How one Hindu devotee is using Trinidad & Tobago Carnival’s ‘Jab Jab’ character…

As you may know, I am a big fan of Global Voices. This week, their newsletter reminded us of their fantastic coverage of Carnival week in Trinidad and Tobago and in the broader Caribbean. Their team and guest contributors have been covering the festivities, which have been taking place from February 15 to February 22. I loved  Janine Mendes-Franco’s piece celebrating the beauty of the Obatala Festival and her coverage of the annual Panorama steelband competition, with a photo gallery and two-part super Soca playlist.

Now, I would like to bring attention to a beautiful article by guest contributor Gabrielle Hosein: “How one Hindu devotee is using Trinidad & Tobago Carnival’s ‘Jab Jab’ character to invoke sacred, feminine power” (published on February 14, 2023). Read the full article at Global Voices. Here are excerpts:

Renella Alfred comes from the Alfred family from Couva [in central Trinidad] who are famous for playing Jab Jab, a form of martial arts involving traditional, pretty mas and whips of plaited hemp seen in Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. Recent photos of her, self-titled the Whip Princess, catch her sticking out her tongue as part of her portrayal. However, this banal description fails to convey what Renella brings to town through her mas, which is her invocation of the Hindu goddess Kali Mai or Mother Kali.

This is easy to miss unless you are thinking about Indianness in the Caribbean, and how it is being practiced beyond the Sanskritization of Hindu life as authorised by religious texts and authorities. It speaks to how Indian women in Trinidad and Tobago take up mas in ways that breathe life into post-indenture feminist legacies. [. . .]

The concept of “post-indenture feminist legacies” refers to the spiritual and cultural traditions, artefacts, myths, symbols and imagined possibilities brought from India in jahaji and jahajin bundles (creolised as “Georgie/jahji bundle”) which, today, are being drawn on by women, and not just Indian women, to express feminine power and feminisms.

As Lisa Outar and I describe in the edited collection, Indo-Caribbean Feminist Thought, such woman-centered world-making articulates “a feminist praxis where Indian gendered experiences in the Caribbean are not marginal, while being understood in ways centered in a politics of solidarity across ethnicity, class, gender, sexualities, and nation.” Praxis describes more than action. It means action, portrayal or performance grounded in considered thought and reflection. [. . .]

By naming herself the “Whip Princess,” Renella has elevated her royal status in mas “lore” as above that of secular “law,” challenging what political scientists describe as the modern nation-state’s monopoly over violence. While she is bringing a diasporic consciousness of Jab Jab mas as descended from India, she is also defying indenture-descended, male religious prerogative over when and how she can be Indian, woman and Hindu.

Finally, she is douglarising Carnival, continuing an Indian presence that has shaped “sokah” itself. [. . .]

Shown above: Renella Alfred at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain, Trinidad, 2022. Photo by Maria Nunes; from the article

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