This story appears in the February 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Festivities get fierce in this island nation as the Jab Molassie take to the streets. These pitchfork-toting devils—just one type of the many Carnival characters—cover themselves with molasses or grease and paint, often blue. Be prepared to give them a Trinidadian dollar (about 15 cents U.S.), or they’ll smear you with paint too. The mountain hamlet of Paramin holds an especially wild display. (Hear the sounds of Trinidad.)
What is the art behind the mask? Craftspeople press layers of wet paper onto a mold. Once the paper dries, they hand-paint the masks and add gold leaf, gems, or feathers.
For perhaps 4,000 years the costumed Kukeri have been scaring off evil spirits and calling for bountiful harvests. Top spots to see their processions include the town of Pernik and the village of Shiroka Laka. (See surreal pictures of Bulgaria’s masked dancers.)
In this arid, high-altitude city, performers don horned masks for the Carnival’s Diablada, a dance influenced by both indigenous and Spanish traditions.