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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 3549

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


... The costumes are rather disappointing,-though the mummery has some general characteristics that are not unpicturesquel-for example, the predominance of crimson and canary-yellow in choice of color, and a marked predilection for pointed hoods and high-peaked head-dresses, Mock religious costumes also form a striking element in the general tone of the display,-Franciscan, Dominican, or Penitent habits,-usually crimson or yellow, rarely sky-blue. There are no historical costumes, few eccentricities or monsters: only a few "vampire-bat" head-dresses abruptly break the effect of the peaked caps and the hoods.... Still there are some decidedly local ideas in dress which deserve notice,-the congo, the bébé (or ti-manmaille), the ti nègue gouos-sirop ("little molasses-negro"); and the diablesse.

The congo is merely the exact reproduction of the dress worn by workers on the plantations. For the women, a gray calico shirt and coarse petticoat of percaline with two coarse handkerchiefs (mouchoirs fatas), one for her neck, and one for the head, over which is worn a monstrous straw hat;-she walks either barefoot or shod with rude native sandals, and she carries a hoe. For the man the costume consists of a gray shirt of Iuugh material, blue canvas pantaloons, a large mouchoir fatas to tie around his waist, and a chapeau Bacoué,-an enormous hat of Martinique palm-straw. He walks barefooted and carries a cutlass.

The sight of a troupe of young girls en bébé, in baby-dress, is really pretty. This costume comprises only a loose embroidered chemise, lace-edged pantalettes, and a child's cap; the whole being decorated with bright ribbbons of various colors. As the dress is short and leaves much of the lower limbs exposed, there is ample opportunity for d

isplay of tinted stockings and elegant slippers.

The "molasses-negro" wears nothing but a cloth around his loins;-his whole body and face being smeared with an atrocious mixture of soot and molasses. He is supposed to represent the original African ancestor.

The devilesses (diablesses) are few in number; for it requires a very tall woman to play deviless. These are robed all in black, with a white turban and white foulard;-they wear black masks. They also carry boms (large tin cans), which they allow to fall upon the pavement and from time to time; and they walk barefoot.... The deviless (in true Bitaco idiom, "guiablesse") represents a singular Martinique superstition. It is said that sometimes at noonday, a beautiful negress passes silently through some isolated plantation,-smiling at the workers in the cane-fields,-tempting men to follow her. But he who follows her never comes back again; and when a field hand mysteriously disappears, his fellows say, "Y té ka ouè la Guiablesse!"... The tallest among the devilesses always walks first, chanting the question, "Fou ouvè?" (Is it yet daybreak?) And all the others reply in chorus, "Jou pa'ncò ouvè." (It is not yet day.)

-The masks worn by the multitude include very few grotesques: as a rule, they are simply white wire masks, having the form of an oval and regular human face;-and disguise the wearer absolutely, although they can be through perfectly well from within. It struck me that this peculiar type of wire mask gave an indescribable tone of ghostliness to the whole exhibition. It is not in the least comical; it is neither comely nor ugly; it is colorless as mist,-expressionless, void,-it lies on the face like a vapor, like a cloud,-creating the idea of a spectral vacuity behind it....

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