The Fancy Indian mas is a pretty mas characterized by elaborate headdresses (which can be taller that the mas performer), vibrant coloration, use of advanced wire bending work to support the costume, feather and beed work, inspired by native groups of south, central, and north american indigenous people, (“indians”). This mas grew out of, and is an extravagant offshoot of the Wild Indian Mas. There are several types of Wild Indian, with unique language practices (generally combinations and perversions of english, african, south american tribal, french, and spanish phrases) costume colors, and geographic origins. Fancy Indian bands are said to be influenced by the “Red Indians” the most, and have been reported to have entire dialogues memorized in an untranslatable, “nonsense” language, or to speak “Red Indian”. Many of today’s non-traditional costumes are heavily influenced by the Fancy Indian Tradition, including elaborate head dresses, use of bright feathers and bead work, and a costume profile emulating native groups.
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Mas Origins and History:
The influence of western cinema in the portrayal of Indians is undeniable. However, actual migratory patterns, and settlements of native groups can be said to be the origin of Wild Indians, which the Fancy Indian mas is based in. In a 1956 publication of “Caribbean Quarterly”, Daniel J. Crowley states,
Red Indians are supposed to have come over from Venezuela, from a village or area called “Lokain” which is probably Los Caños (Spanish for “drains” or tributaries”), the swamps of the Orinoco Delta. Actually, aboriginal Indians of the Guarao, Guarajo, or “Warrahoon tribe from the area brought beads, parrots, hammocks, and other products to Trinidad to barter until the 1920’s when they were prohibited. There are settlements of mixed-bloods who claim Warahoon ancestry throughout Trinidad, particularly south of Siparia.
Crowley states, “The most spectacular single costumes of the carnival are the Fancy Indians, the delight of tourist photographers”.
Sounds and Speech:
Fancy indians were cited by Crowley as occasionally speaking “red indian”. Evidence of this practice in modern carnival has not yet been verified.
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Variations and Developments of Note:
As materials became more readily available and wire bending skill improved, head dresses became larger and more elaborate. It is unclear when the peak of this occurred, but it is said that headdresses were large enough to become tangled in low hanging electrical lines and required wooden supports to allow mas players to rest their burden while playing.
References in Arts and Popular Culture:
Many revellers who play mas today are wearing costumes that developed from fancy indian designs, including feathered headdresses and costume profiles that emulate tribal wear from indigenous people of South, Central, and North America.
Fancy Indians and Wild Indians are both Indian Mas inspired by indigenous groups. If you’d like to find out more about Wild Indian Mas, please see the video below.
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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.