VOL. 31 NO. 2
(opyright ieseived and reproduction without permiissioln trictlv orlhidden.
CARNIVAL. CALYPSO AND THE MUSIC OF CONFRONTATION
1 "'Man Talking to Man": Calypso and Social Confrontation in Trinidad from
1970 to 1984
14 Traditional Figures in Carnival: Their Preservation. Development and Interpretation
35 The Notting Hill Gate Carnival: Black Politics. Resistance and Leadership
Everton A. Pitce
53 Black Consciousness and Popular Music in Jamaica in the 1960s and 1970s
67 The Africa Theme in Trinidad Calypso
Carole Boyce Davies
Edward Kamnai Brathwaite
109 Notes on Contributors
Instructions to Authors
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
The Hon. R. M. Nettleford, O.M., Professor of Extra-Mural Studies (Editor)
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University Centre in any West Indian Territory served by this University.
'One-quarter of a million black people on the streets of Britain ... is a political event ...
It is not simply an artistic festival of fun-loving West Indians.' Thus wrote one of the lead-
ers, Darcus Howe of the Carnival Development Committee of 1976 in Britain, summing
up succinctly the power of culture as a political force, the significance of which did not
escape the slave owners nor the administrators at Whitehall of present-day Britain. This
issue of Caribbean Quarterly focuses on Carnival, Calypso and the Music of Confrontation
within the Caribbean context and also that of the West Indian diaspora. Everton Pryce
casts light on the machinations within West Indian groupings, the police and government
of the day in The Notting Hill Gate Carnival: Black Politics, Resistance and leadership
1976-1978. His article examines the crisis of leadership within the Notting Hill Gate
Carnival throughout its most decisive years in 1976-1978, as represented by the struggle
between the two rival Carnival Committees, the Carnival Development Committee and
the Notting Hill Carnival and Arts Committee against a background view of the nature of
Black agitation in Britain.
In Man Talking to Man, Gordon Rohlehr, one of the Caribbean's most eminent
scholars of the calypso, documents the historical passage of the calypso as a tool and
vehicle of social comment from 1970 to 1984, which coincided in large part with the
latter half of Dr Eric Williams' administration in Trinidad and Tobago hence the focus on
him as a leader, dealing with his image as a benefactor, patron, reformer, builder. The
Calypsonians appealed to him to mete out justice, chastised him for his 'air-conditioned
distance from the people on the day-to-day issues', accentuated by his deafness which be-
came 'symbolic of his egoism, isolation, remoteness and tendency towards a one-way
communication with his people'.
Errol Hill in Traditional Figures in Carnival: Their Preservation, Development and
Interpretation deals comprehensively with Carnival as masquerade, as theatre, as visual
art, going as far back as 1834, the year of Emancipation. The tradition portrayed gives
the lie to the belief that the Caribbean exists in a cultural vacuum devoid of history, of
tradition and of development. Cultural policy makers, archivists, museum curators and
librarians could do far worse than heed the words of Errol Hill on the need for systematic
preservation and development of a unique art form.
Popular music was a liberating lorce for the writer Erna Brodber of Black Con-
sciousness and Popular Music in Jamaica in the 1960s and 1970s who honestly states
that "I cannot document the causal connection between this music and our awakening in
any other way than to point to the fact that among those of middle-class, scribal
and mulatto tradition, the Afro-centric reggae tunes were being as frequently and later
more frequently bought than the formerly sought-after American tunes ... We were glad
to hear-this new sound. It relaxed us. We took off our make-up, we washed our-hair and
left it natural, we took off our jackets and ties and made ourselves comfortable in shirt
jacks. This persistent reggae beat, and the lyrics it carried, was partly responsible for
awakening this [black] consciousness." The song and music were seen as a "challenge to
both racism and the class oppression of capitalism" in the words of economist George
Beckford. Culture, he states "is the most positive and dynamic factor within the Jamaican
body politic and body social . for it provides hope for revolutionary change. .."
Carole Boyce Davies attempts in her article The Africa Theme in Trinidad
Calypso to avoid the 'romantic rhetoric' in which the word "Africa" is repeated, litera-
ture of African survival which makes no attempt to interpret or reconnect to the 'great
traditions of Africa'. literature of African Expression which experiments in a limited way
with the transformation of folk material into literature but rather to have a literature of
reconnection written by writers who have first-hand knowledge of Africa and are
attempting to "rebridge the gap".
'Titan' a poem by Edward Kamau Brathwaite ends this issue.
"MAN TALKING TO MAN"
CALYPSO AND SOCIAL CONFRONTATION IN TRINIDAD
1970 to 1984
"Social confrontation" in Trinidad has traditionally involved the indigenization process
of several migrant groups, divided by race, ethnicity, language and religion, in a country
of plantations, small holdings, villages and growing towns. It has been characterized by
the infighting of these groups, both among themselves and against each other.
The calypso has mirrored these conflicts in the calinda chants of the nineteenth
century: calypsoes about race, 'small island' migrants, steelband clashes, 'bad-john'
violence and sexual conflict. Such calypsoes share common elements of threat, challenge,
boast, self-assertion and the themes of manhood and machismo which were generally
connected with aggression transferred from an impoverished and degrading social system
and redirected inwards or towards each other by members-of the underprivileged class.
Those fiercely anti-feminist calypsoes of the 1940s and 1950s provide the clearest
index of the way that aggression, rooted in the society, was transferred to the plane of
male/female relations. Such calypsoes had their predecessors in nineteenth century cariso
songs, as well as the ribald music which accompanied the quelbay dancers of the 1880s
and which occasioned such bitter complaint from commentators of that age.
"Race" calypsoes are a special variant in that they dramatize the latent or open
conflict between identifiable ethnic groups Blacks, Whites, Chinese, East Indians. Such
calypsoes remind us that the process of Trinidad's social history has been punctuated by
the fierce dialogue of colliding or overlapping ethnicities, each hoping vainly for private
space. At times, it seems that there has been no true dialogue, but rather several rudely
interrupted and fragmented monologues modified by a shared forum of public platitude
in which all groups can easily participate without compromising their private positions.
Race calypsoes trade on racial stereotyping, and employ caricature and a humour
based on the mockery of accent, music or gestures of the other race. They measure, or
betray, the uncertainty with which the races have regarded each other; a latent atavistic
mistrust, and the competition which has always been taking place against a background of
chronic unemployment, poverty and dispossession on the part of the broad masses of
people, and authoritarianism, patronage and manipulation on the part of those small
elitist groups who control their destiny. Such racial attitudes are, of course, tempered by
the fact that all groups partake of the same education, and are caught up in the same rush
of events, cultural pressure from the metropole, and the same directionless futility of
politics at home.
All these varieties of social confrontation are crystallized in the language of calypso:
its hard unsentimentality which clashes with the waterish romanticism of much popular
music; its cynical wit; its humour of aggression. The same spirit may permeate a calypso
about urban gang conflict, one that berates the city's prostitutes and one that flays a
politician for corruption or incompetence.
The political calypso emerged out of this background of conflict as a medium for
articulating class struggle as well as a vehicle for transmitting images of self and potential,
different from the images which had traditionally been transmitted by the prevailing
order. Its emergence in the twentieth century paralleled the struggle for the localization
of politics, Universal Adult Suffrage, and the development of the Trade Union Movement.
The calypsoes of Executor, Atilla, the Growling Tiger and Beginner to name a few -
document this struggle, which, as it intensified, evoked from the colonial administration
the most thorough strategies of control and containment: sedition bills, armed occupa-
tion and the censorship of books, pamphlets and calypso records and performances.
Calypsonians such as Atilla fought relentlessly against such controls, and the years
1937 to 1951 are an era of remarkable resistance, culminating in the amendment of a
1934 Ordinance which had given the Commissioner of Police absolute and unquestion-
able legal power to permit or prevent the public performance of calypso.
The political calypsoes of the 1956 to 1962 era, dominated by the phenomenal
output of the Mighty Sparrow but including singers such as.Cristo, Gibraltar, Striker and
Duke, were a celebration of the faith of a predominantly African sector of the working
and middle classes in the new political movement led by Dr Eric Williams. They both
legitimized the party and its leader, and defended it against incipient dissent by opposi-
Dissenting voices in 1959 criticized the clandestine marriage of Dr Williams, which
Melody in Doctor Make Your Love greeted with the brilliant couplet:
I hear the Doctor married again
Socialism must be maintained
where "socialism" suggested the difference between the party's programme of social
reform and what was already beginning to look like the secrecy and elitism, the playing
social of a traditional middle-class intellectual. Sparrow defended the image and name of
Williams' in his Leave the Dam Doctor. The Growling Tiger who also sang about the
marriage was forced to quit the tent early in the 1959 season.
The infamous Solomon incident marked a turning point, evoking in 1965 both
defence and trenchant criticism of the behaviour of Solomon and Williams' high-handed
treatment of the affair. Sparrow's Solomon and Get to Hell Outa Here are justly famous.
Less well known is Blakie's really irreverent De Doctah Ent Deh (1965) or Leveller's
How to Stop Delinquency (1966), a calypso whose burden was that a government of
intellectuals had achieved no fundamental change, and was now involved with analysis
divorced from action, and the gimmickry of youth rallies which could not conceal the
reality of unemployment.
You could tear down the barrack-yard
Augment the local guard
Appoint ten committees
Promote big youth rallies
To camp down Nelson Island
But employment is the key
For kink-head and company
That is so evident
Still the dilly-dallying
From our intellectual government
Alongside this equating of intellectuality and impotence was the notion of the
typical post-colonial politician as a parvenu up-from-slavery hustler whose main concern
in gaining power was feathering his own nest, and who therefore had a vested interest in
dishonesty. Sparrow gave us this image in his 1966 calypso Honesty, signalling in the
process that little had changed in people's fundamental attitudes and assumptions. The
paradoxical task of loyalist calypsonians over the next decade (1966-1976) would be to
maintain the party'% ideal image of integrity, and particularly to preserve the sheen on the
charisma of the maximum leader, in an atmosphere of collapse and terrible disorganiza-
tion at almost every level of social life.
One device for doing this was the patriotic calypso; a genre which surfaced early in
the twentieth century and gave us the cliche "Trinidad is nice/Trinidad is a paradise". It
gained great currency, as one would expect, around Independence time in 1962 and
found its perfect expression in Sniper's beloved Portrait of Trinidad (1965). As younger
singers such as Leveller (1966) and, two years later, Chalkdust (1968) began to chronicle
the regime's shortcomings, loyalist singers such as Duke (1967) added to the patriotic
calypso a celebration of supposed PNM achievements.
They taught us both the black and white
In Trinidad have equal right
The rich and poor the big and small
Opportunity is here for all
Trinidad and Tobago
Is the land of calypso
Our chief products are sugar and oil
With the pitch lake where so many toil
We practise true democracy
With a very sound economy
And a group of men who are efficient
To lead a proper government
The next year, Sparrow in a newspaper interview with The Trinidad Guardian
explained why he had (temporarily it turned out) ceased t' function as a political com-
mentator. The media, he said, anticipated the calypsonians in presenting and interpreting
news, and thus rendered his role as commentator irrelevant. Besides there was nothing
Picong is fine and most of the people like picong on
the Government. But there is very little to laugh at in
this Government. This is a serious Government. There
was a time when the role of the calypsonian was to
expose private affairs, a scandal; and generally to act
as town crier. If this is what people are afraid of
there is no need; for this is no longer the case.
The calypsonian today is not satirical; he is there for
one purpose: to entertain. He does his best to please
his listeners and his audience (Trinidad Guardian,
Saturday, 2 November 1968).
Sparrow was, like Duke, Gibraltar and others, reluctant to attack what he had fer-
vently supported. The claim that Trinidad had few issues worthy of protest, around 1968
and 1969, was little more than a mask to hide the uneasy sense that matters were coming
to a head. Bomber in a 1970 calypso called Political Wonder eulogized Dr Williams in
adulatory 1956 terms but wondered whether he would die like Gandhi or Martin Luther
King, neither of whom died in bed. Bomber's calypso was clearly a projection of those ill-
concealed ominous fears that the society, now chronically involved in demonstrations,
strikes, Black Power rhetoric and anti-PNM polemic, might be caught up in an irreversible
process which could result in violence and even assassination.
