Every year, Carnival lovers the world over flock to Trinidad to indulge in revelry infused with an explosion of colourful costumes, wanton revelry, soca and calypso.
While most mas fanatics are familiar with the party side of Carnival, it’s easy to overlook the multi-layered elements of the season as well as what its origins entail.
Indeed, present-day Carnival is a celebration of island pride and freedom of expression but it’s important to remember that the festivities are deeply rooted in rebellion and the re-enactment of Canboulay Riots stands as an artistic ode to our revolutionary past.
Carnival during post-Emancipation held a different meaning than its celebrations during enslavement. In the late 18th and early 19th century, the planter class and free coloureds hosted masquerade balls symbolising a “farewell to the flesh” ahead of the Catholic Lenten season. These masquerade celebrations included dressing up and mimicking each other as a form of entertainment. Following the end of slavery, however, ‘mas’ celebrations converged into that of defiance. As scholar JD Elder noted, “Canboulay is basically a ceremony symbolising cane-burning that Africans of Trinidad devised to celebrate their ‘freedom from slavery’ in 1838.”
Published Mar 02, 2020
‘I knew nothing about Kambule. But they (Idakeda) came to my school as a part of their social outreach and engagement, and during my performance in one of our school’s presentations, they saw me and said “We want you to be a part of our performance family.” I started with them when I was twelve years old. I was shocked and a little confused when I first entered the space and stayed to myself. I was unsure because I didn’t know anything about this, but they didn’t allow me to stay in the corner and pulled me centre stage.’
Read the full interview with Idakeda troupe member Kamaya Francis here:
It’s been just over three months since Eintou Springer’s annual re-enactment of the Kambule Riots at Picadilly Greens in Port of Spain, Trinidad. It’s the kind of production that leaves you questioning your true purpose in life. Even as I type this piece, I haven’t fully understood why Kambule has affected me in the way that it did. I decided to write about it to help bring about clarity.
Kambule captures a critical chapter in our history – the birth of our nation’s greatest cultural spectacle, Carnival. The hypnotic sea of colour, a blend of traditional, ingenious and often daring mas, the unique musical tapestry that is pan, calypso, extempo, soca and its Indo-Trinidadian cousin chutney-soca (and all the heated analysis about lyrics, a song’s Road March-worthiness), the beauty of J’Ouvert’s muddiness, the hundreds of fêtes (parties) that relieve us from life’s inhibitions. The perfect synonym for ‘bliss’.
Yet amid this chaotic revelry, there is the navel string that is perhaps often sidelined. In 1881 our African ancestors fought to have their own masquerade validated by the ever classist British empire. Kambule was originally a procession held during Carnivals of the time. It commemorated the harvesting of burnt canes (cannes brulées) during slavery. Kalinda. Chantwells. Drumming. Dance. All powerful expressions that must be remembered amidst the blinding glitter of the modern festival. Expressions deemed ‘barbaric’ in the eyes of the then ruling British. Captain Arthur Baker, then head of the country’s police force, embodied the Monarch’s derision. He was determined to cease this ‘threat’ to public order.
Captain Baker is the most hated man at Picadilly Greens…
Growing up in a conservative community in Central Trinidad, I never understood the origins of Carnival and why it occupied such a vast space in our nation’s consciousness. Carnival was a distant, ‘uncultured euphoria’ that wasn’t for us. You saw it, heard about it, but never indulged in it. Witnessing Kambule has not only deepened my understanding of the festival; it reiterated how ‘the system’ continued to violate the African civilization after Emancipation. However, this violation was met with unmatched resilience. There is fiercely guarded pride in one’s ancestry. There is victory against all odds.
Read the full review here:
Published April 24, 2020
Stories heal and unify in times of trouble. A new online series featuring TT poet and storyteller Eintou Springer along with other storytellers celebrates this truth during April. The first instalment, How Handwashing Came into the World, aired on Sunday on the poet’s Facebook page and can be found there.
The initiative is being carried out worldwide by members of an international organisation of traditional storytellers called the International Ananse Movement (IAM) convened by Dr Amina Blackwood Meeks of Ntukuma Jamaica, hosts of the Ananse Sound Splash, an international storytelling festival and conference. Ambassadors include Springer, Jan Blake and Michael Kerins from Europe, Jeeva Raghunath from India and Nomsa Adlalose from South Africa.
