ON MARCH 14, 1590, at around 10 am near the village of Ivry on the Eure, the French king Henri IV rallied his troops for a key battle against the Catholic League. The King wore a plumed helmet of large white feathers – also called a panache – and famously told his forces, “do not lose sight of my panache, you will always find it in the path of honor and victory”.
Centuries later, that entreaty in French, “Ralliez-vous a mon panache blanc”, was plucked out of history by mas man Roland St George. It became the title of his first King of Carnival winner, a stark white and black costume that looked back as much as it looked forward.
St George, who has died at the age of 72 after being diagnosed with lung cancer, went on to win the King of Carnival title for a second time in 2015 with “Athwaje”, a depiction of a game cock fighting a snake. But to understand St George’s impact and legacy we must also consider his consistency.
He could always be depended upon to bring excellence to the Savannah stage. This was a great feat when considering the longevity of his career. Few could boast, as he was able to towards the end, of playing king for 41 years.
Some would say his consistency was both a blessing and a curse. Indeed, he placed second in the King of Carnival competition no less than seven times, giving new meaning to the expression always the bridesmaid. But these never fazed him.
“Win some, lose some,” he once said in an interview. “What I enjoy is the end result.” And often his costumes attained mythic proportions. His last king, “King Lion – Predator of the Sea” vividly depicted the scourge of lionfish infestation off the waters of Tobago but also evoked the idea of a great evil stalking the land.
St George was also a bandleader and a strong advocate for the dying craft of wire-bending. He oversaw innovations such as the welding (as opposed to tying) of galvanise wire and worked closely with Robert Miller.
“The most difficult thing about being a king costume is fitness and finance,” St George said. “The prize-money does not compensate for the costume.”
St George was also not afraid to be an advocate on behalf of mas men and mas women, often criticizing arrangements behind the scenes and at least on one occasion accusing Carnival administrators of corruption. None of those matters, however, dulled what was obviously a passion for Carnival.
“I keep at it because of the love of Carnival,” St George said. “I was born into this culture and I love this culture.” His legacy will continue to inspire long after the dust settles on Ash Wednesday.