Round Table with Oscar
June 28, 2016

The story behind Vincy Mas

CARIBBEAN CARNIVAL was a black political/social/spiritual protest movement 180 years ago and is in fact the mother and father of Vincy Mas today. A conscious mass of people who had been slaves resisted those who had not been slaves, but were teaching them about slavery, about freedom, about how to love and respect Masa, and how God sent Moses to England to set them free. Yes, in the 1830s to 1840s, a new mental slavery was being sold to freed people in the Caribbean, and bought by some. Carnival was a symbol and vehicle of mass intellectual rejection, an emancipation effort from below, a social spiritual and political identity movement. {{more}}


Permit me just to touch on two or so aspects of this monumental festival Vincymas, mainly its production camps and its governance. Fifteen or so visioning, designing, manufacturing and marketing enterprises that we call ‘Mas Camps’ go all out to develop, promote and present creative artistry and theatre for our national delight on Mardi Gras. “Ole Mas’ is another gallery and frolic, with cartoon like commentary and abandon. Calypso arts, in tents and schools, along with its soca departures, turn out more than 100 music products for the season. Pan-demon-ium is a climax of a year of consistent musical innovation and training by steel orchestras nationwide. And there is the monarchy of the competing young female form.

Vincymas mobilization is mainly organized centrally around city Kingstown, but out of town and diasporal events contribute to the masquerade, the parade and the choreography of Vincentian spirit. And at the heart of Vincymas is this sobering and stimulating fact: Vincymas is a citizen exposition. Even the steel orchestras with corporate/business names can be seen as NGOs (Non-Government Organizations). Let me say it differently: Vincentian working people and groups are the producers and consumers of Vincymas. Sponsors make their contributions, and do need to be a more sophisticated stakeholder community, but up to now, Vincymas as a social product, is Made by the People.

I do take note of the observation though, that some business houses are producing their own Monday ‘T-shirt’ bands, one, complete with bikinitype models and ulterior motives!
Who governs Vincymas really? The CDC, Carnival Development Corporation, is set up by government and seems to be a colonial infant without its own independent finance and policy independence to handle its own affairs. Vincymas needs to be governed differently. Deficit budgets without the ability to independently source investments and offer incentives to the makers of Vincymas, cannot chart the way ahead. This festival must not be positioned as an item of recurrent costs, seeking handouts in our social economy. Its development calls for a reform of its governance and the popular formulation of a creative-industry policy. The makers of Vincymas must seek to recover meaning for this festival that started in struggle and defiance and is now losing its way.


Carnival emerged from the class contest between those who saw emancipation from colonial slavery as a new creation coming, as against those who wanted the old slave system to now become a voluntary agreement between the classes. To this second set of people, black freedom was a favour that the Africans should be grateful for, and they should return to estate work for whatever the planters gave them. The Church also preached the message of gratefulness and submission to Masa, not equal right.
When the priests and ministers of the church lined themselves up with the colonial governor and planters against the new creation yearnings of the black majorities, a dividing line appeared. The wonderful hymns of the Christian faith seemed to lack lyrics and melody fit for liberation and victory over oppression. Worship under colonial minded leaders was not a festival of God’s grace, deliverance and recruitment, and so the street became the place of thanksgiving, solidarity and identity.

Carnival grew into a document of salvation, a revolt against the mental and material evil of social inferiority and political reenslavement. People reentered history at a higher level than the space that colonial powers was allocating for them. The cultural parents of Vincymas were standing up and feting. ‘Mas’ was the masses’ freedom anthem. ‘Mas’ now has the mission to challenge the nation-citizen, state, church and corporate community, to join the celebration of new creation, and the revolt against evil: The essence of Carnival.