Blackwood Meeks said IAM is motivated by a desire to give recognition and visibility to indigenous and original cultural forms.
“It takes its name from the Spider God of Wisdom of the Akan people of Ghana, who has survived in stories across many areas of the African diaspora. With Ananse as the symbol of resistance and retention, IAM is inclusive of all cultural forms that have survived in stories, songs, chants and in our unique drum rhythms on the fringes of mainstream consciousness.
“The Stories that Heal and Unify project represents the commitment of storytellers to assist people to understand and cope with the current crisis brought on by covid19 by sharing stories that highlight the values by which we have lived in the past as well as stories that demonstrate our capacity to survive. Our spelling of Ananse is in keeping with the spelling used among the Akan people who gave us Ananse and this reclamation of the name is important to reparation.”
Springer said following a conversation with her daughter Atillah Springer about how to use storytelling to help people during this time, Atillah suggested they reach out to Blackwood Meeks, who was the convener of the IAM.
Springer said the storytellers will tell the same stories at the same time each Sunday in April, in their native language and storytelling traditions. In the story, Ananse, the Spider God of Wisdom of the Akan people of Ghana, decides to cook himself a meal. One of the animals often found in the Ananse stories, Turtle, decides he wants some food, but Ananse says he can only have some if his hands are washed. The ending would come as no surprise to those familiar to Ananse stories.
PAULA LINDO T&T Newsday, Published Sa
Fighting against bullying is the focus of Zante’s 2020 Children’s Carnival Band.
The band, billed as Mas with a Heart, will feature a dramatic presentation titled Inaru’s Gift.
The costumes in the band each relate to a story, written by Zante director Dara Healey.
Designer Nia Thompson said the story starts with the Blue Devils bullying the protagonists, children dressed in drab ponchos with harmful words and sayings on them.
“They are so sad that they drown themselves in the Ocean, and it’s a sad beginning because we talk about how bullying can lead to self-harm and suicide.
The Fancy Sailors go to sea to look for them but don’t find them, and they wash up on shore somewhere in the past, where hummingbirds and butterflies take them into the magical forest.
“The take on the forest costume, which takes the shape of a Fancy Indian, was a combination of our First Peoples, so it says their spirits never really left us and they’ve become part of the forest now. It’s in the forest that Inaru gives them the gift of self-confidence.
“After that, they feel brave enough to enter the barrack yard with all the other traditional characters, the Midnight Robber, the Pierrot Grenade and the Dame Lorraine to celebrate, and after they have their jump, they return glorious in their regalia.
The costumes are well-sewn and constructed, as we feel that children’s mas tends to be pieced together and look like a DIY project, so we’re trying not to have that look.”
Thompson, along with Anthony Dinally and Donna Charles-Gittens, form the design team behind the mas band. Thompson and Charles- Gittens met Healey through the Mentoring By the Masters programme taught by Eintou Springer, and were drawn into the project from there, while Dinally, a recent UTT fashion school graduate, leapt at the opportunity when it was offered to him. “I was enthused about the project because Zante focuses a lot on social issues, which is part of my aesthetic, especially with the environment, and Zante has incorporated a lot of recycled materials like cardboard and plastic bottles, into the backpacks and headpieces of the costumes.”
Healey said the decision to talk about bullying was influenced by her research into the topic and her experiences with her own children. “I’ve been reading reports about children being bullied in schools for various things. I find that there’s a lot of quiet acceptance by parents when their children are damaged and I’m not seeing enough outrage and activism where that is concerned. I’m not seeing enough forceful action being taken by the ministry and so on.
It’s something that concerns me a great deal, because I think it is symptomatic also of the violence that is becoming so prevalent in our society. So because the work that we do is arts and culturedriven, it was the best way to try and deal with it. We just want to make a public statement about the fact that bullying needs to stop and the various elements in society have to devise mechanisms and take positions that would prevent our children from being harmed.
School is supposed to be a place where you enjoy learning, where you make friends, it’s not supposed to be a place where you’re afraid, and of course now we have the added element of online bullying, and so we need to do better at protecting our children.”
Healey said the band can be described as the evolution of children’s mas. “From what I can observe, I don’t see that there’s much of the element of storytelling in children’s mas.
