Joseph Ross, Shelford Lawrence & Esmond King
Paying Respect to Lewicito 'Cito' Velasquez
Tributes at Funeral Service
April 12, 2006
As far as I am concerned, Cito was an extremely special person in many ways. He was a very humble and sincere person. Cito was somebody who really took care, not only of me personally, but also the children in the area. He would always have something to provide for them. He really looked out for the neighbours. Cito called every single day, and when he didn't see me, he would ask me how I was going. He was someone who gave his life to see others happy. I just want to remember him as that kind of person. We will miss him.
I am from Barataria, and most of my time was spent with Cito. Most of the things I learned in building costumes were from Cito Velasquez and Aldwyn (an old guy who is now bedridden). Myself, Franklyn 'Stonewall' Hunte and a lot of the other guys used to be here papering costumes and so on. At one time I played King with them. I played "Casia Garsor" which was a little boy picking paw paw from the tree. Other years I played like "Fireman" and so on. I traveled a lot doing costumes. Cito and I were very close. Most of the experiences I got were from him. I always called him and he always me. We also traveled a lot but most of the times I would meet him abroad. I remember him saying to me, "When you go up, doh study them people. You make your Mas and enjoy yourself. Doh study the money."
What he said was true. When you go out there, they take advantage of the situation, knowing that you can do it. Eventually I got a work permit. We had a lot of nice times here. When we decided to bring back the band, we didn't have materials to build the tent. I came up with an idea to get bed frames. I am a welder, so I made the rafters out of the bed frames. They are still outside in the back of the yard. We had a lot of nice times. Sometimes when we were building the costumes we would stay overnight and sleep on cardboard boxes. Sometimes one of the guys would be smoking a cigarette and doesn't realize he's in a cardboard box and he would throw the cigarette and it would catch fire and you have to jump off the cardboard. We had a lot of nice experiences with Cito. We will miss him a lot.
My relationship with Cito started in the early sixties. That would have been just after the Independence with "Fruits and Flowers". He was one of the fellas in the group who played Mas with Fascinators, and even before that. I was told he was a member of Casablanca Steelband before he came up to Barataria; I think that somewhere in 1942 he joined the Black Swans, the biggest Steelband in the Bataraia area. After that, he went back to town with Fascinators, making Mas with Romain and them. They brought out Fascinators Steelband, which was one of the top bands in the Fancy Sailor Category. In the early fifties into the sixties, Fancy Sailors would rival all the big bands for Band of the Year. For instance, like Desperados and Starlift would have run second in Band of the Year playing Fancy Sailor Mas.
We used to hang with a host of other guys who were Mas Makers. I met them in New York in the early seventies when Mas had just started coming into New York. My cousin Carlton King was the first man to bring a band on the road in New York. They used to have Individual Mas, but Carlton brought a band from Boston. It was around 1974, the first year Boston had Carnival. After that, Cito, George Bailey and the Masmen from Trinidad would go to New York to assist people in New York who were bringing out their bands. That was a government program in a sense, geared toward to carrying out the Carnival to places like London, New York, Boston, Toronto, Baltimore, Miami, Houston, Atlanta (Georgia), Washington, and so on. The Carnivals eventually ended up in a host of cities in America. Cito and they were part of that expanded program. After that, they were making Mas and sending it up. Cito worked with Stephen Lee Heung after he stopped with his band. When Stephen brought out a band in New York, they went up to make the Mas. Other Masmen like Peter Minshall and a host of other guys from Trinidad used to go up to New York and bring out a band. Stephen Dereck was always in New York because he more or less kind of lived there. He continuously had a Mas Camp in New York. It was part of carrying the 'Masking Tradition' throughout the world.
The average man in the streets would talk about Head Mas, but he doesn't know about the real source of the Head Mas. It is really Obatala in the Yoruba Pantheon. The Creation story is about particles and waves alike that create the Universe, and that is Obatala. The all white Head Mas is Obatal. I realized the Masmen may have been doing it. Jim Harding started doing it; covering the face, masking. The spirit doesn't need to see. You had to hide the spirit face from the people. They do not make that connection with the Mas. They think the person just wants to put on a mask. On Carnival Day when you come out, it's not you who come out. After you hide in the house whole year making Mas and you bring it out Carnival Day, it's a whole different ball game. Even to the Mas who come out to sweep the yard and ask for five cents, he is always covered. Why is the face covered? The face is covered because we were doing the Ancient Traditions of the African Ancestors. It's the spirit who's sweeping with the Cocoyea Broom that come to clean the yard. When I look at CEPEP these days, I wonder if they know what they are doing. The cleansing and purifying, they are not making that kind of connection either.
The Mas was about bringing out the ancestors. The bigger the Mas, is the more powerful the ancestor. Every piece of clothing on that ancestor shows how powerful the family lineage is. If the King and Queen of Carnival are small and inadequate, then you know that the whole people are inadequate. But if the King and Queen of Carnival are big and expansive, then you know that the people are doing well. They could make Mas at that level but they do not make those connections. Just today I was watching a program with Cito, Jim Harding, Jason Griffith and Narcenio Gomez on the TV before I came up. They were talking about when Jim Harding started the Head Mas and what it was. They also talked about the Mischievous Sailor and the throwing of the powder and so on. They don't' have a clue about these things. The dance tells you it is an old man dance. Obatala is the old man. The slow dance with a stick is Obatala, the creative force in the Universe. If you ask them, they do not have a clue because they were never into the spiritual aspect of the situation.
