The Whip Master is a popular character in traditional Carnival. The characters are often seen in small bands on the streets for Carnival cracking their signature whips during playful battles with each other.
Ronald Alfred, 43, said he learnt the art form of making the mas and whips and also playing the character from his father, Winston, who learnt the skill from a Hindu family. The veteran whip master said he had his first whip fight at the age of 14.
In an interview with Guardian Media Limited, Alfred said the skilfully woven whips are created using manila rope and Agave plant, commonly called lash plant. These materials produce three types of whips used to practice the ancient tradition; the long whip/cracking whip, senior rope and twine, and the short rope whip.
Speaking at his home at the aptly named Whip Master Avenue in Couva, Alfred said he can make up to 40 whips daily through a process which involves cutting and gathering leaves, stripping, combing out knots and binding them together. However, this is not the final process.
"You know your whip is ready by the approved echoes in each strike from the cracking sound through heightened revelry," he said.
His yard is filled with herbs which are used to treat whip lash. Each herb is part of the preparation for the tradition performed at Whip Master Avenue.
Alfred said that long ago, the elders were reluctant to share their secrets on whip mastery. However, he never followed that code.
“If I followed tradition it would become extinct and the art form known as the Whip Master tradition would phase out. I did not want to follow that code of defiance...of keeping whip mastery within our own families," he said.
Alfred said he was also very interested in making more villages aware and interested in the tradition once again.
Disgusted over the use of cable whips
Expressing disgust over the use of cable whips during Carnival revelry, Alfred said his father was severely hurt when he was attacked by a mob wielding cable whips during a fight decades ago. He said although cable whips are easy to acquire, these whips are banned during traditional Carnival clashes. He said whenever he notices a cable whip design and someone “attempting” to use it, he would notify the police.
“We don’t want anybody to die in the game and now is the time that we need to bring discipline to the game and get it (cable whip) out of the competition,” Alfred said.
He said his father died at the age of 64 and since then, he has continued to practise the art form along with his children.
Alfred's wife, Shalima Buckreedee-Alfred is also a Whip Master. She attained her title as the first woman to become a whip master in 1995 before she got married to Alfred. She was 16 when she fought and won. She was also the first woman to play Jab Jab and won the competition.
Now, their daughter, Renella, 18, is also involved and helps train the 18 young females who have signed up to learn the tradition, Alfred said.
Today, Alfred has over 60 students who come to his Couva home to learn the art form.
Preparing for the fight
• It requires a 40-day fast before Carnival.
• Prayers, plants, and herbs are used for healing and strengthening the body.
• Whip Masters stay away from alcohol during their time of fasting.
• Whip Masters don't have sexual relations with their wives during the fast and preparation neither do they engage in feteing and gyrating to music.
• On Carnival Sunday at midnight, qualified Whip Masters will take a bush bath in preparation for Carnival Monday's “Gatka”, a fighting style which originated in India.