ABSTRACT

Trinidad Carnival masqueraders known as “Jab Molassies” swarm the streets in the final pre-Lenten days of revelry and mischief before Ash Wednesday. Their name comes from the French patois diable (devil) and mélasse (molasses) and so translates roughly to mean “Molasses Devil” locally. The revelers suggest the epitome of inversion at the heart of Carnival. Wearing short pants, a horned mask, a wire tail, and carrying a pitchfork and sometimes chains, lock, and key, dancers emerge from the darkness to threaten onlookers too slow to

run away. Nowadays the Jab Molassies wear mud, grease, tar, or sprayed body paint-sometimes blue or red or silver, but the nineteenth-century character’s costume was not complete without a bath of stale molasses smeared from head to toe. In direct opposition to the island’s sugar planters, who preferred to play masquerade dressed as garden slaves, the Jab Molassies were freed slaves now impersonating the devil himself and none other than the slave owner. A slightly later version of the masquerade “Jab Jab” was adopted by East Indian indentured cane workers, who dressed up the costume with brightly colored cloth pants and a horizontally paneled shirt punctuated by a fringe of fabric triangles decorated with bells. They carried whips, which they did not

hesitate to crack in the air, imitating the threat of plantation brutality in the sugarcane fields. At the core of these inversions was also the deepest irony of every sugar island-something the scholar Sidney Mintz brilliantly terms the “sweetness of power.”4