“They Better Don’t Stop the Carnival” – Canboulay and Carnival History in Trinidad

cannboulay

Michael Anthony, author of “They Better Don’t Stop the Carnival”, calls himself a “storyteller”.

  • I see myself principally as a storyteller. In other words, I am not aware that I have any message. I think both the past life and the fascination of landscape play a most important part in my work.
  • My infancy has been very important in my literary development and so far almost everything I have written—certainly my novels—are very autobiographical.
  • It is strange that I have never had the desire to write about England, although I spent 14 years there. To some people, judging from my writing alone, I have never been out of Trinidad. And this is true in some sort of way.
  • I feel a certain deep attachment to Trinidad and I want to write about it in such a way that I will give a faithful picture of life here. But when I am writing a story I am not aware that I want to do anything else but tell the story. (Encyclopedia.com)

So, while we may be tempted to view a particular social message in his stories, we should not try to ‘over read’ too much into his narratives. However, since many of his writings deal with both carnival and past Trinidadian history, we can view “They Better Don’t Stop the Carnival” as part of the legacy stemming from the years when Trinidad’s government banned Camboulay parade festivities after the infamous Camboulay Riots of 1881,  and then later when Governor Sir Hubert Young banned all Carnival festivities during World War II (1942-1946).

Lord Kitchener was one of the best known Calypsonians internationally.

Lord Kitchener was one of the best known Calypsonians internationally. He performed throughout the world and is best known for the classic “Sugar Bum Bum”.

However, during this time Calypso was not banned .  In the years leading up to the reinstatement of Carnival and later independence, many Calysonians used the time to write songs expressing the public’s displeasure – hence, in Anthony’s story “They Better Don’t Stop the Carninal” Lord Invader’s song becomes more than a catchy Calypso tune -it operates as a song of resistance that allows the public to express their displeasure at the Governor’s decision to stop Carnival.

Click here for Lord Kitchener’s Calypso classic “Sugar Bum Bum”

Stick fighting is a part of most Caribbean carnival festivities and what starts as "pretend" can easily become a "real" fight.

Stick fighting is a part of most Caribbean carnival festivities and what starts as “pretend” can easily become a “real” fight.

Camboulay

  • Trinidad’s Carnival became the festival of the “jamette” or the fringes of society between 1838 and 1884. The lower classes started the festivities with a midnight Camboulay parade. Camboulay mimics a historical event – the sending of enslaved Africans to extinguish a massive sugar cane plantation blaze – hence its name “camboulay” from the French phrase, “cannes brulées” (burnt cane). The class separation apparent in Carnival celebrations caused tensions as lawmakers systematically imposed limits on carnival activities, and eventually banned Camboulay in 1884. As the festival fell under stricter regulation, the elite classes again began participating in the festival.

Modern Carnivals are much less rowdy and the focus today is on the beautiful costumes.

Modern Carnivals are much less rowdy and the focus today is on the beautiful costumes.

Twentieth Century

  • As the elite started participating again in Carnival, the extravagant European-influenced costuming and pageantry began reappearing. In 1957, Trinidad’s government created The Carnival Development Committee (CDC), officially making Carnival a national event and leading to more funding, planning and greater participation. The 1950s and 60s are referred to as “The Golden Age” of Trinidad’s Carnival. The 20th century saw the rise of J’Ouvert, the early morning parade of painted masqueraders that kicks off carnival in the wee hours of Monday morning; the extravagant costuming of the main “mas” (short for masquerade) parade on Carnival Tuesday; and heavy competition among street bands for Band of the Year as well as among Carnival king and queen hopefuls.

Carnival costumes are extravagant and beautiful decorated.

Carnival costumes are extravagant and beautiful decorated.

Recent History

  • Carnival has gained fame for its untamed party atmosphere and extravagant and risqué costuming, and attracts many tourist. However, local residents and historians worry traditional carnival customs are fading as the focus shifts to commercial interests and marketing the festival to tourists.

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