Day, C. William. (1852). Five years' residence in the West Indies

This primary source looks at this text’s relationship to masking traditions, carnival, rebellion, and resistance by looking at colonizers’s inability to view carnival as a scene of culture.

Like Mrs. Carmichael, the author of our previous journal, William C. Day began his journal by speaking to the honesty and truthfulness of his words. Yet this writing merely shows his ignorance as he assumes he understands these celebrations and people when in actuality he has no clue. In the preface, he notes, “the truths which the author tells, may be unpalatable to West Indies, but they cannot be impugned, simply because they are the truths and nothing else” (Day 1854, VI).

Caption for transcription below: These are transcriptions from a section of Mr. Day’s  journal where he looks at masquerade.


     I was residing in Trinidad during Carnival,

Which commenced on Sunday, the 7th of March, at 

Midnight. I had seen the carnival at Florence, at 

Syria in Greece, and in Rome; and was now about to 

Witness a nefro masquerade, which, from its squalid 

splendour, was not unamusing, cheapness being the 

grand requisite.      The maskers parade the streets in

Gangs of from ten to twenty, occasionally joining forced 

In procession.    The primitives were negroes, as 

Nearly naked as might be, bedaubed with a black 

Varnish. One of this gang had a long chain and 

Padlock attached to his leg, which chain the other

Pulled. what this typified, I was unable; but, 

as the chained one was occasionally thrown down on the

Ground,  and treated with a mock bastinadoing it pro-

Bablt represented slavery. Each mask was armed with a 

Good stout quarter-staff, so tht they could overcome

One-hlaf more police than themselves, should occasion

Present itself. Parties of negro ladies danced through

 the street, each clique distinguished by boddiees of 

The same colour. Every negro, male and female, wore

A white flesh-coloured mask, their wooly hair carefully

concealed  by handkerchiefs; this, contrasted with the 

Black bosom and arms, was droll in the extreme. Those

Ladies who aimed at the superior civilization of shoes

And stockings, invariably clothes their pedal extremities 

In pink silk stockings and blue, white, or  yellow kid

Shoes, saddled up their sturdy legs. For the men,

The predominating character was Punchinello; every

Second negro, at least, aiming at playing the continental 

Jack -pudding, Pirates too were very common, dressed

in Guernsey frocks, full scarlet trousers, and red 

Woolen cap, with wooden pistols for arms. From the 

Utter want of spirit, and sneaking deportment of these

Bold corsairs, I presumed them to have come from 

the Pacific. Turks also there were, and one Highlander,

A most ludicrous caricature of the Gael, being arrayed

In a scarlet coast, huge grenadier cap, a kilt of light. 


Blue chints, striped with white, a most indescribable

Philibeg, black legs of coursem and white socks bound

With dirty oink ribbons. There were also two grands

Processions, having triumphal “wans,” one of which 

was to commemorate the recent marriage of a high

Law-officer; the others, judging from the royal arms in

Front (worth a guinea of anybody’s money, if only for 

the painting -- the lion looking like a recently drowned

 puppy), and a canopy of red glazed calico, timmed

With silver tinsel, shading a royal pair, who, in con-

Scious majesty, sat within, represented the Sovereign 

Pair of England. This brilliant cortege was marshalled 

Forward by a huge negro, in a celestial dressm amde 

After the conventional fashion of the angel Gabriel; 

And who stalked along, speak in hand, as if intent on 

Doing dire deeds. The best embodiments were the 

Indians of South American, daubed with red ochre, 

Personified by the Spanish peons from the Main, them-

Selves half Indian, as testified by their exquisitely small

Feets and hands. Many of these had real Indian quivers

And boew, as well as baskets; and , doubtless were very 

Fair representative of the characters they assumed.    In 

This costume children looked very pretty. One per-

Sonification of Death, having what was understood to be a 

Skeleton painted on a coal-black shape, stalked about 

With part of a horse’s vertebra attached to him, and a 

Horse’s thigh bone in his hand; but his most telling 

Movements only elicited shouts of laughter.     I noticed

That whenever a black mask appeared, it was sure to be 

A white man. Little girls a la jupe, in the

Vrai creole negro costume, looked very interesting. 

All parties with the assistance of bands of execrable

Music, made a tremendous uproad; and most of us 

                              Were glad when the priestly saturnalia was over.

Day focuses on masquerade in much of his journals, constantly deeming Caribbean Carnival as being  uncivilized. As he said, “I had seen Carnival at Florence, at Syra in Greece, and in Rome; and was now about to witness a negro masquerade, which, from its squalid splendor, was not unamusing, cheapness being the grand requisite” (Day 1854, 314). In his journal, it is clear Day compares European Carnival to Caribbean Carnival, though this is seemingly impossible because these celebrations stem from two completely different places of origin. He claims European Carnival is superior as shown through words like “negro masquerade,” “squalid,” “cheapness.” Thus exhibiting his bias and failure to understand the essence of freedom, and symbolism, but rather exoticized, criticized, and othered it, claiming joy when Carnival ended. The way in which Day describes Carnival as being cheap does not make sense because this form of rebellion is based upon Caribbean culture. Western travelers like Day would not have been to view carnival as a scene of culture because Day’s colonial mindset refused to allow the Caribbean to be of any cultural authority/origin. Day’s standpoint in itself proves that carnival is functioning in the way it was meant to.

Yet, the small section of his text relating to Trinidad Carnival is still useful in looking at masquerade and spiritually. Masquerade is essential to Carnival and this idea of rebellion and spirituality. Enslaved people used masking as a way of coping with living in a society that was not based upon their own beliefs (Riggio). As Riggio says in“ Play Mas - Play Me, Play We”, “the face that points outward becomes a mask, disguising and hiding the personality beneath it. In their own space- their homes or their yards or the huts they inhabit - the people free up, manifesting the independence of spirit, pride, and a hard-won distrust of others” (Riggio 2004, 94). Enslaved people would “hide outlawed traditions behind allowed rituals” (Riggio 2004, 94). Masking represents the stealth nature of Carnival by giving the enslaved a “veil”, allowing them to use a mask to morph into the world of the other, while still keeping ties and relationship to their own culture. Thus, illustrating the stealth manner in which enslaved people were actively rebelling against colonial powers.

His depiction gives insight into the costumes, characters, and rituals performed as well as shows how people gained power through the use of these masks (once looked at with a decolonized lens). These costumes weren’t merely costumes, but instead, representative  of the pain enslaved West Indians endured, giving them an outlook to mock the systems that enslaved them and pay tribute to the  higher forces that gave enslaved people  hope. Once again exhibiting the ways rebellion is directly tied to one’s desire to hold onto their culture as well as the resilience these masks carried.



Works Cited:

Day, Charles William. Five Years' Residence In the West Indies. London: Colburn and co., 1852.

Riggio, Milla Cozart. ‘’Play Mass’ - Play Me, Play We’ In Carnival: Culture in Action: the Trinidad Experience, edited by Riggio, Milla Cozart, 93-108. London: Routledge, 2004.