A Celebration of the Masses

massin-in-south-caicos-1975Resurrecting the Masquerade tradition in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

Story & Photos By David Bowen, Director of Culture, TCI Cultural & Arts Commission

The origins of the Masquerade festivals celebrated in the Turks & Caicos Islands and the Caribbean have many explanations and colorful theories. It has been the subject of numerous historical articles and just as many books, while an Internet search pulls up hundreds of sites on the subject. So instead of looking at the festival’s history, this article will outline the celebration of Masquerade or the “Masses,” as it is known in the Turks & Caicos, and reveal that the Bahamian version of Junkanoo that has been presented here is not a traditional Turks & Caicos festival.

Due to the lack of written information and documentation about “Massin’” from our pre-slavery past, we will never know the true origin, but we do know some of the cornerstone components that are essential and common in all the variations of the festival celebrated by a diverse list of islands and countries in the Caribbean region such as Barbados, Jamaica, Bermuda, Guyana, Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, Belize, St. Lucia, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Bermuda and even North Carolina in the United States.

The Masses

The Masses is a masquerade tradition that draws on a combination of West African ancestral roots and mimicry of former slavemasters’ costume balls. It is one of our oldest festivals with an oral tradition that is steeped in that mysterious stew of our African, slavery, Colonial, American and Caribbean past. It is a tradition that we in the Turks & Caicos, like other former slave colonies, celebrate during Christmas and New Year and has been passed down through the generations. In the British colonies, Massin’ bears a strong resemblance to the English Mummers and Guisers tradition in which performers visited people house to house in disguise at Christmas.

The Masses is said to have originated with the slaves who were brought here by the Bermudian salt rakers between the 16th and 18th centuries and it flourished in the salt producing islands of Salt Cay, South Caicos and Grand Turk. According to a few of the elders in the Caicos Islands, the Masses there were not as grand as those in the Turks Islands due to the great distances between each settlement and the smaller population, but they did celebrate Christmas morning with some form of Masquerade.

One of the earliest written accounts of Massin’ was recorded in the journal of Methodist missionary Reverend W. Dowson, who was on a mission to the West Indies and happened to land on Grand Turk on Christmas Day. In his journal dated December 25, 1811 he wrote, “I have never before witnessed such a Christmas Day; the Negroes have been beating their tambourines and dancing the whole day and now between eight and nine o’clock they are pursuing their sport as hotly as ever.” He then goes on to say, “I mentioned the dissipation of the Negroes (to a Presbyterian clergyman) as a thing which greatly pained my mind; but he made light of it and apologized for them saying, ‘The week of Christmas is the only time in the whole year in which to be merry and I am pleased to see them enjoy themselves.’”

This account supports the theory that the festival in all its variations throughout the region was celebrated by the slaves during the only time of the year they were given to indulge in a public celebration of their identity and artistic expression. These celebrations served as a chance for social interaction and as a release valve for all the stress and discontentment they experienced throughout the year. It was also a nostalgic reminder of their African heritage and traditional folkways.

During the years following Emancipation in 1834, the Masquerade celebrations developed and took on a whole new meaning for the former slaves. They were now able to express themselves fully and they freely mixed their African traditions with those of their new homes in America, the Caribbean and South America. Masquerade is the root festival for what is now called Carnival in Trinidad, Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Junkanoo in the Bahamas. Yet unlike these festivals, which have undergone tremendous change with hundreds of participants in elaborate costumes parading down the center of town, Masquerade retains its cultural roots as Masqueraders still perform house to house, settlement to settlement, for monetary tips and gifts of food and drink.

Like many of our traditional and cultural expressions, the festival has had a number of peaks and valleys due to the cultural, social and economic changes that have taken place in TCI society over the years. It is a known fact that as a country develops, experiencing both upward and downward economic swings, culture, traditions and customs are altered and changed.

Some expressions completely die out; some barely survive while others are transformed into something new. In the Turks & Caicos, Masquerade has been reduced to a shell of its former self; but the good news is that it has survived and still takes place yearly on the islands of Grand Turk and South Caicos. What is also important is that the memory is strong among the elders who are keen not only to share their recollections and stories, but also their experiences in constructing the costumes and props.

