Feet shuffled on the asphalt of Coffee Street, San Fernando, yesterday as flambeaux flickered, sticks cracked and drummers signalled the pre-dawn enactment of the bloody Canboulay Riots of 1881.
The riots which occurred in February 1881 in Port-of-Spain, San Fernando and Princes Town, shaped the evolution of Trinidad's Carnival in the 18th century.
More than 100 performers from the Centre of Creative Arts, Indian Walk Cultural Performers, Cap-de-ville Folk Performers, Caratal Youth Kreation, Embaccadere Travellers, Neptune School of Drums, Malick Folk Performers and the Pacific Luteran College, based in the United States, took part in the re-enactment which cost Government $175,000. The street theatre attracted hundreds of people who gathered along Coffee Street and Crosby Lane to view the historic event. Beating sticks on the ground, the Canboulay connoisseurs chanted: "Five, Five, Five in the Morning," to reflect their toils of plantation life. With lighted flambeaux they ramajayed on the streets, taunting the white plantation owners who impregnated former female slaves in the colony. The haunting refrains of "Mama We is People Too," echoed amidst the stillness of dawn. The faces of the Canboulay connoisseurs reflected the agony of the post slavery days, when the Africans struggled to escape the entrapments of plantation life. Song duels were belted out to the beat of stickfights as the crowds gathered around, eager to witness the show which had come to South Trinidad for the first time. Lead characters Sterling Kent gave a chronological account of the riot which erupted as British authorities tried to ban street Carnival. The San Fernando street show became even more interesting when a contingent from the Pacific Luteran College, dressed as the British militia, arrived and clashed with the former slaves. They soon fled, horses and all. Captain Arthur Baker, who was the head of Trinidad's police force in the early 1880s, sped away as the former slaves successfully defended their right to Carnival.
Next came Governor Sir Sanford Freeling who was played by a foreign university student. Governor Freeling tried to restore order by allowing the former slaves two days to amuse themselves. The riots ended in a victorious tone, shortly after 6.15 am. Culture Minister Marlene Mc Donald said the Canboulay enactment was part of T&T's annual Carnival celebrations. She said the riots demonstrated the struggles of the former slaves to preserve their culture of Carnival. "This celebration pays tribute to our ancestors and keeps alive the seed which gave birth to Carnival.
"Without the resilience of our ancestors we would not have had the historical progress of the Canboulay Riots which led to our contemporary Carnival," Mc Donald said. Meanwhile, Junior Culture Minister Junia Ragrello said Canboulay was an integral part of Carnival in North Trinidad. He looked forward to celebrating the festivity in San Fernando again next year.