Saint Lu­cian Mas­quer­ade

The Star (St. Lucia) - - NATIONAL DAY -

Ex­cit­ing, en­er­getic and most times ter­ri­fy­ing to chil­dren (and adults of a ner­vous dis­po­si­tion), mas­quer­ade is a lo­cal tra­di­tion that stems from our African and Euro­pean an­ces­tors.

In the 16th and 17th cen­turies, when slave-own­ers cel­e­brated with Christ­mas and New Year fes­tiv­i­ties, they would al­low the slaves to have their own fun. Mas­quer­ade was formed, en­com­pass­ing African dance rit­u­als, cos­tumes im­i­tat­ing plan­ta­tion life, drum­ming and chant­ing. The par­tic­i­pants would form a pa­rade and make their way to other plan­ta­tions, even some­times per­form­ing in the plan­ta­tion houses. Only men took part so some of them had to dress as women.

A prom­i­nent el­e­ment of the cos­tume is that the face is al­ways cov­ered, be it with paint, a mask or cloth.

Af­ter slav­ery was abol­ished in Saint Lu­cia, mas­quer­ade moved from the plan­ta­tions to vil­lage streets. It be­came one of the ma­jor tra­di­tions of the Christ­mas sea­son. The horned, pitch­forked lead char­ac­ter of the pro­ces­sion, Papa Djab (Devil), would di­rect the pa­rade around the com­mu­nity. Other char­ac­ters in­cluded Un­cle Sam and Seraphina, Chou­val Bois and Mary Anset. The rest of the group com­prised Pay Banans and Ti djabs, stilt walk­ers and mas­quer­aders. Spec­ta­tors would throw money to mas­quer­aders; any profit left af­ter cov­er­ing the cost of cos­tumes would be shared amongst the per­form­ers.

Mas­quer­ade is no longer com­mu­nity-led, and is sel­dom en­acted in vil­lage streets. The dances and mu­sic are usu­ally wit­nessed in stage per­for­mances and at or­gan­ised events de­pict­ing Saint Lu­cian cul­ture. Come out and en­joy a mas­quer­ade pa­rade at the an­nual pa­rade of lanterns, part of the Fes­ti­val of Lights and Re­newal in Cas­tries on the evening of 12 De­cem­ber.

Mas­quer­ade is not just a stage per­for­mance. Its his­tory dates back to colo­nial times.

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