Behind the carnival masks


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Behind the carnival masks

  1. 1. BEHIND THE CARNIVAL MASKS Final Paper By: Pablo Fernández Colón ENGL 6488 Dr. Fiet University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. 12/7/2013. INTRODUCTION: As presented in various readings and film materials discussed in the course Engl 6488 for Dr. Fiet, the concept of the use of Masks on Carnivals (Masquerades) have been used by African descendants in the Caribbean Islands as well as many other countries and cities around the World. From its most make-fun purposes (to keep in anonymity) as well as a mystical instrument for inner knowledge, revelation and prophecies as well as a tool for communicating with the deads, their uses have been many. In “I talked to a zombie” by Kathleen Gyssels in Ici-Là: Place and Displacement in Caribbean Writing in French, Mary Gallagher (ed), N.Y. Rodopi, 2003 as in many other books, Plays, Films, Papers or Articles which will be reviewed in this paper, the use of masks or Carnival Masquerades as a means for communicating with the dead is clearly described in this play. Even thought this belief is not shared with every citizen of the Caribbean, it is a well spread and well known practice carried and promulgated by its believers. As discussed and performed in this Play, “displaced growing poor Haitians seeking for better work
  2. 2. possibilities”(p.227) as well as other Caribbean displaced or emigrant people are represented in the lines of the Guadalupean writer and performer Simone Schwarz- Bart. Yukio Mishima‟s first Novel: Confession of a Mask is herein cited as reference for plot and setting purposes. Both Wilnor and his wife Marie-Ange, main characters in Ton Bean Capitain [Trans. Your Handsome Captain] which was also written by Simone Schwarz- Bart expressed in their masked characters how they represented their “extreme solitude, loneliness and alienation” (p.228) in addition to their hidden “unspoken and imperceptible”realities. Recalling notes of Reactions to Two can play (Sept. 21, 2013) the following was discussed: Female immigration because of lack of jobs. (Nursing, housekeepers, other related jobs). More women emigrate because of abuse or violence from their partners. Women seen as a sexual possession as in The Harder they Come. Dummying down commercials, in national TV, shows how JIM was drumming down (enbrutecerse). When she moves to Miami she becomes a revel. But thinks and recovered her principles. When the performers dramatized these realities, they did it wearing masks on stage, and sometimes behind curtains, been heard only voices as was the case of Marie-Ange, main characters in Ton Bean Capitain [Trans. Your Handsome Captain]. As it is progressively presented in this paper, the “masks” not only represented the unseen and imperceptible realities of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora, but they are also utilized as a means to find solutions to their everyday limitations, percussions and humiliations by their “Masters”. In Orisa (Orisha) Tradition in Trinidad (2,000), by Funso Aiyegina & Rawle Gibbons One of the many themes presented in the article, the one that calls my attention is the one regarding the Inner Knowledge Theory or as it is called in the article:
  3. 3. INNER-MIND/HEAD (Ori-inu) conception of an African religious tradition practiced by the Orisa-Yoruba followers in: Orisa (Orisha) Tradition in Trinidad (2,000), by Funso Aiyegina & Rawle Gibbons. Explained as: “Aware that the only public method of workship he would have was that of the slavemaster, the African accepted the religion of the slavemaster (e,i, Christians) and consciously erected a parallel interpretation of the Christian structure of saints such that when he publicly prayed to them his inner-mind/ head …(Ori-inu) which is regarded by the (New World, Caribbean) Africans …to be by far more powerful than the actual head (mind), In spiritual matters, was praying to the equivalent Orisa.” (p.10). The practice or process whereby the African appropriated Christian practices for the articulation of this spirituality became known as syncretism. It is defined as “the method of conflating two religions in one “ but to these authors it is “an inadequate term”, because they see syncretism as the actual and true means the African used to keep their religion alive. In their own words: “What the African did was to use the dominant and accepted form of theology. The saints and the prayers therefore became mere „alphabets‟ with which the African recorded the stories of his Orisa for posterity”(pp.9-10). As seen in this article, Orisa (Orisha) Tradition in Trinidad, the use of Masks went beyond as far as a means for interpreting life, finding espiritual guidance and deeper knowledge inner-mind/ head …(Ori-inu). Herein The Trinidad carnivals are considered to be a festivity where the masquerade brings the spirit of Orisa to celebrate with the living. Cite: “During the annual feast, all the Orisa are invoked and the major ones are expected to manifest on their special days within the period of the feast” (pp.11-13).
  4. 4. In THE ORISHAS:ón/ by Arias Williams, the following Notes were taken: History of the Orisas (Orishas), Central-Western regions of Africa in Cuba, Trinidad and Brasil. Substrates, inslaving system. Link to African religions. Orisa or Orisha. Sacred masquerades. Syncretism is introduced due to African-Europeans Religion (Saints); duality. Political issues concerning letting the African Yoruba religions being active in Trinidad. Manipulation of religious issues to sum other religions to add holydays to their calendars. And finally, a practical reason for permitting religious propagation. As mentioned previously, the use of Masks herein presented and wore by the religious leader or layvan, provided them knowledge, wisdom and prophecies to their followers among other faculties or powers. In The Ifa Divination System, presented by UNESCO, at the following link:, provides historical as well as educational information concerning the religious practices carried to the Caribbean by the African diaspora; where the Ifa Orisha Trinidad News represented their oficial voice. Deeper considerations concerning the rituals, some of them conducted under the use of masks are described. In the following site: , masks are seen as part of African religious ceremonies (and many other countries also, including the Caribbean), a connection with Spirits, Ancestors, Rulers, and as a means for Protection. In the last decades it seems that the Masks are just part of an African Diaspora cultural manifestation, to keep live their remembrances of past traditions, as it is developed and
  5. 5. expressed in Terry Eagleton‟s The Idea of Culture, a derivation of “coulter”as cited by Eagleton as “the finest of human activities, from labour and agriculture, crops and cultivation” (p.1). Same idea of the use of carnival masks represent that human desire of freedom as well as anonimacy as seen in Burton‟s Carnival Complex “…the profane order of society”(p.156). Burton cites Eagleton ideas of freedom and permission for doing everything during these days of carnivals “a licensed affair in every sense, a permissible rupture of hegemony”. IN CONCLUSSION, Behind the Carnival Masks, a hidden nature is enclosed both as a mean of freedom, resistance, spiritual manifestations and nowadays, simply a remembrance of the past expressed as a cultural manifestation during the Carnival days of “licensed affair”of liberty. REFERENCES Aiyegina, Funso & Gibbons, Rawle: Orisa (Orisha) Tradition in Trinidad (2,000) The University of West Indies, Saint Augustine, Faculty of Social Sciences, Research and Working Papers Series. Burton, Richard D.E., The Carnival Complex, Pdf. Chapter 4. Eagleton, Terry, The Idea of Culture. Pdf., Blackwell Publishers. Chapter 1. Gyssels, Kathleen I talked to a zombie in Ici-Là: Place and Displacement in Caribbean Writing in French, Mary Gallagher (ed), N.Y. Rodopi, 2003. The Ifa Divination System, by UNESCO: at, The Orishas- Introduction to Ifa: Yoruba Religion by Arias Williams:
  6. 6.ón/ and