WHILE many Carnival characters are a form of protest or poke fun at the original French plantocracy, fancy Indians emerged as a moving tribute to the indigenous people of the hemisphere.
From Mardi Gras in New Orleans to Trinidad Carnival, fancy Indian mas has survived with elaborate headdresses and costumes featuring bright feathers.
Over time, fancy Indian headpieces have become increasingly elaborate and are often supported by bamboo or wires frames anchored on the masqueraders’ body. Some Indians wear masks, others wear face paint. Fancy Indian costumes are more reflective of North American Indians and combine rituals from Trinidad, Louisiana in the US and South America.
There are many types of Indian mas, including fancy Indians, blue Indians, authentic Indians and wild Indians or red Indians.
Warahoons, also known as wild Indians or red Indians, are usually considered the oldest form. These bright red costumes sport no feathers, but often feature a thematic motif like a moon.
Black Indians, who wear costumes that are mostly black with splatters of colour – usually gold, red, blue or yellow – pay a special tribute to the Africans and Amerindians who intermarried after the Spanish conquest of the region and the introduction of slavery.
Each type of Indian mas has its own dance and language. Black Indian mas includes actual words from many of the languages represented in the Caribbean, including Spanish, French, English, Hindi and a smattering of Amerindian and African words.
Traditionally, when black Indians collided in the streets, they would face off in verbal battles with questions that any true black Indian should be able to answer.
Like baby dolls and some devil mas, black Indians also collected money from people. If anyone asked a black Indian to speak, they would gesture to their money bag, indicating that people must pay first.
Indian mas has always held a special place in Trinidad Carnival because it respects the First Peoples heritage and offers stunning costumes and rituals.