Jab is the French patois for Diable (Devil), and Molassie is the French patois for Mélasse (Molasses). The Jab Molassie is one of several varieties of devil mas played in Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. This type of devil is often smeared with tar, grease, lard, and/or various dyes (most often red, green, and blue). Errol Hill describes the Jab Mollassie as a, “leaping, prancing, masker, his body daubed with black or blue paint, sometimes with molasses, who threatens to besmear spectators unless they pay him off.” Certain Jab Molassie will adopt aspects of other devil mas, such as “the beast”, incorporating the use of shackles and restraints to hold back one of the devils in the group. The use of metal restraints, molasses, and soot, have linked the mas to “the treatment of estate gangs in route to a cane fire.” Jab Molassie can still be found performing in Trinidad today. The dancing and performance of the Jab Molassie is often accompanied by steel drums made of repurposed items, such as fire-treated biscuit tins.
Jab Molassie Carnival Character
Videos & Interviews
Origins and History
Portrayals of various devils have been popular throughout the history of Carnival, but the combination of devil mas and molasses may be one of convenience (a dark substance available to smear the body and a popular portrayal) or be designed to recall a history of slavery. It is known that white masqueraders would smear themselves with varnish or other dark pigment when playing as the Negue Jadin, a satire of estate Negroes. Additionally, L.M Fraser, in History of Carnival writes
In the days of slavery whenever fire broke out upon an Estate, the slaves on the surrounding properties were immediately mustered and marched to the spot, horns and shells were blown to collect them and the gangs were followed by the drivers cracking their whips and scourging with cries and blows to their work. After emancipation, the negroes began to represent this scene as a kind of commemoration of the change in their condition, and the procession of the “cannes brulees” used to take place on the night of the 1st of August , the date of their emancipation… After a time the day was changed and for many years past the Carnival days have been inaugurated by the “Cannes Brulees”.
In 1848, Charles Day reported a band of masqueraders that have qualities similar to that of the Jab Molassie. Hill summarizes that there was, “a gang of almost naked primitives bedaubed with black varnish, pulling at a chain attached by padlock to one of their members who was occasionally knocked down”. Behavior of the chained character is not described, but the costuming does suggest a connection to the Jab Molassie. Like much of Carnival, there is no simple, neat lineage in the creation of the Jab Molassie.
Jab Molassie are dressed in little more than a loincloth or shorts, and smeared with colored creams, dyes, and paints. The colors generally seen are black (oil, soot, and/or molasses), blue, and red.
Behavior, Context, and Audience Interaction
Sound, Speech, Voice, and Text
The sound preceding the Jab Molassie is accompanied by the beating of a fire-treated drum made of a tin box (crix tin), and, in some cases, the use of a scout whistle. Jab Molassie have been described as “bawling” vocally, but do not use any recognizable words or syntax.
In primary source interviews it has been stated that when working with restraints, the restraining masker will work in opposition to the devil that is being restrained, so if the restrained moves left, the retrainer moves right, etc.
Variations and Related Mas Topics
Behavior and Audience Interaction
Bands and Individual Artists
References to this in Art and Popular Culture
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.