The Political Calypso 1970-1984
It has been claimed by Frank Manning in 1984 that the rise of highly rhythmic,
celebratory but verbally simplistic "Soca" tunes has led to a depoliticization of the Trini-
dad calypso. I have not found this assertion to be true of the years 1970 to 1984, and
have appended a shortlist of nearly 250 calypsoes from this period which contain exten-
sive political or social commentary. So close, so fine, so meticulous has been the politi-
cal seeing in these calypsoes, that I intend to write a long book dealing exclusively with
them and what they reveal of a continuum of overlapping and often contradictory atti-
tudes, stretching between total acceptance of the PNM regime, through total rejection
of the political disorder which it represents, to vague intimations of an alternative.
In this paper I confine myself to three main concerns. 1. The images of Dr Williams
and the PNM which emerged during the period and how calypsonians' perception of the
man altered over the period. 2. The images of the citizen's roles and responsibilities which
could be discerned, and 3. The roles the calypsonians have adopted and performed in the
political life of their country.
Images of Dr Williams
The traditional 1956 image persisted among loyal party die-hards such as Gibralter
(Politics 1971), Bomber (Political Wonder 1970), Vallee, and Pretender (Black Power
1971). Williams is seen as benefactor, patron, reformer and builder. Such singers empha-
size the positive achievements of the party houses, roads, education and view them as
personal gifts from a loving paterfamilias, and accuse the youth or the opponents of the
party of ingratitude to the unappreciated father of the nation.
There are several calypsoes which acknowledge Williams as the undisputed leader of
the nation; recognize his power; but also insist on his responsibility to set things right.
Calypsoes of this kind are Chalkdust's Answer to Black Power (1971) which warns
Williams of the difference between a negative policy of controlling and containing social
unrest, and positive creative legislation which could tackle some of the rooted problems
facing the youth. Valentino's No Revolution (1971) both acknowledges Williams's power
and criticizes him for what he regards as its unjust use during 1970. Duke's Lock them Up
Dr. Williams (1974) appeals to him to adopt a hard line with black marketeers and pro-
Maestro's To Sir With Love (1974) also acknowledges Williams as leader, but is a
devastating frontal attack on Williams from the point of view of a disgruntled proletarian.
Maestro stresses Williams's air-conditioned distance from the people and the day-to-day
issues. This portrait of Williams is reinforced by the calypsoes in which he is portrayed as
"Deafy"; one whose real deafness has become symbolic of his egoism, isolation remote-
ness and tendency towards a one-way communication from himself to the people..
Calypsoes which allude to Williams's deafness are Chalkdust's Two Sides of a Shil-
ling (1971), The Answer to Black Power i.e. the Dimanche Gras (1971) version which con-
tains the line, "Ah hope your hearing aid working", Valentino's Barking Dogs (1973), in
which the commands "fix your hearing aid" and "wipe your glasses" appear. Relator's
Deaf Panmen (1974), Chalkdust's Deafness or Dr Aziz (Dimanche Gras 1974); Black
Stalin's Piece O'de Action (1976) in which the line "Mr Divider, like the switch ain't work-
ing" expresses the exasperation of the citizen who is trying to make contact with Godot.
These kaisos all signal a desire on the part of the citizen to be heard; an insistence on the
need for participation. Valentino begins his Barking Dogs with the declaration:
This word is mine I am this word
So let my voice be heard,
which, incidentally, parodies and reverses the arrogance of the Williams/persona in Spar-
row's Get to Hell Outa Here(1965) who is made to declare:
This land is mine, I am the boss
What I say goes, and who gets lost.
Stalin in Piece O' De Action ends his first stanza with the manifesto:
Mr Divider listen to me
This is man talking to man
Relator's Deaf Pan Man, the cruellest and most corrosive calypso of this type, portrays a
nation of deaf masqueraders led by Dr Williams whose name the band bears and who
insists that only deaf people must be in his band. The characteristic quality of the band is
its incoherence and disharmony;
Some playing B-flat, some playing F
They can't hear a thing because they deaf
But still they come out to jam
And the name of the band is Dr William
Ah hope you understand the masquerade
Panmen with dark shades wearing hearing aid.
The last two lines are subtly ironic. First of all, they view Williams's politics as an odd mix-
ture of blindness and masquerade. They, however, suggest that if one tried one could
"understand the masquerade", the street theatre of politics. But they also imply that such
a masquerade, a "deaf pan man panorama", is incomprehensible.
Satirized is Williams's encouragement of sycophancy (He wants only deaf people
in his band) -- his creation of a system based on the non-participation of the people and
the remoteness of the leader. In the final stanza scatological imagery is applied to the
regime, which has messed its pants, reduced a nation to faeces. The deaf panmen play
their discordant music in B-flat, F, GCE and finally W.C. Surdity, then, fulfilling itself in
absurdity, has ultimately produced turdity.
It is, possibly, the demoralization which arose after Dr Williams resigned in 1973 in
order to identify and demolish a younger clique of rival politicians within his party, that
led to the fierce irreverence of Relator's calypso. Chalkdust in Two Sides of a Shilling
(1971) had prepared the ground for this line of attack by characterizing him as a deft
role-playing manipulator of images; one who then masked as benevolent and aggrieved
paterfamilias but was, in fact a rigid authoritarian, a maker and breaker of men, one who
extended or withheld patronage to a menagerie of time-serving self-seeking sycophants
whose flattery he simultaneously needed and scorned; one who had compromised with
big business at the expense of the poor and tolerated corruption among his followers.
It was a short step from this grim portrait to the image of Williams as madman
(Chalkdust Somebody Mad 1973). This image was a direct response to the bewildering
paradoxes of civic life; the inconsistencies between proclamation and behaviour. The
notion of madness was foreshadowed by Blakie's 1965 calypso De Doctor Ain't Deh
where Blakie, seeking his leader and not finding him in the various ministries, tries the
hospital, the madhouse and the jail. When he enquires at the jail
The officer started to fret
I am sorry Blakie, but the Doctor ain't reach up here yet
There was a belief current in the early seventies that Williams suffered from bouts of
mental depression and even breakdown. Such rumours were totally unverified but they
remained in the public mind. Reflections on the rumoured madness of the leader will
eventually become contemplation of the literal madness visible on the streets; and after
the mid-seventies we have Terror's Madness (1978) which focuses on the plight of the
youth, and several calypsoes noting the serious growth in drug abuse. (e.g. Creole's Ah
Want to Be Tight (1 976); Sparrow's He Went offon Dope). All of these meet and find
their tragic political metaphor in Stalin's Breakdown Party(1980).
After the oil windfall, the image of Dr Williams underwent a change. It became even
more contradictory because Dr Williams was now being seen simultaneously as a man who
had been endowed with an enormous power of patronage and as an old capricious and
incompetent eccentric. For Stalin in Piece 'O De Action (1976) and Breakdown Party
(1980) he had become "Mr Divider', the dispenser of 'oil bread' to all and sundry.
Swallow may have applauded Williams's generosity towards his impoverished Caribbean
neighbours in The Trinidad Godtather(1980) but many Trinidadians felt that all sorts of
improvements were necessary at home, and grew bitter at the fact that the nation had
attained a negative image among its Caribbean neighbours of being arrogant and extra-
In many calypsoes of the post-1976 period there is a latent mistrust of "money" as
the mammon of unrighteousness. A shortlist of these includes Stalin's Money and Break-
down Party (1980); Shorty's Money No Problem (1979); Chalkdust's Trinidad Dollar;
Sparrow's Neurosis of the Rich (1975) and Capitalism Gone Mad (1983); Chalkdust's
De Spirit Gone (1979) which observes the impact of commercialism on a Carnival
reduced to colour and gesture without spirit. Money also becomes an evil in Austin's
Progress (1980). It "makes egos inflate". Stalin declares in Money:
Money today change up so much life
Calculators take the place of wife.
Dr Williams as Mr Divider, then, was seen as presiding over a dispirited Kingdom of
collapse. His performance in CARICOM was scathingly satirized in Chalkdust's Three
Blind Mice, which was strangely misinterpreted by one Trinidad commentator as a
moment of softening towards Dr Williams. The persona which Chalkdust in fact presented
was that of an arrogant comprador Godfather, falsely secure in the sentiment:
Tell Burnham and Manley I got oil
Let Barrow kiss me tail, oil don't spoil
The blindness which Williams points out in his CARICOM partners, whom he accuses of
supporting Venezuelan hegemony in the Caribbean Basin, is at least equalled by his own in
feeling that he could afford to treat them with contempt. The calypso ends with the
observation that Williams's behaviour in the region was an attempt to extend the authori-
tarianism which he had been allowed to practise by his faceless colleagues in the party.
Dem three deputies that he have is the oil
Three faceless men of straw got he spoil
Throughout the seventies the calypso had been chronicling the disintegration -
(Sparrow's Ah Digging Horrors (1975) and predicting the collapse of the regime. By
the late 1970s, the regime remained alive but was perceived as being spiritually dead.
Indeed in Somebody Mad (1973) Chalkdust had used images of carrion to symbolise the
regime's acts of patronage towards the people:
Suppose I take a dead dead dog
And throw it don Frederick Street
Chorus: I say you mad
I say you mad mad mad
And if I give a dead corbeau
To everyone I meet
Chorus: I say you mad
I say you mad, real mad.
lie was alluding to the building of flats in Shanty Town which paralleled the establish-
ment of a more elaborate and nauseous rubbish dump opposite the flats.
By the late 1970s Williams the man had ceased to be important. Stalin in Break-
down Party (1980) answers criticisms made by a UWI academic that his Caribbean Unity
(1979) was 'sexist and racist", as well as Williams's criticism of Stalin's definition of
Caribbean identity in Black nationalist terms, by depicting Williams as a sort of incom-
petent sorcerer's apprentice, unable to stop or control a process of squandermania which
he, borrowing his master's book of spells, had set into motion. The attack was on inflated
salaries, and the money circulating in the society, as well as on the large scale industrial
projects which had been undertaken, as Williams attempted to enter the Big League of
Iron and Steel.
Mr Divider start the habit
Brother all Trinidadians love it
Now he trying he utmost best to stop
Brother I took a look around
From the country right into town
And is a total breakdown fete going on
The society seems caught in a process of irreversible entropy, and many post-1980calyp-
soes will become involved with this process. Here the words "breakdown" and "party"
are both employed in two senses that of a fantastically successful and totally enjoy-
able fete and that of economic, mental, moral and societal collapse engineered by crazy
administration. The irony engendered between the two meanings can only be described as
violent and anguished and there is the strong suggestion that the issue will be resolved
only by violence.
But if this had been my party
Ah wouda stop the thing already
When I say "Stop!" Stop the jam!
Else I break a DJ hand!
The final portraits of Williams come from Chalkdust who, searching in vain for a
sane explanation of Trinidad politics towards the eighties, concluded that Williams existed
only to provide material for Chalkdust's calypsoes. In Eric Williams Loves Me (1980). he
I've read books by Hobbes and Plato
But I never see a Prime Minister so
Must be calypso he want Chalkie sing
Such witheringly comic reduction to nothing came at a time when Williams was osten-
sibly at the apex of his high, the crest of his cloud. Yet the calypsonians had described an
absurd hollow figure and were now more concerned with the drastic measures which
would be necessary to set the country in order. Chalkdust was calling for an "Ayatollah"
in 1980, whose stringent controls and vicious punishments alone would impose order on
the nation's public affairs.
Relator provides us with our final portrait of Williams: "a horse that is tired and
almost lame" (1980) whom it is now pointless to blame even if he is indeed at fault.
