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Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Jab Jab

Imagine a scantily-clad man covered in motor oil from head to toe so that his entire body is pitch black and glistening. He wears long twisted horns on his heads and chains around his neck. His mouth is blood red, a cow tongue dangles from his clenched teeth. In one hand he carries a slaughtered pig's head, in the other a weapon. These are Jab Jabs, a Carnival mainstay representing the devil.
I saw my first Jab Jabs yesterday, at the Carnival 2010 launch held at the national stadium, and I truly couldn't take my eyes off of them. Scary and irreverent at the same time, these devils alternated between desecrating their pig head, refreshing their body oil, drinking rum, chanting and wining (dancing in an overtly sexual way.) I was curious about the symbolism behind their various props and accessories, but found that no one around us understood anything deeper about the display either. The customs have been passed down along with all the other Carnival traditions and their original meaning seems to have been largely lost to the general public along the way.
By searching online, I was able to turn up a few interesting bits of information on the tradition.The term Jab Jab comes from the patois of diable, French for Devil. The call-and-response chanting has traditionally focused on social criticism, class opression and parodies of the colonial education system. The chains Jab Jabs wear around their necks have replaced snakes which represent African fertility gods (hence the wining.) Use of live snakes dropped off in Grenada in the 1950's after Hurricane Janet wiped out the indiginous population.
The Jab Jabs I saw yesterday also carried faux machine guns and a briefcase. Possibly commentary on modern-day evils?