The sailor is perhaps the most popular traditional mas to play. While Fancy sailors often have elaborate costumes and headpieces, the sailor mas itself can be made with inexpensive, lightweight materials. The Caribbean has a long history of occupation by naval militaries, including the French, English, and American Navies. Over time, heightened, distorted, and/or satirical portrayals of various sailors became a staple of Carnival.
Videos & Interviews
Origins and History
The National Library of Trinidad asserts that sailors were “introduced in the 1880s when British, French and American naval ships came to Trinidad”. However, Military themed bands were present in 1834** and in 1859,
A band called “The Veterans of Sebastopol” ran away “from the sticks of a few Pierrots”, and in 1860 a band from years past was referred to as “A man-o-war’s men”.
According to NALIS,
“The costume of the Free French sailor consists of a black beret with the name of the ship on the rim of the beret, a tight-fitting short sleeve bow neck jersey with horizontal blue and white stripes, long, bell-bottomed black melton pants, and black shoes.
The King Sailor’s costume consists of white drill or corduroy pants and shirt with a sailor collar. There are epaulettes on each shoulder, a red sash across the chest, a crown on the masquerader’s head, cords, medals and war ribbons on the left side of the chest and a walking stick in his hand.
The Fancy Sailor was an off-shoot of the King Sailor. The Fancy Sailor costume consists of papier-mâché headpieces, decorated and painted to look like birds, animals or plants. The sailor outfit is decorated with ribbons, medals, braiding, swansdown and other embellishments to match the headpieces.”
Behavior, Context, and Audience Interaction
Sound, Speech, Voice, and Text
There are several dances to go along with sailor mas portrayal, such as the Bote, Crab, Marrico, Pachanga, Rock de Boat, Skip Jack and the Camel Walk.
Variations and Related Mas Topics
Any variation of sailor might be used for inspiration in playing sailor mas. Some that have been noted in the past include
Firemen (classification of sailor) a traditional carnival character, a sailor dancing who strokes the ships engine, (wearing metallic fabric sequins, mirrors, beaded garlands, feathers, and exaggerated epaulets, baldrics, etc. The fireman dance is a distinctive sliding step that accompanies stoking the engine.
Bad behavior sailor
Traditional carnival characters in sailor suits with red sailor collars often with slogans such as “sailor astray” on the back of their shirts. Because of their dirty clothes by rolling on the ground, often in the gutter, they are also referred to as dirty sailors. Bad behavior sailors sing satiric songs about the military and perform mock drills with derisive decorum.
Their play consists of mimicking rough rowdy and drunken behavior of American sailor’s in Port of Spain after world war 2. PileUps are human mounds formed when sailors jump on top of one another in the middle of the street. Piling up was also the favorite game of school boys.
A special feature of some bad behaved sailors costume is a fabric sack pulled over the head, made of white cotton jersey in front and red cotton in the back. Eye holes are cut out and a red phallic nose (some refer to as long nose sailor) dangles from the mask.
Flour bag sailor (classification of sailor)
A traditional character whose costume is made from flour bag.
Behavior and Audience Interaction
Bands and Individual Artists
References to this in Art and Popular Culture
**Caribbean Quarterly, Volume 4, 1956
Tdr special expanded issue trinidad and tobago carnival
Guest edited by milla c. Riggio