Relator advised the Prime Minister and his party to take a rest, and foresaw the possibility
of Williams simply dropping dead on the job. Delamo, too, in Apocalypse(1981) saw the
nation as a headless horse galloping towards the Lapeyrouse Cemetery, the last runner in
the international derby.
Definitions of the Citizen
The political calypsoes of the post-1970 period defined the citizen in several ways.
The citizen is a mode of resistance to wrong and corruption regardless of the conse-
quences, in Valentino's No Revolution (1971). The "good" citizen is transgressor,
oppressor, exploiter and crook in Sparrow's Good Citizen (1972). We have pictures of the
citizen as articulate dog in the face of contemptuous authoritarianism in Valentino's Bark-
ing Dogs(1973);the citizen as "a man out for change", a committed antagonist of the sys-
tem and thus a man on the firing line, for whom life has become a hazardous game of
chance, and nothing is strange in Stalin's Nothing Ent Strange (1975); the citizen as
absurd puppet, a deaf panman; a mindless follower in the politics of absurdity; the citi-
zen as revolutionary in the making, the end product of a politics in which he has remain-
ed a mere object of the manipulation of the powerful in Valentino's Liberation, Dis Place
Nice (1975). The citizen is one who is ultimately responsible for the "political confu-
sion" and paralysis in which the country finds itself; as a lover of "plenty mamaguy" a
not too smart smartman who ends up by tricking himself, because he has chosen no path
towards change and invested his faith in no alternative in Maestro's Mr Trinidad, (1974).
The citizen as a dispirited product of predatory commercialism, which has defined
his tastes, fed on his true life-force and ultimately rendered him a shell, emptying his
most creative expressions of their soul and meaning is described by Stalin in Steelband
Gone (1973), De Jam (1980): by Chalkdust in De Spirit Gone. An extention/intensifica-
tion of this definition has been Chalkdust's Uncle Sam Own We (c. 1978), which sees the
Caribbean as having almost willingly abandoned its cultural identity to the hegemony of
US commercialism. The Caribbean becomes a dumping ground for American cultural
refuse its clothes, eating habits, music and style. Relator's Radio Stations and Chalk-
dust's Cultural Heritage also make this point. Lancelot Layne bluntly and aggressively
attacks these tendencies in his Get Off the Radio(1982).
The citizen is also depicted as a potential agent of retribution, a grim reformer;
a trouble shooter in a world of political cowpokes. Listen to Chalkdust's Ah Put on Me
Guns Again (1976); Shango Vision (1977); Ayatollah (1980). At another level, the vision
of retribution appears in several of Shadow's calypsoes, in Delamo's fundamentalist
visions of Apocalypse (1981) and Armageddon(1984); Explainer's Tables Turning(1980)
and Johnny King's Nature's Plan(1984).
In these calypsoes we find a yearning for reversal, for an equalling of the scales, a
turning of the wheel. Most of these dreams involve a hope for deus ex machine solutions;
an expectation that the state of things will suddenly change as the medieval wheel of for-
tune mysteriously turns. Beneath such dreams often lies an unacknowledged sense of
individual helplessness in the grip of historical process; an absence of political or existen-
tial will; the bewildered apathy of the weak and powerless. One of the future tasks of
creative politics will undoubtedly be to convert the dream of retribution into a positive
force for the willed and conscious transformation of society.
Some calypsonians have begun to grope their way towards a vision of the new
politics of "man talking to man". They have, however, made it clear that such dialogue
can only occur on a basis of honesty and trust, which are precisely the elements that have
been destroyed in most of our public and much of o,'r private affairs. A number of calyp-
soes by Black Stalin De Ole Talk (1974). More 1imes (1979) and Vampires (1981)-
have accepted as their premise the idea that dialogue is no longer possible in a society
permeated by mistrust. Acutely conscious of politics as manipulation, Stalin has articu-
lated the necessity for cunning and evasiveness. Such cunning is particularly necessary
when one is approached by people seeking office, be they academics, trade union leaders,
priests, lawyers or whosoever. Stalin has raised the question of who is to speak for or
represent the people, but his negative list seems to have included almost everybody.
Everyone is classified as a "headhunter", that is, a person who tinkers with people's
minds in order to secure their loyalties, and then abandons the people to the anguish of
their condition. Stalin, like Struggler, another calypsonian who has embraced Rastafarian-
ism, recommends that the righteous put distance between themselves and all potential
Now whether morning, noon or night lately time
Don't you know people come out so for your mind
If they couldn't get It all, just a piece would do
But their greatest wish in the world is to have control
So when I see them headhunters come walking my
I does simply humble myself, take aside and say
More times, more times. etc.
"More time" is the Rastafarian way of saying "goodbye see you later", and is the only
conversation Stalin recommends when the "headhunters" are on the prowl. Headhunters
come in various disguises and while their aim is not to kill physically, it is to reduce the
person to a puppet. Stalin's retreat, then, is a positive act in that it signals the existential
refusal of the person to be reduced to object, and is the beginning of Freire's "critical
consciousness", the very basis and pre-condition for any new politics in the Caribbean.
Stalin, when lie sang More lime, had already recognized the extreme danger implicit in
the citizen's refusal to become dumb object, robot, puppet. The burden of Nothing Ain't
Str ange (1975) was that such refusal immediately imperils the life of the citizen who has
by that act of will transformed himself into a political guerilla:
Because you won't let people talk for you
Or do the things that they want you to
Your life ain't safe whether night or day
Because, any number can play.
Nothing! Nothing! Nothing ain't strange
In the life of a man out for change.
Understanding, then, the dreadful possibilities which the new politics will open up,
the severity with which the old system will seek to maintain itself, Stalin has recognized
that none of the people offering themselves today for high political office is capable of
providing the leadership necessary. These people he characterizes, employing Peter Tosh's
Buckingham Palace metaphor, as "vampires":
They telling you that they care
About your welfare
See them with their mouth cock
Waiting for their suck
So keep the chalice smoking
But if everyone is unworthy, what are the righteous brethren to do in the interim
between this moment and the second coming? Stalin seems to suggest that the retreat of
the righteous is a means of creating a space outside of the prevailing prison of the system,
within which the brethren can contemplate and responsibly attend to the really crucial
issues of life and death which confront them every day.
Now children dying in ghettos every day
So much o' food shortage ah seem to say(?)
Ah got to do something; tears in mankind eye
So if you ain't making sense say nothing to I
I man got to go, so you stay and rap
Look ah just moving on and ah done wid that.
The citizens, then, need to set about the business of rescuing themselves and their
children from the slow or sudden death which is being visited on them, and will have to
do it by themselves.
Functions of the Political Calypsonian 1970-1984
Valentino claimed in the mid-seventies that the calypsonian was the only true
opposition, while Chalkdust in his Message to George Weekes (1976) said that the calyp-
sonian had a far greater freedom to articulate protest than anyone else in the society. The
political calypso created, in the period under observation, a forum where popular disaffec-
tion found constant expression. NJAC was a prime force in providing important singers
such as Black Stalin, Chalkdust, Valentino, Relator, Composer and a host of others year-
round exposure to their public in a series of concerts which were, in fact, an important
alternative to the Carnival calypso tents. What those NJAC-sponsored concerts did was to
enable the protest singers to recognize themselves as a potential solidarity; to rescue them
from their solitude.
The political calypso as alternative forum for opposition politics was even more
necessary in the light of the impotence of the official opposition party. While it is
impossible to measure what impact political calypsoes have had on people's conscious-
ness, it is certain that their importance has been recognized. They receive very little air-
play; the managers of radio stations act as unofficial censors who, apprehensive of
dangers which may occur to their jobs on government controlled media, are careful not to
transmit to the public any but the safest sort of opinion. This absence of exposure
probably affects the sale of records, and makes protest singers unsafe business risks. It is,
therefore, a powerful method of control and containment.
The Calypso King Competition has at times functioned in the same way, and in
some years singers of impressive but critical songs have been omitted from the finals,
while weaker, emptier songs have been promoted; although this has not happened all the
time. Constant protests were made by Chalkdust, Shadow and others about the criteria
for judging the calypsoes and, in 1976, it was actually specified that at least one of the
songs in the competition should be on a political theme. Kitchener in turn protested
against this innovation, arguing that the Dimanche Gras Show should be exclusively for
the entertainment of an audience who needed to be instilled with the celebratory spirit
of Carnival. This issue has not been resolved, but one notices that in recent years points
are being awarded in the competition for the "spirit of carnival". So Chalkdust and others
have had to sing their political calypsoes in an up tempo rhythm which could conceivably
clash with the mood of their song.
Another technique employed between 1972 and 1973 was that of discrediting or
attempting to discredit Chalkdust as a political singer. He was accused by the Public Rela-
tions Officer of the People's National Movement of having applied to join the party, an
act which would, of course, have nullified his effectiveness as a critic of the party. The
PRO produced signatures which he claimed were Chalkdust's. Chalkdust denied the
accusation and promptly composed a calypso explaining why his presence in the PNM
would have to be resisted. He would expose all the inner scandals to the public glare. Far
from being discredited, Chalkdust used the issue to launch even fiercer attacks in Some-
body Mad and Somebody in PNM Loves Me(1973) on the party and its leader. No further
attempts were made to control him through discredit.
Another function of the political calypso has been that of political recall. In a
country where political events occur at a bewildering pace, one frequently either forgets
entirely what has been taking place, or confuses event with event. The political calypso
often provides one with catalogues of current political events and assesses current events
in the context of past events which may now be forgotten. This is a crucial need in a
society where one forgets so easily; where there is little respect for history, research and
archives: no memory, only a sort of blankness, breeding indifference to present, past and
The political calypsonian functions as an investigative reporter of political events in
a special sense. He weighs the "official version" of an event against "inside information"
which generally means gossip, scandal, unverified hearsay. This is a potentially dangerous
role, in that the political calypsonian may fail to distinguish between truth and rumour,
and may therefore not rise above the yellow journalism of the weekly tabloids.
On the other hand, what this sort of "investigative" calypso does is to keep alive
the spirit of popular scepticism, to feed a mistrust of surfaces, a doubt of the "official
version" which is generally well founded. Researchers into business industry, state-owned
corporations have often complained of the difficulty they experience in getting data.
Such information is carefully controlled, or shelved, so that the official version of any-
thing is a cleaned-up and carefully arranged reconstruction of events. By keeping alive our
mistrust of such things, the political calypsonian invites us to look for alternative versions
The political calypsonian "takes the sheen off the charisma" of public figures
whose egos may have become elephantine. Their role here is one of social control through
humour, picong, reductive commentary. This is, in fact, a traditional role of the artist in
West African societies and its survival in Trinidad has been something of a miracle. The
period under study has been characterized by a closeness and severity of seeing, in which
public figures have been placed under a microscope that has magnified and at times dis-
torted the tragic-comic pettiness of their activities.
We have already discussed some of the reactions that have taken place to such fierce
scrutiny; the subtle attempts at control, the encouragement of a self-censorship which
prevents the state from provoking the unpopularity which would result from open cen-
sorship. Some calypsoes are permitted because it is believed that their criticisms which
they contain are harmless to the system; others because all past attempts at censoring
calypsoes have simply drawn them to the attention of the public in a special way, and
thus enhanced their popularity and impact.
The political calypso keeps open one area of freedom freedom of expression -
by the vigorous exercise of this freedom. Between 1970 and 1984, "freedom has been a
consistent theme in the political calypso, and the indivisibility of the various freedoms
has been recognized.
Finally, the political calypsonians have been the poets of a nation in search of its
soul; in search of a way of moving beyond machismo towards the inclusion of a larger
measure of feeling and compassion into our personal and civic consciousness. This
struggle has been evident, and has led to a revitalization of the minor modes of the tra-
ditional kaiso in a growing number of contemporary calypsoes. The calypsonians have
kept open a vein of desperately sane reflectiveness on the chaos of our civic life, and in
the process have inched an art form rooted in conflict, celebration and the catharsis of
light entertainment, towards the deeper qualities of anguish and compassion.
