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Haitian students find new dawn at J’Ouvert

Thursday, March 10, 2011
Wire-benders Kendell De Peaza and Candace Hughes keep busy at the Creative Arts Centre mas camp.

At Monday’s J’Ouvert presentations, the devastation unleashed by the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti was masqueraded.  Rawle Gibbons, senior lecturer at the  Creative Arts Centre, Agostini Street, St Augustine, decided to name his J’Ouvert presentation Haiti: A New Dawn. It was even more timely since the St Augustine campus had opened its doors to about 53 Haitian students studying management and agriculture. It was done under the initiative of campus principal Prof Clement Sankat and engineering professor Clement Imbert. Gibbons said: “We want to focus on Haiti’s strengths rather than disasters. It is about a new dawn for Haiti. We have some Haitian students involved in making the mas. “Of course, there will be mud. It is about what we can  draw out of the “mud.” What can we do for Haiti?” He said the mas was meant to be thought-provoking and evoke solutions to Haiti’s litany of woes, ranging from poverty to political instability.

The band which comprised schools, community-based groups, UNESCO groups and university students was bent on “fashioning answers for Haiti.” Gibbons said: “The whole aim of the project is to change the perception of Haiti in the public’s mind. We tend to see Haiti as poor and we are not aware of their rich history. Nor are we aware of the possibilities that might be there in Haiti. Our relationship with Haiti should not be temporary. We are seeking a more sustained relationship.” Haiti has the distinction of being the first black Republic in the Western Hemisphere. Liberators including Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe were responsible for it being declared a Republic in 1804.
Traditional Guyanese masquerade

While its theme is Haiti, traditional Guyanese masquerade characters like the Long Lady and a mas similar to T&T’s version of John Canoe were exhibited at the crack of dawn. Gibbons said: “The focus is on traditional mas, including Guyanese Indian mas and a type of John Canoe mas...It is really made from rice bags.” Pointing to the slender silhouettes of the Guyanese woman, he said: “They are all characters bird, bull and the long lady. “These traditional characters each have their own dance and role in the Guyanese masquerade...Every year we try to feature them in the Old Yard (Viey La Cou),” Gibbons said. “The re-enactment of the Rara Band also forms part of our guest performance at the Old Yard.” 
For 2010, they had showcased the New Orleans black Indians for traditional mas connoisseurs. Tall like a giraffe, the Guyanese Indian woman mas looms over the banana-shaped John Canoe type mas docked at the base of a house boasting jalousies and wooden front doors. Suspended on bamboo stilts, her breasts thrust forward like torpedoes. The stitching is haphazardly done. A shock of black hair falls over her plain Jane face. 

Haitian Rara Band
Gibbons said the Rara Band displays similarities to calypso and forges strong links with voodoo. “It is also like traditional masquerade, but it is strongly linked to the Haitian religion (voodoo),” he said. “It is a roving band of musicians and dancers who sing and parade throughout the Lenten period. “They come out right after Carnival and they culminate on the Easter weekend. “That is the form in which in their songs are heavily coded like calypso—lot of double entendre...sexual overtones and it comes out in the Rara songs. Yet, it is a spiritual ensemble.”


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