Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 19th 2014 Contents A37
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In April, within days of each
other, two conferences were held.
One was called Trauma, Conflict
and the Community Peacemakers;
the other Mas Aesthetics: Exploring
the Art of Mas.
The first was held in San Fernando
at the Southern Academy of the Per-
forming Arts, while the exploration
of mas took place at UWI, St Augus-
tine. At first glance, the conferences
couldn t have appeared to be more
different from each other.
But it emerged that they shared
an exploratory thread of culture,
identity and national healing. They
were involved in the same dialogue
but would never know it, they were
not only separated geographically,
but were being hosted by represen-
tatives of two very distinct disciplines.
What, after all, could a masman have
to say to a social worker? As it turns
At the conference Trauma, Conflict
and the Community Peacemakers,
an exploration of the role of trauma
in crime and gang culture began with
a documentary called Apocalypse to
Awakenings, which featured UWI
Professor Emeritus Gordon Rohlehr.
In it, Rohlehr asserts that Carnival
is used as a mechanism for absorbing
and normalising "the crisis and stress
in society" caused by a failure of the
region to see itself as traumatised.
This trauma, he says, occurred
during the region s shared experience
of slavery, indentureship and colo-
nialism. There are times, says Rohlehr
when Carnival "seems to break
down" or "stops doing its job," and
when it does prove ineffective, that
the tension erupts into violence. He
has established a pattern of destruc-
tive Caribbean upheaval, occurring
at roughly 15 to 20 year intervals
since the 1880s.
However, the idea that Carnival s
increasing inability to ease tensions
could be linked to escalating murder
rates, gang-related criminal activity
and child abuse did not stay central
to the exploration of trauma at the
south-based conference. There was
a great deal of focus on Laventille
but giving way to insights from crim-
inal justice, youth, community and
social work, Carnival as a change
agent remained on the fringe of dis-
cussions, only injected in small por-
tions, by UWI literature and gender
studies lecturer Dr Paula Morgan.
Morgan, who said the trauma was
ongoing, for reasons other than being
"rooted in collective memory," and
who cited mass migration and the
use of T&T as a drug transshipment
point, as contemporary violations,
suggested that Laventille (to many
the starting point of Carnival) should
be viewed both as "a hotbed of cre-
ativity" and "the cause of the work
that needs to be done."
"Our creativity, our cultural
assertiveness is trapped inside Laven-
tille," said Morgan. It was "our cup
of shame," the place where trauma
has become embodied but where
liberation can be found.
"Mas is the central meditation of
lives here in the Caribbean," said
Tony Hall, speaking at the first Car-
nival Studies Mas Colloquium
(CSMC), held at the Centre for
Learning and Languages (CLL), Uni-
versity of the West Indies. Describing
mas as a form of therapy, Hall said,
"Mas is a transformative process for
the individual and the collective." He
explained that it helps the individual
understand something about being,
by dissolving the focus on the self
alone, leading to an experience of
oneness, which is expressed as group
"In Laventille there is no space,"
he said, "because everyone is so
wrapped up in who they are. Mas is
what you need to become to get out
of a situation."
Creating mas to transform a sit-
uation is something that Laventille
has done before. Although once con-
sidered the heart of the national cre-
ative community, Laventille has
always been the enclave of the sub-
altern. The whores, badjohns,
chantwells and stickfighters that
exemplified early Carnival culture,
sprang out from a Laventille, once
able to use its marginalised place in
society and its poverty, as a catalyst
for creativity. In the 1930s, out of
sheer material lack, but with a deep
love for music, people from Laventille
began to experiment with the only
materials available to them---milk
cans, paint cans, car hubs, pots---and
the biscuit tin, said to be the first
ancestor of the modern-day pan.
But what is needed now to trans-
form current conditions there, and
how can it be of benefit to T&T as
whole? Or perhaps as one conference
panellist, children s mas designer
Patrick Roberts asked---how can mas
be used to create mass action? How
can available materials be used to
give language to thoughts and enable
them to travel out into the wider
society? How can mas be seen again,
as an aesthetic focussed on what
needs to be expressed?
Hall contends that "mas capacity
to be a vehicle for our expression,
the canvas of our best hopes and
dreams," is just one of the things
being eroded as "mas grows in line
with capitalism rather than around
its central dynamic---freedom from
While understanding that money
is needed to drive the machine, he
asked, "how can you take a protest
against authoritarianism and regulate
it?" What happens when what was
the expression of a marginalised peo-
ple, embodied in the mas, steel pan
and calypso they helped to create
and develop, becomes a national cul-
ture, and leaves out one of its central
premises, of giving them a voice?
What happens for that national cul-
ture, when what was a tool of protest
and liberation, is used only for enter-
Eight-time King of Carnival, Peter
Samuel, who sat on the same panel
as Hall, knows part of the answer.
"We no longer have King and Queen
for the mas," he said, "I call them
Samuel expressed the view that
"we are going backwards," explaining
that the size of the King and Queen
costumes mean that they can no
longer go on the street and are there-
fore disconnected from the mas and
the community. He said it had
become virtually impossible to ship
costumes overseas, to be showcased
as contemporary examples of T&T
Carnival, because they are so big.
Reflecting on his Carnival career,
exclusively wearing masman Peter
Minshall s creations, Samuel became
emotional as he remembered playing
Devil Ray in 1979, a costume he
described as his favourite, and which
he said gave him the opportunity to
"become" the mas.
Hall had already described becom-
ing the mas---it is a transcendent
process during which the artistry of
the costume, the rhythm of the
music, and the rationale for the cos-
tume and band combine to "dissolve"
the individual mas player and give
way to something universal.
Mas emerged as a movement away
from the dominating power, but at
the end of colonialism, the greater
focus has been on how to be a part
of world capitalism.
"We are in a real bind," says Hall,
speaking to the T&T Guardian in a
follow-up interview, "and I don t
know that we see it. We are trying
to play catch-up, we believe we are
behind. And for all our efforts, we
The ancient remains of a teenage girl
discovered deep underground in Mexico
are providing additional insights on how
the Americas came to be populated.
Divers found the juvenile's bones by
chance in a vast, flooded limestone
chamber on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Aged 15 or 16 at death, the girl lived
at least 12,000 years ago.
Researchers have told Science
Magazine her DNA backs the idea that
the first Americans and modern Native
American Indians share a common
This theory argues that people from
Siberia settled on the land bridge
dubbed Beringia that linked Asia and
the Americas some 20,000 years ago
before sea levels rose.
These people then moved south to
populate the American continents.
The genetics of modern Native
Americans would certainly appear to
link them into this story. But their facial
features set them apart from the oldest
skeletons now being unearthed.
These ancient people had narrower,
longer skulls. The differences have
hinted that perhaps there were multiple
immigrations from Siberia (or even
Mas---A tool to transform trauma?
If the joy on the faces of Ronald "Bally" Blaize and Wade Madray is anything to go by, maybe mas can go some
way to alleviating trauma. In this 2008 photo, they are working on the Legacy King of Carnival costume, Dingdaka
The Lionhearted, produced by Wade Madray at his home and mascamp in Taylor Street, Marabella.
PHOTO: MARK LYNDERSAY
How can mas be used to
create mass action?
How can available
materials be used to
give language to
thoughts and enable
them to travel out into
the wider society? How
can mas be seen again,
as an aesthetic
focussed on what needs
to be expressed?
Continued on Page A38
Sunken body clue to American origins
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