TRADITIONAL FIGURES IN CARNIVAL:
THEIR PRESERVATION, DEVELOPMENT AND INTERPRETATION
Any serious discussion of the Trinidad carnival is indebted to the first systematic
study of the festival which was undertaken in the 1950s by the Trinidad branch of the
Extramural Department of the University of the West Indies and published in an issue
of Caribbean Quarterly in 1956 under the joint editorship of Andrew Pearse and Andrew
Carr.1 My own book on the carnival, written in 1966 and published in 1972, was inspired
by that study and by my belief that the annual carnival exhibition contains the largest
resource of indigenous materials for use by our graphic and performing artists. The
passing years have given me no reason to change that opinion.2
The Caribbean Quarterly issue contains four essays on traditional masquerades.
They are "The Traditional Masques of Carnival" and "The Midnight Robbers" by Daniel
J. Crowley, "Pierrot Grenade" by Andrew Carr, and "The Dragon Band or Devil Band"
by Bruce Procope. Line drawings of many of these figures were provided by Carlisle
Chang. The study also distinguished between what it called "Rare and Extinct Bands"
and "Surviving Bands", subtly suggesting even as far back as the 1950s that these tradi-
tional masquerades were struggling to survive. About fifty traditional masques were iden-
tified. My own count,based on research in newspapers and other eyewitness reports for
some one hundred years from 1834 to 1934 comes to almost seventy. (I have summarized
these two tabulations in the order of appearance of the masquerades. See Appendices I
It must be admitted that many or these masquerades are no more than burlesque
figures of professional and trades people like doctors, lawyers, surveyors, sanitary inspec-
tors, tailors, nurses, policemen, snake charmers, acrobats, fishermen, launderers, domes-
tics, and bootblacks of long ago. If they are excluded but kept some occupational mas'
like the Baby Doll (or unwed mother) and the Cow Bands which were brought by
abbatoir workers, the count falls to around forty traditional masquerades which might be
referred to as original creations.
What place do these masquerades have in the annual festival? Prior to 1834 the
Negre Jardin or Garden Negro was, we are told, a favourite disguise of the planter class.
From 1838 to 1884, when the start of the carnival was shifted from Sunday midnight to
six o'clock on Monday morning, the canboulay procession featuring stickfighters opened
the festival. After 1884, Sunday night activities moved indoors and the Dame Lorraine
performances were held with characters such as M'sieur Gros Coco, Gros Boudin, Mme
Gros Tete and Mile Jolle Rouge spilling out onto the streets at daybreak. In the waning
years of the last century another group of masquerade characters emerged just before the
daylight hours. These were strange creatures of folklore: Papa Bois or the guardian of the
forests, the Soucouyant or bloodsucker who sheds her skin to fly through the night, the
Diablesse, Phantom, Loup Garou or werewolf. coming forth while it is yet dark since as
nocturnal beings they cannot face the lull light of day. This is the jouvay or daybreak
segment of the carnival, its name having been taken from the cry of the Soucouyant who
is unable to recover her skin because someone has thrown salt on it. So she keeps asking
fearfully, jouvay, jou paka ouvay? (Is it daybreak yet? or no daybreak?). Among these
characters one may find the solitary figure of Death, first noted in the carnival of 1856,
ambling slowly through the crowds in a black body suit on which is painted a human
skeleton topped by a mask representing a leering skull.
As common belief in these supernatural beings diminished, they disappeared from
the jouvay parade and their place was taken by various old mask characters including the
Dame Lorraine figures. Others would be individual makers who portray a variety of
skilled and unskilled workers, all fully masked and speaking in high-pitched voices to
conceal their identity, and who set about busily performing their respective tasks for
payment. A spectator could be measured for a suit, have the pavement swept before him,
be checked for a weak heart, and then charged a fee which must be paid on the spot. all the
while listening to a stream of loquacious badinage that is meant to embarrass him into
paying up with alacrity. The Baby Doll character deserves special mention. Dressed in
knee-length skirt covered with flounces and frills, wearing a baby's bonnet on her head
with the tassels tied below the chin, she carries a doll cradled in her arms and keeps
searching for its father. The unlucky pedestrian who is chosen for this role has to pay
alimony or be subjected to public abuse for having abandoned his bastard child.
As Monday morning advances, a third group of traditional masquerades make their
appearance, coming in small organized bands. They are among the oldest costumed
characters, some of whom are still found in the carnival today. As a result they are much
revered. They consist of a variety of Devils: Jab-Jabs with their cracking whips: Jab
Molassi or molasses devil that conjures up the dark days of work in the sugar mill; the
Devil or Dragon Band with its Imps. Princes, and multi-headed Beast. Then there are Wild
Indians and Fancy Indians, Clowns and Bats, Midnight Robbers with their bombastic
utterances. Singing Minstrels. Sailors and Marines, and others. Each of these traditional
masquerades carries a history of its own that is related to some aspect of island life.
As the sun advances towards its meridian, the big masquerade bands come out
representing people of distant lands and cultures, historical epochs, biblical history, sagas
of literature or the screen, and more recently, fantasy bands. Among these will be several
African tribes including Zulus, first noted in the 1880 carnival and regularly revived in
later festivals. (One of the traditional attractions of the New Orleans Mardi Gras is the
band of Zulus that first appeared in 1909 and is now one of the top floats in the pro-
Preservation and Development
Preservation must concern mainly the most important ones, especially those that by
their originality, history, social relevance, and uniqueness of costume and performance
have impressed themselves on the artistic consciousness. They have been and can continue
to be preserved in several ways:
(i) in the literature: the Caribbean Quarterly carnival issue is still valuable as a
source book on the festival. It should be readily available in libraries and
bookshops (reprinted if necessary). My own book on the Trinidad Carnival
should also be reissued in a cheaper paperback edition and should be placed
in every school in the Caribbean.
(ii) in picture form: for years I have urged the publication of a portfolio of tradi-
tional masquerades. Carlisle Chang began a such project many years ago and
designed several characters which were reproduced in the old Shell Magazine.
I understand that Peter Minshall has also been working on a similar set. If
nothing has appeared so far. I would strongly recommend that the Carnival
Development Committee should promptly commission a local artist who is
steeped in mas' history and expert in costume design to produce this port-
folio. I believe it could be a commercially profitable venture, like the Beli-
sario Jonkunnu prints published by the Institute of Jamaica.
(iii) concomitant with the portfolio: I would like to think that a market exists for
carnival dolls of these traditional figures, beautifully hand-crafted, perhaps
produced by those very masqueraders who have been put out of business by
the big historical and thematic bands.
(iv) carnival museum: there should be displayed blown-up colour portraits of
these designs supported by slides, short films or videos, and costume exhibits.
The history of the masquerades, detailed descriptions of costumes and per-
formance styles should be written up and made available to the public.
Development must include the historical present and future development of these
figures and the others. It is well known that several of these masques underwent transfor-
mations in the course of their presentation. The following are a few examples of how
masqueraders, ever alert to make their mas' more striking and relevant, have developed
these traditional figures over the yeais:
(a) the Negie Jardin played by the planter class was adopted by the ex-slaves for
their canboulay procession, then upgraded into the costume of the King
Stickman or Batonnier which was later replaced by the gorgeously arrayed
Pierrot. Sometime later the Pierrot was satirized in the Pierrot Grenade
masquerade. Here one finds a connecting link between five different types of
traditional figures which appeared in the festival over a period of almost a
(b) Dan Crowley alleges that the Jamets and Matadors of the mid-nineteenth
century weie the inspiration for the later Tourist bands which were them-
selves followed by bands of Millionaires alter World War I.
(c) the Jab Molassi may have been the origin of the Devil band that developed
into the hierarchical Dragon band consisting of Imps, Gownmen, and Beast.
(d) the ruff collar of the European clown in the nineteenth century masquerade
was transformed into the delicate fan collar of the Mavis clown early in this
century and further expanded into the decorative beaded spread of the Fancy
(e) a somewhat similar development seems to have occurred in the costume of
the Red Indian whose ceremonial headpiece of ship or house was elaborated
into the enormous pendant creations of the Fancy Indians.
(f) the phallic nose on the face-mask of Bad Behaviour Sailors grew and grew
until it took the shape of bird or bee or other representation of the flora and
fauna of the country, story book character, or whatever fancy the imagina-
tion could conceive.
(g) the Cowboys masquerade of 1906 soon assumed the garb of Wild West
Ranchers and then quickly transformed themselves into the formidable Mid-
night Robbers with their skull and cross-bones insignia and death-defying
As these masques changed their physical appearance, so too were their street per-
formances enhanced by the addition of new pantomimes, dances, and speechmaking.
Each one of them. taken in its proper socio-economic and historical context, would pro-
vide an absorbing and informative study that is worthy of a master's thesis.
Yet another way in which the traditional masquerades may be said to have devel-
oped is through the adoption of their building techniques in modern day mas'. Most
representative of this phase of development are the designs and constructions of Peter
Minshall who, in his determination to arrest the trend towards "mas'-on-wheels" in which
a heavy and ornate structure representing a costume would be pulled along by a sweating
masquerader like any beast of burden, reverted to the old-time engineering principles of
traditional mas' when the masquerader danced his costume which became integrally an
extension of the physical body and was not divorced from it. Thus, the movements of the
mas'-man made the costume come alive as a kinetic being and created a harmony between
the mas' player and his mas'. A few examples of Minshall's work follow.
The costume of the Fallen Angel from his band, "Paradise Lost", suggests how the
wings on the Imp or Gownman of the Dragon Band have been redesigned into the majesti-
cal steeple-like shape to give height and a sense of awe to these princes from hell. The
Serpent from the same band was a sinuous creature interwoven into an enormous fan-
shaped foliage setting that is reminiscent of the fan collar used by the Fancy Clown. Also
included are the costumes of Splash and Devil Ray that were queen and king respectively
of Minshall's "Carnival of the Sea". Both seem inspired by the engineering of the wings of
the traditional Bat costume. Minshall has also used the Sailor mas' as a basis for his band
"River" of which Man Crab was the outstanding presentation. This is an area of costume
research that needs to be explored in greater detail and it is an instance of the perpetua-
tion of traditional costume elements in modern-day mas' creations.
The future development of the traditional masquerades of those among this dimin-
ishing breed that are still with us cannot be dictated or proposed to the professional mas'-
player on how his character or his band should develop. That will be determined by
circumstances beyond anyone's control and will depend on the renowned ingenuity of
the masquerader to respond to those conditions. What can be done or, to be more speci-
fic, what ought to be done by those who are charged with the responsibility of organiz-
ing the annual carnival, is to create the conditions in which traditional masqueraders can
be encouraged to bring their mas' each year in the knowledge that they will be appre-
ciated and appropriately rewarded for their efforts.
Public recognition of masquerades is most clearly expressed in the plaudits of
spectators and the prizes awarded at competition centres. Unfortunately, for the past
few decades the emphasis at these competitions has been on the massive historical and
fantasy bands. The crush that obtains on the stage at these centres often affords little
time for the traditional masquerades in their small numbers to display their fineries and
no time at all for the acting out of their dramatic or dance sequences. At the Queen's
Park Savannah, the stage is much too large and the spectators too distant to allow the
audience-performer contact that is essential in a stage performance; masquerade speeches
are jumbled and distorted by microphones that do not work, and frequently they are cut
short in midstream to make room for the next colossus that is waiting impatiently to
make its appearance. It is no exaggeration to say that, under present conditions, tradi-
tional masquerades are treated at best as awkward appendages and at worst as confound-
ed nuisances at the principal competition centres in Port-of-Spain. It is not surprising
that they are fast disappearing.
Although Minshall is praised for his revival of traditional engineering skills, he
has also opined that these traditional masques are anachronistic in today's carnival and
should be allowed to rest in peace. Whilst the artificial preservation of any mas' cannot be
advocated, the opportunity for individual talent and craft to express themselves in our
national festival should not be denied to any of our citizens. By the same token, a cottage
industry of exquisite hand-made products should not be stifled out of existence because
a huge factory of mass-produced goods has been established. There is a place and a
market for both.
