Piccadilly Street, Port-of-Spain, was filled with hundreds of people waiting to see the annual Canboulay re-enactment hosted by the National Carnival Commission (NCC) early yesterday morning.The crowd, which chairman of the Uptown Carnival Improvement Committee (UCIC) Vijay Ramlal estimated to be about 2,000 was the largest crowd the event has drawn in its 14 years.
The street was dark except for the lights provided by the NCC and the light emanating from the hands of actors holding flambeausAt almost exactly 5 am, the early morning silence was pierced by the beating of drums and the shuffling of feet as actors made their way to the centre of the street in tattered clothing, with sticks in hands.
While these actors interacted with each other, clearly angry with the local authorities, the French bourgeoisie attended the Governor's ball on a platform a few feet away, aware of the feelings of the masses but ignoring them all the same.The performance moved forward as several individual Port-of-Spain residents, incited the others to wage a war, their issue being the refusal of the police and the Governor to allow their stickfighting traditions in their celebration of Carnival.
The play unfolded, telling the story of the violent clash with the police that followed as well as the negotiations with then Governor Sanford Freeling.The crowd responded with enthusiastic applause, a few were spotted with tears in their eyes following the emotional piece of street theatre.
Young children sat on the road, beneath metal barricades, unable to tear their eyes away as stickfighters brandished their wooden weapons to use against the local law enforcement.When the performance ended, the previously subdued crowd came alive as a procession of traditional Carnival characters made its way across the street, passing stands erected by the NCC.
Baby dolls demanded money from several "child fathers" thrusting infant dolls at men and accusing them of fathering their children, dame lorraines danced across the street, shaking exaggerated body parts while twirling delicate looking parasols.Moko Jumbies followed, dancing and doing tricks with their stilts forcing the crowds eyes to the sky as they playfully jumped and waved to the sound of Super Blue's Fantastic Friday.
These were followed by whip-weilding jab jabs and blue devilsOne blue devil attempted to give a dollar back to a child but the child refused, asking the blue-painted young man to leave.Ramlal said in an interview afterwards that this year provided the biggest crowd the re-enactment had gained since its beginning.He said even though Canboulay had not been advertised, the annual re-enactment drew the largest crowd ever.
He said it was unfortunate there was not enough accommodation for the crowd."This area behind the bridge is where Carnival in Trinidad started and now it's all over the world."Ramlal said the committee was appealing to the NCC and the Tourism Development Company to address the issue of better facilities.This year's re-enactment featured authentic stickfighting by the Bois Academy, dance by Michael Mortley and capoeira by Sekhet Amunwah..
In post-emancipation Trinidad the Carnival celebrations of the people often included violent clashes between stickfighters.In 1880 Captain Arthur Baker set out to end aspects of the celebrations by the residents of Port-of-Spain, particularly stickfighting and the carrying of torches as he felt it was a threat to public order.
In 1881 stickfighters who had previously fought against each other, united to do battle against the police in an effort to defend their traditions.The police and the stickfighters fought and the stickfighter gained victory in the skirmish.Then Governor of the island, Sanford Freeling, then confined the police officers to their barracks in an attempt to douse the high emotions and resentment of the people.
The people were allowed to have their celebrations with the promise that violent disturbances would be curtailed.