Organizing the Masses

In Grand Turk there were usually two Masquerade groups—the Back-Salina Masses and the Town Masses—but according to a former Masquerader from Grand Turk, Ed Been, the Masses did not really have a committee or an organized structure, nor did government or the private sector sponsor them financially. Each person was responsible for making his own costume and providing any additional items necessary. “Massin’ was something we did for the love and fun of it, it was our culture, this was a tradition passed down to us by the older folks,” states Mr. Been. “The Masqueraders were a group of men who were not shy or afraid to dance, sing and do foolishness in public.”

Despite not having a formal organized committee for the Masses, there was always someone who loosely organized the group. He was considered the Head Masquerader, and the Masqueraders and musicians usually met at his home to prepare themselves. From there they begin their journey around the island. Their first stop, usually around 4 AM, was at the home of the head of government. In Grand Turk it was and still is the governor’s house at Waterloo. During the years before there were resident governors, it was the commissioner’s home that was their starting point and they often went on Massin’ until well after sunset. The length of their performance depended on what kind of tips they received, so of course the homes and businesses of merchants and government officials were given special treatment.

Father Emmanuel Been, a retired Anglican Priest, remembers the excitement brought on by the Masses on the island of Salt Cay in the 1940s and 1950s, which in those days—along with Middle Caicos—was known to be the cultural hotspot in the Turks & Caicos. The excitement centered around men such as Alfred Simmons, Roderick Robinson and Traffet Bassett as they prepared for the Masquerade on Christmas morning. As a young boy, Father Been fondly recalls his attempt at Masses one year along with his childhood friend Albert Simmons. He was heartbroken when he discovered that Albert had already gone out much earlier then they had planned and scared some old woman half to death when he poked his masked face in her window. “The Masses was something everyone looked forward to. It is an important part of our culture,” states Father Been.

The Masses were a big thing in East Harbor (South Caicos) according to the “man for all seasons,” Bill “Archie” Clare, whose early recollections of the Masses in the 1950s were centered on a Christmas he spent with his uncle W.H. “Lou” Mills and his cousins. He remembers the loud ripsaw music early Christmas morning and being frightened by the group of Masqueraders he saw dancing about outside the bedroom window. Later, as an adult, Mr. Clare confessed to being a Masquerader himself for a number of years and remembers during the months leading up to Christmas being drilled by the Head Masquerader in the Massin’ dance steps at one of the local hops (bars) owned by Wilson Saunders.

Father Emmanuel Been and Arthur “Do Do” Swann remember an important aspect of Massin’ called “serenading” that was organized by the members of the ripsaw band. Serenading is very much like Christmas caroling, but the songs were local folk songs and Negro spirituals. The ripsaw band would perform around the town a few months or weeks before Christmas as a way to heighten awareness for the big Masquerade to come on Christmas morning. As a matter of fact, some of the senior citizens often use the word “serenading” in place of “Masquerade.”

The one person that everyone remembers as one of the best Head Masqueraders was Hilton Robinson who was also known to many by his nicknames, “Bulldog” or “Zion.” Bulldog is considered a Masquerade icon. The son of a Salt Cay mother and Middle Caicos father, Zion, like his sons, began Massin’ from a young age. He was a gifted, self taught musician who was known for skill on the mouth organ (harmonica). Zion also had an over-the-top, outgoing character which is essential to being a Head Masquerader. According to Bill Clare, Zion took over leadership of the yearly Masquerade when leaders like James E. Seymour and Julius “Goo” Jennings retired. As traditions go, Bulldog’s sons Alfred and Whitfield Robinson and their nephews now carry on the Masquerade tradition in South Caicos. Another popular person also keeping the tradition alive in South Caicos is Eric “Mr. Boom Boom” Smith and his Masquerade group.

In Grand Turk, Arthur “Do Do” Swann and his friend Dudley “Size” Lightbourne have carried the Masquerade torch. Do Do is very passionate about the Masses and learned from some of the best Masqueraders in Grand Turk such as George Thomas, Oliver “Spot” Smith, Will Brian and Oliver “Bus” Lightbourne.