The idea of having a story brings the mas alive, according to a teacher we presented the story to. It’s beyond having one theme, it is having a whole storyline with protagonists, a plot, settings, drama, conflict and resolution, and storytelling is a teaching tool that I don’t think we use often enough in school. For us, this is an evolution where we are introducing the component of telling stories, and this is an original story, created specifically for the band, and that originality is something we want to continue exploring, and the use of these art forms that are so dear to a lot of the indigenous cultures that we have in T&T.
“For me the band is the beginning, it doesn’t end with Carnival, because we want to find ways to continue to focus on that theme throughout the year. We haven’t worked out yet how but we want to focus on that and we’re willing to speak with any organisations that are doing something proactive about this whole issue of bullying to see how we can collaborate towards making a deeper intervention.”
Early each Carnival Friday morning, before dawn breaks, crowds assemble at Piccadilly Greens in east Port of Spain for a re-enactment of a key event in the history of Trinidad — and of Carnival itself. Attillah Springer gives an intimate account of Kambule, when the spirits of the ancestors are invoked in a ritual of memory, story, song, and resistance
Carnival Friday morning, moments before Kambule starts, I am looking for a dog. It is not an active search, rather a hope in the back of my mind that a dog will turn up again, like one has been turning up the past few years.
Sometimes I’m busy running back and forth between the tents that form the makeshift backstage area, stopping maybe to talk to a photographer, a member of the public, a friend who has come there straight from whatever fete they have been wining at since early Thursday night. Sometimes I am up in the stands talking with the sound engineer, warning them to get the music cues right.
And then I see it. The dog is always unbothered by the crowds, running about, sniffing the drums, the flambeaux set in the corners. The dog runs up and down Piccadilly, the staging area for the play Kambule that my family company Idakeda has been staging every Carnival Friday for more than a decade.
You could say that Trinidad has lots of stray dogs, and it’s simply a coincidence that this dog has sauntered this way.
I prefer to believe that the dog, being one of the symbols of the Orisa Ogun — the hunter, father of metal and the steel pan, remover of obstacles — is an unscripted part of the ritual re-enactment of the 1881 Canboulay Riots. It fits a narrative we are trying to reconstruct: that this community at the foot of Laventille, once known as Yoruba Village, is the spiritual source of another version of Carnival. Not the one we know to be valuable and marketable and moneymaking, not the one that is shininess and feathers, package-deal mas and rope security, that is all-inclusive and weewee trucks and the fodder for slick American reality TV.
Instead, this Behind the Bridge Carnival sees Trinidad as a place of magical coincidences, a nonlinear understanding of time, unintended rituals, jumbies that are both moko and micro, the ability to move between sacred and scandalous with ease.
The journey to Carnival Friday morning is long and sweaty and challenging. It starts sometimes on a Saturday in January in the Hall of St George’s, where my mother Eintou once rehearsed plays with her theatre mentor Slade Hopkinson. It starts with women turning up from some far place with a ten-year-old child, asking please if the child can be part of the play. The child is always beautiful, always black enough to be teased at school. The child does not know the date of Emancipation. When you see that child dance kalinda on Carnival Friday morning, you will see no trace of the shyness and the self-doubt that once made his or her shoulders droop.
There are always more women than men. The women are strong in ways they do not know, and at least one or two have lived the life of or know one of these jammette women they play — formidable women from beyond the diamètre, the East Dry River that historically divides Port of Spain geographically and socially — terrified of being vulnerable, searching for acceptance and visibility.
Yes, we know the idea that Canboulay is a French Creole version of cannes brulées — the burning of the canes. But we also know that the scholarship of historian Maureen Warner-Lewis cites kambule as a Kikongo word meaning “procession.” We reflect on the conflation of the two terms: the idea of the burned cane as a symbol of plantation life and death, and the idea of the early morning procession that became J’Ouvert, in which the ex-enslaved would recount the horrors of that time, while protesting against current injustices. And still in the midst of all that shrieking pain and profanity, they would find time for ritual.
There is always the moment when the cast knows this is not just a play. It is usually when the drums are fast and loud. When the chantwell is singing a stickfight lavway that segues into a chant for the Orishas. In that moment, the power will take hold of someone and ride them to tears, and when they come back to themselves, not remembering the way they danced, it is time to remind the cast again that this is really a ritual for the Carnival to not get totally lost to the shininess.
