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. Evolving over the past two centuries from an elegant, exclusive affair to a truly allinclusive national festival, it is by far the most spectacular event on the nation’s calendar. Although a major part of the Trinidad Carnival mystique lies in its unique ability to bring people of diverse backgrounds together in harmonious circumstances, the festival was not born to such noble pursuits. From the inception of street parades in 1839 and for more than 100 years thereafter, the celebration flowed in two distinctly different social streams - upper and lower classes. For the most part, the upper classes held their masked balls in the great houses of sugar estates during the 19th century Carnivals, then mobilized the mas (but maintained their distance), by using the trays of lorries as their stage until well into the 1950s. In order to fully understand the development of this festival, it is necessary to examine the complex historical, social, cultural and political contexts which gave birth to this national celebration. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
In 1498, Christopher Columbus landed in Trinidad and, as was the practice in the so called age of Discovery and Exploration, took possession of the island in the name of the King and Queen of Spain. The island did not have the promise of immense wealth like the other countries in Spain’s Western empire. Trinidad was, therefore, largely ignored for over two hundred and fifty years. In 1776, out of concern for this state of affairs, the Spanish king issued a Cedula of Population, which opened the island to colonization by the French. A second Cedula followed in 1783. This saw an even larger influx of planters from the French West Indian islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and Saint Dominigue. Arriving also were Free Coloureds and Africans. The French brought with them their cultural traditions, language, dress, food and customs. In 1797, Trinidad was captured by the British and was made a crown colony of Great Britain. The British immediately began the process of colonization as they had in Barbados and Jamaica two centuries before.
Whenever a fire broke out in the cane fields. to the accompaniment of horns and shells. the door was opened for the full participation of the Africans in the Carnival. parties and other entertainment. All the whites were caught up in the problems of labour. They also reenacted the Cannes Brulées (French for Burning Canes): the practice of rounding up slaves to put out fires in the cane field. CANNES BRULEES ENTER THE DRAGONS While Emancipation brought freedom for the Africans. there were numerous balls. It was also the custom of the British to impose martial law during the Christmas season. the opportunity was provided for Africans to take over Carnival and embrace it as an expression of their new-found freedom. Historians of the nineteenth century wrote about the balls. and financial structures. however. This gave the Africans some measure of freedom to enjoy themselves and engage in merry making. Africans and coloureds (persons of mixed race) were forbidden by law to participate in street festivities. the period between Christmas and Lent was marked by great merrymaking and feasting by both the French and English. low productivity. the slaves on the surrounding properties were rounded up and marched to the spot. This is not to say that they did not celebrate in their own way in their compounds. Therefore. The Carnival celebrations between 1783 and 1838 were dominated by the white elite. provided the Africans with ideas for some of the earliest masquerades for Carnival. The British were entrenching themselves as the new Colonial power in the West.In this era. The pre-emancipation Carnival saw whites costume themselves as Negues Jadin (Negres Jardin French for Garden Negroes) and mulatresses. The French had lost their dominance in society. along with the pomp and ceremony involved in imposing martial law. In the beginning they celebrated the anniversary of their freedom (August 1) by reenacting scenes of Cannes Brulées. it also brought new concerns for the whites. Military exercises were performed at the start of this martial law. The gangs were followed by the drivers cracking their . During this period also. With the emancipation of the slaves in 1838. Cannes Brulées had its genesis during slavery. These festivities. fetes champetres (country style parties) and house to house visiting engaged in by the white upper class.
