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Man behind the Dragon

Published: 
Sunday, January 21, 2018
Jason Meighoo portrays the Dragon Mas Photo by:Edison Boodoosingh

When Jason Meighoo was a child he was fearful of a particular character that used to pass in front of his family's Coffee Street, San Fernando home during Carnival time.

"We used to see all types of different characters, gorillas, jab jabs, but there was this one character that was a jab, he used to come out in black oil and I was terrified of him, I used to hide for the two days of Carnival just to avoid him. I used to find myself up in the attic knowing that this character would pass some time soon," Meighoo said.

"Any time I saw this character he actually used to make me cry and I used to dislike the Carnival because of how he used to portray this specific character. He was like a blue devil but all black and he had a posey on his head and two real bull horns and his movements were scary."

As Meighoo got older, however, he eventually overcame his fear of the character, rationalising that it was only a man portraying a character.

The man's realistic depitcion of the character earned Meighoo's respect.

"When I realised it was just somebody portraying a costume, I said that I would love to get into something like this."

And so began Meighoo's involvement in Carnival.

He joined a band from the area that used to portray gorillas in the Carnival.

One day Meighoo decided he wanted to do something "a little more elaborate".

"I wanted to do something more that just a gorilla, so I said to myself I could do something with wings and a tail but I didn't know that the dragon was a character for the Carnival," Meighoo said.

He designed his costume and entered the Carnival competition.

"So the first year I did something like a dragon, I entered the wrong category because I really did not know and when we went up to Port-of-Spain I saw some other characters like mine but they were in another category," he said.

Meighoo said it was an eye-opening experience for him, so he decided to learn more about the character.

Dragon mas, which is inspired from the Jab Jab or Devil Mas, is one rooted in the understanding of good and evil and all its elements, Meighoo said.

Meighoo said the dragon, which is sometimes referred to as King Beast, is a metaphorical representation of the forces of nature; a fiery beast from hell, that comes to bring destruction to all.

The Carnival costume involves a large dragon head with a moveable tongue, wings and a tail.

Chains are also tied around the dragon which are held by imps in order to restrain it.

All this plays into the performance of the mas, Meighoo said.

"The dragon has a chain with locks around its waist, which must be opened with a key, and it is the Key Imp who must approach the Beast to unlock the chains," Meighoo said.

"The Key Imp must also open the gate to the entrance of Hell/Earth while other imps pull the dragon in different directions."

This interplay between the dragon and the imps is part of the "dragon dance".

Another aspect of the performance is that the dragon cannot cross holy water.

So water is splashed on the ground and the dragon incorporates his attempts to avoid it as part of his performance.

"The dragon's frustrations come across as a dance while the imps continue to tease and restrain him," Meighoo said.

The dragon also rushes at the audience before being restrained by an imp.

"By the time you get into this costume you are not a human any more, that is how I look at it, your whole character changes so your movements represent what you perceive the beast to be," Meighoo said.

Meighoo has been portraying the dragon mas for about 14 years now and has won over 20 trophies for his depiction of the character.

He has also represented the country internationally with the dragon mas.

Meighoo said he hopes that school children can be taught about the traditional Carnival characters so that the legacy will be able to live on.

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