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Death of a warrior
Black Indian traditional masquerade player Darlington Henry, also known as Boysie, Worm, and Sno-Cone Man, died where he was born—at the POS General Hospital—on Sunday, July 2.
A passionate player of Black Indian mas, which is a T&T fusion of Amerindian and African traditions, Boysie last performed his warrior mas in 2016. He fell ill from a stroke and also suffered from a bad fall that year, in addition to living with a brain tumour.
His death just over a week ago has been a great loss not only to his family, friends, and the small group of Black Indian mas players who still keep this unique Carnival tradition alive, but also to the followers of traditional mas in T&T.
Darlington Henry was not only known as a mas player. He expressed himself creatively in many forms, through singing, dancing, drumming, and through a deep involvement in T&T Carnival folk and Orisha-influenced, Amerindian-influenced traditions.
Born in Tobago, Darlington “Boysie” Henry grew up in East Dry River, Port-of-Spain. His son Anderson Patrick, who is leader of the only remaining Black Indian mas band— Warriors of Huracan—spoke to the Guardian last Friday about his father.
He said: “Darlington Henry was not just a mas man. He was a master bass drummer who played with (Orisha drummer) Andrew Beddoe. He learned from Beddoe and from Shabal, and many others in the tradition. He played as lead drummer for some of our outstanding folk dancers including Jean Coggins, Carlton Francis, and Beryl McBurnie.”
Darlington Henry played drums in Sparrow’s original recording of Congo Man, said Patrick, and was also backup singer and instrumentalist for calypsonian Black Prince (Kenroy Smith). “Those were the days of real kaiso—not now. Whenever calypsonians would come around, he always used to back up for them,” recalled Patrick. Patrick remembered how his father would sometimes go out to Maqueripe Beach, and swim out into the bay to practice his singing voice in the middle of the sea, for three or four hours at a time. “His voice was powerful, full of harmonies, and beautiful,” said Patrick.
“He born and grow into Black Indian. And then I come up offa he,” said Patrick. “He grew up in East Dry River area, and as you know, Carnival was born around de Bridge, and was the order of the day. So Boysie was playing mas for more than 60 years, from when he was a boy.”
Patrick reflected on how deep-rooted Black Indian mas is among his family: “It is a family-oriented thing. People come out, everybody sits down and everyone learns how to sing the songs, they learn the language. It’s a learning process—each individual learns to make their costume.”
He said Orisha practices were part of the fusion tradition. “We, the Black Indian people, have a mixed culture.”
Cultural researcher and photographer Maria Nunes writes that the Black Indian masquerade tradition in Trinidad dates back to the 19th century, celebrating the coming together of Amerindians and Africans over centuries of colonization. The costumes worn also mock the early Spanish conquistadores.
Black Indian mas has its own language and songs, from words that evolved from traditional Amerindian and African languages, Spanish, English, French and even Hindi. And within bands, there is a military-type hierarchy: “The band is led by its king, whose title is Okenaga, and its Queen who is called Malerao. Under the king are the Flying Agitan, Wagadaraja, Jeppetok and Jeepnafagna, followed by the jeeps who are the lowest rank warriors,” Nunes has documented.
Black Indian mas costumes are often black, with highlights of colours like gold, blue, white, yellow or red. They use natural elements such as feathers (Corbeaux feathers are especially prized), snail shells, river beads, jumbie beads, cow horns and cucumber seeds. “Distinctive hair made of plaited rope signifies the mixture of Amerindian and African ancestry,” writes Nunes.
Maria Nunes remembers Boysie well: “He was an outstanding drummer, a true master. He also had a beautiful, raspy, sonorous voice for singing. It makes my pores raise when I listen to a recording I have of him singing. He was a plain talk, no-nonsense man, but in a gentle way. You could tell, when talking to him, that he was a storehouse of knowledge about culture.
“He had a big, generous spirit. He’d be cautious upon first meeting you, but really take you in once he thought you were ok. I enjoyed sitting in his living room having a drink with him and talking about Black Indian and Carnival heritage as a whole. That was always special. You could tell that he had something extraordinary inside him, that he was an embodiment of so much ancestral wisdom and knowledge. It means a lot to me that I got to know him a little bit. A real blessing.”
His son Patrick remembers how Boysie would perform Black Indian, totally transforming himself into the character, possessed and ennobled by it: “In his costume, he was like a giant! He looked very tall, out of this world. When you see him walking down the road, is a great, great ancient warrior, before time and all! Every step blossomed into a cloud of movements, every movement was so outstanding.”
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