Wednesday, April 10, 2013

TRINI TO D BONE Mas Man Unmasked

My name is Peter Minshall and I am the masman in Dalton Narine’s documentary Mas Man.
My great determination, for me and the island, had always to been seen as a masman, a single word, pure and simple, and strong, like panman. Accepted by all as a fine and new category of artist. Never as a bandleader.
I was born in Guyana. But I was conceived in Trinidad. I was taken to Guyana in my mother’s womb to be born in the embrace of her loving mother and father, sister [and] brothers, because my parents were in the midst of an ugly divorce. I was brought back to Trinidad in my mother’s arms soon thereafter. I do not see that it matters. Sparrow was born in Grenada. Marley was born in our hearts. I am a Caribbean. We all are.
Queen’s Royal College. You spend six or seven of your most formative years there. And you carry the rich lovely sound of the words around with you for the rest of your life. The magnificence of the building in its tropical setting up by the Savannah, its unique colouring, its clock tower, its pleasing symmetry, is privately, deeply yours. A secretly owned personal property for always. So too is the proud family connectedness with Williams, James, Naipaul, Capildeo, all the greats, and the luminaries of your own time there, all yours for always.
My older brothers, Aubrey and Marcus, went to QRC before me. My brother Marcus was captain of the football and cricket teams. I was never going to make it on either team, not even as a reserve of last resort. Captain of anything was entirely out of the question.
As a little boy going to my first intercol, it really vexed me that the other school filled up its half of the grandstand with a sea of festive flags and banners of white and blue. They had us beat with style and flair before the match had even begun. I did not play ball, but I could design and draw. So, the next year, I saved up my pocket money and bought some fabric, and with my mother’s assistance at the sewing machine, prepared a huge banner of dark blue and light blue. And with a can of bright yellow Chinese lacquer enamel, and another of bright orange, painted, in huge one-foot-high roman capitals, those immortal wondrous shining words: QUEEN’S ROYAL COLLEGE.

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. 

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