They introduced their own musical instruments and dance movements. During this period the whites and coloureds ceased their participation in the street festival. mocking the whites and reenacting scenes of past enslavement. in essence. In the second half of the 19th century Canboulay and stick-fights dominated the Carnival. The chantuelle was supported by a chorus of women. The term Kalenda emerged as a general term for the stick-fight. The stick-fight involved two persons at a time with sticks three and a half to four feet long. They engaged in masking. This was. the militaristic nature of the Kalenda dance and the violence of the stick fighting rituals. They were lead by a lead singer called a chantuelle or chanteuse. a stick dance probably of African origin. The purpose of the singing was to deride the opponent in song.whips and urging them. were frowned upon by the ruling class. thereby bringing an end to an era. the songs and other performances that accompanied it. FROM CANNES BRULEES TO CARNIVAL Africans were unperturbed by the preoccupations of whites and coloureds and proceeded to celebrate with gay abandon. After Emancipation the slaves used this celebration as a symbol of the change in their status. was a popular form of entertainment for male slaves. the poui stick dethroned the sword. This event became known as the Cannes Brulées – Later called Canboulay. after which it was transferred to the pre-Lenten season. The stick fighters were organized into bands representing different social groups. to harvest the cane before it was burnt. The torchbearers. The August 1st celebration lasted for about a decade. dancing. substitute . It is an agile and dexterous dance performed to drums and chants while the dancers engage in mock combat with their sticks (bois). They were followed by the batonnieres or stick fighters. whose duty it was to egg on the fighters. body of supporters. The drum replaced the fiddle. carrying flambeaux. The vigour and vibrancy of the African masquerade. The main activity in the Canboulay was the stick-fight. with cries and blows. who would Karay – take up a defensive position – in the middle of a circle (gayelle) and try to draw blood. then came the king and queen and royal attendants. stick fighting. The Kalenda (Calinda). while the nut and minard gave way to the Kalenda and Bamboula. These activities were all part of the Cannes Brulées and they preceded the street carnival of Monday and Tuesday. The Canboulay usually started from midnight on the Sunday. the beginning of the Africans’ Carnival. led the march. the dance.
matadors and dustmen. that Carnival was embraced with such fervour. . Cannes Brulées marked the beginning of the organized carnival bands. THE JAMETTE CARNIVAL This term was used by the French and English to describe the Carnival celebrations of the African population during the period 1860 to 1896. They all marched to kalenda songs accompanied by horns.stick men. The more repressive the legislation. The view of the whites was that the Carnival activities were immoral. conch shells. it took more than legislation and police batons to stop the Carnival. prostitutes. This ranged from outright condemnation to calls for a total ban. chantuelles. In the aftermath of the riot of 1881 Governor Freeling addressed the people and declared “There shall be no interference with your masquerade. the dances and the sexually explicit masquerades were thought to be totally objectionable. or the underworld . paraders. therefore. They were fully supported in this view by the contemporary press. the more aggressive were the responses. lead band. rattles and skin drums. masquerade and dance but rather a necessary form of cultural expression. They were the stickfighters. sexual permissiveness and dysfunctional families. It comes from the French word “diametre” meaning beneath the diameter of respectability. in Liverpool 310). For the Jamettes. unemployment. By acknowledging the importance of the Carnival to the people he proved that it was much more than just music. obscene and violent. Finally. The “Jamettes” occupied the barrack yards of East Port of Spain. the drumming. disease. it was a necessary release from the struggle that was their daily lives. The British Colonial Government passed several laws banning many of the activities associated with the Carnival including dancing to drums. Throughout this period there was a sustained attack on Carnival in most newspaper editorials.” (qtd. vagrancy. It was used at that time to describe a certain class in the community. The kalenda. prostitution. in 1881 masqueraders carried out a planned resistance against the police who attempted to stop the revelry. carrying lighted torches and “obscene songs and dances”. This was also the era of repressive legislation. However. It is no wonder. They lived in appalling conditions in areas which were rife with all the conditions for social instability: crime. chanteuse.
