Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I love this JAM-IT tune by 3 canal this year, it’s  for me its a tribute to one of the most iconic characters and symbols of social and cultural resistance the ‘Jamette’.

As the 19th century drew to an end the ruling classes saw a rise in acts of aggression and sexual profanity, in the portrayals of African masqueraders. The period became known as the ‘Jamette Carnivals’.

The word ‘Jamette’ comes from the French word ‘diametre’ and referred to the class of people ‘below the diameter of respectability’ ...the upper classes were distancing themselves from the lower classes...to emphasize the immorality...and hence the inferiority of the Africans. ( Liverpool Hollis)

During the 19th century Africans had to exist in deplorable living conditions. These conditions were witnessed in their most extreme form in the barrack yards of the capital. Due to these conditions the barrack yards were the epicentres for crime, prostitution, and other forms of lawlessness. The barrack yards being the homes of Trinidad’s Afro-Trinidadian lower classes were also the bastions of African cultural resistance and identity.

Out of theses barrack yards came some of the most iconic characters and symbols of defiance that Trinidad’s carnival has ever produced. As the century came to an end these characters, and ritual practitioners would directly confront the laws and institutions of the establishment that seemed to exist solely to erase their cultural identity.

From the poverty ridden, crime infested environments of the barrack yards the Jamette emerged. If the stick fighter was the warrior King of the Kalenda, and the Cannes Brulees procession, and the male personification of African defiance, the ‘Jamette’ was the Queen, her very physical presence was the personification of colonial defiance.

...the social, economic, and political predicament of the jametres was manifest, both physically and vocally...While masquerading, they ‘boasted their skill and bravery, verbal wit, talent in song and dance...their indifference to the law, their sexual prowess...The women more often than not were the chantuelles, who sang praises of male stick fighters, and impromptu lyrics meant to shock and entertain; they wore masks and sometimes exposed their breasts. (Noel A. Samantha)

In an era where a woman based on European standards was not supposed to be loud, vulgar, political, or display any kind immoral behaviour in public the Jamette went against all these social norms of decency making her physical body a platform of protest, bringing the economic and social conditions of the lower classes to the attention of the establishment.

“...these women were aware of how the body could be used as a form of protest...they cunningly gauged the potential of their exposed bodies as a locus of rebellious and expressive energy through which their discontent with colonial order could be channelled”. (Noel A. Samantha)

The Cannes Brulees riots (Rebellion) of 1881 saw a head to head clash between the police, representing the colonial powers who wanted to stop the traditions of the lower classes, and the Cannes Brulees, the latter being lead by the warrior Kings the stick fighters who fought shoulder to shoulder with their queens the Jamettes.
try this on any other day
and see what happens.
It is because these icons of carnival made a stand that you could get on like a real Jamette for carnival and doh make a jail.

Today you see Jamette behaviour where ever you see a Trini style carnival she is the living symbol of cultural and social resistance and while the elite and the establishment may shun her presence it is because of her the road made to walk on carnival day.

Mas Assassin .

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