During an interview for a documentary on Masquerade being produced by the TCI Culture & Arts Commission, Mr. Swann states, “In this day and age it is paramount that we preserve the Masquerade heritage for future generations, so we need to be organized and supported by the government, private sector and the general public.” As a way to assist in the preservation of the tradition, the Masquerade groups in South Caicos and Grand Turk have been receiving small monetary donations from the Turks & Caicos Tourist Board and the TCI Cultural & Arts Commission to assist with purchasing the basic materials and instruments needed.

The costume

masquerade-woman-characterA typical Turks & Caicos Masquerade costume consists of a mask, old stockings, a colorful mixture of paper or cloth strips attached to a pair of pants and shirt along with a head scarf, a straw hat or headdress, a walking stick and a pair of old shoes. Gluing and pasting strips of colorful pieces of paper or mis-matched strips of cloth onto old shirts and pants made the patchy, shaggy looking costumes. A basic glue made from a mixture of flour and water is still used but it is now more common to use store-bought glue for convenience. Other techniques include sewing on the strips of cloths or using a nail to punch holes in the material, then threading the strips through and knotting one end. The effect produced by these colorful strips of cloth when the wind catches them or when the Masquerader begins dancing and moving around is quite spectacular and often scary. (In fact, it is the desire of the Masqueraders to frighten the children. Many of the earliest memories by those interviewed for this story are centered on how frightened they were of the Masses.)

Besides scaring the children, the mask and costume served another important purpose. Like a costume ball, the key was to take on a different persona so the Masqueraders were meticulous in hiding their identity. They often covered their body from head to toe so as not to give away any clue to who they were. A big no-no during Massin’ is for someone to call out the name of a Masquerader, thereby revealing their identity, so it was not often you heard them speak. When they did communicate with one another, they used a series of grunts and unintelligible vocal sounds to disguise their voices. If a spectator called out someone’s name or tried to guess who they were, they were chased off—sometimes receiving a few licks on their hand, heads or legs with the Masquerader’s stick. According to a 1982 written account by Miss Irene Roberts (who was 87 years old at the time), some characters even walked on “Waddy Sticks” (stilts).

The mask

The handmade masks were usually ugly and grotesque. As masks are used in almost all festivals, celebrations and rituals in Africa, it would have been a common cultural expression shared by the African slaves who most likely came from different tribes and regions. Without the proper traditional materials or the money and resources to get them, the Masqueraders were forced to make their masks from cheap available materials such as sacks, cloth or cardboard. These were then painted to resemble strange and grotesque looking characters. Twine or pieces of elastic and rubber bands were tied on and fastened around the head to keep the mask in place. Later on in time, a lucky few were able to purchase ready-made masks from abroad and in recent years, with Halloween celebrated so close to Christmas, modern rubber masks have been introduced. Traditionalists such as Do Do and Alfred still prefer to make their own.

The house

The house on the head, locally known as the “Doll-Baby House” is an intricate part of the Masses and is always present. The origin of this practice is clouded and unclear but most historians believe that it is a throwback to the elaborate headdresses worn in African rituals and celebrations. Others believe that the slaves made replicas of the Great House of the master and paid tribute to him by displaying it. Some say it might have even been used to mock him and his authority. Ed Been’s brother Herbert, who also has a wealth of information on the Masses, even suggested that the Masquerader, by toting the house on his head, was demonstrating that he is so poor that he is carrying all his possessions with him, with the hope that the wealthier homes will throw more money and give quality tips.

The construction of the house took time. These days, a cardboard box has to be specially selected, but before cardboard boxes were used, a simple stick-frame house was constructed and paper was pasted to it to form the walls and roof. The technique used to make a house from a cardboard box is quite simple. The longest flaps are brought together and glued or attached to form a simple triangle or A-frame roof. The shorter flaps are then attached and trimmed to close the holes and gaps at both ends. Doors and windows are cut in a flat U-shape and held open with a piece of stick or twig. The house is then decorated with colorful paper and sometimes even painted. Christmas wrapping paper is the most common material used nowadays.

Some houses had a long protruding stick, looking something like a sloop’s “jib,” attached to one side of the roof with a string tied to its top and fastened at an angle to the other side of the roof. The jib and the string were then decorated with streamers, frills and, recently, balloons. Exceptional artisans designed doll-baby houses that had two and three floors with staircases, furniture and dolls inside. Others placed lights in the window.

