We took our banner down South for the island championship. We played like demon-angel warriors. We won. We sang our hearts out all the way back on the train. We poured out at the station in Port of Spain and swarmed on to the street, dancing behind our banner. Suddenly there is a Black Mariah amongst us.
Police start to hold boys. I am locked in a police van, the beloved banner now incriminating evidence. The Principal arrives furious. The public is outraged at the criminal treatment of schoolboys. Letters in the press. Pictures in the papers. Intercol turn ol’mas.
Next Monday morning at assembly, a great shout went up for the little boy with the banner nabbed by the police. I had led my tribe into battle and we were victorious. My comrades greeted me as a true warrior hero. The artist was their brother and friend and leader too, no less than the captain of the victorious team. QRC gave me an understanding of myself in the world that I could not have got elsewhere.
My entire life’s work has been to lead my tribe into a tumultuous world, into a tremendous cultural battle for the soul. Every year, for well over thirty years, I have been making a banner for my tribe, to lead it into the street,into the global arena, to proclaim its glorious name and identity to the world.
I do not know where the idea came from, to make a piece of cloth dance but, when it turned into an actual thing, it was like nothing in the world before. The mas had made something truly originial, like the surreal fancy sailor, like nothing you had ever seen or imagined, so different, this extension or widening of the accepted terms of human apparel.
You have to dance the mas. They taught me this like the Lord’s Prayer when I was a little boy. So, I have been attaching things to people’s feet ever since I first started making big mas bands, beginning with Paradise Lost. Mancrab dances his mas. Mancrab literally dances a huge square of white silk.
I am never unaware of the chaotic river into which I intend to set sail my very soul as I create its clothing and its adornment. I deliberately make mas for the choreography of chaos. My success is best measured when angels dance with demons in perfect harmony. My father taught me that the more you put into something the more you get out of it. I put my everything into Mancrab. I do not suffer lightly my integrity to be sullied.
It is very obvious once you’ve done it, to extend the human spine upwards into the spine of the puppet, to join hands to hands and feet to feet, so puppet and puppeteer move and dance as one. It looks like something that has been done for centuries. But nobody had ever done it before now.
Carnival is Colour was not “abstract art.” It was an entire tongue-in-cheek band of pure non-representational shape, form and colour. Ironically, the current repetitive flood of feathers and beads, representing nothing, regardless of the many inventive, vapid names, is in essence overwhelmingly abstract.
They say I am white. But I am not a European. I am not an African. I am not an Indian. I am not Chinese or Syrian. I am not Amerindian. I am not American, North or South. I am none of these. Yet I am all of these. I am a Caribbean.
The newly emergent island people, rich in ancestral heritage, are in the process of finding their place in the world. Nobody knows anything for sure. This might have been thoughtfully and patiently put to our advantage. But Ignorance and Enlightenment, being differentiated too zealously, become Nignorance and Enwhitenment.
In trying too hard to be ‘developed’ and ‘civilised’ we end up as an obscene caricature of ourselves. A culture of greed and power has manifested out of easy oil wealth, and all too quickly we have forgotten that Pretty is to Beauty as Platitude is to Truth.