Battle Dress and Fancy Dress by Irwin Ottley

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger


Published in 2012, in commemoration of Trinidad and Tobago’s 50th Independence anniversary, Battle Dress and Fancy Dress is described by Bridget Brereton, in a Trinidad Express review, as both “well researched and strikingly illustrated”. Carnival scholars will relish the addition of another scholarly, informative work on the origins of T & T’s mas traditions, which Ottley convincingly argues have the bulwark of their roots in pre-colonisation practices of West and Central African rituals. While not refuting the European influence on some aspects of Trinbagonian mas foundations, Ottley presents a clearly-demarcated series of positions that support a West African bedrock. He credits African Christmas Carnival festivities with bearing the blueprint emblems of creativity that endured in local modern mas.

The author also gives credence to the presence of T & T’s militia, along with the troops of the British army, on aiding in the cultivation of carnival traditions. The “battle dress” half of the book’s title derives principally from this influence, which Ottley describes as significant in the style of dress and weaponry displays enacted by these militiamen and soldiers.

Battle Dress and Fancy Dress‘s back cover, featuring a collage design of numerous illustrations referenced in the book.

The meticulously researched text enjoys frequent punctuations from a plethora of detail-captioned black and white images, predominantly sourced from online slavery archives that have been curated by tertiary institutions, as well as the Michael Goldberg Postcard Collection, housed at UWI St. Augustine’s Alma Jordan library.