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J'ouvert morning hideme

Masquerade, mask making and the spiritual hideme

Masquerade has a history deep set in the sharing of traditions between countries, but which is also closely related to the slave trade. The importance of the mask in these traditions of masquerade has an even earlier history in ancient rituals, and these rituals are still found transformed through the modern carnival celebrations, and are still an important part of Carnival today.

The resources on this page look at ideas of the mask, and the spirit of the mask which a person takes on when they wear it. This is discussed as part of a rich history of West Africa, which was brought to Trinidad and Tobago through the slave trade, and became a huge part of the culture there too. 

Curriculum links:

KS1 & 2
Design and Technology, History, Visual Art, Drama, RE, Geography, Literacy

Aim of resource:

The aim of the resources on this page is to give children insight into the significance of masquerade and mask-making at the Leeds West Indian Carnival, and why it is an important aspect of celebrations in terms of the history, culture and spirituality that it represents. 

Learning objectives:

  • Knowledge of masquerade and the use of masks at the Leeds West Indian Carnival, and its relation to the history of carnival which is tied to the slave trade.
  • Understanding of the spiritual aspect of the use of masks in carnival, and the transformational qualities of the traditional African mask
  • Skills  - Research, comparing and contrasting, using and understanding maps, reading body language, understanding pattern and shape, designing and making masks, creative writing, taking part in discussion, working in teams. 

Discussion ideas:

  • What types of masks can you think of? What are they usually used for? 
  • What should a mask look like? Why do they look the way they do? 
  • What does ‘masquerade’ mean to you? Can you think of a definition for it? 
  • Why do you think masks might be an important part of the celebrations at the Leeds West Indian Carnival? 

Activity ideas (for 'Audio' clips please see links below):

  • Listen to Khadijah talk about ritual in Carnival (from 00.00 – 01.47),  and how the use of the mask and the masquerade comes from a history from West Africa, and which was brought to the Caribbean through the slave trade. Khadijah mentions that many of the slaves were brought from Gambia, Senegal and Nigeria, and this is why there is such a strong relationship between the traditions of Trinidad, and the masquerade traditions of places in West Africa, especially Nigeria. Find the coast of West Africa on a map, and look for places such as Gambia, Senegal and Nigeria. Then find the islands of the Caribbean – where are Trinidad and Tobago?

    Using the online map tool  ‘How Far Is It Between’ ( see 'Related Links' at the bottom of the pageyou can calculate and see on the online map how many miles or kilometres Trinidad and Tobago are from each of the countries mentioned above. Make a note of how far each of them are, and discuss why it might be important for people from the West coast of Africa to continue to express their culture through their traditions.

  • Masks - the word ‘masquerade’ comes from the 16th century, and traditionally means ‘mask’, and to wear a disguise. In the sound clip, Khadijah talks about the Nigerian tradition of masquerade, and how when a mask is worn by a person, that person takes on the spirit of the mask. Traditional West African masquerade involves a belief that when someone wears a mask, they lose their human identity completely, and transform into a spirit which is identified through the mask. The mask-wearer expresses the spirit of this mask through their actions, their body language, and their movement. The sound clip mentions masks of good faith, and the storm spirit – what other kinds of masks might there be? Discuss the many kinds of masks that could be used in carnival, and what they represent, and think about how you could express yourself through the mask.

    Take a look at the BBC Bitesize clip about African masks and spirituality ( see 'Related Links' below), and discuss how they are designed, and what materials have been used. What patterns and shapes are used in a traditional African mask, and what do they mean? 
Masks from the Artemis Collection 
  • Using the masks you have seen in the topic box as inspiration, you could design your own mask, and annotate it with what it represents and how you show the concept of the mask through its colour, its design and its form. You could also make the masks themselves, decorating ready-made paper masks with the materials available, using the colours and texture that you think best represent the concept you want to evoke. You can watch the clip from BBC Bitesize (see 'Related Links' below) to give you inspiration for how you might go about making a mask from scratch. Think about why you are using those materials, and how they help you to show the meaning of the mask without words.

  • Once you have a mask which you have designed or created, it is important to think about the transformation process, and how wearing this mask changes the way that you might move and walk. If your mask represents a storm, how would you show this in your body language, and the way that you move? How would you move differently to someone whose mask represents the sun, or lightning, or happiness?

  • Put on a mask. Think about what the masks represents, and reflect on how putting on the mask makes you feel, and the way that you might transform into the spirit of the mask. Write a short piece of creative writing from a first or second person point of view, using your imagination to explain the transformation process from person into storm, or whatever concept your mask represents. Or, write about watching someone else put on a mask, and your shock or amazement at watching them transform into the spirit of the mask. How do they look, how do they move? How do you feel? 
Leeds West Indian Carnival costume in gold and white
Leeds West Indian Carnival
Leeds West Indian Carnival