Archive | March, 2014

The opening of Carnival

21 Mar

Camboulay

A re-enactment of the Camboulay riots can be seen, along with the key carnival figures (described below) at the opening of carnival on Carnival Friday at Piccadilly on the east side of Port of Spain.

Before emancipation, when there was a fire on any sugar plantation, slaves from neighbouring plantations were drafted in to help extinguish the fires.

After emancipation, the congregation of the ex-slaves carrying burning sugar cane, drumming and stickfighting became a key way of celebrating emancipation.  Eventually, these processions shifted to carnival time and became an integral part of the carnival celebration.  The word camboulay was derived from the French for burning canes (cannes brulees).

Preparing to fight

Preparing to fight

The Camboulay Riots were riots by the descendants of freed slaves on the island of Trinidad against attempts by the British police to crack down on aspects of the celebration of Carnival. The riots occurred in February 1881 in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and spread to the southern cities of San Fernando and Princes Town in February 1884 causing loss of life.

As part of the ban on Camboulay, drumming was also prohibited, leading to the development of the tamboo bamboo as a replacement percussion instrument.

Tamboo Bamboo

Tamboo Bamboo

As part of the Carnival there were often clashes between groups of revellers carrying sticks and lighted torches. While the confrontations started in song duels between the chantwells, they often worsened to physical violence.  Although they were banned by the British authorities, it was only when Captain Arthur Baker became the head of Trinidad’s police force in the early 1880s that they determined to end the canboulay as a threat to public order.

Stick fighters in battle

Stick fighters in battle

In 1881, Trinidad’s police force clashed with revellers in Port of Spain who had banded together against the police. This caused resentment amongst the ordinary people of Trinidad who valued the festival despite the clashes.

Due to the feelings of the population, the then Governor Sir Sanford Freeling confined police to barracks in order to calm the situation.

The "Governor" allowing Canboulay

The “Governor” allowing Canboulay

The riots are still commemorated today and Camboulay music is an important part of the music of Trinidad and Tobago notably the use of steel pans which were the descendants of percussion instruments banned in the 1880s. The “chantwell” or chantuelle who was also an integral part of the celebrations was the forerunner of the calypsonian.

The Key Characters of Carnival

Pierrot Grenade

The Pierrot Grenade is a descendant of the Pierrot known for his elegant costume and fierce fighting prowess with a whip or bull pistle, and was followed by a band of female supporters who fought on his behalf against other Pierrot groups..

Pierrot Grenade was a finely dressed masquerader and deeply supreme scholar/ jester proud of his ability to spell any word in his own fashion and quoting Shakespearean characters as Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony and Othello at length. Pierrot Grenade, is a satire on the richer and more respectable Pierrot.

During the opening of carnival, it is the Pierrot Grenade who narrates the history of the riots.

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Dame Lorraine

Dame Lorraine

Dame Lorraine

The Dame Lorraine was a mas character played by the 18th and early 19th century French planters, who would dress up in elegant costumes of the French aristocracy and parade in groups at private homes/yards and Carnival Sunday night.

The liberated slaves recreated these costumes, complete with elaborate fans and hats in their own fashion, using materials that were readily available, such as assorted rags and imitative jewellery-type items..

The major Dame Lorraine performers through the years however, were descendants of the French planters and persons of some respectability, who hid behind masks, mainly of the fine wire mesh variety, and found their way into the downtown Old Yards, where they paraded and danced for all and sundry.

Jab Jab

The name of this mas is derived from the French patois for ‘Diable Diable” meaning a pretty devil mas resembling a mediaeval jester’s costume. The costume consists of a Kandal or satin knickers, and satin shirt which are divided into panels of alternating colours with points of cloth at the waist, from which bells hang. On the chest, there is a shaped cloth panel which is decorated with swansdown, rhinestones and mirrors. Stockings and alpargatas are worn on the feet, while the headdress consists of a hood with stuffed cloth horns. The Jab Jab has a thick whip of plaited hemp which he swings and cracks terrifyingly. These whips can reduce the costumes of other Jab Jabs to threads.  Big men noticeably flinched when the Jab Jabs crack their whips.  Yessss. I know which side of that whip I’d rather be on.

