Canival Terms

Baby Doll:  A mas played by a young woman, generally wearing a bonnet, gloves, and sundress or similar dress.  She carries a baby doll and demands payment from men in the crowd, claiming that they fathered the child.

Bacchanal:  A term derived from Bacchus, the greek god of wine, associated with lewd behavior and frenzy, Bacchanal is used in Carnival context to describe the wild antics and hysteria surrounding the uninhibited celebration and behavior.

Bad John:  A ruffian, bully, and brawler.  The phrase is said to be based on John Archer, known simply as “Bad John”, a violent criminal known for his many offenses in the early 1900s.

Band:  A group of masqueraders who “band” together for Carnival celebration.  Often to play mas, they will be dressed alike, for example, a band of robbers (see midnight robbers).  Many bands had organized hierarchies such as king, queen, etc.

Bandleader:  A figure of authority that organizes and serves as the leader of a band.  For example, Jason Griffith was the bandleader for one of the last extant sailor bands.

Barataria:  A suburb found East of Port of Spain, with rich cultural traditions including carnival.  Cito Velasquez and Geraldo Veiera are both from Barataria.

Barrack Yard: A type of early communal housing in Trinidad and Tobago created by placing barracks around a central area.  These areas were often used for early indentured labor, and they were characterized by cramped, public, and poorly unsanitary conditions.  Barrack yards are commonly associated with rough language, unruly behavior, and are cited as giving birth several mas variations including the dame lorraine mas.

Beast:  (see beast) A devil or dragon, often appearing as a chained figure that charges at onlookers.  Often a representation of rage and fury, i.e. “He go beast!”.

Belmont:  A neighborhood in Port of Spain that is working class and home to one of the last Fancy Sailor bands.

Blue Devil:  (See Jab Molassie) A subset of Jab Molassie that involves painting the masqueraders entirely in Blue.  Paramin is known for its Blue Devil mas players.

Borokeete: A type of masquerade where the player appears to riding a donkey or horse, appearing as a full featured with a human torso leading directly into the semblance of a donkey’s body.  Particularly popular with the East Indian community of Trinidad and Tobago.

Brass Band:  This term is used to describe any group that is not playing pan (in Carnival Context).  Often a group of musicians playing brass instruments (trumpet, trombone, euphonium, etc.) .  A brass band might accompany a group of mas players.

Buljol and Bake:  Bake is fried bread and served with a variety of meats.  For instance “Bake and Shark”.  Buljol and Bake is a shredded salt fish combined with peppers and other ingredients, traditionally served as a breakfast food with bake.

Calypso Monarch: The Title bestowed upon the yearly winner of the yearly national calypso competition.

Caribana: The name of  the yearly carnival celebrations in Canada.

Carnival King: The winner of the ‘big king mas’ competition on the Friday before carnival.

Carnival Queen: The winner of the ‘big queen mas’ competition on the Friday before carnival.

Chipping:  The act of rhythmically shuffling your feet to the beat of Carnival music while in procession down the streets.

Dame Lorraine: A traditional carnival character played by both men and women that has exaggerated physical body parts that are pronounced in patios. These body parts are usually indicated in the latter part of its name and is preceded by a title and a description of size. e.g Monsieur  Gwo Koko meaning Mr Big Balls

Devil:  (See Devil) The Devil is a mas representation of the Devil, most recognizably seen as bookman or Satan.  A plethora of Devil mas exist within Carnival.

Dimanche Gras: The culmination of the annual carnival competition at celebration that crowns, large, med and small carnival costumes as well as the respective calypso competitions.

Dragon:  (See Dragon) mas representation of a Dragon.  Dragons are often associated with their own band, referred to in this archive as the Dragon/Devil Band.

Fancy Band:  A term used to describe bands of “pretty mas” performers, wearing expensive and/or richly died cloths, especially satin and velvet.  Fancy bands often included a hierarchy of  Kings, Queens, etc.  However, this is not a requirement.

Fancy Indian: (See Fancy Indian) A variety of indian (indigenous peoples of North, Central, and South America) mas that uses a large headpiece, decorative fabrics, bright colors, glass and bead work to flesh.  Fancy Indian mas players will often have illustrative and heightened names like “Sitting Bull”, etc.

Fancy Sailor:  (See Sailor) A pretty mas variation on the sailor character that often has a large headpiece, pipe, cane, and elaborate dances memorized.

Fatigue: To make a joke at someones else expense.  To pester and harass.

Grand Stand: The major permanent public pavilion located within the Queens Park Savannah.

Headpiece: The costume adornment usually worn around the head of the masquerader.

Imp:  A devil mas, especially one that controls or taunts the beast as part of a band of devils.

Jamette: A traditional mas that is fashion after a class of people living within the old barrack yards of Trinidad and Tobago.

J’ouvert: An early morning celebration that occurs before carnival Monday celebrations.

Jab Jab:  (See Jab Jab) A devil mas that often carries a whip, wears a horned head piece, and a heart shaped chest piece.  A fancy devil mas.

