Freeing-up…’play mas’ as we say

It happens once a year, in over 100 cities across the world. Carnival. Modelled on the Trinidad and Tobago style. Bands of masqueraders, mainly women, taking to the streets. Onlookers to this event will be hard pressed to see or even be aware of other traditional aspects of the carnival, the music, the steel-bands, the ‘artisan’ individual mas players, who make their costumes rather than ‘buy’ one – pushed out as they currently are, by the beaded bath suits and feathery accessories. Big mas bands (mas being short for masquerade), clocking in between 2,000 to 3,000 revelers in a large band in Trinidad and Tobago, have the potential to make a mint! They are run like a well-oiled mas machines. Commercial ‘art’ for want of a better word. Women in particular, will spend fortunes for their feathered backpacks and professionally made up faces and bodies.

These photos come from a carnival that is so small compared to many, Dutch Sint Maarten.  The average bands of mainly women being no larger than 150 and that’s a generous guess. Staged, decked off, feather bound, women revelers (there are a few good men!).  For many women born and bred in the Caribbean, it’s safe to say it is for many, a rite of passage ie to ‘play mas’. But nowadays, you don’t have to be of the Caribbean to part-take. That’s how well the spirit of carnival has travelled.

We’ve all been there, in the sun, head pieces, bikinis and glitter. It was harder to get candid shots than I thought because the sight of a camera, sent masqueraders into a frenzy of pouting and posing. Come to think of it, I never saw so much ‘selfie’ posing in my life! Every second a light was going off and some woman would be stopped in mid-motion to strike her pose and resume dancing. But one can still pick up on the sheer exuberance these women exude as they hit the road like there is no tomorrow!



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