To reverse the trend towards their extinction and give the traditional masquerades
the recognition they deserve, a special place should be reserved for them in the festival.
Perhaps their competition could be held on carnival Sunday or in the morning hours only
of Monday and Tuesday and at a new centre, possibly set up around Woodford Square or
Lord Harris Square in the heart of the city where audiences would be smaller, interaction
with performers more intimate, and where more time would be allowed for performance
on which the masquerades would be judged in addition to the beauty and appropriateness
of their costumes. Prizes should be such as would recognize the historic significance of
the traditional masques in the festival. It should also be possible to record these pre-
sentations on videotape and on film for showing on television and in cinemas, as well as
for future use in the schools.
The question of the interpretation and historical significance of traditional figures in
carnival is the task of scholars. One way of interpreting the role of traditional masque-
rades in the national consciousness is to be found in their use by creative writers and per-
formers of the Caribbean theatre. This is not to imply that mas'-players are not also crea-
tive artists, they are clearly so. But there is an important distinction to be made between
carnival art and theatre art. The closing paragraph from my book on the Trinidad Carnival
defines the difference. It reads as follows:
The Trinidad Carnival has been called "the out-
standing folk festival of the Western World." It has
given birth to new music and song, to language and
dance, to costume and masks, but it has made no last-
ing mark on the emotional experience of mankind. Its
nature is against such achievement. The carnival is
rooted in its soil. It cannot travel, except as a second-
hand film image of itself. It is transitory, a momen-
tary escape from order and reason. Its death on Ash
Wednesday morning brings a sigh of satisfaction from
everyone. Yet the carnival has sustained a rich thea-
trical talent of gifted people coming from many races.
A national theatre can organize this talent to express
the wide range of human experience in ways that
could be vivid, vital, and enduring.
Instances of how carnival has been used in Caribbean drama are here presented. In
early 1985 I reviewed over nine hundred titles of Caribbean plays of which no more than
twenty-five contained masquerade elements or references. Two of these plays (which are
really little more than dramatic sketches) were written in the nineteenth century: three in
the 1950s, seven in the 1960s, and thirteen in the 1970s and 1980s when the black power
movement found the protest inherent in the carnival experience to be a source of inspira-
tion. Fourteen of the plays require a fully costumed masquerader to appear as a character
on stage. (This research does not include the Best Village plays nor does it include plays
from non-Anglophone Caribbean. Nevertheless, the figures are a reliable indication of
The first example comes from an 1847 humorous dramatic sketch, published in
French, under the title. "What's good for the goose is good for the gander". It was
written in support of the new governor's decision to permit street masking in Trinidad
which had been banned the previous year by his predecessor. It is carnival time and the
inerchant, ('afaiiiiman sits at home with a bottle of best Bordeaux wine while he reviles
the masqueraders outside on the streets. lie tells his associate Finardeau: "You tell me
those are rational beings with human faces who indulge themselves in such scandalous
debauchery? Do you know of anything more absurd than these disgusting masquerades
of the most backward times? More stupid than this carnival?" Finardeau concedes that
the masking may be stupid, but he reminds Cafarman that it sells merchandise and helps
them to reap a profit.
Cafarman's sentiments are so anti-carnival that he will not allow his wife to attend
the ball. He considers the waltz, the gallop, and the polka to be "schools of immorality
where one goes to have fun, to lose one's money, one's health, and sometimes other
things too", and he plans to bring a motion in the legislature to ban the festival. Pretty
soon his young son Johnny and a black manservant enter the room disguised as Turkish
men-of-war. Outside masquerade bands of Pirates and Indians pass by. The family depart
ostensibly to visit a relative (one has the distinct impression that they are really going out
to enjoy themselves) and Cafarman is left alone. He then proceeds to drink himself silly,
all the while mouthing platitudes of virtue and piety.
When his friend Finardeau returns in costume and mask, Cafarman, now quite
inebriated, mistakes him for two of his mistresses and tries to embrace him. One of the
paramours, it turns out, is really his wife's black maid. Brought to his senses and
chagrined by his mistake, Cafarman has to agree that people should be able to enjoy
themselves without getting drunk and the carnival is not so atrocious after all. The
message of the play is spoken by Finardeau (who represents the French creole element as
Cafarman does the puritan English) who says at the end: "Carnival is fine. It's the
people's only pleasure and we must let them enjoy it. They don't read, they have neither
horses, nor car, nor money to produce the delicate pleasures and it is good politics to
allow the people to masquerade at least once a year." Finardeau has only one complaint:
he does not like being awakened by revellers at midnight on Carnival Sunday.
The Trinidad carnival has four major components. First, there was the so-called
canboulay procession which was a re-enactment of slave gangs driven by whips and sticks
on the sugarcane plantations. This exhibition (which began at midnight on Dimanche
Gras and which Finardeau found to be annoying) soon developed into a series of pitched
battles between rival stickfighting bands that added a particularly violent chapter to a
festival that was already under attack by the guardians of law and order. But the stick-
fighting sport and the stickmen of legendary fame have given a heroic flavour to several
Caribbean plays while the dance of the batonniers is now an accepted part of the national
A second carnival component is music to accompany the revellers. The search for
appropriate and inexpensive musical instruments led from skin drums which, when
banned by the authorities, were replaced by gourd shakers, rattles and bottle-and-spoon
bands, then to bamboo bands, and finally to the emergence of the steel drums of the
1940s. Several of Trinidad's plays have been written about steelbandsmen who, inciden-
tally, also appear as costumed bands.
A third component of the Trinidad carnival is the calypsoes, laudatory and satiric
songs, some hundreds of which are composed and sung each carnival season and during the
ensuing year. Besides providing highly entertaining commentary on current events and
displaying the wit and mimicry of the composer-singers, the calypso preserves the socio-
political history of the island in pungent verse from the viewpoint of the ordinary citizen,
while calypso music is played for dancing and joyous listening. In Caribbean drama the
calypsonian, who as shantwell for masquerade bands is definitely one of the traditional
masquerades, finds a natural role as lyrical narrator or raisonneur though the full thea-
trical possibilities of this carnival character have yet to be exploited.
The final component of the Trinidad carnival is the masquerade whose incremental
appearance on the carnival streets has already been outlined. Among the first group of
costumed revellers to appear in the post-Emancipation festival were the stickfighting
bands. The sport is still with us today. Having in 1953 written and staged a short play on
the steel band, I was fortunate to see, in 1960, the premier production of my Trinidad
musical play, Man Better Man, in New Haven. Connecticut. The play was later chosen by
the Trinidad Government for entry at the Commonwealth Arts Festival in Britain in 1965
where it was presented with great success. It was, however, the production at Dartmouth
College ten years later that was, in my opinion, the most visually stunning and that cap-
tured the carnival spirit of the play. For this interpretation credit goes to Peter Minshall
who, along with being a leading mas' -maker, is a professional scene and costume designer
for the stage as well as an easel painter and who came to Hanover to work on the produc-
The title of the play is the name given to a medicinal herb found in the Caribbean
which is supposed to make stickmen invincible fighters. It has, however, to be prepared
with other ingredients and applied by an obeahman or witchdoctor, another of Trinidad's
folklore characters. The plot of the play follows a simple outline. A fledgling stickman
hoping to win the love of the village belle challenges the champion to a duel. He seeks the
aid of an obeahman whom the villagers fear and who, he believes, can charm his stick to
ensure victory. The fight takes place in a carnival arena and the luckless amateur is
defeated, but by an unexpected turn of events he is able to expose the obeahman as a
fraud. This worthy is run out of town, the champion cedes the crown, and the villagers
offer it to the young hero.
My purpose in writing the play was threefold. First, I wanted to celebrate the
exploits of stickmen who are among our neglected folk heroes. Next, I wanted to demon-
strate the use of calypso verse as a medium for dramatic dialogue. Third, I wished to illus-
trate the richness of the carnival experience in word, music, dance, costuming, as a source
for dramatic composition and theatrical presentation. Here, for instance is a speech from
the play which is written entirely in calypso verse form. The character speaking is the
recently defeated stickman who is attending the coronation of the new champion:
POGO: Crow, little cock, this poui chastize
Warriors who measure twice your size.
Ti Bomina and the great Moscobee,
Myler, renowned for agility,
Johnny Oak, the only human ram,
And Jules Tiepin of the iron arm,
Mungo the dentist, able to pick
Out a troublesome tooth with a single flick,
Fisherman Brush, the Tobago find,
And Fitzie Bainwright who fight even blind!
What you know about stick. Mr Hurry-come-up!
I rule the ring when you was a pup
Still wetting your pants. Now I getting down
And hope to relinquish a spotless crown.
But instead we have a shadow-king,
Not you, is the obeahman ruling.
No face masks were worn by any of the characters but their costumes, based on
masquerade characters, helped to enhance the authenticity of the roles by visually drama-
tizing their principal attributes. The prologue, for instance, was an evocation of the
ancient canboulay procession. Hannibal the calypsonian sang a calinda chant to invoke
the spirits of dead stickmen. He was supported by a chorus of singing and dancing women
who carried bottle flambeaux. Behind a scrim at the front of the stage, the images of stick-
fighters could be seen as they mounted a small platform one by one and assumed a
characteristic fighting pose. The obeahman was partly attired in the costume of a Mid-
night Robber since he often used bombastic language and threatened to destroy his
In the carnival tent scene, the women were dressed in the French douillette of
flounces and kerchiefs that identified them as part of the demi-monde, i.e. followers of the
stickmen. Petite Belle Lily, the village sweetheart, was attired in a queen's costume with
an elaborate ruff collar while her male admirers vied with each other for her attention.
The combat fighters were in fitted tasselled garments of brilliant hue that picked them
from the crowd and accentuated their movements during the duel. While one must admit
that Caribbean audiences would be likely to appreciate the subtle resemblances of the
theatrical costumes to authentic carnival masquerades moreso than the uninitiated, there
is no question that using the carnival masks as a basis for the costumes gave them a fresh
and appealing quality seldom seen on the dramatic stage.
Derek Walcott, a major Caribbean dramatist, makes use of folklore masquerades in
his play, Ti Jean and his Brothers, which was first performed in Trinidad in 1958 and
revived for Joseph Papp's Mobile Summer Theatre in New York in 1972. As John Simon,
critic for New York magazine, described it, this play is at one level a simple folk tale in
dialect; at another level it is a metaphysical verse play with music; and at a third level it is
a relevant black parable inciting to anti-white revolution.
A poor mother lives close by the forest with her three sons. Gros Jean the muscle-
man, Mi Jean the intellectual, and Ti Jean the innocent, intuitive hero. Each son goes
forth into the world to seek his fortune and each encounters the Devil who offers a con-
test: whoever makes the other one angry wins. If Devil. he devours the loser: if man, he
gets the Devil's gold and a wish fulfilled. It is in the portrayal of the Devil that Walcott
employs carnival masks. The character is tripartite. First, he assumes the appearance of
Papa Bois the forest guardian with cloven hoof. Next he is speedily transformed into a
White Planter, representative of the imperialist oppressor. and thirdly he is the Devil
himself with his shaven bull-like head, red as blood, licking his chops as he consumes the
flesh of his victims. By linking the three characters Walcott is showing both black super-
stition and white oppression as evils that must be overcome.
In this folk play Walcott introduces a chorus of animals -Cricket, Frog, Firelly.
and Bird a Bolon or unformed infant who was strangled before it was born and is
seeking release from the Devil, and a number of assistant Devils who carry out their
master's commands. In the Papa Bois mask, the Devil challenges the young men in the
forest, engages them in discourse, discovers their strengths and weaknesses, and sends
them up the hill to the White Planter's house to find work. In the mask of Planter, he sets
them tasks which they cannot possibly accomplish such as tying up a goat that refuses to
be roped or counting all the leaves on every stalk of cane in the fields. When in frustration
they become angry they lose the contest and the Devil, now in his demonic mask, eats
them. Ti Jean's strategy with which he overcomes the Devil is simple but effective.