The ancestors lineage doesn't go anywhere. It must manifest in one of the grandchildren to make Mas. Whether they know or they don't know, but they just know they have to make Mas for Carnival. Otherwise it would have been done naturally within the compound of each grouping. Whenever there is need within a family or community for something to be done, they would bring out the Masquerade. The Masquerade would do the healing, the cleansing, the purifications and also give the instructions from the spirit, as regards to how to proceed. For instance, who's to get married, what child is sick, what's happening, move something in the clean up and so on. That's what the Masquerade used to come out to do, speak to the people about their progress spiritually. But here, after all those years on the plantation, those things got lost but people continued. The Pierrot Grenade is really the Egungun. We have a way of linking the Black Indian, the Red Indian and the White Indian to America and we do not look back across to Africa where it came from. I had an experience with that when someone I know went up to Louisiana for Carnival and he saw them playing the Indian. He heard them talking, and he started to talk the same things they talk here. They asked him where he learned that and he said, "I am from Trinidad and we say the same thing in Trinidad." He hadn't been there before. Eventually they initiated him there. When he died they came down to Trinidad to bury him. This wasn't a North American Indian, it was really Osain. The feathers represent the birds. They thought it was just a big Indian costume. No… it was a big African costume.
The "Dame Lorraine", the woman with the big breast and big bottom with the fan, is actually elevating the female energy in the Universe. That is why the men play the "Dam Lorraine"; to elevate the female energy. When the men play "Horos", is when the women cannot come outside because he is cleansing and purifying to remove the witches and wizards who are doing wrong things in the Universe. They come and they take them and carry them away, sell their things and share back the money with the people. We do not remember, or have a clue about most of these things. That is what the Masquerade is about. I will hope that the Carnival Masman Association would start to look to the depth of it so these women would stop walking about the streets and playing the fool Carnival Day. That is not what it is about at all. It is disrespectful to the old people. It takes seven yards of cloth to make a Duet. They used to wear a lot of clothes, and I am not even talking about the petty coats. They do not have a clue about what the numbers mean. Eight is perfection and seven is completion, which is the woman. Obatala is eight and that means infinity. It means that life could go on and on and never ever stop.
With the steelband, they would ask how could these Black People who doesn't know anything, put a note on a sheet of iron. So who is Ogun, he doesn't know anything? Ogun knows everything because he is the shape of all things. He has the authority from the cosmic energy that governs to make anything. Ogun is the energy of the Creative Energy in the Universe. Obtala is the Creation Energy, the thinker, and the wisdom that it would manifest. Orumila knows the destiny of everything. Mama Oshun is the mother of the female principle. She is the epitome of what woman is all about, she is fertility. The "Tan Tan" and "Saga Boy" dancing, that's Shango and Oshun dancing. It speaks about the fertility of the Universe. Without that we couldn't have children. That energy of Oshun and Shango must come into play. A person may see it as "Tan Tan" and "Saga Boy" dancing, but it is about the husband and wife or man and woman. It speaks about the attraction for continuity. To those who do not know what these things are all about, they will just see the Mas "Tan Tan and Saga Boy" dancing and not the female and male energy of the Universe being compatible so that we could proceed with that kind of situation.
Years ago when one of the big bands were making their Mas, after they cut and stitched the cloth for the Mas correct, when they got up the next day, it wasn't correct again. It was hanging on the line but it was burnt. Another time, they said an old man walked into the Mas Camp one night and he stayed there. The last day they saw him was Carnival Tuesday by the Prince Street corner as the band was coming down Frederick Street. They never saw him again after that. An Ancestor was sent to make sure everything goes all right. They thought it was just to do their research and make Mas. That is because they didn't know. They go into the Ancient Traditions and wake up the spirits. Then you have people who are using up the energy for wrong things. I stood up by the corner of Woodford Square and watched "Back to Africa" coming down the street. I could of sworn I was in Africa, because of what you were seeing. The government doesn't even show it on the TV anymore. They have all these things on tape and they do not show them to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. The artistry of some of the people who you see here today, goes back to Africa. They started from an African Yard, which is the Radah people yard up in Belmont Valley Road, and went into town, although George and they were from Woodbrook. So they started the Mas from what they call the Shango Yard, but is really the Radah people yard, which is the Sakpata (Voodoo) People Yard. They too are from Benin, Southwest Nigeria, which is the Yuraba People. They all have the same traditions just different names. The same applies to the Egyptians or any other grouping in Africa. The names are different but the energies have been identified many hundreds of thousands of years. People just take these things for granted and to them its, "We are just playing Mas". As we say, it's the ancestors at work. They are always working. We have to continue to love them and to continue to always be a part of the tradition. With that, we could change the world.
Homepage | Special Events | Carnival Features | Photo Gallery