Young jab jabs parade the streets of Couva in 2005.
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&Ts 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 JOuvert
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
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
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.
you take a bush bath you cant 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.
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 dont 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 dont
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
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
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
In 2002, the band pioneered with Carnivals 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.
Alfred shows off the costume he took to Germany to
support T&T at the Fifa World Cup tournament.
was the first female jab jab to appear in T&T
Carnival, back in 2001.
Ronald Alfred on stage at Carapichaima in 2003.