Sauté Trinbago 2010: Part 2 – Blue Devils & Moko Jumbies (video)
Like moko jumbies, blue devils are mainstays of traditional Trinidadian Carnival (or ‘ole mas’ as it’s commonly called). A form of Devil Mas/Jab Molassie/Jab-Jab, blue devils are mostly associated with the Maraval hills of Paramin and have also been immortalised in song by 3 Canal with their classic track (and video) Blue.
Terrifying to the uninitiated eye, these maniacal characters have always filled with me awe. Famous for harassing and cajoling bystanders into handing over monies (‘pay de devil’) the more one observes them the more one begins to see the twinkle in the eye, the enthusiasm of portrayal, and the rhythmic harmony which they never step out of with their ‘impish’ rhythm sections always in tow. However, don’t let down your guard! In keeping with their name, they can also go from playful to threatening in the blink of an eye.
From the National Library Information Service:
Jab is the French patois for ‘Diable’ (Devil), and Molassie is the French patois for Mélasse (Molasses). The Jab Molassie is one of several varieties of devil mas played in Trinidad and Tobago carnival. The costume consists of short pants or pants cut off at the knee, and a mask and horns. The jab malassie would carry chains, and wear locks and keys around his waist, and carry a pitch fork. He may smear his body with grease, tar, mud or coloured dyes (red, green or blue). The jab molassie “wines” or gyrates to a rhythmic beat that is played on tins or pans by his imps. While some of his imps supply the music, others hold his chain, seemingly restraining him as he pulls against them in his wild dance.
The differences among the various forms of devil mas were once distinct, but have become blurred over time.
While the devils cajoled, the jumbies danced.
While the god Moko is from the Kongo (or Congo) and Nigeria, from the Nuapa people, Trinidad has added their own touch to him. Moko, in the traditional sense, is a god. He watches over his village, and due to his towering height, he is able to foresee danger and evil. His name, Moko, literally means the “diviner” and he would be represented by men on towering stilts and performs acts that were unexplainable to the human eye. In one remote tribe, the Moko rises from a regular mans’ height to the skies fluidly with no help and descends similarly to leave others to wonder how he performed such an act.
The Moko arrived in Trinidad by “walking all the way across the Atlantic Ocean from the West coast of Africa, laden with many, many centuries of experience, and, in spite of all inhuman attacks and encounters, yet still walks tall, tall, tall. (John Cupid, Caribbean Beat)” The idea of the Moko survived by living in the hearts of African descendants during slavery and colonial life to eventually walk the streets of Trinidad in a celebration of freedom, Carnival. While this figure was rooted in African heritage, Trinidad adapted the figure, notably by adding on Jumbie or ghost to the name. The by the early 1900’s Moko Jumbies had become an element of Trinidad’s Carnival. This figure would walk the streets of Port of Spain and other cities protecting the city and revelers from evil. As part of his role in Carnival the Moko Jumbie would accept donations from onlookers in upper floors of buildings.
I always get a strong sense of peace and joy when in the presence of moko jumbies, maybe I can now attribute that to a subconscious recognition of their traditional role as protectors 🙂
More stands were beginning to open at this point but unfortunately (for me) most did not offer vegetarian fare. It continues to amaze me how little consideration food establishments give those who veer away from meat-based diets (whether for ethical, health or religious purposes). Although I am not a full-time vegetarian, like many people who follow various religious prohibitions, a vegetarian/fish diet is usually the most practical one for me to follow when dining outside of the home.
Indeed, one of the things that intrigued me in the promotions for Sauté Trinbago was the offering of a vegetarian pelau. However, when I approached that stand they stated that they were only offering chicken 🙁
Fortunately Hanif & Sons Doubles came to the rescue. Although they stated that they wouldn’t be serving doubles until after 6p.m., they were happy to hand out aloo pies, slit and filled with one of the best channa (chickpea) fillings I’ve -ever- tasted. That thing was heaven! Walking back to my bench, I grabbed an ice-cold Gatorade. Perfect for staving off the now steamy Sunday heat.
J opted for a beef roti from a stand called, cryptically enough ‘roti;. He said it too was wonderful, but unfortunately I was not able to partake at that time.
As we sat and ate, we watched the slowly growing crowd. There was a calm lull in the music and the crowd. Even the devils and jumbies seemed to use this time to recoup and recalibrate.
But, I didn’t want to rest! Growing uncomfortably curious about the steady group of people assembled in front of the Grey Goose Vodka stand I ventured closer.
Daiquiris were on call! I immediately put in my request for two! (1 raspberry, and 1 pina colada if you please) MMM… 🙂
Above me, at the bar, the rhythm section continued going, even as the devils rested. These guys were unwavering and really stayed in good spirits the whole time. Once they realized I was photographing them they started actively hailing me out, and hamming it up. Too funny 🙂
Although she remained silent throughout the festivities, one of the day’s real stars was the Queen Royal College main building. Newly renovated, she was nothing less than stunning and regal. A fitting backdrop for everything that went on.
As the sun continued its slow descent the blue devils took advantage of the fading light to begin their traditional fire-breathing show.
This fella had one of the most expressive portrayals I’d ever seen. I simply loved looking at him!
Eventually however I had to pull away. Especially as I started to hear drumming coming from the main stage. A voice stated over the loudspeakers that the Picton Folk Group was about to begin. Curiousity, more than anything else, drew me forward. Little did I know that I was in for an extremely magical performance…
Tomorrow: Sauté Trinbago Part 3 – The Picton Folk Performing Company