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The Origins of Bann Mové

For some time now, many have believed that Bann Mové started and therefore belonged to one village on the West Coast of Dominica. That is, simply, not correct.

Among the people who came to Dominica were Africans and Europeans and they brought their culture with them. It must be noted as well that as early as the 16th century, people wore masks, along with their costumes, as a form of disguise at balls and other activities. Man has always enjoyed masking and as such masquerade became popular.

In Dominica our native language is Kwéyòl and that is why most traditions are better named in Kwéyòl because it is spicier, juicier and so on. Hence many of the Bann Mové forms will be named in Kwéyòl.

When the slaves were out on the roads making merry they would of course be masked! Whatever costume they participated in would make it impossible for their owners to recognize them and so there would be more fun; they mimed and mimicked everything their owners did. So to get away with that it was necessary for them to be disguised.

There are villages in Dominica where cultural activities were held more frequently than others and that habit has continued up to today. These villages include Petite Soufriere, Good Hope, Laplaine, Grand Bay and Colihaut. Each of these had its own special music, costumes and street choreography. Many people of that era would have seen the style of masquerade played in these villages and recognized each one from where it came. And each was known as being an aspect of Bann Mové.

And though it is not called by that name in most villages except in Laplaine, it is surely an aspect of our traditional mas. We also call these forms Ole Mas. The black painted bodies, we call Black Devils; the black suited men with black face-masks in Laplaine with the fwèt or whip is Bann Mové; the Souswèl Souwi, the Red Ochre-the Mas played by the Caribs is also Ban Mové. We can go on and on and trace these phenomena right back to parts of Africa from whence our forefathers came. So clearly it is not right to believe that this aspect of our culture belongs soley to the west coast.

If we were to research the subject we would discover that up to this day most of us, if not all of us, prefer to do things under disguise, or in the dark. Clearly this tells us that we feel more comfortable when disguised. The same applies to people who participate in the Bann Mové. For the purpose of protecting the “freedom of the mask” no one should know who is wearing what, not even the very members of the same band, for fear of people being “sold out”. It is almost a crime to know or see who is under a mask, and worse yet to try to reveal his or her identity.

Each Bann Mové group has its own music and moves in a specific manner guided by a leader. It must be noted too, that masquerade is street theatre. It was the Greeks who popularized theatre wearing masks, since they had no make very large movements and had men or women playing each other. That aspect of theatre continues today and has found root in Dominica’s street theatre.

One thing that must be clear: the name Bann Mové or bad band does not signify violence. It is just a metaphor; at no tieme should it be taken literally.

Articles by Noreen L. Joseph