Trinidad and Tobago Carnival: Part 7 – J’Ouvert & Ole Time Mas
Posted Feb 09 2010 8:27pm
This post was originally published on February 142007. It has been updated once since then.
J’ouvert (joo-VAY) is the start to the Carnival celebrations. It begins in the pre-dawn hours of Carnival Monday and lasts until daybreak. J’ouvert (which is a Creole corruption of the French Jour Ouvert – day opening) is also known as ‘dirty mas’. It seems to symbolise us going down to our rawest most animal and basest selves in the cover of the nightbefore the sun emerges to reveal us in our finite forms and encourages us to wash all the mess and stress away and be reborn in our shiny new costumes
J’ouvert is marked by smaller groups and bands and a general free for all vibe. J’ouvert bands congregate around main themes based on what they will cover their bodies with. That’s right. Cover their bodies. You seeJ’ouvert is also like fingerpainting gone wild. There are mud bandspaint bandspitch (oil) bands(baby) powder bandsand most recently chocolate bands! Each band smears themselves in the coverings of their choice and dances through the streets looking for ‘victims’ And when a blue band meets a mud band (or any other) at an intersection… well it is sheer joy for each side to smear the other with their own ‘branding’
I remember when I first played J’ouvert. I was a teenagerand it was probably 1993 or 1994. I went playing with my friends and had no idea what to expect. Crime was not what it is today and my parents had no concern of me and my friends walking from our home through the suburbs with no adults or car ride to find out what was going on in the capital. I naively had resolved that I would not dirty because that sounded absolutely awful to me. Well I soon learned what was what. I had reached St. Clair (an affluent suburb) and was chipping (moving forwardshuffling my feet to the beat) with my friends when a middle aged man turned to me and smiled. He seemed safe enough and I smiled back. Out of nowhere his hand appeared from behind his back and moved across my right cheek. I felt something left in its wake and in shock gasped as he threw his head backlaughed lustily and danced off into the crowds. I had been marked! I think it was pitch too! Shock soon dissolved into laughter of my own too and all I could think of then was that i had to get my own jar of SOMETHING! I was gonna mark everyone I saw!! That’s really all I remember of my first J’ouvert It was a blur!
J’ouvert is also a time for traditional carnival costumes to be revived. Known as ‘ole mas’ these costumes are part of Carnival lore. On Carnival Friday they also have their own parade through the streets of Port-of-Spain. It is a very thrilling sight!
The above picture is of some tired ‘Sailors’ on a Carnival Monday.
Like every part of Carnival J’ouvert also has its own judging platform. And homemade costumes really get to shine heremany of them mocking current events and headlines both locally and overseas.
“Talk Yuh Talk – 3Canal” (hard hitting classic political commentary with J’ouvert imagery and percussion driven acapella Jouvert sound
In the years since I have played J’ouvert a few more times. Always with the J’ouvert bands that have popped up. These bands provide basic ‘jouvert kits’ for their membersas well as a hearty breakfast. This breakfast invariably is some combination of street foods and always includes the ubiquitous fete farecorn soup(shown below).