COVID-19 allowed us to experience a different kind of tabanca.

Im not the same without Carnival.
One of my old IG posts.

In 2020, we witnessed the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic…on bated breath hoping that our beloved carnival would soon return after strict adherence to social distancing protocols, the use of a mask, curfews and closed businesses.  As we all banded together to “flatten the curve”, we saw our morale flatten as well with the loss of our beloved Carnival.  One by one, we saw anticipation for mas in Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Barbados, Bermuda and the like fall like dominoes. With time we would all witness the pattern: First the event coordinators, next, the road march.

I remember viewing posts about how humbled people have been made by the pandemic. Appreciating the simple things… from block parties to times with friends and the energy of a bustling city.  To be specific, I took in all the reminiscence of CARNIVAL right along those who wished to post on social media.  I realized how different my life was without carnival, and how i had not been the same person without it.  I found myself challenged to find new coping skills; a complete upheaval of my personal mental wellness plan.

During this period, I continued to learn about Caribbean culture and Carnival.

Image of Onika Henry
Onika Henry.

 Onika Henry is a sexologist and sex coach most known for her TED talk on reclaiming sexual identity through carnival. If you have not seen it, I strongly encourage you to do so and have your mind blown and expanded in 14 minutes or less.  Anyhoo… this past February, I read a powerful commentary from her calling for “A Mindful Approach to Mas”. 

“…The use of the term “a mindful approach” …is necessary because the present-day, heavily commercialised and diluted version of our Carnival celebrations, is devoid of the kind of mindfulness originally intended by our ancestors; the kind of mindfulness that makes the experience of this community joy practice even more transformative and healing.”

I reflect  on when I was first introduced to Carnival. I was told it was just something sexy and fun to do.  Not much context was given other than pick what island country you want to represent, wave that flag, “blend in” and enjoy. The sexual energy was emphasized so much so that I felt that I needed to ask my then-husband if it was okay if I could go. I immediately felt that the mas life was something exciting to experience but something to keep on the hush for sake of my professional image. And that was all the context I got. Social media did not help. All I could take in was bikini, feathers, and bumpas, very little cultural or historical context.  Gotta love commercialization.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I was made to realize I really needed to learn more about the culture and the experience.  Doing so allowed me to tap into the healing experience of Carnival, and solidified my place in this experience as an African American woman honoring pieces of my ancestry.

“…Carnival is an opportunity to unmask, through masking; to learn how to live authentically, through learning how to play; to learn to live without fear, by taking the risk to be vulnerable. The best sex and healthiest sexuality one could ever have, is when one is open and honest – unmasked and authentic – and when one feels safe to play and be vulnerable.”

Learning a bit more also allowed me to use the Carnival experience as a practice of transformation and healing.  Learning of its ties to liberation, freedom of expression, shedding the pain of the past and celebrating life’s triumphs brought intention to Carnival. For me, Carnival is no longer just an event, it is a spiritual practice.

Setting your intention for carnival.

Onika Henry recommends that one approach mas first by setting an intention that may fall in to any or all of the following categories below.  For me, I am a blend of all the intentions!

Healthy Resistance/Rebellion.

Mas is an affirmation of survival, especially in a society that is designed at the demise of Black people.  When I play mas, I celebrate every hurdle that I have jumped and every glass ceiling that I have broken with the guidance of my ancestors.


My job is demanding and life can be very difficult.  I look to Carnival as my spiritual and mental reset button.  When return from playing mas, my body may be fatigued, but my spirit renewed, ready to take on the challenge ahead of me.

Surrender and Joyful Acceptance.

In my previous blog, I discuss how the carnival experience has afforded me the space to celebrate and accept my body openly regardless of the reading on a scale.  

Somatic Release.

There is something magical about the culminating energy of all the masqueraders together in this moment. The bass from the truck permeating your spirit and the freedom of movement and expression.  It’s catharsis.

There's more to mindful mas than what i've listed.

Onika Henry recommends finding a space or tradition that aligns with your intention and then immersing yourself in your own process in preparing for carnival.  For sake of brevity, I prefer not to completely dissect her commentary and I do hope that you will read it all for yourself on Newsday TT.

Having said that, how do you intend to do Carnival differently?  Have you been engaging in “Mindful mas” without realizing it? If you haven’t been engaging in mindful mas, do you think there are some ways that you can? How will you play mas differently now that it is back?  Feel free to share below!

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