue
for victory; gold or yellow for joy;
white for purity; red for blood; and
black, as well as mauve, for death.
There will, of course, always be black
in the costume of a black Indian.
The black Indian represents a
fusion, "a cross between the slave
that came and the indigenous people,
the Amerindians," says Patrick.
The fusion between two peoples
also gave rise to the black Indian
language heard in their songs and
speeches on the road, as well as,
occasionally, conversations between
members of the band and the com-
munity that supports it. It is also a
fusion---of English, French and Span-
ish from Trinidad s colonial past,
and the languages of the people unit-
ed in the black Indian identity.
"We are a speech band," says
Patrick, recalling another tradition
apparently forgotten by Carnival
authorities and onlookers. The black
Indian costume includes a money
bag. Should you meet one on the
road, you are supposed to offer
money to get the Indian to speak.
"The mas is hideous," says
Paponette, queen of the Warriors,
"It s to terrorise the onlookers. It s
totally different from a red Indian."
Faces painted black, striped with sil-
ver; tangled hair made from dyed
strands of unpicked rope; bedecked
with the feathers of carrion birds:
"You look at it and say that looks
scary," says Paponette, "It has a dif-
Perhaps the crowning indignity,
however, is when the small band of
black Indians is ushered hastily
across the stage at the Savannah to
deafening soca, without opportunity
to pause and perform their own song
to their own chosen music.
The struggle to be seen, heard and
understood is as constant as the
more prosaic challenge to keep the
band funded. The budget can be
broken by the lightest of pressures.
It is this responsibility, to protect
and sustain black Indian mas, that
weighs on the King of the Warriors
of Huaracan as he considers Vulgar
Fraction s request. After several
meetings, the two bands have
reached an accommodation: Vulgar
Fraction will play its Black I mas this
year, with help from the Warriors in
the form of workshops to be staged
at Propaganda in Belmont. By way
of exchange, Vulgar Fraction will
assist with some stitching and fab-
rication of the Warriors costumes.
When the band is judged harshly
in competition for appearing too
much like it did the year before, or
somehow failing to meet the stan-
dard of an entirely different tradition,
the failure to win back its costs is
felt deeply. Patrick, however, has a
solution: "We should no longer call
ourselves characters; we are artists."
The distinction is not merely
semantic. "A character is a fella who
will play mas for a box of food and
a drink of alcohol," says Patrick,
"Recognise the art form of traditional
mas, give us respect, and compensate
Saleemah Paponette, left, Anderson Patrick and Nari Approo deliver a
seminar on black Indian mas traditions and history at Propaganda in
Belmont on February 6. PHOTO: ANU LAKHAN
From now until Carnival, Barbadian-born, New Jer-
sey-resident writer AUSTIN FIDO will write a series
of articles attempting to get behind the mas---from
concept to design to production and performance.
Black Indian blues
Workshops will be held weekly
at Propaganda, 24 Erthig Road,
Belmont. Both bands invite
anyone interested in helping to
join. Contact Vulgar Fraction
through Facebook for more
Links Archive February 15th 2014 February 17th 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page