continued to flourish in rural areas from Tunapuna to Sangre Grande in the east and Freeport to Moruga in central and south Trinidad. This stage presentation attempted to weave together all the main strands of Carnival – dance. The Society gave an annual charity ball on Carnival Monday night. In 1922. They returned after the Carnival was purged of some of its 'coarser' elements. the first major Carnival stage spectacle was presented by the Les Amantes de Jesus Society – a voluntary organization under the leadership of M. The Canboulay and the stickfighters were eventually driven underground. CARNIVAL IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY The first two decades of the twentieth century marked the gradual re-entry of the upper classes into the festival. This annual masquerade ball was organized by the Society of Les Amantes De Jesus. this reprieve was short-lived. . Carnival took on a more organized and European character. Until then. Fancy dress balls were held at the Princes Building opposite to the Queen’s Park Savannah. Joseph Scheult. The people's Canboulay Festival was abolished in 1884 and replaced with a restricted festival which took place at dawn on the Monday preceding Ash Wednesday. when a new venue necessitated a change from a ball to a stage spectacle. Stickfighting. It took another forty years before they rejoined the street masquerade. they restricted their participation to house parties. organizing competitions and sponsoring prizes. The private sector also became involved. This period saw increased participation by the various ethnic groups and classes in society. after having withdrawn from the celebrations for most of the latter half of the nineteenth century. However. however.Unfortunately. J’Ouvert (breaking of the day) became well established. club dances and fancy balls. The following years saw an increase in governmental control over Carnival and pressure from the media to suppress the more “objectionable” aspects of the Carnival. they did not take to the streets but came in their decorated trucks and lorries. This started in the 1920s and continued until 1948. The Carnival Sunday night Canboulay procession of the post Emancipation was replaced by a Dimanche Gras Show. costume and characters. Once again. with the tamboo bamboo replacing the African drums.
with the rise in nationalism. made a stunning appearance on the mas scene. Masqueraders too. From 1957 to 1959. by the name of George Bailey.00 noon. Carnival was completely under the control of the central government. By the mid-1950s. In 1961. In 1956.The Dimanche Gras Show was inaugurated in 1948 as a vignette in the Carnival Queen Show.00 am to 12. By mid-century. The economic aspect of Carnival was evident even then as businessmen responded to the opportunities created for the importation of fine fabrics and accessories for costumes. The CDC (Carnival Development Committee) was therefore set up in 1957 and given the responsibility of managing the carnival celebrations. an innovative bandleader from Woodbrook.000 and. It would be the first . This was the “Golden Age of Carnival”. great personalities and world events as they conceptualized their portrayals winning pieces. This meant more funding. mas became very competitive and a "Band of the Year" award was initiated in 1955 to recognize the effort that was being put into the presentations. copped the Band-of-the-Year title with its presentation of Gulliver's Travels. Port-of-Spain. a breakthrough was scored by steelbands when the Silver Stars Steelband of Newtown. The authenticity of his presentation Back to Africa won Bailey Band-of-the-Year honours that year when he beat back other breathtaking presentations such as Irwin McWilliams' Ten Commandments and Harold Saldenah’s The Glory That Was Greece. the first prize for the Band-of-the-Year was increased from $500 to $1. were aware of the benefits of being crowned King or Queen of Carnival. The extensive research that was reflected in the splendour of Bailey's presentation compelled others to follow suit in later years. Bandleaders and designers sought inspiration from history. more structure and increased participation by all sectors. films. the Band-of-the-Year first place winner was awarded $500. In the early 1950s. It was celebrated on Carnival Sunday night under the auspices of the Carnival Committee and continues to be the premier Pre-Carnival celebration. The festival began to resemble its present day form with Jour Ouvert (later anglicized to J'Ouvert) opening Carnival Monday from 4. at the young age of 21. In 1957. in 1963. Port-of-Spain. participation was on the increase and more than ten bands crossed the Queen's Park Savannah stage with over 300 masqueraders. and changed the face of Carnival forever. Although it has undergone several changes it is still seen as an attempt to create a ” valid theatrical experience out of the mass of Carnival material” (Hill). the government decided that Carnival was too important a national festival to be left in the hands of private enterprise.