Instead of trying to perform impossible tasks he eliminates them. First, he tames the goat
by castrating it, then he kills it and makes a meal of goat curry. He sets fire to the cane-
field, and finally he burns down the Planter's great house. Told of these rebellious acts
the Devil becomes furious and losses the contest. Unwillingly he is forced to keep his
bargain. Ti Jean receives a shower of gold and a wish to be fulfilled. The Bolom begs to be
BOLOM: Ask him for my life'
O God, I want all this
To happen to me!
TI JEAN: Is life you want, child?
You don't see what it bring?
BOLOM: Yes, yes, Ti Jean, Life!
TI JEAN: Don't blame me what you suffering,
When you lose everything,
And when the time come
To put two cold coins
On your eyes. Sir, can you give him life?
DEVIL: Just look!
BOLOM: (being born) I am born, I shall die! I am born, I shall die!
O the wonder and pride of it! I shall be man!
Ti Jean, my brother!
DEVIL: Farewell, little fool! Come then,
Stretch your wings and soar, pass over the fields
Like the last shadow of night, imps, devils, bats.
Eazaz, Beelzebub. Cacarat, soar! Quick, quick, the
We shall meet again, Ti Jean. You, and your new
The features will change, but the fight is still on.
It is a sad fact of life that the labour involved in bringing a large masquerade band
takes a heavy toll on the organizer who is often the designer and principal mas' -maker.
A band such as Minshall's "Paradise Lost" of 1976 consisted of 1,600members and cost
almost a quarter of a million dollars to put on the road. Today such a band would cost
well over a million. It took seven months from conceptualization to completion, a period
of time that was considered inadequate and which placed an enormous burden on the
producers. Usually it takes a full year of preparation to bring a masquerade band of such
proportions. Several of our most acclaimed band captains have, in plain fact, given their
lives in the service of mas'. I think of Wilfred Strasser, George Bailey, Albert Moore,
and Harold Saldenha, to list carnival's martyrs.
Strasser was noted for his individual creations such as "Brittania" and "Queen
Victoria", but he was also associated with large bands as when he played the character of
the pagan god in a band of "Carib Worshippers". I visited him in 1965 when he was
recovering from a serious illness and had been approached by friends to lead a masque-
rade band in the coming festival. The organizers were determined to win the top Band of
the Year competition and felt that Strasser's expertise would assure them victory. Natu-
rally his wife was distraught with anxiety as the doctor had warned Strasser that the
exertions involved in such a demanding job could be fatal. She begged me to try and
dissuade him. "Well," I asked, "are you going to play after all?" Glancing at his wife with
a sad, affectionate smile, the veteran mas' -player answered: "How can man die better .. ."
So Strasser participated in the 1966 masquerade and a few months later he was dead.
A similar situation provides the plot for the play, The Master of Carnival by Euton
Jarvis and Ronald Amoroso which won first prize in a national playwriting competition in
Trinidad in 1973 and the Most Original Play Award at a drama festival in Curacao in a
production directed by Jean Sue-Wing. Delpino is a band captain who has been crowned
King of Carnival seven years in a row. But last year he was beaten by his arch-rival Basilon
(the choice of name memorializes another of our great band leaders, now retired) and
Delpino is determined to win back his crown. It is carnival Tuesday morning and his
whole household is pressed into finishing his costume. The band will present "King
Belshazza and his Followers", a biblical history theme, and Delpino will play the king.
The costume has cost him a small fortune which he can ill afford. He and his wife have
been at work on it almost non-stop for days during which he has eaten nothing and is
kept going by taking pep pills and by copious draughts of rum. He is obsessed with the
idea of winning, not merely for his own vindication but for his district which the band
represents and from which its members are drawn.
The play begins in semi-darkness with the sounds of carnival music and singing afar
off. Two traditional masquerades the Jab Molassi Devils and a Midnight Robber -
advance to stage centre, dancing and chanting their respective speeches. A calypso chorus
is heard in the distance. When the lights come up fully, we are in Delpino's house where
the finishing touches are being applied to his costume. He is meticulous about having
everything done just right. The talk is all about the coming contest between his band and
Basilon's. Various carnival characters drop in for a drink and to wish Delpino success,
among them is the stranger La Touche who has just moved into the district at the start of
the carnival season. La Touche is playing an individual character and is dressed in the
figure of Death.
At last the costume is finished to Delpino's satisfaction and he dons it, almost
sacredly, to await the arrival of his band. He confronts the women:
How you like it! King Belshazzar! 'his year, meh robes richer and more expensive
than ever. When ah move so, with meh costume flowing over the stage, ah go dazzle
the judges and them eye. And this is meh headpiece. And to crown it all, on meh
feet, golden sandals. Special import from the States. Ah could see the newspaper
headlines tomorrow. "Delpino Master of Carnival King once more." Well, what
Later that night the household and friends gather round the radio to await the results of
the contest. Weakened by his exertions and lack of food, Delpino had fallen on the compe-
tition stage in front of the judges. Now he is lying on the sofa overcome with exhaustion.
The awards are announced for king of the bands in descending order beginning with the
fifth prizewinner, then the fourth, then the third, the remaining two being Basilon and
Delpino. Tension mounts. With great effort Delpino rises from the couch to his full
height. The two finalists are announced and Delpino has won. After a moment of exul-
tation he slumps to the ground inert as the figure of La Touche in his Death masquerade
enters the room softly and says: "Goodnight! Goodnight! Mr Delpino." The tired voice
of a reveller is heard singing in the distance a theme song from the play:
Carnival is a bacchanal,
We don't care!
We drink we ruin and we tumble down,
We don't care!
Then to the insistent whistles of the Midnight Robber the curtain falls.
I will end this paper on traditional figures in carnival with a reference to one more
play, Lennox Brown's Devil Mas', written in 1971. Brown is probably the most prolific
Caribbean playwright. At last count he had over twenty-five plays to his credit, several of
which have won playwriting awards. He has been produced in Trinidad, in the United
States and in Canada. In Devil Mas'. as in some of his earlier plays, he takes up the meta-
phor of carnival as an expression of defiance against the crushing condition of poverty
and those responsible for it. The three acts of the play occur on Carnival Sunday, Monday,
and Tuesday respectively, with a final scene in Act Three that extends to Ash Wednesday.
Mrs Draylon's eldest son, Mano, has been playing an African Prince masquerade every
year and carrying away the lirst prize. Suddenly this year his costume is being constructed
with particular secrecy in a shack in the woods and his mother is afraid. Even his fiancee,
Jean, is kept in the dark, but his younger brother Joseph who is twelve years old has spied
on the preparations and reports back to their mother:
JOSEPH: He have goat skin, cattle skin, rabbit fur, snake skin,
and the skull of a pig and the skulls of three manicou
MRS. ): You ask him what mas' he going to play tomorrow?
JOSIIIH: Yes. but lie wouldn't tell me nothing, Mother.
MRS. U: Try to remember good. Joseph. Take your mind back
right inside the shack. You notice a big wooden fork?
JOSEPH: Yes . with prongs . a ancient-looking fork ...
(Mrs Drayton rises slowly, tension in every bone and
I didn't remember, mother . how you know?
MRS. D: It belonged to your father.
Overcome with fear, Mrs Drayton hastens to the Catholic Church to seek help from the
Priest. She explains to him:
Five years ago after a happy life, my husband suddenly decide to play Devil Mas'.
He never play it before. He was strong like a horse and jumped and pranced full of
life. Carnival Monday morning he put on the evil costume with the skins of animals
and their dead skulls. He danced with the big band to the Savannah. He lead them
on stage. He raised his fork. "I call the Devil from Hell," he shouted. The strength
flowed from his limbs suddenly. I saw him look up to God's sky for help. But it was
no use. Now some awful Power on Earth, some Unknown Spirit, some Mysterious
Evil is gripping my oldest. Mano is going to play Devil Mas' just like his father. In
his warm green youth, something is forcing him to walk into the Cold House of
Death tomorrow morning.
Act Two opens on a jouvay parade. Spotlights pick out masked figures, half-man
and half-animal, reminiscent of traditional African sculpture, in different parts of the
auditorium. The head-masks cover the faces and look weird, unreal, as if the masquerades
are disembodied spirits. Mano appears on stage dressed as the Devil, puts on his head-
mask and takes up the fork which his father had used as the lights fade. They come up
again to reveal a pantomime of several burlesque characters who are leashed to a huge
papiermache man ten feet tall, with a cavernous belly filled with dollar bills. He is dressed
in a patchwork suit made up of the flags of European nations, of Canada and the United
States. The leashed figures, like puppets on a string, represent the white foreign investor
and various local business and professional types. As in the Dame Lorraine masquerade,
they act with exaggerated politeness while beating and knifing each other.
Suddenly, the mock ballet is disturbed by Mano in his Devil costume leaping into'
their midst. Each of the puppets places a chain around Mano's neck as he writhes in dance!
until he succeeds in throwing them off. Then he opens a trap-door on the stage and
descends as if going down to hell for reinforcements. In succeeding scenes the dead heroes
of black rebellion in the Caribbean emerge from the trap-door as their names are called
and take their place on the stage. A stage direction reads: "These Heroes, even the ones
dressed in blood-stained rags, must suggest the artistic brilliance and vividness that
underly the psychology of carnival."
Act Three begins on carnival Tuesday evening. Mrs Drayton, Joseph, Jean and the
Priest are awaiting Mano's return from the masquerade festivities. He comes in wearily,
carrying his first prize. It is a Monstrance, the vessel that contains the consecrated host
and it is "blindingly beautiful". It is immediately apparent that life has been drained from
Mano. His voice has grown weak, his eyes darken, he stumbles into bed. The Priest gives
him extreme unction. The women sob. Next day, Ash Wednesday, the family attends
church. Joseph, the boy of twelve, talks with the Priest:
JOSEPH: Nothing wrong with playing Devil Mas'. Nothing! Everybody does play
it. Nothing ever happen to them. Why my family have to die? Why?
PRIEST: They just shouldn't play it.
JOSEPH: But why?
PRIEST: They shouldn't.
JOSEPH: I hate whatever or whoever it is that kill my father and my brother!
PRIEST: I know you do. I understand.
JOSEPH: I hate it so bad. I . I . (pause) Father?
PRIEST: Call me Jimmy.
JOSEPH: I going to play Devil Mas' next year.
PRIEST: No. Not you ...
JOSE-PH: I not afraid! I have a right! It ain't fair!
PRIEST: Don't do it. You'll die if you play it.
JOSFPH: Me too?
PRIEST: You'll call the Devil from Hell.
JOSEPH: I going to do it! I ain't afraid!
PRIEST: (quietly with sincere regret) And I'll have to kill you too. (Long pause)
JOSEPH: You??? The Evil??? You is the Devil ...
JOSEPH: But a priest stand for God ...
PRIEST: And the Devil.
JOSFPli: God is the Devil?
JOSI-EPH: But you can't be . it can't . it don't make no sense ...
PRIEST: You're too young to know. Good is Evil. Evil is Good.
JOSPH:I You killed my father . and Mano ..?
PRIIST: ... and the little girl hanging from the Silk Cotton tree all night. and
the goats with the broken necks.
JOSIPI I: Why?
PRII ST: You won't understand it now. The Universe isn't simple. It's the union
ol opposites. Nothing is ever simple. It's ... 0. what's the use?
JOSEPH: I going to tell everybody. You is the curse of St Babb's. We will kill
you .. tear you to pieces.
PRIEST: (patiently) No. You won't have a chance to. I'll have you dead before
you take two steps out of here. Before you can form the words. You'll
have to do what I say. No more Devil Mas'. Play a Clown or something
JOSEPH: You mean we have to obey? Like slaves?
PRIEST: You have the free will to choose what to do. Like Mano.
JOSEPH: So Mano knew all about this?