The Babalawo, the Yoruba priest, says this is ancestral work: you are talking about them, re-living their lives, they will come to remind you that they are real.
Carnival Friday morning comes faster than we expect. We arrive around 2 am to find that the stands are already full of bleary-eyed audience members, the ones who are operating solely on bad-mind, their faces crumpled by a few weeks’ worth of long nights in panyards and mas camps and kaiso tents. They guard their seats in the bleachers jealously — the space can hold no more than three thousand people. It is full long before we begin.
Things get lost and found again on Carnival Friday morning: a cast member, a conch shell, a piece of costume.
The air is cool and still, and I imagine that the late, great John Cupid, who first had the idea to do a Canboulay Riots re-enactment, is watching us from up in a tree, like the boy whose eyewitness account of the fight on a morning cool like this in February 1881 was documented by J.D. Elder.
The people Behind the Bridge are gracious, accommodating, gentle with us in these darkest hours before dawn. The drummers and the drinkers and the mas players and the pan men are there at the snackette, drinking rum and sweet coffee, recalling their glory days.
If you come to Kambule on Carnival Friday morning, know that you are part of a community ritual that makes way for the Carnival to happen. If you are there in the audience, sing the songs with us, lend your voice so that it will echo in those old wooden houses long after we have all left this plane.
And if you see the dog, let it pass: it is part of the magic of the morning.
STORYTELLING RETURNS TO CHLDREN’S MAS WITH
ZANTE CARNIVAL BAND
Story telling has returned to children’s mas with the new Zanté Carnival Band and their 2020 presentation Inaru’s Gift. A good story for children must have magic, mystery and teach lessons and there is all of this in Inaru’s Gift. Additionally, in keeping with the core values of their organisation, the band will address the critical social issues of bullying and mental health. This is in light of statistics which show that a growing number of children and young people are being affected by mental illnesses from developmental disorders to depression and suicide.
Inaru’s Gift is geared for children 6 to 12 years old. Costumes include traditional characters such as Pierrot, Dame Lorraine and Sailors, and there are also depictions of the forest, ocean, and butterflies – all part of the magical story. The concept centres around two young Traditional Carnival Characters who are relentlessly bullied. One day after a terrible incident, they flee to the ocean to drown their sorrows and never return to their home, the Barrack Yard. Fortunately, their lives are saved by a series of magical events and a loving ancestor of the Traditional Mas. Her name? Inaru.
The carnival band evolved from the Zanté Carnival and Theatre Arts vacation camp which focuses on Traditional Carnival and Theatre arts. At the camp, the children learn to stilt walk, drum, wire bend and have story telling sessions, all culminating in a grand production for parents and supporters. An important feature of the Zanté brand is that it provides opportunities for children from vulnerable communities to participate in its programmes. This is achieved through sponsorship and donations from concerned citizens. For instance, this year the House of Angostura, in keeping with its on-going commitment to community and cultural initiatives has pledged its support through its Angostura LLB brand for children to participate in Inaru’s Gift.
The band and the story are the brainchild of Dara E. Healy, Band Leader and Creative Director. Dara is Founder of the Idakeda Group and the ngo Indigenous Creative Arts Network, ICAN; Dr. Eintou Springer is the main Creative Force. Inaru’s Gift has the involvement of a skilled, experienced and committed team. These include co-ordinator Donna Gittens-Charles, with 30 years of designing and producing children’s mas bands; Nia Thompson, also a producer of children’s mas and skilled in the carnival arts and project manager Hugh Thomas with over 16 years of experience. The exciting designs are the work of young designer Anthony Dinally with input by the creative team.
More information about Inaru’s Gift is available online at Zanté Carnival and Theatre Arts Connection on Facebook and Instagram at zantecamp. Interested persons may also contact 742 0535, 366 7558 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We would like to introduce you to the launch of our new Kiddies Carnival presentation for 2020 – Inaru’s Gift – Traditional Mas Reimagined. We had a fabulous launch and look forward to you registering with us. Our presentation will focus around a touching story of personal struggle and TRIUMPH. Kids 6-12 register early for $100 OFF and ask about our DISCOUNTS and payment plans. Stay tuned for more!