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Camboulay the spirit of Carnival

Camboulay the spirit of Carnival

Posted by Shanelle Weir on February 21, 2014

It is to the barrack yard people of East Dry River and their resounding victory that day, that we owe our Carnival.......Lest we forget.  

—Eintou Springer 

The re-enactment of Camboulay on Carnival Friday, on the Piccadilly Greens, Port of Spain on February 28 at 5 a.m., is symbolically the awakening of the Carnival spirit. The Camboulay production recognises and celebrates the bois men and women, the warriors of the mas, who are the frontline of the confrontation with Captain Baker in the 1880s. Camboulay reminds us that the Africans created a great deal despite enslavement. In the gayelle of the existence, the ancestors fought inch by inch to clear a space for the manifestations of their culture whether remembered or forged in the crucible of the environment to which they had been so forcibly transported. 

The Camboulay was rooted in the remembered masking traditions of West Africa, and of course influenced by the new Caribbean environment.  By definition, the Camboulay was a torchlight procession which took place from midnight on Carnival Sunday. By the 1870s hundreds of men, carrying lighted flambeaux and sticks, some drunk, most of them masked, marched around the streets of the capital. There was drumming, hooting, singing, shouting, and fights between rival bands.   

But the authorities deemed it too disorderly and out of control. The bands of working-class men and women who came out were threatening to the respectable folk. Not to mention, the lighted torches, in a town with largely wooden buildings, was a fire hazard. Thus, there seemed to be just cause for closing it down. Various laws enacted between 1868 and 1879 gave Baker the authority to move against the marchers.  At the 1880 Camboulay, he called on them to surrender their sticks, drums and torches.  Without resistance, they did as ordered.   

The following year, however, the warriors and the police faced off. Known as the Bois Bataille stick fight, bois men and women fought against the might of the British Constabulary. The masqueraders, stickfighters came out in full force and a full-scale fight ensued—involving sticks, batons, stones and fists—in which 38 out of the 150 policemen present were injured.  

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