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The Body Contours of Carnival: Mas-Playing and Race in Trinidad

Gender and Race Matter: Global Perspectives on Being a Woman

ISBN: 978-1-78635-038-1, eISBN: 978-1-78635-037-4

Publication date: 24 August 2016



This chapter sets up the national event of Carnival in Trinidad as a contested space of liberation and tradition. It explores the intersections of gender and race for a group of young Indian Trinidadian women and highlights the ways in which agency, articulated as sexual liberation and ‘free-up’, is enabled and disabled in relation to mas1 performance.


Based on ethnographic research conducted in Trinidad in 2011 (Raghunandan, K. (2014). The Dougla poetics of Indianness: Negotiating race and gender in Trinidad. Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Leeds), this chapter draws on a selection of interviews conducted with a group of young Indian Trinidadian women between the ages of 18 and 25.


The binaristic positioning of modern, morally destructive masquerader vis-à-vis the traditional non-participant is an inadequate approach and this has, to a significant extent, dominated media representations of Indian women which draw on these monolithic stereotypes. There are many ways of ‘doing’ gender and race. Playing mas is only one of them.

Research implications/limitations

These findings are in no way representative of the entire Indian descent population, nor can the young women’s talk be regarded as wholly representative of their lives. Rather, these are a snapshot of their discursively produced subjectivities within a particular time and space.


By problematising the mixed and multicultural image of Carnival, this chapter makes a contribution to Carnival scholarship in its analysis of Indian Trinidadian women’s voices which do not typically feature in Carnival literature. In its drawing upon these voices as epistemological sources, it makes a contribution to wider discourses of race, gender and the nation in the Trinidadian context.



Raghunandan, K. (2016), "The Body Contours of Carnival: Mas-Playing and Race in Trinidad", Gender and Race Matter: Global Perspectives on Being a Woman (Advances in Gender Research, Vol. 21), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 193-212.



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