Jab Molassie


In Brief: Jab is the French patois for Diable (Devil), and Molassie is the French patois for Mélasse (Molasses). The Jab Molassie is one of several varieties of devil mas played in Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.  This type of devil is often smeared with tar, grease, lard, and/or various dyes (most often red, green, and blue).  Errol Hill describes the Jab Mollassie as a, “leaping, prancing, masker, his body daubed with black or blue paint, sometimes with molasses, who threatens to besmear spectators unless they pay him off.”   Certain Jab Molassie will adopt aspects of other devil mas, such as “the beast”, incorporating the use of shackles and restraints to hold back one of the devils in the group.  The use of metal restraints and shackles has also been linked to slavery, and in combination with molasses and soot, as a reference to “the treatment of estate gangs in route to a cane fire.”  Jab Molassie are among the wildest masquers seen in Trinidad today, and one of the few traditional mas styles still actively played.  The dancing and performance of the Jab Molassie is often accompanied by steel drums (as opposed to the tonal steel pan) made of found items, such as fired biscuit tins.

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Mas Origins and History:  Portrayals of various devils have been popular throughout the history of Carnival, but the combination of devil mas and molasses may be one of convenience (a dark substance available to smear the body and a popular portrayal) or be designed to recall a history of slavery.  It is known that white masqueraders would smear themselves with varnish or other dark pigment when playing as the Negue Jadin, a satire of estate Negroes.  Additionally, L.M Fraser, in History of Carnival relates that

In the days of slavery whenever fire broke out upon an Estate, the slaves on the surrounding properties were immediately mustered and marched to the spot, horns and shells were blown to collect them and the gangs were followed by the drivers cracking their whips and curging with cires and blows to their work.  After emancipation, the negroes began to represent this scene as a kind of commemoration of the change in their condition, and the procession of the “cannes brulees” used to take place on the night of the 1st of August , the date of their emancipation… After a time the day was changed and for many years past the Carnival days have been inagurated by the “Cannes Brulees”.

The connection between Cannes Brulees (burnt cane) and molasses is self evident.  In celebrating emancipation, it is very possible that enacting scenes reminiscent of slavery (where burnt cane covered a laborers body), and re-satirizing the white plantocracy that had formerly satirized laborers through portrayals of Negue Jadin contributed to the creation of this mas.     In 1848, Charles Day reported a band of masqueraders that have qualities similar to that of the Jab Molassie.  Hill summarizes that there was, “a gang of almost naked primitives bedaubed with black varnish, pulling at a chain attached by padlock to one of their members who was occasionally knocked down”.  Behavior of the chained character is not described, but the costuming does suggest a connection to the Jab Molassie and satirization of slavery.  Like much of Carnival, there is no simple, neat lineage in the creation of the Jab Molassie, but a nebulous intersection of many cultural facets, intersecting in an environment bacchanal.

Costuming: Jab Molassie are dressed in little more than a loincloth or shorts, and smeared with colored creams, dyes, and paints.  The colors generally seen are black (oil, soot, and/or molasses), blue, and red.

Sounds and Speech: The appearance of the Jab Molassie is accompanied by the beating of a crix tin, and, in some cases, the use of a scout whistle.  Jab Molassie have been described as “bawling” vocally, but do not use any recognizable words or syntax.

Movement: In primary source interviews it has been stated that when working with restraints, the restraining masker will work in opposition to the devil that is being restrained, so if the restrainee moves left, the retrainer moves right, etc.

Other Behavior: In primary source interviews, animal sacrifice, rolling in drains, intimidation, dancing for the power of money, and other unsavory behaviors have been identified.

Variations and Developments of Note: n/a

References in Arts and Popular Culture: A “Jab Molassi” band was depicted as a cultural group in the 1963 Dimache Gras production in Trinidad, attempting to steal a child, which in the production, was fated to bring good fortune to whatever community raised it.

SOCA artist Talpree has a song titled Jab Jab, which shows some Carnival revelers who appear as Jab Molassie and captures some of the “Bacchanal” spirit in a developing carnival that is forgetting its own origins and definitions.

 

Related Characters: All Devil mas chararcters are related.

Bands and Individual Performers: Eustace Pierre.

Other Information:  n/a

Interviews and Scholarship: n/a

Bibliography:

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.