Jab Molassi:  (See Jab Molassie) A Molasses Devil, or Devil covered in Mollasses or paint.  The varieties commonly cited are red, black, and blue devils.

Jagabat: A term that is usually used to describe a loud and often promiscuous woman.

John John:  A poor neighborhood in the Capital of Trinidad, Port of Spain.  Referred to as “behind the bridge”, this neighborhood shares historical rivalries with the other poor and working class neighborhoods around it.

Kaiso: Another spelling for calypso

Land Ship: A type of miltary mas that originates from Barbados.

Las Lap: The last moments of the Carnival celebrations on carnival Tuesday.

Laventille:  An historically poor neighborhood in the hills overlooking Port of Spain.  Located East of John John, it is known

Lime:  A celebratory gathering of people, generally more subdued in tone than a fete or party.  To hang out.  As Shal Marshall states, “We liming.  We party and girls around.  Girls around… yeah.”

Mas Camp: A place where mas costumes are assembled for the Carnival celebration.

Mas: An abbreviation of the word masquerade.

Masman:  More than one that simply plays mas, a masman is an artist of the Carnival art form, with knowledge of historical practices, and the ability to create, play, and guide mas play as an art form.

Midnight Robber:  (See Midnight Robber) An ol’ mas that portrays a robber, often wearing a sombrero and long cape.  Robbers speak of their great deeds and lineages when encountering other Robbers or exacting money from a captive audience.  These speeches are called Robber Talk.

Moko Jumbie: A traditional mas character modeled after the west african god moko, known for its presentation as a tall stilt walking figure.

Monday Mas: The first official day of the carnival masquerade.

North Stands: A temporary pavilion that is erected directly opposite (North) to the grand that accommodates the viewing public.

Ole Mas (Ol’ Mas):  Used to distinguish the traditional mas variations that might have been found in the 1800s from the modern bikini and beads mas play that dominates today’s Carnival.

Pan Yard:  A yard where steel pan orchestra instruments are stored throughout the year.  Also the area where steel pan groups rehearse, and a major center for liming during carnival season.

Pan:  Another term for steel drums, tuned or otherwise, that accompany bas.  A pan can be an elaborate tonal instrument like the Steel pan, or even a biscuit tin that has been fired and used as a drum.

Panorama:  The national steel band competition of Trinidad and Tobago, held in the Queen’s Park Savannah every Carnival Season.   A showcase of the best steel band talent in the country.

Picong:   Competitive verbal battle between two Calypsonians characterized by a back and forth.  Not unlike the rhetorical technique of Stichomythia.

Pissenlit:  Perhaps the most overtly crass ol’ mas that has ever been played, translated roughly as “wet the bed”.  Popular in the last quarter of the 19th century, masked men would dress as women in long, often transparent nightgowns and menstruation clothes linearly stained with “blood”, accompanied with wining, singing obscene songs, and sexual horse play.  The mas was banned in the early 1900s.

Playing Mas:  To actively participate as a performer during Carnival processions.  In example, “Marcus played mas this year!  Yes, he played robber with the boys from St. Augustine.”

Road March:  A musical composition played most often at the “judging points” along the parade route during Carnival.  Also a title that has been given out since 1932.  One of the most prestigious awards, The most such titles have gone to the Mighty Sparrow with eight wins, Super Blue, with nine wins, and the late Lord Kitchener, with ten.

Roti:  An unleavened bread made primarily from flour and yellow split pea.  Roti also refers to a meal of that bread wrapped around a variety of ingredients that might include, chick, beef, lamb, curry, potato, etc.

Soca:  Soul of Calypso.  Essentially, a combination of Calyso with electronic music, fused as a dance track and played heavily during Carnival Season and at fetes throughout the year.

Savannah:  The enormous grassy plain in downtown Port of Spain that is home to many sporting events as well as the Major Carnival Competitions.

Standard:  A flag atop a long pole that designates a new “section” of a band.  The flag might bear a costume, symbol, or abstract representation of the section within the band.  For example, an image of a sword before a section of a band dressed as warriors.

Tent:  The location of Calypso and other Carnival competitions.  An admission fee is generally charged.

Track:  The path leading to the Savannah stage where Carnival steel bands rehearse, it is also used in the crowning of the King and Queen of Carnival.

Viey La Cou:  French for “The Old Yard”, it is a competition created in 1987 to preserve historical carnival characters, such as those featured in this archive.

Wine:  A style of highly sexualized dancing characterized by slow gyrations of the pelvis, isolation and control of hips, and partner contact.  Similar to what would be considered grinding.  Described in a 1956 publication as “rapid shifting of the pelvis backward and forward and side to side.”

Wirebender:  A Carnival artist who bends wire to support headpieces and other costumes items.  The bent wire is used to create the general shape or frame of an item, and is often covered with paper mache, or a fabric to complete the piece.  For example, “The mas man transformed his shoes into alligators through a few scraps of fabric and wire.  He was a truly skilled wire bender.”

Woodbrook:  A middle class residential neighborhood west of the downtown area of Port Of Spain that has produced several masmen of note, including George Bailey and Stephen Derek.