Thursday 8th February, 2007

 

Playing the Devil

 
 
 
 
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Young jab jabs parade the streets of Couva in 2005.

By Adrian Boodan

Did you know that there is a spiritual side to playing a jab jab for Carnival?

Ronald Alfred, the leader of Original Whipmasters, whose family has been leading the way in the jab jab art form for the last 52 years, shared some enlightening details about playing jab jab.

Alfred, who leads T&T’s largest jab jab band out of Carli Bay Road, Couva, says the jab jab is one of the many incarnations of the devil played in Carnival and gets its name from the French word “diable” or devil.

Jab jab is called “the pretty devil” because it is unlike the black-faced bare-skinned jab molassie, or the dull, blue devil as many are accustomed seeing on J’Ouvert morning. The costume is very similar to a medieval court jester whose appearance is traced to the European Carnival character called the pierrot. Jab jabs are donned with satin-striped knickers, elaborately decorated with coloured glass and mirrors.

The whip

The mainstay of the jab jab is his whip. According to Alfred, there are two kinds of whips, one for fighting and the other for cracking, the latter creates a frightfully exploding sound that usually strikes fear in many onlookers.

Alfred said there are also two types of jab jabs, those who play whip and those who parade around in a costume for show.

Bush bath for mas

He explained that in playing any form of devil mas the participant must undergo several “spiritual” rituals. Alfred said the players must bathe in a concoction of nine different types of bushes sourced from the forest and steeped in hot water on Carnival Sunday.

He said the names of the bushes are kept secret along with the names of nine different spiritual oils that go into the bush bath. Alfred said the bush bath gives the player the endurance to undergo the rigours of being beaten with a whip during Carnival.

He said players are cut but because of the bush bath the cut heals rapidly.

“When you take a bush bath you can’t have any marital relations with your wife or any woman whatsoever,” he said.

Alfred said some players may take their whips to the cemetery and have the whip “mounted” with a demon or spirit so they could win battles during Carnival.

Alfred disclosed that he was once cut on his back with a mounted whip, adding that the blood emanating from a cut caused by a mounted whip is usually brown and not red.

The jab jab lavway

Alfred said the lavway or song the jab jabs sing in the ring when they fight usually invokes a spirit on them that possesses the player and gives him the energy to fight.

He said some lavways contain the words Lucifer and Jehovah “in their ritualistic, invocational chants.”

Alfred said because of the spiritual side of the mas, many people shy away from the mas as playing jab jab is not something for the faint-hearted or weak-spirited.

Alfred said since the band was started by Alfred Bachu, his grandfather, five decades ago, it has remained unsponsored. The band was kept going by Winston Alfred, his father, until Ronald took over 18 years ago.

No sponsors, please

Alfred said playing in the band is free and there are now 75 members hoping to parade at several venues across central and north Trinidad for Carnival. He said the band is funded by the prize monies and appearance fees they have received.

“We are not keen to look for sponsorship from any company. My father and grandfather succeeded in pulling through all the hard and difficult times, and we are still doing it. We don’t want any sponsor coming in and taking the credit for the band and saying it is them (referring to the sponsor) who have the band where it is today. We don’t want to have to change our name to blend with the sponsor.”

Cruelty in the mas

Alfred was critical of Couva Carnival, explaining that while other regional venues charged a $10 registration fee, the Couva Carnival Committee charged $100 and offered the smallest prize money. Alfred said the only reason his band goes to Couva was for the love of the people.

Playing jab jab is not without problems, Alfred said, as there are many unscrupulous jab jabs who line their whips with nails and cables to inflict pain and hurt in their “enemies.”

Alfred said his father was beaten about the head with a cable during a jab jab fight and today remains with a stroke because of the blood clots he developed in his cranium after the fight.

Alfred said there are many who believe playing a jab jab is about violence and intoxication; he said, however, this was not so.

Alfred is now in his second year of tutoring 32 students of the Waterloo High School in the art of jab-jab making and whip-cracking.

In 2002, the band pioneered with Carnival’s first female jab jab on the stage and in 2006 the Original Whip Masters made the trip to Germany to support T&T at the Fifa World Cup tournament.

Alfred said despite the few negatives the art form and regional Carnival is seeing new growth.
Ronald Alfred shows off the costume he took to Germany to support T&T at the Fifa World Cup tournament.
She was the first female jab jab to appear in T&T Carnival, back in 2001.

Ronald Alfred on stage at Carapichaima in 2003.

©2005-2006 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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