- Trinidad and Tobago Carnival – A Brief Overview
- Trinidad and Tobago Carnival: Part 2 – Soca Music
- Trinidad and Tobago Carnival: Part 7 – Carnival Bands
- Trinidad and Tobago Carnival: Part 3 – Steelbands and Panorama
- Trinidad and Tobago Carnival: Part 4 – Fetes!
- Trinidad and Tobago Carnival: Part 5 – Dimanche Gras
- Trinidad and Tobago Carnival: Part 6 – J’Ouvert & Ole Time Mas
- Trinidad & Tobago Carnival: Part 8 – Road March
- Trinidad and Tobago Carnival: Part 9 – Ash Wednesday
J’ouvert (joo-VAY) is the start to the Carnival celebrations. It begins in the pre-dawn hours of Carnival Monday and lasts until daybreak. J’ouvert (which is a Creole corruption of the French Jour Ouvert – day opening) is also known as ‘dirty mas’. It seems to symbolise us going down to our rawest most animal and basest selves in the cover of the night, before the sun emerges to reveal us in our finite forms and encourages us to wash all the mess and stress away and be reborn in our shiny new costumes
J’ouvert is marked by smaller groups and bands and a general free for all vibe. J’ouvert bands congregate around main themes based on what they will cover their bodies with. That’s right. Cover their bodies. You see, J’ouvert is also like fingerpainting gone wild. There are mud bands, paint bands, pitch (oil) bands, (baby) powder bands, and most recently chocolate bands! Each band smears themselves in the coverings of their choice and dances through the streets looking for ‘victims’ And when a blue band meets a mud band (or any other) at an intersection… well it is sheer joy for each side to smear the other with their own ‘branding’
I remember when I first played J’ouvert. I was a teenager, and it was probably 1993 or 1994. I went playing with my friends and had no idea what to expect. Crime was not what it is today and my parents had no concern of me and my friends walking from our home through the suburbs with no adults or car ride to find out what was going on in the capital. I naively had resolved that I would not dirty because that sounded absolutely awful to me. Well I soon learned what was what. I had reached St. Clair (an affluent suburb) and was chipping (moving forward, shuffling my feet to the beat) with my friends when a middle aged man turned to me and smiled. He seemed safe enough and I smiled back. Out of nowhere his hand appeared from behind his back and moved across my right cheek. I felt something left in its wake and in shock gasped as he threw his head back, laughed lustily and danced off into the crowds. I had been marked! I think it was pitch too! Shock soon dissolved into laughter of my own too and all I could think of then was that i had to get my own jar of SOMETHING! I was gonna mark everyone I saw!! That’s really all I remember of my first J’ouvert It was a blur!
For more J’ouvert information:
J’ouvert is also a time for traditional carnival costumes to be revived. Known as ‘ole mas’ these costumes are part of Carnival lore. On Carnival Friday they also have their own parade through the streets of Port-of-Spain. It is a very thrilling sight!
The above picture is of some tired ‘Sailors’ on a Carnival Monday.
My favorite Ole Mas character is the…
How moko jumbies dance and move effortlessly through crowds is beyond me The jumbies in the above photo are all from The Dragon Keylemanjahro School of Arts and Culture.
See Moko Jumbies in action in Kaiserslautern Germany, they were part of our cultural contigency for World Cup 2006
Like every part of Carnival J’ouvert also has its own judging platform. And homemade costumes really get to shine here, many of them mocking current events and headlines both locally and overseas.
In the years since I have played J’ouvert a few more times. Always with the J’ouvert bands that have popped up. These bands provide basic ‘jouvert kits’ for their members, as well as a hearty breakfast. This breakfast invariably is some combination of street foods and always includes the ubiquitous fete fare, corn soup (shown below).
This post was originally published on February 14, 2007. It has been updated three times since then.