The masquerader usually stops male passers-by and accuses them of being the baby's father. By the mid1960s. Other Caribbean islands such as Jamaica. or lifting it up to his forehead. It is made of swansdown with papier-maché face. Ordinary shoes can also be adapted by attaching of long socks. According to Elma Reyes. Often an individual plays one specific persona year after year and is familiar with the traditions associated with that role. Today. decked out in a frilled dress and bonnet. Some of the best known characters are as follows: BABY DOLL The baby doll character was portrayed mainly in the 1930's. Leather shoes with metal claws for toes are normally used. songs or skits in exchange for money. This character was sometimes portrayed by a man who would speak in a high-pitched voice. with the player being able to see through the mouth. St. The bat wings are made from wire and bamboo or cane.and only time in the 20th century that this feat would be accomplished by a steelband. the masquerading population was on the increase. and are covered with the same cloth as the skin-fitting . In her arms she carries a doll which symbolises an illegitimate baby. BATS The bat costume is normally black or brown and fitted tightly over the masquerader's body. Miami and London. Carnival is Trinidad and Tobago’s main tourist attraction and has inspired several Carnivals in cities where citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have settled. She would then demand money to buy milk for the baby. In some cases threats and scare tactics were used to coerce bystanders into giving them cash. TRADITIONAL CARNIVAL CHARACTERS The stories behind the traditional Carnival characters lend meaning and significance to these unusual portrayals. Toronto. nose and eyes. metal claws and a second sole. including New York. The custom is usually passed on orally to family members or other interested persons. but is still seen every year at Ole Mas competitions. some of these portrayals were performed as “mas' for money” (16). The headpiece covers the head entirely. The masquerader portrays a gaily dressed woman. teeth. The masqueraders would offer entertainment in the form of humour.Vincent and Grenada have similar festivities but Trinidad and Tobago Carnival remains the greatest show on earth. bands began to move from historical to fantasy themes and by 1969.
He also performs a dance called Burriquite. saxophones. his movement is waltz-like. This masquerade was derived from both the East Indian culture and the Venezuelan Spaniards. is a feature of devil mas portrayals. which originated in Venezuela. and folds his wings in a series of choreographed movements. Each masquerader wore a homemade papier-mâché mask representing the head of a cow surmounted by a pair of horns. The Bookman carries a pen and a large book in which he writes the names of prospective souls for the devil. imitating those of the bat. BOOKMAN The Bookman. The masquerader enters through a hole at the back of the donkey's neck and carries the reins in his hands. On his head is an oversized head mask which contains small horns and carries a demonic expression. and the masquerader's arms are fastened to them. The body of the donkey is covered in a long satin skirt with a sisal (rope) tail.costume. which dates back to the days of the Canboulay. with constant bowing. The bit and bridle are made of coloured cord. This head is attached to a bamboo frame. BURROKEET Burrokeet. or a richly embroidered gown made of velvet and satin. also referred to as the Gownman or Ruler. The Bookman is the principal character in the devil band. The face of this mask is supposed to mirror the face of the devil himself. During performance. bass and drums playing conventional tunes. the masquerader crawls. COW BAND The Cow Band. consisted of a small group of men dressed in costumes of sacking made from rice bags. These costumes were completely covered with dried plantain leaves. Matching gloves complete the costume. and a flowing cape festooned with biblical scenes. The rider wears a satin skirt and a large matador straw hat and dances in a way that mimmicks the antics of a donkey. Members of the . is constructed from bamboo so as to give the illusion of a dancer riding a small burro or donkey. derived from the Spanish word burroquito (little donkey). in keeping with his status. The other two groups of characters in the devil band are the imps and beasts. with a pleated or fluted bodice. and.The Bookman's costume consists of Tudor-style pants. Musical accompaniment is provided by an orchestra of trumpet. sometimes decorated with flowers. The costume is comprised of a well-decorated donkey's head made from coloured paper. There is a bat dance to go with the costume. thereby creating the illusion that he is its rider. These wings can extend to 12 or 15 feet. flaps. dances on his toes.
