Monday, February 11, 2008

J’ouvert (pronounced Jew-vay)

At 4:30 am on Carnival Monday, the Cooper’s picked me up. They both had their faces painted black and were wearing their oldest clothes. I was dressed in an old T-shirt given me by a friend at church and Rich’s orange shorts which I had to tie up with string to keep them from falling off. Margaret and I had feathered masks. All appropriately dressed for the occasion, we headed in to Port of Spain to play J’ouvert. If you dress up and join a mas (local for masquerade parade) rather than just watching, it’s said that you “played Carnival”.

Each Carnival mas is organized into bands. Each band includes banners, a king and queen, a large truck that carries either a steel pan band or an enormous sound system blaring Soca music, and costumed revelers that can number into the thousands. J’ouvert is the first Carnival mas and begins in the pre-dawn hours of Carnival Monday, hence our very early departure. It originated as the poor peoples answer to the elaborate parades and costumes that comes later in the celebration. People come in simple homemade costumes that often consist of little more than old clothes mud and paint and the custom is to get dirty. Many of the bands have a big bucket of mud, paint, oil or even chocolate for their players to smear on themselves, each other, or anyone they can find, hence the old clothes.

We arrived in Port of Spain a bit after five, parked at the Zoo and went in search some bedlam or Bacchanal. Rather than joining one band, Margaret and John like to move from band to band so they can see more of the festival. They made some changes to the event this year and had several smaller J’ouvert celebrations in some of the neighborhoods of Port of Spain so the main celebration by the Queens Savannah was by all reports much tamer than it has been in past years. After a while, John became concerned that I might not even get dirty and he began going around asking revelers to smear some mud or paint on me. In the end this turned out to be rather unnecessary as I got my share of mud, paint, and oil. At one point I had my hands covered in chocolate up to my elbows and was smearing it on people who looked a bit too clean.

In addition to the general mud slinging, j’ouvert involves a lot of dancing, jumping and wining (a Trini dance move that involves wild gyration of the hips) as the bands make their way around town and past the judging points. We moved around from band to band until things started to wind down about an hour after dawn. We then found some breakfast, corn soup and hot dogs from one of the Carnival vendors and some ice cold coconuts from a truck. Eventually we found our way back to the car and then Cooper’s house in St. Augustine where we sat on the Veranda, ate papaya and water melon and visited for a while before I headed home to wash up. Take a look at the slide show to see some the j’ouvert mas.

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