The African has contributed much to the rich multicultural heritage of Trinidad and Tobago. It is a contribution of which their descendants can be justly proud; but which, unfortunately, is neither well known nor highlighted.
The history of the African in Trinidad is documented as far back as 1606, when 400 Africans were brought here, as enslaved. The majority of Africans were brought with planters from the French speaking countries of the region. This was as part of a settlement scheme of 1783, known as the Cedula of Population. The Africans in Trinidad and Tobago fought ceaselessly against enslavement. After they finally won their freedom in 1838, some 6,000 more came as indentured servants.
Carnival is one of the areas of our culture to which Africans have significantly contributed. Indeed, our carnival, now regarded as the greatest show on earth, was birthed in the East Dry River of Port of Spain.
From Canboulay to Kambule
The Canboulay riots were uprisings by the descendants of freed slaves in Trinidad and Tobago 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 in the southern cities of San Fernando and Princes Town in February 1884 causing loss of life. The riots are still commemorated today and Canboulay 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.
During the days of enslavement, there were frequent fires in the plantations. When these fires occurred (most likely, they had been set by the Africans themselves), the Africans were herded into gangs and taken in procession into the cane fields, flambeaux in hand, to put out the fires. After emancipation, this ritual of procession, flambeaux in hand was re-enacted, as part of emancipation celebration; a symbolic act of remembrance and celebration.
It was felt that the name Canboulay, had its genesis in the French, cannes brulees, burnt cane. However, subsequent research, has guided us to the kikongo word for procession, KAMBULE. As such, the playwright changed the name of her play to reflect this word.
Visit this space and our social media sites for more about ‘Kambule’.
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