Putting ‘Mass’ in ‘mas’?
February 10, 2018
A wire-bender remembers…
February 10, 2018

The dance of the dragon mas

Winston Daniel shows some of the other costumes.

Story and photos by Lara Pickford-Gordon

Winston Daniel is proud to say he is the third generation of his family involved in Carnival. He is passionate about the preservation of traditional mas because it is “ours”.

He created four dragons which took part in the traditional mas competition held at Victoria Square last Wednesday and danced in the dragon festival Carnival Friday. They are also on the streets Carnival Monday. Daniel was involved in children’s mas creating a king, queen and five individuals.

He is originally from Panco Lane, San Fernando and also lived in Port of Spain and finally Diego Martin where he has been a resident at Abdool Lane, Petit Valley for more than 30 years.

He said when he was eight or nine years, relatives came to his home in 1948 to sing Parang and an uncle offered to make a ‘guarahoon’ costume for him. “I am part Indian extract; they used to call me ‘punjabee’. He came one day and said ‘punjab, I am going to disguise you’. They didn’t have no ‘play mas’ in my time. It was disguise,” Daniel told the Catholic News in an interview at his home on January 31.

He played ‘guarahoon’ for the first time in 1949 and for three years after, then he played ‘Red Indian’. “I was known for playing Indian,” Daniel said pointing to a wall in his office covered with photographs.

As a young man Daniel travelled to other islands—St Kitts, Antigua, Grenada, and Jamaica to create costumes. He constructed queen costumes which were shipped to Martinique for the Carnival.  Daniel also taught costume construction in the islands.

While on a visit to teach in Martinique, he met a man who was third generation in participating in ‘devil’ mas. Through an interpreter friend Daniel heard about the man’s legacy. It occurred to him that “beast mas” was missing in Trinidad.

“As a small kid I used to run by the Penny Bank at George Street corner to watch beast fight…I used to watch a beast coming from Old St Joseph Road and a red one coming from where All Stars is (Duke Street) ….I was fascinated with the dance, with the imps and them dancing,” Daniel said.

Also memorable for him was seeing the antics when the beasts encountered water.  There once was a barrack yard from Charlotte Street (where the Salvation Army is) to the Dry River and residents would throw out the water from their wares and laundry into the drain at the Penny Bank. “When the imps come they could not cross it because imps and demons can’t handle water.”

Daniel said from then he was fascinated with the dances and costume structure of ‘beast mas’. Thinking of the legacy of Patrick ‘Chinee Patrick’ Jones and Skeedo Phillips who introduced the dragon mas in 1907, he told himself, “I can’t let that fall by the wayside.”  He returned to Trinidad resolved to play another kind of character and conducted research.

Dragon mas

A dragon costume is labour intensive. In summary, he said galvanise wire is bent to shape the headpiece. Then paper used to cover the wire and small scales stuck to the frame. The scales for the head and body are made of cross-link polystyrene foam.

After being assembled, it is sent for air brushing. A tailor is enlisted to sew a bodysuit to fit the masquerader and large scales glued on. The dragon’s chest is also made using cross-link foam glued to a pattern, while the arms are created using mason’s gloves which are spray painted the colour of the portrayal and covered with small scales.

The claws are made from plastic which is manually shaped after being heated with a glue gun. The dragon’s fearsome eyes are made using large black sequins.

Work on the 2018 dragon costumes began around Boxing Day and were completed “over a period of time”. Health issues caused a delay.

There is a room where Carnival portrayals of yesteryear are stored.  He displays a ‘burrokeets’ costume, a large head of a ‘Bookman’ and other characters.  Having seen other Carnivals in the region, he is proud, “Look how much traditional mas we have”.

Daniel called for “an injection of capital” to help the small groups bringing out  dragons, ‘Baby Dolls’, ‘Dame Lorraines’ , ‘Fancy Sailors’, ‘Black Indians’ etc.

Some characters are very costly. He showed the sequined fabric used for a ‘Bookman’ he played some years ago which was bought in the United States.  “When you go by people who sell Indian bridal cloth to make the sleeves, plenty money for a yard of that. Sometimes you have to buy five yards—your cost done jump up already,” he added.

While big bands get sponsors, the ‘traditionalists’ as he calls them, don’t even get acknowledgement for letters appealing for support.

Daniel said Carnival is street theatre consisting of performance and speech. Yet when the ‘robbers’, ‘Indians’ and ‘Pierrot Grenades’ are on stage they are rushed off by persons cleaning. He complained, “Allyuh only want to see beads and bikini? They not interested in the oral part of our Carnival, people line up waiting to sweep we off the stage, ‘Indians’, ‘Robbers’, ‘Pierrot’ can’t talk…”

As for judges, whether one of his costumes scores or gets zero from the judges, he says “my public is my judge”.

Two years ago a bad fall caused Daniel to stop playing mas on the streets but he continues creating. Schools invite him to teach costume construction and wire bending.