Posted by Claretta Mills – MA Candidate at NYU CLACS
To play mas, in regards to carnival, means to take part in carnival festivities and activities. Masquerades are one group of performers prevalent in carnival who play mas. Traditional masqueraders are a vital and signature part of carnivals throughout the Caribbean as they simplify various significant characters in Caribbean history. “Dancing the Masquerade,” is something locals and visitors alike look forward to witnessing during each country’s respective carnival.
Masqueraders perform a series of traditional dance moves that often consist of six dances which include Wild Mas, the Waltz, Fine, Boillola, Jig, and Quadrille. The dance movements are said to have originated in West Africa by the Yoruba people. The incorporation of these dance movements is symbolic of the Afro-centricity as it relates to the Caribbean and more explicitly, carnival.
The West African origin influence is also evident in the costumes that masqueraders wear. One masquerader usually has a whip that is lashed on the ground to get the attention of observers. The other dancers usually carry a wooden tomahawk that is often tossed in the air throughout the dances. Masqueraders are accompanied by live music consisting of various drums, and a fife.
In an on-going effort to preserve and display national culture, in addition to performing in carnival settings, masqueraders usually perform for visitors passing through the cruise ship port in St. Kitts. The pounding drum beating as masqueraders prance through Port Zante brings forth such an exhilarating feeling of patriotism for returning nationals like myself.
Most recently, masqueraders have no longer been confined to their traditional gender roles of troupes consisting of older males. Masquerade troupes now consist of females and young children which will ultimately aid in the preservation of these traditional dances and customs.