Saint Lucian Masquerade
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.