Jab-Jab

Jab-Jab

Jab Molassie

Jab, French patois for Devil, and Molassie, the French patois for Mélasse (Molasses), is one of several types of devil mas. The simple costume consists of short pants or pants cut off at the knee, with a wire tail, mask and horns and a pitchfork. The jab malassie would carry chains, and wear locks and keys around his waist, and carry a pitch fork. The whole body is smeared with grease or mud, red, green or blue paint. The jab molassie “wines” or gyrates to a rhythmic beat that is played on tins or pans by his imps. While some of his imps supply the music, others hold his chain, seemingly restraining him as he pulls against them in his wild dance.

Jab Molassie

Jab Molassie

Fire!

Fire!

 

Moko Jumbies

Moko Jumbie

Moko Jumbie

Moko Jumbies are also known as “Dancing Spirits”.  The name is believed to come from “Moko”, a West African God and “Jumbie”, a local term used to describe a spirit or ghost.  They are stilt walkers who roam the streets, often in packs, during carnival.  The good ones can get almost horizontal.  Did you ever wonder where they got those stilt walkers from during the Barcelona Olympics opening ceremony? Er…. Trinidad!

The Baby Doll

The baby doll masquerader portrays a gaily dressed doll, decked out in a frilled dress and bonnet. In her arms she carries a doll which symbolises an illegitimate baby. The masquerader stops male passers-by and accuses them of being the baby’s father.  It is amusing to see how flustered some guys get when asked….

Baby Doll

Baby Doll

The Jamette

La diametre – This is a character whose behavior is diametrically opposed to decent members of society.  She is a loose woman and often one who fights alongside and for the Pierrot.  One of the most dreaded insults you could get from a teacher at school, was that you were behaving like a “little Jamette”!

The Jamette

The Jamette

A brief history of carnival

19 Mar

Carnival originated as a pagan festival in ancient Egypt which was subsequently celebrated by the Greeks and then the Romans. The popular festival was adopted by the Roman Catholic Christian church in Europe as the festival of Carne Vale.

I always thought that the word Carnival was made up of two Latin words, carne, meaning flesh and vale, meaning farewell. However, the Wikipedia entry for Carnival suggests that this is a popular myth and that it may instead have come from “Carne Levare” or the removal of meat.  In any case, in the Catholic calendar carne vale, farewell to flesh, is a feast celebrated on the Sunday (Dimanche Gras), Monday and Tuesday (Mardi Gras), before Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and fasting.

The Carnival festival was introduced to the Caribbean by European colonizers from Spain and France.  In particular, Carnival was introduced to Trinidad around 1785, as the French settlers began to arrive. The tradition caught on quickly and lavish masquerade balls were held. The wealthy planters put on masks, wigs, and beautiful dresses and danced long into the night.

Obviously banned from the masked balls of the French, the African slaves would hold their own version of these carnivals in their backyards, using their own rituals and folklore, but also copying the behaviour of the European planters at their masked balls.

The Planters' Masquerade Ball

The use of masks had special meaning for the slaves, because for many African peoples, masking is widely used in their rituals for the dead.

On emancipation the freed African slaves transformed the festival into a celebration of the end of slavery.  African dance and music traditions transformed the early carnival celebrations, as African drum rhythms, large puppets, stick fighters, and stilt dancers began to make their appearances in the carnival festivities.

Th re-start

19 Mar

So, with trepidation, and after much time, I continue my blog with a section on Trinidad and Carnival.

This is such an important topic for any Trinidadian that it must be written with due care and attention.

This year (2014) I’ve been in Trinidad for just over 2 weeks.  This allows me a good “run-up” to carnival and a “cool down” afterward.  It is possible to do carnival in a week but this will mean missing the shows which are such a big part of the entertainment.

I have judiciously picked shows and bands to cover a good spread of what carnival has to offer, starting with UTT’s Sparrow Anthropology on Friday 21 through 3-Canal, pan-yards, Little Carib, the opening of carnival, J’ouvert, Minshall Mas right down to the Savannah and Ariapita Avenue house-hopping on Carnival Tuesday.

Before I get into the detail of the events though, I will start with an introduction to carnival