Carnival means disguise. In the traditional carnival of Guadeloupe, there are masks (mas or mass, in Creole) which took inspiration from the European, African, Indian or Amerindian heritage.
Some forty years ago, during the carnival season (Saturday or Sunday), groups of men and young men put on their costumes and masks away from prying eyes, walked through the streets playing drums, singing, blowing whistles, cracking whips and dancing. This was a party but not for everyone. Indeed, from a distance, you could hear them coming. Children who had gone to get something from the grocery store in the neighbourhood, for example, hurried to come back to the family home and to hide (usually…under the bed!). The“mass” frightened, shocked. The parents who were more brave and amused welcomed these people in costume who were playing music and dancing in front of them. After, these “mass” were rewarded with coins. Then, they went from house to house what livened up the neighbourhoods.
Young people today try to revive this cultural heritage. However, it is regrettable the action of some “mass” who just stop the road traffic and demand some money from drivers to allow the passage. The behavior of these young is not artistic.
Among the various “mass” of the Guadeloupean carnival, there are :
– the “mas a hangnion” or “Mas a rannyon“ (ragged mask) which symbolizes poverty, lack of money after Christmas and is dressed in multicoloured rags.
– the “mas a lanmò” (mask of death) who wears a funerary mask (a skull) and a black and white costume on which is drawn a skeleton.
– the “mas a fwèt” (mask with whip) wears a shirt and trousers (in Madras material), a mask and a hood ; he cracks his whip to assert his authority, his manhood.
– the “mas a konn” (mask with horns) is represented by two enormous bull horns, a sign of force and virility.
– the “mas a Man Ibè“ (Mrs. Hubert’s mask) which symbolizes hypocrisy. Native of Pointe-à-Pitre, the healer – Mrs Hubert – used magic herbs and she was criticized by day by people who came to her office by night.
– the “mas a woukou” (roucou mask) has the whole body covered with roucou (Bixa orellana) like the Amerindians (the Caribs) and wears a loincloth.
– the “mocozombie” hides his face behind a mask, walks on stilts and has an umbrella to pick up coins; he dances to the sound of triangle, drum and accordion. He represents the devil, the bad spirits, the zombies. The “moko zombie” exists on other caribbean islands like the British Virgin Islands.
– the “mas a Kongo” (Congo mask), the “mass gwo siwo” (thick syrup mask) or the “mass a goudwon” (tar mask) is prepared by covering his body with a very black mixture of molasses and wears farmer’s pants (kanoka) to represent slaves from Africa. Two sticks are laid parallelly on the shoulders of four “mass”, a fifth “mass” climbs on this “scaffolding” to perform a sports and acrobatic dance. The “tar mask” also exist in other Caribbean islands (Grenada).
– the “mas a riban” (mask with ribbons) comes from the Indian workers arrived in Guadeloupe in the 19th century. He wears a hat and clothes on which are sewn ribbons ; he dances at the foot of a mast by braiding ribbons along a mast…
– the “mass a miwa” (mask with mirror) is also inspired by India. His Madras clothes or his very coloured clothes are covered with pieces of mirror.
Carnival groups – like Voukoum – invent other masks to perpetuate this tradition.
During the parades, the “mass” appears in the crowd which is amused, frightened or deep in thought.