Once played in large groups, Cow bands are often restricted to single masqueraders today. The costume and headpiece were generally created with straw, rice bags, and horns- all inexpensively available, which contributed to the popularity of this mas. A papier-mâché mask was often present as part of the head piece, lending to the image of a cow. This mas is also referred to as “mad cow”, “Pai-banan”, and “corn bueff”, which are all variations on the same mas.
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Mas Origins and History:
As an inexpensive mas with substantial leeway for behavior (especially in the context of “mad cow”) this mas has been practiced as early as the late 1800s. The cow mas has been said to be an African mas, but is more accurately attributed to cultural importation from Venezuela.
The Trinidad and Tobago NALIS indicates that,
In later years, on Carnival Tuesday, the Cow Band came out in brightly coloured costumes, with picadors and a matador who would challenge the cows. The cow character’s costume consisted of tight-fitting breeches of yellow velvet or satin, with gold braid and spangles along the sides and around the bottom at the knees, a tight-fitting maroon satin long-sleeved blouse completely covered with a soutache decoration of gold braid, gloves, cream stockings and alpagatas. A well-secured cap-like contraption on the head supported a pair of highly polished cow horns. A short section of the hairy part of the cow’s tail was attached to the seat of the breeches. An imported wire gauze mask replaced the cow mask of the previous day.
Male singers and the musicians wore yellow breeches, maroon shirts with billowing sleeves tight at the wrist, a sash around the waist and red beret. The women wore yellow skirts, red or maroon bodices, and headties. All wore masks of the wire gauze type, those of the women being decorated with gold braid along the forehead and at the sides, with gaudy earrings dangling from them.
Sounds and Speech:
Biscuit tins were often drug behind cow bands, attached by ropes to the masqueraders. This made a sound that was described in a primary source interview as lending an ominous quality to the mas. Additionally, interviews indicate that sometimes the chain could be held and used to slap the ground to emphasize the stomping sound and motion of the cow. Also there is, “this amazing sound of rustling because of that straw suit, when the wind blows…”
The movement of the cow band generally emulates that of a “mad”, or diseased cow, implying stumbling and general disorientation. The following quote is extracted from a TMA interview with a cow band masquerader regarding how he elected to approach movement qualities of the mas:
“Coming out after a seven to three shift, there was this cow eating cashews on one of the trees, and there was a Jack Spaniard’s nest, and apparently he bumped into it, and they stung him in the face, and this cow started to shake… drag his head on the ground. Kick up and spin in circles almost, trying to shake those… those wasps out
And I mean it was a scary sight… as I walked and I saw how this cow was carrying on, and I stood… I find it was fascinating, and for some reason when I was asked to do this cow mask… the memories of that disoriented cow came to mind. And that was what I use as my inspiration to recreate my personal interpretation of the mas.”
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Variations and Developments of Note:
Pai banan or banana trash was played in the country districts such as Chaguanas. As in the case of the monday bulls above the masques wore dry plantain leaves covering their bodies and their faces were masked with a brown cloth or papier mache mask similar to that worn by pierrot grande. The head piece was a white long cloth toque with two long wire antennae sticking upward or sometimes cow horns held on with a fula.
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Interviews and Scholarship: n/a
Henry, Jeff. Under the mas’: resistance and rebellion in the Trinidad masquerade. San Juan, Trinidad and Tobago: Lexicon, 2008. Print.
Hill, Errol. The Trinidad carnival; mandate for a national theatre.. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972. Print.