Okay, I know. Carnival is still months away. Despite this truth, however, the carnival celebration context is not the only context in which the Jab Jab masquerade can be talked about. Jab Jab is much more than just masqueraders gyrating through streets during carnival celebrations.
So in what context am I speaking of Jab Jab? I am speaking of Jab Jab as consciousness in action. As an awareness, fueled by a passion, that can and should be channeled, not only as masqueraders on the streets of Brooklyn during Labour Day, or during the Trinidad and Grenada carnival celebration, but an awareness to inform us in the fight for positive world change. Think about it! Thinking of Jab Jab in this context, however, requires us to, not only rethink our modern view of the Jab Jab masquerade; it requires us to remind ourselves of the true historical reality of the Jab Jab.
What is the historical reality of the Jab Jab? The word Jab, in English, simple means to strike with quick short blows. This is indeed an aspect of the Jab Jab masquerader. Armed with ropes and chains, [and snakes today, to frighten spectators] one has to pay compensation to the Jab Jab or else be jabbed with their ropes and chains. This jabbing, of course, is a pretentious and not a literal action, but it has a significant historical connection to the story of black human beings and their fight to defend and to express their person-hood and humanity.
As a word connected to the carnival celebration, the word jab has its roots in the French word “Diable,” meaning “devil.” Thus, in the Grenadian context, Jab Jab, as it is used, means “devil, devil” or “double-devil.” Certainly, the masqueraders are not the devils themselves. They are instead acting out the actions done by a people they believe to be devils. The colonial masters. In this context, the Jab Jab masquerade can be interpret as one group of people abusing another and forcing them into providing or performing some type of act [giving money to the Jab Jab in the carnival celebration context] against their will.
The question then is this: Who is the devil or devils, as demonstrated by the Jab Jab masqueraders? The answer can be found in the Jab Jab historical connection to the fight against slavery and the freedom that follows. There are different stories of how the Jab Jab masquerade in carnival came about. First, however, we have to remember that before the emancipation of slavery, the slaves were not allowed to partake in carnival celebration. After emancipation, however, the formally enslaved Africans were able to take part in the masquerade and began using, what is called, Cannes Brulees or “burnt cane” to paint themselves black and greasy as a commemoration of their freedom.
L.M Fraser, in History of Carnival, gives this story as the origin of Jab Jab. Fraser writes that:
“In the days of slavery whenever fire broke out upon an Estate, the slaves on the surrounding properties were immediately mustered and marched to the spot, horns and shells were blown to collect them and the gangs were followed by the drivers cracking their whips and curging with cires and blows to their work. After emancipation, the negroes began to represent this scene as a kind of commemoration of the change in their condition, and the procession of the “cannes brulees” used to take place on the night of the 1st of August, the date of their emancipation… After a time the day was changed and for many years past the Carnival days have been inagurated by the “Cannes Brulees,” (Traditional Mass Archive).
In Haiti there is the Lanse Kod, who are masquerading people that paint themselves as black and greasy as possible, to resemble the African slaves, and carries ropes and chain, as a representation of the brutality of slavery and the Haitian freedom in 1804. This very context is the essence of the Trinidadian Jab Molassie, [the word Molassie come from the French patois Mélasse, meaning Molasses] and the Grenadian Jab Jab.
How then can we describe Jab Jab? In my view, Jab Jab is an artistic metaphoric expression of freedom. That is the Jab Jab essence: an expression of freedom. Thus, as we celebrate the 20th celebration the Rwandan genocide, in light of the Jewish Holocaust, the Albanian genocide, the African Holocaust (Western Slavery), the ongoing actions of Muslim killing Christians and Christians killing Muslims, and other grave harms that we human beings have brought and continuing to bring upon each other, we Grenadians must think of the Jab Jab masquerade in the context of a consciousness in action. In the context of awareness that is informing our action towards promoting an acceptance of us despite our many differences. It is an awareness that promotes the call for world peace, and for the civil and human rights for all people. That is the true essence of Jab Jab.
Sure the Jab Jab dramatization is the mockery of the evils visited upon our black Africans ancestors by the white colonialists. Thus, these colonialists were the devils. However, we cannot let the Jab Jab spirit begins and end there. There are many evils in today’s world and their perpetrators transcend “race” and color. Therefore, as a people who are the embodiment of the Jab Jab essence; a people who embrace the consciousness of the Jab Jab, we Grenadians should not let that awareness remain in the historical past. Let it be active. Use it and promote it as the awareness in the continuing fight for freedom, civil and human rights for the many, many people around the world.
The high intense energy that the Jab Jab family demonstrates during the carnival seasons should be channeled into fighting against those who act on the urge to demonize and marginalized minorities at home and abroad. The Jab Jab awareness should not be limited to just a celebration. It should be a consciousness that is used to foster the rights for freedom of speech, self-expression, and others’ human rights. It should be used as an awareness to promote and protect gay rights, lesbian rights, nonbelievers’ rights, believers’ rights, women rights, etc. Our Jab Jab calypso and soca songs should echo a call for those rights to be upheld and protected. To me, this is the true expression of Jab Jab.
So my Grenadian people, my Caribbean people, next carnival, as we blacken our skin and conjure up the African awareness of the Jab Jab, remember its true representation, and let us together, in the words of Jab Jab singer Tallpree, “play a wicked Jab” for the protection and promotion of human rights for all human beings, rights for animals, and for all of nature.