What is the historical reality of the Jab Jab?
The word Jab, in English, simple means to strike with quick short blows. This is indeed an aspect of the Jab Jab masquerader. Armed with ropes and chains, [and snakes today, to frighten spectators] one has to pay compensation to the Jab Jab or else be jabbed with ropes and chains.
Of course, this jabbing is a pretentious action, but it has a significant historical connection to the story of black human beings and their person-hood and humanity.
As a word connected to the carnival celebration, the word jab has its roots in the French word “Diable,” meaning “devil.” Thus, in the Grenadian context, Jab Jab, as it is used, means “devil, devil” or “double-devil.” Certainly, the masqueraders are not the devils themselves. They are instead acting out the actions done by a people they believe to be devils.
In this context, the Jab Jab masquerade can be interpret as one group of people abusing another and forcing them into providing or performing some type of act [giving money to the Jab Jab in the carnival celebration context] against their will.
The question then is this: Who is the devil or devils, as demonstrated by the Jab Jab masqueraders? The answer can be found in the Jab Jab historical connection to the fight against slavery and the freedom that follows. There are different stories of how the Jab Jab masquerade in carnival came about.
First, however, we have to remember that before the emancipation of slavery, the slaves were not allowed to partake in carnival celebration. After emancipation, however, the formally enslaved Africans were able to take part in the masquerade and began using, what is called, Cannes Brulees or “burnt cane” to paint themselves black and greasy as a commemoration of their freedom.
In the days of slavery whenever fire broke out upon an Estate, the slaves on the surrounding properties were immediately mustered and marched to the spot, horns and shells were blown to collect them and the gangs were followed by the drivers cracking their whips and curging with cires and blows to their work.
After emancipation, the negroes began to represent this scene as a kind of commemoration of the change in their condition, and the procession of the “cannes brulees” used to take place on the night of the 1st of August , the date of their emancipation… After a time the day was changed and for many years past the Carnival days have been inagurated by the “Cannes Brulees”. [Traditional Mass Archive]
In Haiti there is the Lanse Kod, who are masquerading people that paint themselves as black and greasy as possible, to resemble the African slaves, and carries ropes and chain, as a representation of the brutality of slavery and the Haitian freedom in 1804.
This very context is the essence of the Trinidadian Jab Molassie, [Molassie come from the French patois Mélasse, meaning Molasses] and the Grenadian Jab Jab