The house was not just carried and paraded on the Masquerader’s head; he had to also perform elaborate dance moves. To balance and steady the house, a brimmed hat was placed in a hole cut under the house, then the whole contraption was placed on the Masquerader’s head. For stability, rope, string or twine was firmly attached in a U or V-shape to the underside of the house at the front and back corners of the right and left walls. Using his hands, arms or elbows, the Masquerader would pull down on the rope to create tension and stabilize the house, enabling him to control and shift the weight while he danced and twirled. The house-bearer has one of the hardest jobs and requires stamina, agility and a sense for theatrics.

The cow horn and reel-a-tail

patchy-costumeAccording to Herbert Been, Alfred Robinson and Herbert Ingham, the Cow Horn costume and headdress along with the Reel-A-Tail were quite spectacular. This costume was usually worn by the Head Masquerader and, based on local folklore, this character represented the devil. Along with a hideous mask, real cow’s horns were attached to a headdress and tied under the chin, while a tail called Reel-A-Tail completed the outfit. Stringing together empty thread spools through the hole in their center and then attaching it to the hindquarters of the Masquerader is how the Reel-a-Tail is made. It resembles the human spinal column we see in a doctor’s office or anatomy class and is operated by a specially made pulley system that allows the Masquerader to manipulate the tail to make it slack or stiff and spin, twirl and whip in all directions. Zion was a master of the Reel-A-Tail and has passed the technique of its construction and use to his son Alfred.

The female Masquerader

Traditionally, women did not participate in the Masses as Masqueraders. It was not considered a woman’s place to be carousing with a group of men early in the morning. However they were known to assist with the making of the Masqueraders’ costumes and a special few like a woman called “Goiya” even played the saw with the ripsaw band.

Oddly enough, there was always a female character Masquerader. The character was usually ugly with an overly made-up face, big buttocks and huge breasts. She wore colorful dresses with old stockings, high heeled shoes, a fancy hat and carried a big handbag. Sometimes she even had a parasol. Traditionally, this character is portrayed by a man and provides comic relief as she/he always draws lots of laughter from the children and spectators. The person portraying this character also has to be a good dancer and performer. Women like TCI Cultural Officer Angela Freites have now taken their place as Masqueraders and are purposefully disfiguring themselves in the tradition of the character.

The purser

Since the Masqueraders roam about and perform from house to house, the money, drinks, cakes and food given out has to be collected and shared later among the members of the group. This job went to the Purser. The Purser held on to the money, drinks and gifts collected by the other Masqueraders, who performed elaborate dance steps when offered gifts. They wore pads to protect their knees as they bent down low picking up money and tips with their mouths. The Purser’s job was sometimes given to the female character or assigned to a special person outside the Masqueraders.

No matter who collected, it was always the job of the Head Masquerader to divide the loot among the group at the end of the day. The Masses appreciated the gifts of food and drink but it was cold, hard cash they preferred and performed the best for. Before the days of the US dollar, they received pounds, shillings and pence and Bill Clare remembers receiving from Bulldog a pound for his efforts and that was “big money in those days.”

The music and songs

house-1The music for the Masqueraders is provided by a band of ripsaw musicians who usually played together for other cultural or social occasions and knew the traditional songs and tunes that were sung during the Christmas holiday just for Masquerade. The band was not expected to be dressed in costume or hide their identity like the Masqueraders because it would hinder their playing ability (although some did wear a simple mask or makeshift costume).

A typical band consisted of the all-important drum, which is called a “Rim.” It resembles a large, round tambourine. Dried cow or goatskin was used and stretched over the circular or square piece of wood and tuned by holding it over a fire, causing the heat to contract the skin and tighten it. This allowed the drummer to achieve a loud, “sweet” bass tone when the drum is struck in the center and a high pitched ringing tone when struck near the edge. Every so often, the Rim had to be reheated when the skin got slack due to the constant playing and humidity.

The scraping of the carpenter saw with a nail or piece of metal provided the signature sound of ripsaw music, but it was the instruments that provided the chords and melody that gave the rhythm laid down by the drum and saw its true voice. These instruments included box guitars, hand-made horns, harmonicas and various types of accordions and concertinas we call locally “squeeze boxes” or “free-frooh.”  Jeffery Parker and Julius “Goo” Jennings were the most well known accordion players in their day and their names are usually the first to be called when the topic of ripsaw music or Masquerade comes up in conversation with the elders. Other instruments included the triangle, shakers (maracas), conch shell horns and rum or glass bottles struck with nails.

