Impact on Caribbean culture
The British government’s attempt to ban Canboulay in 1881 resulted in open riots between Afro-Creole revelers and police, a turn of events that, not surprisingly, caused deep resentment within Trinidadian society toward the government’s use of power.
In 1883, drumming was banned in an attempt to clean it up. This injunction came after a disturbance in the 1881 carnival, known as the Canboulay Riots.
Canboulays were processions during carnival that commemorated the harvesting of burnt cane fields during slavery. It was a labour-intensive process, involving forced marches of slaves from
neighboring plantations in order to more efficiently harvest the cane. The open resistance of Afro-Creole revelers, of course, redoubled concerns among government officials over this potential threat to public order and led to an alternative strategy – the banning of drumming – in 1883.
Stick-fighting itself was banned in 1884. A substitute for the drums and sticks, called Tamboo Bamboo, was introduced in the 1890s. A Tamboo Bamboo band is a percussion band used to accompany calypso songs during Carnival time.
Tamboo bamboo bands consist of three different instruments, each cut from bamboo: boom, foulé, and cutter. The boom serves as the bass instrument, is usually about five feet long, and is played by stamping it on the ground. The foulé, which is a higher-pitched instrument, consists of two pieces of bamboo, each about a foot long, and is played by striking these pieces end to end.
The cutter, which is the highest- pitched instrument in the ensemble, is made from a thinner piece of bamboo (of varying length) and is struck with a stick. These three types of instruments combined to beat out rhythms that accompanied the chantwells and were a staple of carnival celebrations for many years (they were gradually rendered obsolete by the steelband).
After the riots, the Carnival became more restrained. The bottle-and-spoon joined drums as percussion instruments. In the 1930s, steel pans became widely used and this music was popularised throughout the world when the US Navy set up a base in Trinidad and US sailors took the music of the “panmen” to the US and hence throughout the world. Steel pan music remains an integral part of Canboulay music
The chantwell became a calypsonian in the 1920s and calypso became widely popular throughout Trinidad and the Caribbean in the 1930s. During the 1960s, calypso was merged with Indian music and later soul and funk to become soca.
It must be remembered that were it not for the valiant efforts of the stick fighters of 1881, we would not have our carnival, the greatest show on earth. The Canboulay Riots are therefore an important part of the history of Trinidad and Tobago remembered every year through the play ‘Kambule’.
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