In 1881, stick-fighters and people from the communities in an around Port of Spain confronted the British militia to ensure the continuation of Carnival celebrations.
The Eintou Springer play 'Kambule' documents and commemorates this monumental achievement by ordinary citizens against the colonial administration of the time.
The reenactment of the Kambule riots originally took place promptly at 5am on Carnival Friday morning, in front of site of original struggles against the British, the All Stars Pan Yard on Duke St. Port of Spain. Today, the crowds are too large, so the commemoration of this victory has been shifted just further East to the Piccadilly Greens, or 'Behind the Bridge' as it is called.
This staging of the play is spearheaded by the Regional Carnival Committee of the National Carnival Commission with support from the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism.
The reenactment began several years ago by cultural activist John Cupid and was kept alive with the involvement of Norvan Fullerton and Tony Hall. In 2004, the reenactment was formally scripted by playwright and poet laureate Eintou Pearl Springer and since then the commemoration has grown in significance locally and internationally. It may be said that 'Kambule' the play now unofficially begins the Carnival celebrations.
The story reminds us of the roots and history of Carnival and the bitter struggle that masqueraders waged in defense of their right to cultural expression.
The British colonial administration, through its police chief Captain Baker had determined to stamp out the jammette carnival of Port of Spain’s working classes.
After a vicious attack on the masqueraders in 1880, communities across the city put their differences aside and planned to deal with Baker and his men.
In the forefront were the stick fighters, the warriors of the mas. Their historic defeat of the Baker resulted in a commission of Enquiry and the right of the people to their celebrations.
At 5 am on Carnival Friday morning, with the very hills that were the cradle of the Carnival as a backdrop, East Dry River come alive to the sound of drums, the feared biscuit tins of the Blue Devils, the Moko Jumbie and all the traditional masquerades which still exist. It is an event not to be missed. Oh, and be on time. By 4am most seats are filled!
My play Kambule pays tribute to our warrior ancestors of The Mas and brings their achievements to the attention of the entire society. The Carnival that we now take for granted was fought for by the former enslaved of the barrack yards, not only in Port of Spain but also in the East and South of the island. The riots of 1881 in Port of Spain were however the most significant.
In the light of a school curriculum that is largely irrelevant to the selfhood of our African youth; in the light of the bombardment of all our youth with alien images and cultures, Kambule says to our young people that you have much to claim and you have much of which you can be proud!
Kambule reminds us that the African created a great deal despite enslavement. In the gayelle of existence, those ancestors fought inch by contested inch to clear a space for the manifestations of their culture; those manifestations whether remembered or forged in the crucible of the
environment to which they had been forcibly transported.
Let us remember, as we face renewed assaults on The Mas in the form of bikini and beads and the growing trend towards the importation of costumes, that there is much to defend. Cultural resistance should not be a phenomenon of the past. The play reminds us that theatre and the arts have a seminal role to play in rekindling ancestral
memory and creating the positive self-image necessary both to deal with the now and to prepare ourselves for the challenges of the future.
I have dedicated this play to the pioneering work and research of Dr. Hollis Liverpool, the Mighty Chalkdust. It is just one of the offerings of my lifelong commitment to promoting and protecting the culture of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. My work now finds its expression
through my family company Idakeda Group Ltd.
I hope that this production will stimulate the interest of the powers that be to making Kambule
available to our youth throughout Trinidad and Tobago.