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Camboulay celebrates Mighty Chalkdust

By Leiselle Maraj Saturday, March 1 2014

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CAMBOULAY CLASH: Colonial British police and ex-slaves clash ina re-enactment of the Camboulay Riots of 1881 when attempts weremade to ban Carnival. ...
CAMBOULAY CLASH: Colonial British police and ex-slaves clash ina re-enactment of the Camboulay Riots of 1881 when attempts weremade to ban Carnival. ...

Playwright Pearl Eintou Springer dedicated this year’s Camboulay Riots re-enactment to calypsonian Dr Hollis Liverpool (Chalkdust).

Springer made the announcement after “Kambule, The Street Pageant” was presented yesterday morning at Piccadilly Greens, Port-of-Spain. She said many may not know but Liverpool is also a historian and wrote one of the most important books based on Trinidad and Tobago’s history. The book, Rituals of Power and Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago”, she said should be made part of the national school syllabus.

Flambeaux and flames lit up Piccadilly Greens during the wee hours of yesterday morning when Carnival 2014 officially got underway with the re-enactment of the historic 1881 Camboulay Riots that decided the future of Mas in Trinidad and Tobago.

Thousands gathered at the birthplace of Carnival to witness the dramatic presentation that included a cast of local actors, members of the Centre for Creative and Festival Arts, University of the West Indies, Belmont Freetown Cultural Arts and Folk Performing Company, the St James Youth Club, the Chibale Drumming Ensemble, Junior Noel and Drummers and Master Drummer, Xavier Phillips.

Sterling Kent, who played Pierrot number two, summed up the reason for the riots in 1881 and the subsequent re-enactments created by different playwrights and directors. “The human heart always struggles to be free. Our enslavement did not end with slavery.”

Camboulay (also spelt Kambule and Canboulay) began after the abolition of slavery in 1838 when the freed slaves began celebrating the anniversary of their freedom in a procession in which they carried burning flames. In 1880, those participating in the procession were terrorised, beaten and arrested under orders made by the head of the police force at that time, Captain Arthur Baker. In 1881, the people, especially the bois men and women took matters into their own hands and battled police forces on Duke Street, Port-of-Spain close to what is now the Neal and Massy All Stars’ PanYard. Police officers were injured and the people won their right to parade on the streets. This parade evolved into what is Carnival today.

This year’s re-enactment, which began at 5 am, was performed in front of a larger crowd than last year. Chairman of the Uptown Carnival Committee, Dr Vijay Ramlal Rai, said it was heartening to see the increase in popularity of the re-enactment.

“We cannot start Carnival without this ritualistic acting out every year. It is an important part of Carnival and it is interesting to note that even though it is the same plot every year, people are coming out in their thousands to see it,” he said.

He said there were increased bleachers, screens and the stage area was lengthened to accommodate additional spectators but this was not enough for this year’s crowd. Next year, he said, his committee would propose to the National Carnival Commission and engineers that a stage be built over the East Dry River so that there would be more space to accommodate additional seating for spectators.

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