The Fancy Indian Mas is a pretty mas characterized by elaborate headdresses (which can be taller that the mas performer), vibrant coloration, use of advanced wire bending work to support the costume, feather and bead work, inspired by indigenous groups of the Americas (“indians”). This mas grew out of, and is an extravagant offshoot of the Wild Indian Mas. There are several types of Wild Indian, with unique language practices (generally combinations and alterations of English, African, various South American tribal phrases, French, and Spanish phrases) costume colors, and geographic origins. Fancy Indian bands are said to be influenced by the “Red Indians” the most, and have been reported to have entire dialogues memorized in an untranslatable, “nonsense” language, or to speak “Red Indian”. TMA has recordings of Wild Indian Mas songs and dialogue here. Many of today’s non-traditional costumes are heavily influenced by the Fancy Indian Tradition, including elaborate head dresses, use of bright feathers and bead work, and a costume profile emulating indigenous groups.
Videos & Interviews
Origins and History
The influence of western cinema in the portrayal of Indians is undeniable. However, actual migratory patterns, and settlements of native groups can be said to be the origin of Wild Indians, which the Fancy Indian mas is based in. In a 1956 publication of “Caribbean Quarterly”, Daniel J. Crowley states,
Red Indians are supposed to have come over from Venezuela, from a village or area called “Lokain” which is probably Los Caños (Spanish for “drains” or tributaries”), the swamps of the Orinoco Delta. Actually, aboriginal Indians of the Guarao, Guarajo, or “Warrahoon tribe from the area brought beads, parrots, hammocks, and other products to Trinidad to barter until the 1920’s when they were prohibited. There are settlements of mixed-bloods who claim Warahoon ancestry throughout Trinidad, particularly south of Siparia.
Crowley states, “The most spectacular single costumes of the carnival are the Fancy Indians, the delight of tourist photographers”.
Behavior, Context, and Audience Interaction
Sound, Speech, Voice, and Text
Fancy Indians were cited by Crowley as occasionally speaking “red indian”. For an example of Wild Indian Mas song and speech, please see our Wild Indian Mas interview here.
Variations and Related Mas Topics
As materials became more readily available and wire bending techniques advanced, head dresses became larger and more elaborate. It is unclear when the peak of this occurred, but it is said that headdresses were large enough to become tangled in low hanging electrical lines and required wooden supports to allow mas players to rest their burden while playing.
Behavior and Audience Interaction
Bands and Individual Artists
References to this in Art and Popular Culture
Contemporary mas is strongly influenced by Fancy Indian Mas designs, including feathered headdresses and costume profiles that emulate tribal wear from indigenous people of South, Central, and North America.
Henry, Jeff. Under the mas’: resistance and rebellion in the Trinidad masquerade. San Juan, Trinidad and Tobago: Lexicon, 2008. Print.
Hill, Errol. The Trinidad carnival; mandate for a national theatre.. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972. Print.