The midnight Robber is one of the most recognizable traditional carnival characters. This dark and mysterious character is both loved and feared. If the ominous costume wasn’t enough, he is well equipped with an elaborate speech which would terrify his audience into parting with his or her cash. The Midnight Robber’s costume consists of a broad-brimmed hat with fringe, a shirt usually black and white satin and matching trousers (both decorated to the theme of the portrayal), a cape which usually depicts the theme and the name of the Robber and or his band, an ACME thunder whistle to announce his appearance to would be victims as well as a weapon of some sort to establish his intent.
The Midnight Robber’s speech or ‘Robber Talk’, as it is fondly referred to, is an extended brag or boast about power and identifying oneself with Notorious bandits and Villains in history while others may create a fictional identity altogether, HE is the greatest of the great, the strongest of the strong and the most feared of them all. There is no particular format for his speech but certain patterns do exist: He is usually born in an inhabitable remote location, his birth in itself was an abomination, he is the son or grandson of a famous villain who is encouraged to pursue the family tradition, and as a young Robber his talents were perfected in isolation where he robbed banks, murdered and amassed a stock pile of treasures while committing deeds like ‘drowning someone in a teaspoon of water’. Phrases commonly used are ‘mock man’ or ‘mocking pretender’ (imitation robber), ‘my godly man’, ‘your hidden treasures’ and ‘your name, claim to fame and from whence you came’.
The Midnight Robber evolved from a long traditional predating slavery, The Griot or storyteller and historian from the tribes located on the west coast of Africa was brought to the Caribbean and specifically Trinidad through the slave trade. The broad-brimmed fringed hat of the Robber can be traced to that of the tribal chiefs of the coastal areas of West Africa. The griot then gravitated to the stories of the wild west of the USA where cowboys roamed free and terrorized the establishment of the day. These stories were circulated around the world by a series of books called the ‘Penny Dreadfuls’. These graphic novels or predecessors to the comic books of today, told stories of the heroes and villains that never existed. The Griot in what was to become the ‘Trini’ culture embellished these stories of the day incorporated these characteristics into his speech while in the spirit of competitiveness improving upon his endeavors every time as each story outdid the other in grandiosity. An important point to note is that the Robber, as with many traditional characters, was at the time exacting revenge on a wicked and cruel world while mocking his masters and former slave owners. These early Midnight Robbers were clever to critique the society in which they lived through what is now termed the art of 'Masking'. This world lay the foundation for the dark and mysterious undertone of the character.