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   st. kitts carnival folklore   

     

     

    BY PRUDENCE FRANCE
     

    Long before the birth of Carnival, “Christmas Sports” have provided entertainment for Kittitians and visitors alike. These sports, however multicultural in origin, reflect the traditional beliefs and customs of centuries past. Through a spectacular combination of drama and dance the working class, from the dismal days of slavery, managed to keep their cultural inheritance alive. Sadly, with the passage of time several of the “sports” have faded from the scene and Kittitian culture made the poorer for It.

     

    Niegar Business and Sagwa heralded the fast approaching Christmas Season. The players marched swiftly through the villages with blackened faces, long, black scissors-tail coats flying as they recounted true incidents which had taken place during the year. Often the topics of their rhymes and riddles caused some embarrassment and much humour. Hot Sauce and School Children, both spin-offs from Niegar Business, were the comedians of Christmas Sports.

     

    Many of the original play acting was based on Biblical stories and religious literature taught by the planters In an effort to “Chnstianise” the slaves. Long verses of scripture were memorised and related with the appropriate actions during the season. David and Goilath from the Old Testament story and Giant Despair from “The Pilgrims Progress” are two such sports which have revealed the skilful acting and talent of Kittitian folk.

     

    To believe that Kittitian culture was derived from a melting pot of many nations, one had only to see the Mummies In action. The players wearing long, white, frilly “drawers” under bnghtly coloured, short Jackets, decorated with mirrors and handkerthiels depicted the ghosts of characters from English, Scottish and Irish legends. The full cast included an Egyptian King, a Turkish Knight a Dragon, a íather and a woman (usually played by a man). The play merely a portrayal of the battles of nations which ends with St. George slaying the Giant and Dragon, making a not-too-subtle statement of English supremacy.

     

    The Europeans did their best to stifle African art forms while instilling their own. There was an interesting and unique mixture of black cultures as could be found In the Cake Walk introduced in 1624, to mark the new trade agreement between the British and other countries including Japan. Players attired as Scottish Highlanders, Japanese girls in kimonos, and members of the cavalry performed aristocratic dances to the notes of the string band. Similarly, the Regimentals displaying the uniformed bodies of the British army performed intricate waltzes. The Maypole Dance, marking the transition from winter to spring, differs only from its English origin in the musical accompaniment.

     

    Cowboys and Indians became popular with the Introduction of the silent movies. A typical wild west scene was acted out by gun swinging, swaggering “cowboys” who would entertain spectators by singing a medley of old cowboy songs. Then the feathered indians” with painted faces and tomahawks flying would descend. A wild battle to the fast strumming of the string band would ensue. Then they all Join hands in a victory dance.

     

    Of all the “Christmas Sports” few have survived extinction and have become an integral part of the Carnival celebrations.

     

    The Bull originated from an incident which occurred on Belmont estate around 1917, surrounding an estate manager and his prize bull. The story goes that the bull fell ill, and it is the scene of its revival that is acted out in graphic detail causing humour and havoc as the bull runs wild among spectators.

     

    The Actors were created In the seventeenth century by De Poincy the French Governor who settled at St. Peters, where he erected a palace on his estate La Fontagne. The ruins of his mansion can still be seen at Fountain Estate. Actors from the parish of St. Peters still perform skilful, hair-raising acrobatic feats such as somersaulting over the upturned prongs of a garden fork. In addition to this, actors would place heavy rocks on their chests and have men break them with sledge hammers.

     

    Moko-jumbles, an all time favourite, has its origin in West Africa. Dressed in a long gown, the player dances on six to eight foot stilts. His conical hat adds another foot to his already tall stature. As he dances he lifts his skirts high to reveal long lacy undergarments. The music is usually provided by the chopping-reel, tambourine, shack-pan, and barhorn.

     

    Carnival would not be complete without the Clowns. Usually one of the largest troupes with about as many as fifty players, they have provided entertainment for several years. The typical “clown suit” Is a loose, costume of two colours. generously decorated with tiny bells which jingle as they perform their famous whip-swinging dances.

     

    Perhaps the most popular of the Carnival sport are the Masquerades who have maintained their, prominence as being typically Kittitian. They resulted from a combination of many different influences which have affected our background over the centuries. It is felt that the Masquerades originated from the Amerindian dancers. Indeed the player consist of a chIef and twelve to fifteen dancers wearing multi-coloured shirts and pants. Ribbons of various colours, handkerchiefs, mirrors and beads: decorate the short aprons and capes. The headpieces of peacock feathers signify the pride of the ear1y African ancestors. Masquerades perform a sequence of six dances. Some like the Quadrille is typically French while the “Wild Mas” Is more like an African war dance.

     

    Throughout the years, Kittitians have taken their traditions and customs and woven them into a unique pageantry. If we lose this then we would have lost a vital part of our inheritance.

     

     

     

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