Many non-“West Indians”* wonder what on earth this mud mas thing is about. Why do people smear clay on themselves? Why submit to such a dirty, grotesque exercise? Some scholars, such as Dr. Ian I. Smart, professor of Afro-Hispanic Literature, of Howard University, suggest that the covering of mud is part of a connection with man’s humanity (as in the Christian idea of “to dust you shall return”). However, there are links to various other ideas – namely the West African practice of masking with mud and clay to cover the body and transform into an other-worldly spirit. In his book about the African elements of Trinidad Carnival, Hollis Liverpool describes the Jamette carnival, where Africans who now lived in barracks instead of on plantations would play a defiant, nasty mas. They would hurl urine and excrement at the pompous middle class elite, taunt and ridicule those who were privileged and contributed to their suffering. Today, mud bands in the UK, Washington DC, New York and other cities where Caribbean carnivals have sprung up, mud bands tend to be very popular. Mud mas is often another form of devil mas – exorcising societal demons, demonstrating the inner devil of those who oppress. The mud covering takes many forms and colours. In modern times it has become popular to substitute paint, charcoal, or even abeer – the dye used during the Hindu festival of Holi or Pagwa.
*By West Indians I mean people of the Caribbean former British colonies – including Guyana, as to distinguish from the potentially more “accurate” term Caribbean – which includes Spanish, French and Dutch-speaking islands of the Caribbean.