THE midnight robber is a study in contrasts, and he might just be traditional carnival’s most intriguing character.
On one hand he is a menacing masquerader who looms large as a representation of evil.
On the other hand, he is a master of history and current events, which he can rattle off with amazing literary prowess. He is a lofty poet who represents street theatre at its best, and an entertainer bent on creating a healthy combination of fear and fun. He is Carnival’s anti-hero, the character spectators love to hate, and he earns his respect from his well-crafted, mesmerising speeches.
Ominous and often downright scary; his wide-brimmed black hat, decorated with ghoulish images, bobbing above the rest of his all-black costume, appears like an undulating wave carrying the robber through the Carnival streets. His sweeping black cape, with its images of skulls or other visions of death and destruction, illustrate his story and tell his personal history.
The midnight robber holds spectators spellbound when he delivers his passionate robber talk, brandishing his weapons – usually a toy gun or knife – to punctuate his story. The midnight robber boasts of his evil exploits as he relates his family tree to prove his evil credentials. he usually tells how he crossed the ocean or the desert to wreak havoc on this side of the world, and his speeches feature double entendre and hyperbole. In the end, he usually demands money from spectators.
The late Brian Honoré was Trinidad’s most renowned midnight robber. Honoré said the midnight robber made his first official appearance in the early 1900s, but added, “There are many different stories. It is like the debate over the origins of pan.”
The midnight robber is as relevant today as he was when he first graced the Carnival scene, because evil and destruction are something society must constantly face and overcome. Today, he is a safe outlet for expressing anger.
There is no Carnival character more complex and intriguing than the midnight robber. He shows young spectators that when it comes to power, words are the best weapons.