PRIEST: He made his choice on his own.
(As they talk, the Heroes of the Dead have begun entering in a quietly
marching phalanx. They line up at back behind a transparent gauze
curtain. This gives them a spirit-like appearance. They stand looking at
JOSEPH. The PRIEST does not see them.)
JOSEPH: But I want to live.
PRIEST: (quietly) Then do what I say.
JOSEPH: Obey like a slave or die?
PRIEST: I'm sorry, Joseph. Truly sorry. I suffer too.
(Joseph is gripped by a conflict beyond his comprehension, but the
Heroes of the Dead are looking at him. He sees them for the first
time. They are obviously trying to tell him something by the expres-
sions on their faces. Lights fade slowly ...)
Later that day Joseph announces to his Mother his decision to play Devil Mas' in next
year's carnival and, painful as the decision is for her, she affirms his right to do so.
Ambiguous as the message of this play may seem to be, it is difficult to avoid the
implication that the Judeo-Christian Church has historically been in league with the
imperialist powers and their local puppets to suppress the free expression of Caribbean
peoples. One thinks of the ban placed on skin drums in the past, of the early persecution
of the steel bands, of the outlawing of native religions like the Shango and Pocomania, of
the legislation against the Jonkunnu in Jamaica about which Sylvia Wynter has written
her play Maskarade, of the restrictions to curtail the singing of calypsoes, and of repeated
attempts in times past to abolish the masquerade.
Now that most of these Caribbean territories have become independent nations, it
is as if the last obstacle to achieving a true Caribbean identity is the cultural one. Surely
one reading of the play, which is ingrained in almost all the plays dealing with the carnival
experience, is that a conscious and determined effort must be made by Caribbean peoples
to discard the remnants of alien beliefs and institutions that keep us in thrall and boldly
to assert our freedom, in religion as in all other walks of life. It is for this total freedom
of the spirit that our ancestral heroes have fought and their souls will not rest until we
have achieved it.
We have seen that in the past two decades our dramatists have become increasingly
aware of the rich theatrical heritage that resides in the carnival and they have begun to
incorporate masquerade characters in their plays. For some the masquerades have been
used as a means of creating a recognizably indigenous drama where speech and movement,
music and song and dance capture the idioms and rhythms of the native populations,
while characters and costumes are derived from the carnival experience. For others, the
masquerades have been used to portray the struggle that still must be waged for economic
and cultural freedom now that political independence has been won.
Above and beyond all this, the appearance of masquerades on the dramatic stage is
a way of returning the theatre to its ritual origins. Once again man is confronted with the
supernatural, the mysterious, we are once more in the province of symbol and myth and
poetry; and the scope of the theatrical experience is thereby enlarged. If our playwrights
can rise to the challenges and opportunities posed by the masquerade drama, then the
Caribbean theatre can look towards the future with firm assurance.
1. Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 4, Nos. 3 & 4. March- June 1956 Available in book Ilorm Ifrom
Kraus Thompson Reprint or University Microfilms. Michigan.
2. The Trinidad Carnival: Mandate for a national theatre. Austin, University of Texas Press. 1972
TRADITIONAL MASQUERADES IN TRINIDAD CARNIVAL
in order of appearance in Press reports and other sources
Irom 1834 to 1934
1 pre 1834 Negre Jardin
2 1834 Military band
3 1838 Stickfighters
4 Clowns (European)
5 Red Indians
6 1856 Death or Ghost
7 1858 Transvestism (Pis-en-lit)
8 1859 Naval band
9 1861 Matadors or Diametres
10 1866 Mock trial (Judge, Lawyers, Defendant)
11 1878 Convicts
12 1880 Zulus
13 Coolie Hose
15 1882 Chinese
16-21 post 1884
Dame Lorraine characters
(police licence required 1896)
Moko Jumbie or Stilt Men
Vampire Bat (individual)
Policemen (and thieves?)
Clowns (local variety)
Doctors, Bootblacks, Baby Doll
Photographers, Surveyors, Washerwomen
Fishermen with nets
Cowboys at Oval
Devils (Khaki and Slate band)
Domestic Servants (Barbadian)
Bad Behaviour Sailors
Charlie Chaplin (Whistling Charlie)
Sanitary Inspectors, Fitters
Red Cross Nurses
TRADITIONAL MASQUERADES IN TRINIDAD CARNIVAL
Extracts from Caribbean Quarterly vol. 4 nos. 3-4
March & June, 1956 (Trinidad Carnival Issue)
From Daniel J. Crowley, "The Traditional Masques of Carnival" and "The Midnight Robbers";
Andrew Carr, "Pierrot Grenade"; and Bruce Procope, "The Dragon Band or Devil Band".
I Rare and Extinct Bands
1-2 Negre Jardin and Batonnier
an aristocratic masquerade later adopted by stickfighters
restrictions by police forced masque into country villages
3 Dame Lorrane (indoors): was extant in 1945
4 Pissenlit ("bed wetter"): suppressed in early years of 20th C.
5-7 Jamet Bands
from French diametre
Jamet women were "matadors" or retired prostitutes gone respectable
male counterparts were Jamet men or "sweet men"
ancestors of Millionaires and Tourists
8-10 Fancy Bands
any band dressed in colourful velvets and satins and boasting a variety of characters from
King and Queen downwards, e.g.
Julian White Rose
11 Moko Jumby
12 Congo or Shango Bands
played by 5 or 6 people, men and women, who wore flowing satin trousers caught at the
knees like knickers, a satin blouse, and a hat with conical crown
wore chaplets of cashew nuts and palmiste seeds; recited African prayers
13 Cattle or Cow Bands
played by Abbatoir employees of Venczuelan origin
14 Pai Banan (banana trash)
like Cow Band but costumes of dry plantain leaves and seen mostly in country districts
15-24 Other Extinct Masquerades
S Doctors, Nurses, Hospital Employees, Mental Patients, Prisoners in Chains, Snake
Charmers with real snakes, Yard Boys, Ladies with Babies in search of a Father, Trained
Bears and their Trainers, Tailors.
played about 50 years ago but now extinct
handsome masquerader and terrific fighter
a prince not a clown; name probably corrupted from Pays-roi
in 1896 police permission required to play this masque
II Surviving Bands
26 Pierrot Grenade
referred to disparagingly about 40 or 50 years ago as "mokoto mas"
comes from Grenada, speaks French Patois
wears mask to disguise identity and voice
travel in pairs, threes or fours
Bad Behaviour Sactors and Sailors Ashore
SeaBees and Ships Company
Fancy or King Sailors and Stokers: first appeared c. 1946; developed elongated nose into
30 Military Masques
among the oldest beginning 1834
could be Army, Marine, or Air Force personnel, either in dress uniform or battle dress
American forces most frequently imitated in recent years but British, French, Venezue-
lan, German, Korean and imaginary uniforms also seen
31 Wild Indians, Red, Blue and Black
most popular band after Sailors
Red Indians from Venezuela
Black Indians are African, arranged hierarchically like military bands with King, Queen,
Prince, Princess, Hunters, Warriors, etc.
also Blue Indians and Canadian White Indians
32 Fancy Indians
originated from Wild Indians but with elaborate headpieces
33 Indian Warriors
costumes based on comic books, National Geographic magazine, cowboy and Indian
cost up to $300
34. Other Warriors
Africans and other real or imaginary non-literate peoples often based on movies
Juju Warriors wore skinfit costumes with frayed bag pants or grass skirts
35. Jab Molasi
old masque devil
only two bands appeared in recent years
37 East Indian Borokit
derives from worship of Hindu mother goddess in the form of a horse
virtually extinct on streets
38-39 Spanish Borokit and Pajaro
from Venezuela; extinct in town but survives in Spanish communities like Arima
Pajaro or Bird also from Venezuela, not in city in recent years
40 Sebucan or Maypole
Sebucan is Amerindian from cassava squeezer which the maypole resembles
masque known in St. Lucia and Barbados as "plait the ribbon"
few bands in town recently
41-42 Yankee Minstrels and Tennessee Cowboys
derive from minstrel shows popular in US at turn of century
costumes sometimes borrowed from vaudeville
usually 4 male singers or with added female
Tennessee Cowboys a variant of Yankee Minstrels singing cowboy and hillbilly songs
circus clowns appeared in early years of 20th C.
after first world war, fancy clowns came out with particular names and basic colour
collar ruffle began to expand into elaborate wire structure covered with beadwork
sometimes play with clown bands, sometimes as bat bands, sometimes as individuals
S performance more a mime than a dance
45 Historical Bands
developed mostly since second world war, large membership, expensive costumes
sources in literature or history books, the bible
must have extensive hierarchy
intense research but carnival tradition and style respected
46 Original Bands
refers to bands conceived from fantasy or non-traditional sources
47 Advertising Bands
constitute a minor aspect of traditional carnival
48 Juve and Old Masque Bands
juve masques extremely varied, allowing for almost any crazy improvization
pieces of last year's costumes worn; "ole mas' refers to costumes from old clothing,
rags and cast-olf materials
innovation is keynote; bands present jokes or gags, sometimes satiric comment
of all traditional bands, only Old Masque and Sailors employ innuendo
49 Midnight Robbers
about 60 makers in 1954
began as American cowboys 30 or 40 years ago
past bands of 30 to 40 strong; nowadays between 3 and 15.
50 Dragon Band or Devil Band
originated from Jab-Jab or Devil Mas'
began 1906 by Patrick Jones, khaki and slate colours chosen
band of 60-70 men and women with Lucifer character, "presidents" and jab-jabs
in 1909 Jones organized Red Dragon Band and in 1910 Demonites when he introduced
Beelzebub in a cage and the Beast or Dragon
in 1911 Satan introduced
currently three sets of characters: Imps, Beasts, Gownmen
THE NOTHING HILL GATE CARNIVAL -
BLACK POLITICS, RESISTANCE. AND LEADERSHIP 1976-1978
EVERTON A. PRYCE
The Notting Hill Gate Carnival in London has come to reflect the love-hate relationship
that patterns the conflict between young Afro-Caribbean blacks and the established order
in Britain. Within the Carnival experience the symbol of reggae music is employed to
express resistance against the police, who are seen by the youths as enforcers of institu-
tional class rule and social control. The police, for their part. have now reified their role
within the event as that of 'performers' and Carnivalists (not law enforcers). But the feel
of anxiety and agitation within the event still lingers, although there is the appearance of
improved organisation, the containment of young blacks, and the absence of any vocal
utterances by the leadership reflecting the hidden ideological and structural contradic-
tions of the event. If the promotion of the Carnival can now be regarded as 'success', then
it is worthwhile examining at what cost this success has been achieved.
Carnival in Notting Hill Gate 1966-1976
Carnival in Notting Hill began circa 19661 as a relatively multi-racial, if not multi-
cultural affair, with the white residents playing the dominant role in its organisation. The
organizers, most notably an Englishwoman, Rhaunee Laslett. and an Englishman,
Anthony Perry, were concerned with expressing 'black culture' in its ambivalent and
somewhat conservative diversity. These organizers. backed by the North Kensington
Amenity Trust (NKAT) a social work agency operative within Notting Hill promoted
Carnival, with its calypso and steel band music, as a fun-loving event in which all and
sundry could participate, including the police, who gained favourable publicity from the
event. At its best. Carnival in Notting Hill Gate for the first several years, was nothing
more than a caricature of Carnival in Trinidad. reflecting the organiser's perceptions of
black culture in Britain, as that of a passive, fun-loving people. A Trinidadian nationalist
element soon began to cohere around the Carnival; and by 1975 the Carnival Develop-
ment Committee (CDC) was established, chaired by Selwyn Baptiste, a Trinidadian musi-
cian. By the late 1960s and early 1970s small conflicts surfaced as increasing numbers of
blacks demanded control of the event. 2 These conflicts, up to 1972-1973, had no clear
In 1974, however, Leslie Palmer, a Jamaican armed with tremendous organisational
ability and an acute sense of timing, seized the initiative and co-opted the support-base of
the NKAT, proceeding thereafter in the years 1974-1975 to give to the Carnival a new
cultural orientation. He introduced into the structure of the festivities the cultural con-
tent of reggae-music, that which had been responsible for sustaining the newly-emergent
street-culture of black youths in Britain. The result was a dramatic increase in the number
of people converging on the streets of Notting Hill; especially young blacks with allegi-
ances to different reggae 'Sound Systems'.3 In terms of the numbers, Carnivals 1974-
1975 were spectacular successes.