with gaudy earrings dangling from them. particularly on Carnival Sunday night. banjo. were descendants of the French planters and persons of some respectability. with picadors and a matador who would challenge the cows. maroon shirts with billowing sleeves tight at the wrist. The women wore yellow skirts. violin and chac-chacs (maracas). teeplay. The liberated slaves recreated these costumes – complete with elaborate fans and hats – in their own fashion. and was later revived by the employees of the abattoir. red or maroon bodices. and became part of the J'Ouvert celebrations. guitar. and dancing to small bandol and cuatro bands. a tight-fitting maroon satin long-sleeved blouse completely covered with a soutache decoration of gold braid. bandol. using materials that were readily available. DAME LORRAINE The Dame Lorraine or Dame Lorine was imitative of the mas played by the 18th and early 19th century French planters. and headties. mainly of the fine wire mesh variety. They also performed the sophisticated dances of the period. The tune which became associated with the Dame Lorraines still exists. An imported wire gauze mask replaced the cow mask of the previous day. Music was provided by such string instruments as the mandolin. and found their way into the downtown Old Yards. The cow character's costume consisted of tight-fitting breeches of yellow velvet or satin. the Cow Band came out in brightly coloured costumes. Male singers and the musicians wore yellow breeches. and is played whenever they appear in groups at cultural events. with gold braid and spangles along the sides and around the bottom at the knees. such as assorted rags and imitation jewellery-type items. cuatro. where they paraded and danced for all and sundry.band would frolic and move through the crowds behaving like real cows. . but emphasizing and exaggerating the physical characteristics. The major Dame Lorraine performers through the years however. those of the women being decorated with gold braid along the forehead and at the sides. cream stockings and alpagatas. on Carnival Tuesday. All wore masks of the wire gauze type. This masquerade became dormant for a few years. In later years. who hid behind masks. A short section of the hairy part of the cow's tail was attached to the seat of the breeches. a sash around the waist and red beret. who would dress up in elegant costumes of the French aristocracy and parade in groups at private homes. gloves. A wellsecured cap-like contraption on the head supported a pair of highly polished cow horns.
there is a shaped cloth panel which is decorated with swansdown. mirrors. The costume consists of short pants or pants cut off at the knee. and wear locks and keys around his waist. from which bells hang. canoes and ribbons. and Molassie is the French patois for Mélasse (Molasses). The Jab Molassie would carry chains. possibly adapted from the Black Indians of the New Orleans Mardi Gras and their characteristic movements. papiermaché masks. These whips can reduce the costumes of other Jab Jabs to threads. A feature of this mas is the language or languages they speak. tar. in a call and response pattern. He may smear his body with grease. The Jab Jab has a thick whip of plaited hemp which he swings and cracks threateningly. Bands of Indians can comprise a warrior chief and his family. More elaborate headpieces are built over bamboo or wire frames. and satin shirt with points of cloth at the waist. These comprise Red Indians (Warahoons) and Blue Indians. There are also Black Indians or African Indians. feather work. which have links with the indigenous peoples of Venezuela. mud or coloured dyes (red. a group of chiefs. Stockings and alpagatas are worn on the feet. in its simplest form. or a group of warriors. The costume can come in alternating colours and be divided into front and back panels. The headpiece then becomes so heavy. The Fancy Indian is the most popular variety of Indian mas. This. The Jab Molassie "wines" or gyrates to a rhythmic beat that is played on tins or pans by his . and carry a pitch fork. Other kinds of Indians that are disappearing are generally known as Wild Indians. totem poles. rhinestones and mirrors. The wearer decides how expensive or expansive he wants this costume to be. green or blue). and more feathers making tails down the back. It is pretty devil mas. it needs to be supported by a structure that covers the masquerader's entire body.FANCY INDIANS This mas is based on the indigeneous people of North America. beads. The headpiece. while the headdress consists of a hood with stuffed cloth horns. On the chest. and a mask and horns. is richly worked with ostrich plumes. The Jab Molassie is one of several varieties of devil mas played in Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. JAB JAB The name of this mas is derived from the French patois for "Diable Diable". the masquerader's wigwam. The costume consists of a Kandal or satin knickers. is worn with feathers sticking up. JAB MOLASSIE Jab is the French patois for Diable (Devil).