Unlike the other festivals in the region that either had huge marching bands, Steel Pan groups, horn sections and hundreds of drums, the Masqueraders of the Turks & Caicos only used the ripsaw band to provide the rhythm and music for their performance. Some of the folk songs that were sung and played by the band are: Christians Awake, Salute This Happy Morn, Good Morning This Morning, Mama Bake the Johnnycake Christmas Coming, On the August Morning, Stoop Down Grando Tell Me What You See and Big Lizzie, just to name a few. As Do Do says, “There is no Masses without the Ripsaw music.” He should know, since he had to stop Massin’ after a short time one year when a few musicians had a bit too much to drink, lost their steam and went home, leaving Do Do and the other Masqueraders stranded in the road.

Forced changes in culture

Actually, the Turks & Caicos Islands, the Bahamas and Bermuda are not located in the Caribbean Sea, but in the Atlantic Ocean. Yet because of the branding of the word “Caribbean” as being synonymous with area vacation destinations, these countries have been zoned as such. This has its pros when it comes to marketing the region as a whole, but lots of cons when it comes to the cultural heritage and traditions of each place.

One of the most negative side effects of this zoning is the generalization of Caribbean culture by the tourism marketing machine. They take a number of exotic traditional and cultural expressions from different locations in the region, such as limbo, steel pan, reggae, Carnival, fire dancing, Jimmy Buffet’s music, dialect, cuisine, lifestyle and festivals, then sell it as a package that the average tourist expects to find and experience no matter where they go.

This undifferentiated view of our collective culture and heritage has forced tourism boards and hotels in places such as the Turks & Caicos to alter and even change and ignore their own native culture to fit this generic cultural product. This adulteration has caused a decline in most all of our traditional cultural and artistic expressions such as ripsaw music, traditional cuisine, island lifestyle and local festivals such as Masquerade now being erroneously called Junkanoo.

Junkanoo (John Canoe), the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos Islands

bulldog-zionJunkanoo is a popular Bahamian festival that is internationally known and celebrated not only during Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year but also during the summer months. However, there are also Junkanoo festivals in Jamaica, North Carolina, Belize and South America, just to name a few.

The word “Junkanoo” is spelled and pronounced in a countless number of ways. For instance, it’s Jankunu in Belize, Jonkonnu in Jamaica and John Koner in Hillsboro, North Carolina. Among the most common theories about the word Junkanoo, is that it is a derivative of the name John Connu or John Canoe, who was said to have been an African prince from the Guinea coast. Another theory, based on information from the book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet A. Jacobs, states that the word comes from “Johnkannaus,” a West African fertility ritual associated with the yam harvest revolving around a cast of colorfully costumed dancers.

Although other islands and countries use a derivative of the word Junkanoo, their actual festival bears little resemblance to what is now celebrated in the Bahamas. In fact, their bands’ structure, costumes, performance style and the way they perform from place to place resemble the Masquerade and Masses in Turks & Caicos.

Jonkonnu (Jamaican spelling) is nothing like Junkanoo in the Bahamas. In fact, the only difference between Jamaica’s festival and the Masses in TCI is the name, that the music is played by a fife and drum troupe and that they have a few more developed characters, such as the Horse Head, Jack-in-the-Green, Wild Indian and Policeman.

So why do the elders of our society call the festival celebrated during Christmas and New Year the Masses, while the younger generation call it Junkanoo? After much research, I have deduced that the answer could have come from three different places.

In his book, Turks Island Landfall, historian Herbert “Bertie” Sadler writes, “Another feature of the coast is the picturesque John Canoe or Junkanoo street dance held in the islands at Christmas and New Year to the beat of the Goombay drums.” He goes on to say, “This is a relic of a West African festive dance and consists usually of shuffling movements and accompanying chanting and beating to time with the hands. The performers in this masquerade are usually dressed in the most grotesque fashion.” Mr. Sadler was a Jamaican who later settled in Grand Turk, so it is easy to see that he would have used the term Junkanoo to describe the celebration. However, he does go on to mention the word Masquerade, eluding that Junkanoo is a Masquerade. Since then, historians and other academics have mistakenly used the word Junkanoo to describe the Masses in the TCI.

