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CREATIVE SPACE #16 OF 2018 – THE LECTURE CIRCUIT – MAS’KING
Wednesday 28th November 2018

By Joanne C. Hillhouse

Antigua and Barbuda’s own dancer/choreographer Veronica Yearwood presented not so long ago in Bermuda, at the Bermuda Gombey Festival 2018 to be specific.

When I wrote about Veronica for Caribbean Beat (actually about the 25th anniversary of Antigua Dance Academy, the dance school and company she founded here in Antigua and Barbuda) it was obvious to me that she was seen as one of the leaders of the African-Caribbean folk dance tradition in the region and its diaspora, and this Bermuda presentation is only confirmation of that.

Real quick, who is Veronica and what is the ADA. Veronica – who actually has a day job as a hydrologist – is a dancer and choreographer who started the ADA in 1991. Her students were just little kids performing for their parents initially but as they grew so did the ADA, into Antigua and Barbuda’s premier dance group of its kind; known for its superb annual productions, its veneration of our African-Caribbean-folk culture, and the every other year Out of the Drum festival which brought dance companies and individuals here from around the world. ADA has taken its show on the road as well to Europe and other places, as unofficial dance ambassadors for Antigua and Barbuda. Veronica has worked with hundreds of young ones – youth development being one of her priorities – and her ADA has served as a feeder group for another generation of dancers and dance companies.

Her presentation in Bermuda was entitled ‘Through the Eyes of the Masqueraders: the Intangible Bond of Caribbean Movement, Music, and Mas’. In contextualizing the masquerade, she quotes her late mother, ADA matriarch affectionately known as Gran Gran, who said, “no matter which boat we came off of this is how I know that our Ancestors alive in the People.” This isn’t a reference to the strings and things that now define mas but the character driven masquerade – John Bull to Dame Lorraine. She showed how this tradition, like Anansi and fungee, travelled with us on the slave ships across the dark and perilous waters from Africa, home. It’s fascinating to think of the things that survived here and there under a master intent on beating our very sense of self out of us. Here we are, after all that, still us – a different version of us to be sure but with enough of the African fabric still in us to call ourselves, if we wish to, sons and daughters of the motherland. And the masquerade, mas, is part of that.

In her power point, Yearwood showed familiar examples of it in Ghana, Cameroon, Zambia; “The displaced African brought with them the intangible knowledge from their Land. During this era much of that knowledge was laid dormant or sometimes quietly practiced. Added to that knowledge was the forced information indoctrinated by the slave master. During this period there was much change and adaptation and evolution, though the basic knowledge and practices remained. However, what is noteworthy is that some practices had to evolve to accommodate the given environment they were exposed to. One such evolution gave rise to the Caribbean Masquerader.” That Caribbean Masquerade began to truly emerge post-Emancipation. She showed how adaptive it was in terms of the instrumentation – the fife and iron bands in Antigua for example – and how it varied island to island – the tuk band in Barbados for instance.

The visual variation was illustrated in her presentation from Barbados’ Shaggy Bear to Montserrat’s Masqueraders to Trinidad and Tobagos red and blue devils to Dominica’s Sensei to Antigua and Barbuda’s Highlanders and Clowns to the Moko Jumbie in various parts of the Eastern Caribbean to Bermuda’s Gombey. Masqued faces, colourful attire, and a fair amount of overlap, a fact she attributes not only to the root but to the way the branches spread with intra-regional migration in the 1930s.

Veronica’s own ADA is one of the cultural transmitters dancing to keep this connection – to home, self, and each other – alive. Thanks to her for allowing us to share: Visit the Lecture Circuit – Mas’king on the jhohadli blog to see the full presentation.

This sponsored post originally appeared on Jhohadli; contact Jhohadli/Joanne C. Hillhouse. This installment is sponsored by the #readAntiguaBarbuda #voteAntiguaBarbuda challenge, a Wadadli Pen project to select the Antigua and Barbuda book of the year, readers’ choice. If you wish to sponsor a future post in support of coverage of Antiguan and Barbudan arts and culture, contact jhohadli@gmail.com. All Rights Reserved.


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