striped trousers. sword or gun – and a wooden money box in the shape of a coffin. and a black. Their costume consists of a scissors tail coat. It was believed that the height of the stilts was associated with the ability to foresee evil faster than ordinary men. MINSTRELS Black and white minstrels are based on the American minstrel shows popular around the turn of the century in which white singers painted their faces black. His costume consists of a brightly coloured skirt or pants.imps. broad-brimmed. They accompany themselves on the guitar and the rattling bones played between the hands. In his hand he carries a weapon –either a dagger. Both his costume and his speech are distinctive. coming straight out of West African tradition. influenced by the American cowboy tradition. Moko is a “diviner” in the Congo language. but have become blurred over time. The stilt walker plays on stilts 10 to 12 feet high. others hold his chain. and the speech patterns and vocabulary are imitative of his former master. One or two minstrel bands still remain. seemingly restraining him as he pulls against them in his wild dance. He brags about his great ancestry. The differences among the various forms of devil mas were once distinct. It is an authentic African masquerade mounted on sticks. The local minstrels are black persons who perform with their faces painted white. MOKO JUMBIE Moko is a derivation of the god "Moko". and boastful. Also painted on the cape is his sobriquet. This "Robber Talk" is derived from the tradition of the African Griot or storyteller. He wears a black satin shirt. He would dance through the streets all day. The term "jumbie" or ghost was added by the freed slaves. pantaloons. tall straw hat and gloves. His "Robber Talk" is extravagant and egocentric. fringed hat on which a coffin is often superimposed. They may sometimes have a dance routine. and collect . MIDNIGHT ROBBER The Midnight Robber is one of the most beloved characters in traditional Carnival. entertaining audiences with popular old American songs such as Swanee River and Who's Sorry Now. flowing cape on which the skull and cross bones are painted. He also wears a huge black. While some of his imps supply the music. The Moko Jumbie was felt to be a protector of the village. This mas is well-known throughout the Caribbean. jacket and elaborate hat. fearlessness and invincibility. strength. He carries a whistle which he blows to punctuate his tales of valour. exploits.
The planter class on the other hand. He was also a feared fighter with a whip or bull pistle. The mask provides anonymity for someone who delights in making barbed comments on "respectable" members of the community. The Pierrot Grenade is egotistical and retains the scholarly mien. which is now extinct. flute and triangle. and a bright. are attached. This costume consists of tight-fitting satin or khaki breeches reaching to just above the knee where willows are hung. is a satire on the richer and more respectable Pierrot. Carnival was observed mainly by the upper classes . PIERROT GRENADE The Pierrot Grenade is a descendant of the Pierrot – a finely dressed masquerader and deeply learned scholar. but as a satirical portrayal of the planter trying to imitate them. but instead of the elegant costume. He may wear a hat or a coloured head tie on his head. As with all carnival costumes during this period. the Pierrot Grenade. During that period. they were compelled to stay within their own stratum of society and not presume to rub shoulders with the aristocracy. . After emancipation. The fol is decorated with tiny mirrors and rhinestones. the masquerader covered his face with a mask. goes back to the pre-emancipation era. and small boxes that rattle. small tins containing pebbles. His gown consists of crocus bag (burlap). plain coloured shirt with a "fol" or heart-shaped panel of contrasting colour sewn on the chest and bordered with swansdown. His dance was similar to a jig. While the slaves and free coloureds were not forbidden from celebrating Carnival. and his face is covered with a grotesque mask. His descendant. One of their favourite disguises was that of the Negue Jadin (Negre Jardin – French for garden slave). who displayed his erudition by spelling polysyllabic words and quoting passages from Shakespeare. NEGUE JADIN This character. on which strips of coloured cloth. often imitated the dress and customs of their slaves during the carnival celebrations. the former slaves adopted the Negue Jadin character in their carnival celebrations. and he was often accompanied by a drum. and was followed by a band of female supporters who fought on his behalf against other Pierrot groups. he wears rags.money from people on the upper floors and balconies.
and black shoes. There are epaulettes on each shoulder. The King Sailor's costume consists of white drill or corduroy pants and shirt with a sailor collar. The sailor outfit is decorated with ribbons. being lightweight and inexpensive. such as the Bote. including Free French Sailor. medals. decorated and painted to look like birds. animals or plants. . cords. There are several variations on the sailor mas. King Sailor. Skip Jack and the Camel Walk. Pachanga. There are several dances to go along with the sailor mas portrayal. It is one of the more popular costumes. and Fancy Sailor to name a few. The Fancy Sailor was an off-shoot of the King Sailor. Rock de Boat.SAILOR MAS This character was introduced in the 1880s when British. braiding. bell-bottomed black melton pants. The costume of the Free French sailor consists of a black beret with the name of the ship on the rim of the beret. a tight-fitting short sleeve bow neck jersey with horizontal blue and white stripes. Crab. swansdown and other embellishments to match the headpieces. a crown on the masquerader's head. Marrico. a red sash across the chest. French and American naval ships came to Trinidad. The Fancy Sailor costume consists of papiermâché headpieces. long. medals and war ribbons on the left side of the chest and a walking stick in his hand.
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