Bahamian-born Kitchener “Kitch” Penn, leader of the well-known local Junkanoo group, We Funk, put on the first known Bahamian-style Junkanoo parade in the Turks & Caicos. At that time, Kitch—whose parents were Turks & Caicos islanders—was a famous Junkanoo rusher in the Bahamas and a former member of the Saxon’s Junkanoo group. He was hired by a festival committee headed by Neville Adams and Felix Grant to put on the “First Junkanoo to be celebrated in Grand Turk.” This fact is documented in a Turks & Caicos News article dated November 25, 1982. Under a photograph of the two mentioned members of the committee and Mr. Penn it states, “Junkanoo, the well-known Bahamian festival is coming to the Turks & Caicos at Christmas for the first time.” With this event, it is easy to see how the use of the word Junkanoo came into the mainstream.

Bahamians with Turks & Caicos roots (such as Kitch and William “Tanker” Williams, leader of the renowned Predators) who have lived most of their lives in the Bahamas are returning to the Turks & Caicos in large numbers. With their memory of Masquerade faded or nonexistent and the fresh memory of Junkanoo in their heads, they, like other TI–Bahamians who crave the excitement, rhythm and pulse of Junkanoo, set about trying to recreate that Bahamian experience during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season for themselves and as a tourist attraction. Naturally, the word Junkanoo would be used to describe and promote the event.

These three examples clearly show how the word Junkanoo could have come to replace the word Massin’ when describing the celebrations taking place in the Turks & Caicos Islands during Christmas and New Year.

The changes in Junkanoo

What is intriguing is that Junkanoo in the Bahamas has its roots in the Massin’ and Masquerade tradition. Hundreds of old photographs and articles that made up the Bahamas National 1978 Junkanoo Archives Exhibition and book clearly illustrates this. In fact, before changes happened in Junkanoo, there was little difference in what was going on in the Turks & Caicos and what was going on in the Bahamas in the early years. The main difference was the use of large goatskin drums, cowbells and whistles by the Junkanoo rushers. The first shift in the change came as early as 1920, when the Bahamian Development Board offered cash prizes to Masqueraders/Junkanooers as an incentive to organize bigger groups. The final shift came when the Ministry of Tourism targeted Junkanoo as a tourism product after Independence in 1973. Officials were sent to explore other similar festivals in the region. Their goal was to emulate the popular Carnival festivals taking place in Trinidad, Rio and New Orleans and market it as a tourist attraction.

Thirty-five years later, Junkanoo, to many, has become an overly commercialized competition with millions of dollars spent to put it on.  It now has little connection to its roots except the rhythm of the drums and cowbells. As stated clearly in the Bahamas Junkanoo Explorer (Issue No. XII, December 2007), “Money, Money, Money! Junkanoo has evolved into such an expensive art. Gone are the days when a bit of crepe paper here and there and a splash of glitter could cover the cardboard and all would be well.” It further states, “For those who don’t know, there are very few people who rush for the love and fun of it anymore. Junkanoo is a full-fledged business with new time Junkanooers now asking the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’”

One could understand the economic reasoning behind commercializing a local cultural festival, but I truly believe that if not monitored and controlled it could lead to serious issues like the ones now facing the Bahamas. Here, Junkanoo has become a huge tourist attraction, but on the homefront it has lost touch with many of the natives who have been herded behind barriers and are expected to sit on bleachers as observers to a contest. Bahamians are starting to ask, “Where is our Junkanoo?”

Another factor in this outcry is that over 95% of the materials used in Junkanoo are manufactured abroad. This might not seem important since, like the TCI, the Bahamas import a large percentage of their goods from overseas, but if a situation arose where these materials were not able to reach the county, Junkanoo could not go on. If it did, it would not be the same over-the-top festival as it is now marketed. It would have to resort back to its roots in the Masquerade tradition. On the other hand, since 95% of the materials used by Masqueraders can be found locally, the Masses in the Turks & Caicos can always go on, despite any economic downswing or situation where imported goods are unable to reach us.

