Carnival: Woman is Boss
by Malika Booker
We congregate all feathered, sequined, and free. Our hips gyrating in instinctual groundation movement. The way we move is high mas. Mas as in Masquerade to camouflage. Mas as in to gather to pray. Mas as in libation, our collective honouring and enactment of ancestral rituals. We gather at the crossroads of a liminal space, where the living meets the dead. We congregate chipping feet on streets to steel pan beats and licking rhythm section with bottle and spoon. We congregate splendidly vulgar to chip to sexy soca and sing along to the rich tempo of political calypso.
Mas is pure unadulterated body liberation. It is mind freedom. It is we own the road and woman is boss. Our ritual begins at dawn when night is backing into morning.
We own the road today and this ownership is in our Caribbean DNA lodged in cane, cutlass and cotton. Spawned during the Middle Passage, traveling with the uprooted exodus of ancestors, mas hails from a satirical narrative practice of making joke of our overthrown colonial masters. These bodies own the road. This new world procession writes its own alternative narrative into the landscape.
Here in Notting Hill Carnival we are a deep chorus. This lament was birthed in the agony of the Middle Passage, and the tyranny of plantation livity. It was cemented in the journey and hardships endured by our kin, who baptised us children and grandchildren of the Windrush generation with the addictive hymn of masquerade. Here our masquerade is a visual spectacle of rebellion, celebration and protest. Our ancestor Claudia Jones sanctioned this Caribbean revelry to combat British society’s institutional brutality.
Carnival is the equivalent of breath where my veins can sing hallelujah, where we masqueraders season the air with our spicy black pepper. It is my salt to preserve and pack into my wounds. My therapy and redemption. It is peeling away the naked vulnerability to wear and reveal a feisty and Talawa self. This is me in a gold corset and shorts costume, resplendent copper feathered headdress, and peacocks’ wings on my back- both sexy and warrior. In this procession my female black body is not a targeted body, an invisible body, but an adorned, politicised, exhibition of splendid joy. This body no longer suppressed beneath strictures of British society’s policing sensibilities.
Carnival is woman and here in her unique magical womb, where old meets young, I too am magical, my shape, and skin shade reigns supreme. My hips celebrate in the groundation fashion of ancestors, undulating like rotating planets on their own terms. And the onlookers might label this ancient dancing as indecent sex. Today I do not care. Today my hips are vessels grinding out trauma lodged deep in my belly pit. These feet planted firmly on the ground, knees bent, while my hips wine, grounded in feminine power. Here I am holy and profane. This is my crossroad where I own my body’s narrative, and where I own the road.