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 Caldwell Taylor 

“No thing can be reduced to nothing”.

Lucretius (circa 99BC-ca. 55 BC) 


“The molasses Negro [Negre molassi] wears nothing.
His whole body and face is smeared with an atrocious mixture of soot and molasses”.   

-Lafcadio Hearn (1887). Hearn visited Grenada on

his way to Martinique. 


In his Lettres surl'Amerique (1852), Xavier Marmier tells of blacks who smeared their bodies with tar to mark the January 6 Afro-Cuban Carnival known as Dia de Reyes (Day of Kings). The day of Kings Carnival was abolished in 1886.  


"A band of bare-chested horned and hooded men whose bodies are covered with sugar-cane syrup mixed with soot and powdered charbon ['coals"].  In Haiti these Carnival characters are called lanceurs de corde,rope launchers".  

Novelist Edwidge Dandicat

In After the Dance: A Walk Through the Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti  

Everywhere in the world the powerful have given themselves the right to assign names to everything under the sun. In Grenada, for instance, the powerful have given the name “Jab” (from the French diable [deeab], meaning devil) to a masquerade character that has been a part of our carnival for umpteen years.

But the so-called Jab is really no devil. In fact, he belongs in a magico-religious system and his flock call him “Yeye”, a word meaning “spirit”. In the New World this black spirit was “blackened” and was assigned to Hell’s basement.

Grenadian carnivals see many so-called “Jab Jab” bands. Typically, a band is led by father -figure whose get- up includes the following: a tattered copy of the Christian Bible (or any big book), a bull horn headpiece, a live serpent, and a stout staff representing an aroused penis.

The Jabs’ dance simulates the sex act; their songs (and their “Spellings”) are steeped in an unspeakable ribaldry:  An interview with Memory revealed what is definitely the least offensive of such chants: 

“Thelma, you pwell want manure”!  

And while I am at it, let me admit that it was the Jab Jab songs which “learned” me the plasticity of words, and how words could be wrung into exotic shapes and meanings.  Example:  Mahogany tables for sale: No drawers

Bull horn headpiece, live serpent, simulation of the sex act. What is the meaning of the Jab’s symbolism?

 The bull horn headpiece is an assertion of a hyper masculinity. The serpent (a skin –shedding creature) writhes a story of fertility, regeneration, and rebirth.

The simulation of sex illustrates the means by which the community is made and remade.

The penis is deemed to be the instrument that inserts life into the womb of the world.

Eh heh, the Jab is the mascot for a philosophical system.

© August 2012

Photo courtesy National Geographic


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