The point to all of this is to encourage people in the Turks & Caicos to look at what has been done in the Bahamas and avoid making the same mistakes when it comes to promoting and marketing our indigenous culture. Change will come as culture naturally evolves but we should ensure that we consciously try to retain the cultural heritage of the Masquerade.

Whatever commercial changes we make should be as organic as possible, with proper planning and long term strategies put in place to ensure that we keep Masquerade as a true expression of our country’s cultural heritage and not just a side-show for tourists. It is important for all to remember that Junkanoo and Masquerade, though having the same roots, are now really two different expressions.

The future

the-future-of-masqueradeWith the continued efforts of persons like Do Do, Zion’s sons and Mr. Boom Boom, along with members of all their troupes, the celebration of Masquerade will continue its journey back from obscurity. Education is a key factor and there needs to be dialogue with Junkanoo group leaders here in the Turks & Caicos such as Kitch Penn and Wesley “Tanker” Williams to forge a better understanding about Junkanoo, Masquerade and the future of our Christmas and New Year celebrations.

Both Tanker and Kitch already have expressed a desire to adapt and make changes, but the youth and the general public must share in this desire to explore our rich and colorful past. With the success of the Children’s Masquerade group workshop in Grand Turk last year and the performance by the young members who were Massin’ alongside veteran Masqueraders on Christmas morning, 2007, the TCI Culture & Arts Commission is planning more Masquerade workshops at schools throughout the Islands. The commission is also working on a DVD documentation of the history, culture and heritage of Masquerade in Turks & Caicos. Offering seed capital to small Masquerade school groups for basic materials is another one of the ways the commission hopes to ensure the survival of the Masquerade. And with these efforts, the future of the Masses looks bright.

This article is dedicated to Dudley “Size” Lightbourne (1959–2008), a real Masquerader and master “Doll-Baby House” maker.

Special thanks to: Arthur “Do Do” Swann, Dudley “Size” Lightbourne, Alfred Robinson, Eric “Mr. Boom Boom” Smith, Ed Been, Herbert Been, Father Emanuel Been, Herbert Ingham, Bill “Archie” Clare, Alton Higgs, Angela Freites, Valerie Jennings, Tanya Keyes, Dennis “Foots” Penn, Shirley Brown, Wesley “Tanker” Williams, Kitchener “Kitch” Penn, Shara Goldsmith, the TCI Cultural & Arts Commission Board Members and all the children in the Junior Cultural Group of Grand Turk.


You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Apr 26, 2009 21:10


Sep 8, 2010 3:42

Junkanoo is the celebration of life.

Truth be told, during the great migration of TCI Belongers to the Bahamas in the late 50’s and early 60’s the tradition of masking migrated with them. The veil of shame, disgrace and the need to cover, hide or mask one’s identity from their taskmasters has long been abolished.

Mr. Bowen ought to realize that masking has evolved and so too should he. Mr. JAGS McCartney was an avid fan of Junkanoo and too recognized and embraces the openness, pride and grace that its participants displayed.

Junkanoo and ‘Masking’ are one in the same.

Irwin D Missick
Mar 28, 2014 10:17

Thanks I enjoyed reading this information, after many years living in Grand Turk, I had the pleasure of witnessing this this masking

Leave a Reply


What's Inside The Latest Edition?

On the Cover

Master Photographers James Roy and Christine Morden of Paradise Photography (www.MyParadisePhoto.com) are always on the lookout to capture colorful slices of life in the Turks & Caicos Islands. This Junkanoo dancer was participating in the annual Maskanoo celebration on Boxing Day.

Our Sponsors

  • Fortis
  • Sothebys
  • Shore Club
  • Turks and Caicos Real Estate
  • Turks & Caicos Property
  • South Bank
  • Turks & Caicos Banking Co.
  • Projetech
  • Turks and Caicos Tourism
  • Windong
  • Butterfield Motors
  • Do It Center
KR LogisticsSWA
jsjohnsonDempsey and Company
Hugh ONeillTwa Marcela Wolf
LHeureuxJohn Redmond
Caicos Express AirIsland Escapes TCI
Walkin Marine Landfall
Great Bone Fishing Race for the Conch


Lost your password?