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Home of 100,000 jab jabs??

August 18, 2011

A Carnival Theme Rooted in our Traditions by Dr. Nicole Phillip

Themes for carnival and other festivals or celebrations are usually met with debate, speculation, anticipation and sometimes criticism. This year’s carnival theme was no exception and spurred much discussion. As a historian and an educator, I am disappointed with the trend of thought or lack thereof in the ensuing debate. This is so because we showed ourselves to be incapable of inquiry, investigation, reasoning, rational thought and expression.

Firstly, throughout the debate the theme has been misrepresented in its stating. Critics, including the churches, claimed that the theme was ‘Grenada: the home of 100,000 jab jabs’. Simple research and inquiry just by looking at the advertisements on television would have informed them that the theme was: Uniquely rooted in our richancestral traditions. Spicemas: Home of 100, 000 Jab Jabs. If we as adults do not use these skills or cultivate them, how do we expect our children to? The CSEC and CAPE examinations demand inquiry, research, analysis, reasoning, and communication. If our youth have no example to follow from us, what is to become of them?

By misrepresenting the theme, the critics have entirely missed the point of or substance of the chosen theme. In so doing it is difficult if not near impossible to make a rational judgment based on erroneous information.

Grenada has one of the best carnivals in the region. Yet, if we are to compete and form a niche for ourselves an appropriate tag line needs to be used to promote this festival. It seems obvious that this was the thinking behind the theme chosen this year. Grenada can boast of being the only island that displays year after year from as far back as carnival has been recorded unique aspects of traditional mas. We share a common history and culture with our neighbours yet, we are the only island with a unique combination of the following traditional displays of mas: Jab Jab (Black mas using old oil), vieux coux, wild Indian, ju ju warriors, shortnee and mud mass. The first part of the theme chosen this year: ‘Uniquely rooted in our rich ancestral traditions’, sought to highlight this aspect of our carnival which distinguishes us from the rest of the region.

The traditional mas display and parade at St. Mark was an innovative addition to this year’s carnival calendar and should be so commended. It was heartening to see a number of young people and children taking an active part in the portrayal of the bands. Special mention must be made of the band which captured the first prize, the Maypole dancers of Belle Isle St. David. The persons dancing the maypole and singing in patois were all children. This particular dance has been dated back to biblical times. It would have been brought to the region by Europeans in their colonizing quest. It was also interesting to note that one of the wild Indian bands displayed the sycreticism of Amerindian and African culture. While dressed like our Amerindian ancestors Kalinago and Taino, the swords carried by the masqueraders were painted in the colours of Ogun one of the West African gods of the Orisha. This merging of cultural expressions is one of the signature aspects of our region’s history. It shows the ingenuity of our people in ‘marrying’ as it were the aspects of their varying cultures, preserving it and passing it on to the next generation.

The second part of the theme: Spicemas: Home of 100,000 jab jabs needs to be addressed.

Spicemas is the unique name given to Grenada’s carnival. The theme speaks to the festival as being the home of 100,000 jab jabs. The jab jab was chosen as one of the aspects of our traditional mas to be highlighted this year and appropriately so because it is the aspect most visible and most known to the rest of the region and further afield. The choice of the number 100,000 is simply a play on our population figure. It does not imply that all other aspects of carnival would be sidelined and there will only be jab jabs on the road. It simply emphasizes the need to highlight our traditional mas as being different and thus making the Grenada carnival experience one of a kind.

The portrayal of Jab Jab is part of carnival that can be dated back to the immediate post-Emancipation period. Our European ancestors in particular our French ancestors brought with them the festival of carnival. The festival was celebrated by the plantocracy usually with depictions of their European lifestyle and culture. Planters dressed as kings. queens, knights, dukes and barons. At the granting of emancipation, ex-slaves were allowed to take an active part in the festivities and street parades. They did what came naturally. They displayed their African past and their present conditions in the Caribbean. Thus, they displayed African leaders of their respective ethnic groups and animals of their beloved homeland. They also displayed their interpretation of their former slave masters in the form of Jab Jab. The cruelty they had undergone during slavery was aptly expressed in their representations of their masters as evil, and dressed in black. In their minds anyone who has made them suffer such unspeakable atrocities could only be portrayed as being evil. The jab jab is a representation therefore of our history. It is a representation of what our African forefathers thought of their European masters. Anyone who has studied slavery at any level whether primary, secondary or tertiary will understand why they saw their masters in that light.

In closing, I would like to make the point that celebrating and recognizing one’s history does not mean or is not synonymous with being non-Christian. I would also like to reiterate the point that investigation, inquiry and research are pivotal to our ability to adequately express ourselves and in so doing to move forward as a people. We cannot continue to make statements that are devoid of these basic principles. If we do we show ourselves to be ignorant, shallow and irresponsible citizens. As adults, we must engage in debates with, as one of my colleagues aptly puts it ‘with preponderance of the best evidence’.

Dr. Nicole L. Phillip

Historian and Educator

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