Masking and Power: Carnival and Popular Culture in the Caribbean

Masking and Power: Carnival and Popular Culture in the Caribbean

Masking and Power: Carnival and Popular Culture in the Caribbean

Masking and Power: Carnival and Popular Culture in the Caribbean


Does the mask reveal more than it conceals? What, this book asks, becomes visible and invisible in the masking practiced in Caribbean cultures -- not only in the familiar milieu of the carnival but in political language, social conduct, and cultural expressions that mimic, misrepresent, and mislead? Focusing on masking as a socially significant practice in Caribbean cultures, Gerard Aching's analysis articulates masking, mimicry, and misrecognition as a means of describing and interrogating strategies of visibility and invisibility in Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Martinique, and beyond.

Masking and Power uses ethnographic fieldwork, psychoanalysis, and close literary readings to examine encounters between cultural insiders as these locals mask themselves and one another either to counter the social invisibility imposed on them or to maintain their socioeconomic privileges. Aching exposes the ways in which strategies of masking and mimicry, once employed to negotiate subjectivities within colonialregime, have been appropriated for state purposes and have become, with the arrival of self-government in the islands, the means by which certain privileged locals make a show of national and cultural unity even as they engage in the privatization of popular culture and its public performances.


He wanted everybody to see him. When they saw him, they had to be
blind not to see.

—ALDRICK from The Dragon Can't Dance, by Earl Lovelace

Creole is originally a kind of conspiracy that concealed itself by its
public and open expression.

—ÉDOUARD glissant, Caribbean Discourse

The epigraphs with which I open this chapter have inspired me to think about this study in a particular way. the first one comes from Earl Lovelace's classic novel about transformations in Trinidad and Tobago's carnival and urban society less than a decade after the twin-island nation obtained its political independence from Britain in 1962. in this excerpt, Aldrick, the novel's protagonist, expresses the desire to be seen in a more profound manner than the collective gaze that observes him as he performs and revels in the dragon-mask costume that he would fabricate almost single-handedly and introduce into the streets of the capital during the annual carnival festivities. What has intrigued me about Aldrick's expression of this desire to be seen is the apparent contradiction in terms. Why would he want [everybody to see him] after he had gone to the trouble of creating and wearing his dragon mask? Furthermore, Aldrick is quick to claim that his mask and performance will be so convincing that when the public sets eyes on him, it would have [to be blind not to see.] in perceiving this distinction, the dragon-mask maker suggests that two modes of visual perception lie at odds: one . . .

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