2021 Narrie Approo Collection and Bibliography for The West Indiana and Special Collections, The Alma Jordan Library, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus

Narrie Approo, Masman, born 1927, craftsman extraordinaire, played mas from the age of seven and appeared on the road and in competitions up to 2019. Mr Approo’s family history and collection of photographs, writings of Midnight Robber and Black Indian speeches, notations, lists of Black Indian language, are being compiled and preserved as part of the cultural heritage of Trinidad and Tobago. The collection will include resource books used by early historical mas creators and a bibliography detailing a list of articles or publications, photographs and audio visual material on the masman/artist including work by Kevin Adonis Browne Caribbean Memory Project, Jeffery Chock, Sonja Dumas, Austin Fido, Pat Ganase, Abigail Hadeed,Tony Hall and Christopher Laird - Banyan Archives, Robert Lee, Simon Lee, Nimmy McSweeney - Toco Folk Museum, Maria Nunes, Yao Ramesar and Milla Riggio - Trinity College.

The more recent documentation will make the connection to Anderson Patrick and The Warriors of Huracan and the group Black Indian Tradition, Trinidad and Tobago.


With gratitude to Nimmi McSweeney, Toco Folk Museum and Margaret Walcott for the support and belief in a Museum of Popular and Folk Art.Thanks to The West Indiana and Special Collections at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus for accepting the collection and taking on the preparation and archiving of the documents.

If you would like to be included in this bibliography please email:
kathrynlydiachan@gmail.com

1999 Folklore to Festival: A Celebration of Our Cosmos

at the National Museum, Fort San Andres, Port of Spain (Curator)

Luise Kimme, Papa Bois
Wood, Private collection

Why a celebration of our cosmos?
Folklore to festival has been a process of seeking out artists within our society who have had at some point in their creative life, been able to tap into the very soul of these islands - Trinidad and Tobago. Folklore to festival is a beginning…

It is part of a larger exhibition “Inside-out Upside-down” which shows the materials and processes used in making forms for carnival. This is where the spiritual and emotional quality of our artist’s work is most apparent. It is a view of the craftsman working with materials, which he understands intimately. Raw materials, often intended for domestic and industrial use, taken up by the artist, go through a transformation from product to glimmering object, with soul and energy invested in it.

In Folklore to Festival we go back to the roots, to starting at the beginning, to trying to understand what lies in our psyche and drives us to transform ourselves. What makes us able to laugh at ourselves? What makes us daring and original…

Perhaps Alfred Codallo was meant to exist during the period in which he did, to put on paper those stories he heard in his own lifetime. Perhaps Peter Minshall was meant to extend the boundaries of the 'mas' and take us way out to sea, waiting for a new gush of wind to fill our sails and give us new life and new ideas.

It is the passion and the conviction, and the investment of one’s life, identity, and spiritual being, that sustains the process and enables our artists to deliver such incredible work. This work is important not only to the artist, his fellow craftsmen / women, to the performer and to the audience, but it is an integral part of the fabric of our society. Certainly there can be no civilization without culture.

Written 1999.

Curator: Kathryn Chan
Text panels: Sonja Dumas and Kathryn Chan
Branding and Graphics: Karen Tadjudeen and Kathryn Chan

Documentation: Christopher Laird, Banyan Archives
 

1998 Midnight Robber Headpieces from the Trinidad Carnival for London's Horniman Museum Collection, for the display "African Worlds" part of “Many Worlds One People” (Curator)

Narrie Approo
Midnight Robber headpiece

Charles Harrington
Midnight Robber headpiece

These elaborate and hideous hats decorated with skulls and skeleton are part of the attire of the "Midnight Robber", a character found in the Carnival of Trinidad, West Indies. A Robber can choose to perform at any time during the two day Carnival - for the J'ouvert celebrations (the early morning beginning where a simpler Robber costume is worn) or - for the more fancy daytime Carnival on Monday and Tuesday, (the two days before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, when he wears his new creation and enters competitions). Contrary to what we see of Carnivals today, a 'mas' (Trinidadian word for a costume), if well executed and on the masquerader, transforms the ordinary person into something frightening and powerful.



 

These awe-inspiring hats created with matching capes, carry images that tell a tale of the fearsome character: his robber name ("Agent of Death Valley", "Tombstone", "Benbow the Brave") and his accomplishments - the tombstones or skulls of victims he boasts of having killed. They are worn together with: a mask, goggles or beard to conceal the identity of the nortorious bandit; a whistle to attract the attention of his victims ("Twee-e ... Twee-e ... Twee-e ..."); a dagger, sword or axe and; baggy trousers and shirt derivied from the American cowboys. They carry a container, often in the form of a baby coffin, to hold the money they extract from their victims by verbally accosting them with long and horrendous speeches.

 



In addition, it is the "Trini" (Trinidadian) or West Indian penchant for the English language evident in speeches, calypso, "talk tent" (comedy), ordinary conversation, rapso (a rhythmic performance using words similar to dub) and some say in politics, that secures the Robber, a continuing existence, in the carnival. This "Robber Talk" appeals to the West Indians who have an opportunity to show off their sensitivity and skill with words and their ability in delivery. There is only one recording of a woman playing a Robber although they are known to assist in the making of costumes and the crafting of the speeches.


Report on the curatorial process (PDF)  |  Text panels and image of installation (PDF)

African Worlds international anthropology consultative panel: Anthony Shelton, Nicky Levell (Horniman Museum) Joseph Eboreime and Emmanuel Arinze (Africa); Kathryn Chan (
Trinidad and Tobago); and Keith Nicklin and John Mack (UK).

See: Curating African Worlds, Anthony Shelton

https://www.jstor.org/stable/40793640