But the Carnival's very success, especially in 1975, was problematic. The serious
neglect of the event's administrative requirements fanned the flames of opposition. Local
white residents in Notting Hill Gate, the local borough council, and the police of North
Kensington, sought to have the Carnival removed from the streets of Notting Hill and
imprisoned in the White City Stadium. Typical among the complaints from the opposi-
tion forces, were the noise emanating from the newly featured reggae sound-systems, the
lack of sanitary facilities, inadequate crowd control, and the increased need to police the
event. The question of the role of,the police polarised the competing forces within the
Carnival, especially since the summer and autumn of 1975 had seen a series of confronta-
tions between the police and young blacks in Brixton, Lewisham, Peckham, London,
Chapletown, and Leeds, which had cast grave doubts on the future of 'race relations' in
The preparations for the 1977 and 1.978 NHGC assumed the form of a highly politi-
cised contest between the two rival Carnival Committees, the CDC and the CAC, about the
ideology of Carnival, the scope of involvement of young blacks, and the nature of polic-
ing. What ensued was the mobilization of public opinion by both the dominant white
and 'subordinate' black media on firstly the idea of mass participation on the streets of
Notting Hill Gate for the two Carnival days and, secondly, the political mileage to be gain-
ed out of the struggle for political .leadership within the black community.
The NHGC. however, is best understood as the two days of the year when black
people in the United Kingdom consider themselves to be in the majority. It is essentially
an occasion when black people come together to assert their presence culturally, politi-
cally, socially, and, if needs be, violently, in symbolic affirmation of the mood of agita-
tion endemic to the existence of black people in an overwhelmingly white milieu.
The Afro-Caribbean Diaspora and Cultural Resistance
Active defences of the cultural institutions of Afro-Caribbean blacks continued
throughout their passage to Britain from settlement (in the 1950s) to the establishment
of communities (in the 1970s). As blacks in exile, they brought with them the objects
and forms of their cultural practices; but these were to come under renewed intense pres-
sure in the new multi-racial setting.
Beginning with the 'Race Riots' in Notting Hill and Nottingham in 1958, Afro-
Caribbean blacks, as a set of communities, met the challenges of the manipulators of
racist violence the British Union of Fascists and their Teddy-boy working-class support-
ers on a large and organized scale.5 The black organizations however, were relatively
short-lived. The decade of 1965-1975 saw many 'Black Power' and affiliated black
organizations de-stabilised; and many blacks came to interpret the use of the legal charges
of affray and the Vagrancy Act of 1824 against them, throughout this period, as challenges
to the Black communities. State action included systematic police harassment and attacks
upon Black cultural venues and events, and upon black persons, political organizations,
and cultural institutions. This was in spite of the fact that the culture of Afro-Caribbean
blacks was represented then in the main in extremely 'private' ways, the content
of its representational mode being through black churches; multi-racial 'friendship'
associations; clubs-shebeens; 'roots'/basement restaurants; private gambling dens; and pri-
vate homes. Nevertheless, the confrontations produced, inter alia, the murder of Nigerian
David Oluwale (1971), the Mangrove raid and trial (1972); the Carib Club police attack
and the Cricklewood 12 trial (1974-1975). The major attack on the Afro-Caribbean
communities in the period, occurred in 1971, in the form of the Sunderland Road bomb-
ings in Lewisham.6
If the intention of both state action and racist attacks against black cultural organ-
izations had been to effect the repression, if not co-option, of such organizations, the stra-
tegy achieved only partial and temporary success. The cultural presence of Afro-Carib-
bean blacks in Britain had been relatively 'dormant' over the period 1965-1971, but in
1973-1974 a new phenomenon occurred: the emergence of the UK-based Rastafarian
Paralleling the emergence of rastafarianism was that of militant reggae-music.
Reggae music at this conjuncture played the role of linking the style and form of Afro-
Jamaican street-culture to the style and form of the street-culture of young Afro-Carib-
bean blacks in Britain. and, with the rastafarian movement, gave these same youths an
orientation, in that both reggae and rastafarianism (Dread), assumed together, the appear-
ance of an overt and mutinous force or power which the state its concerned institutions
and personnel came to regard as a threat or as potentially threatening. This new
development had permanently changed the qualitative content of black culture in Britain,
and the agents of history that constituted this culture 'brought a distinct quality to strug-
gle at the cultural level in their new metropolitan home'.
The re-emergence of black resistance in 1975 in the form of the NHGC, played the
role of a decisive and challenging force against the state throughout the years 1976-1978.
This black 'majority', asserting itself at Carnival time, affirmed the existence of a frag-
mentary political base of disaffected black youths whom black leadership such as the
rival Carnival Committees seemed impotent to direct. A Black leadership, in the main,
unprepared and politically ill equipped to lead this actual or potential power group,
merely made flaccid gestures of support for a category called 'the youth' in the belief that
if this power were to explode such token support would guarantee its own political legiti-
To describe the leadership of the NHGC throughout this 1976-1978 period thus, is
to admit at once that there exists a crisis of leadership within the black resistance move-
ments of the late 1970s and early 1980s; it is to admit also, that both community-leader-
ship and resistance-leadership within the black communities converge on the NHGC, and
then diverge into serious dissension.
The Wind of Change 1976-1978
The- CDC of 1976 was composed of West Indians of various backgrounds, pro-
fessions and political persuasions. The majority of its members were Trinidadians: steel-
bands men, musicians, poets and actors. There is some contention surrounding the claim
that these men were responsible for establishing a carnival tradition in Britain.9 This com-
mittee became in 1976 the victim of its own success when its organizational skills were
severely tested. The tasks involved in organizing an event such as the Notting Hill Carnival
are immense, especially when complicated by attacks from 'without', as was the case in
In April 1976, the CDC met with the local authority of the Royal London Borough
of Kensington/Chelsea Council (KBC) and the police to discuss the proposed shift of
venue to the White City Stadium, the nature of the policing of the event, and financial
arrangements for the promotion of the festival. By late June and July of 1976, these
matters remained unresolved, and the Committee proceeded with its plans to have the
Carnival in Notting Hill over the August Bank holiday week-ena. Senior police officers
who had been engaged in the negotiations, decided to increase the number of police on
duty over the two days from 60 in 1975 to 1,200 in 1976. Their decision seemed well
informed, for a grotesque battle ensued in the streets of Notting Hill between the police
and a section of 250,000 revellers, most notably the younger West Indians. Carnival 1976
"provided a shock for the nation".10 Reports of the battle were relayed on television
screens throughout the world, thus giving to the event political implications beyond the
intentions of its organizers.
This occurrence brought with it mounting criticism from the CDC members against
its un-elected chairman, for his lack or organization of the event. The chairman, Selwyn
Baptiste,11 responded to the criticism by vacating his post, with the intention of creating
his own committee.
In May 1977 the indictment of fraud was laid against Baptiste by the chairman of
the liaison committee of the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, councillor Michael
Cocks, in a letter to the Kensington News and Post.12 A subsequent widespread disman-
tling of Baptiste's remaining committee occurred in the form of resignations, when it was
further alleged that 1,500 was unaccounted for from a grant made to the 19/6 CDC by
the NKAT Baptiste responded to the allegations made against him by Michael Cocks.
asserting that they were obstructionist "tactics".l3 Having protested his innocence, he
receded into temporary obscurity.
The failure of the CDC leadership to provide a coherent explanation for the vio-
lence at the 1976 Carnival, and its paralysis in directing the resistance, together with the
allegations of fraud and Baptiste's defiance, led to a widespread national feeling that
incompetence and irresponsibility lurked within the Carnival Movement. The CDC's handl-
ing of "private negotiations" with the police for the 1976 Carnival was belligerently
attacked by Darcus Howe, editor of the Political (black) journal, Race Today. Indeed, it
was left to forces outside the Carnival Movement to provide explanations for the August
The process began with an attack upon the structure of West Indian leadership, by
the Labour MP for Teeside, Middlesborough, Author Bottomley, who was quoted in
The Times (1 September 1976):
West Indian leaders have not exercised as much
authority and influence as they should. It is time they
took over full responsibility for the West Indian com-
munity and did not leave it to some elements of the
Black Power Movement.
The West Indian family structure was also seen as the root of the problem by
The Economist (4 September 1976):
Parental control within the West Indian Community
is . breaking down . In the aftermath of the
Notting Hill Carnival, sensible black and white adult
Britons must not minimise the black teenage problem
that many urban Britons now face, and that even
more now virulently resent. The special obligations
on black adults ... should be to co-operate with the
police against any sort of bogus soul-brother solid-
arity with muggers that can so easily take root.
There was much sympathy for the police. In a letter to the editor of The Daily
Telegraph, a sullen resident of Notting Hill hinted at Britain's moral indignation at the
heavy casualties that the police had sustained at the 1976 Carnival.14
Responding to the call for upright leadership of the Carnival Movement, the CAC
emerged from the breakaway members of the CDC of 1976. In January 1977 it held a
series of 'public meetings' in the borough of North Kensington to elect its members.
Many ex-members of the splintered CDC were co-opted. Participants in the CAC election
process were broadly based: local community groups, members of the police, the Com-
munity Relations Commission (CRC), the KBG the NKAT, the Black Peoples Informa-
tion Centre (BPIC), the Notting Hill Social Council (NHSC), and many other political,
cultural and social work agencies.15 The support base of the CAC reflected the ideology
of its chairman, Louis Chase, a Barbadian-born graduate of Oxford University and a resi-
dent then of Notting Hill. Chase insisted that all members of a Notting Hill Carnival Com-
mittee ought to be residents of Notting Hill, and that there should be substantial repre-
sentation of local black community groups on the committee. Because of the "ineffi-
ciency, extremism and ugliness"16 of the deposed CDC, Chase felt that it had not been
able to adequately manipulate the political issue of the Carnival, which to him, and his
Committee, centred around the plight of the young blacks who revolted. Furthermore,
the CDC in his opinion, had not sought a "mandate" from the people of Notting Hill to
continue its existence; it had grossly underestimated the fact that the political dimensions
of the Carnival stemmed from the image it ought to project of black people in Britain.
The CDC, in a last ditch scramble to regain respectability, regrouped under the intel-
lectual leadership of Darcus Howe a Trinidadian and his collective. Howe, who had
entertained doubts about the character of the CDC leadership,17was subsequently elected
chairman of a new CDC by the remaining members of Baptiste's faction. Howe pledged
the support of Race Today in "educating carnival enthusiasts and the interested public
about the build-up to the festivities and the festival itself'.18 Race Today (as an informa-
tion organ and political 'force' within the black community) had become for the new
CDC The "organization and the platform to winning a police-free carnival and to placing
before the Black community the. democratic structures through which its cultural and
political struggles would ... be extended".19 Through its Bulletin, Mas, the CDC stated
We the steel-bandsmen, mas men and sounds men of
the Carnival Development Committee wish to inform
all that we are responsible for Carnival 1977, for
without us there can't be a West Indian Carnival.20
This pro-Trinidadian/calypso/Carnival stance of the CDC led to a massive intake of
Trinidadians whose loyalties were to Carnival, Trinidad and a reinstated Baptiste. now
Director of the revamped CDC. The combination of the political orientation of the Race
Today Collective and the cultural nationalism represented by Baptiste resulted in the
consolidation of a firm ideological position within the new CDC.
The Response of the Rival Carnival Committee to Black Youth
In the years following 1976 the year of 'defeat' of the police by resisting young
blacks at the Carnival; the year also that the history of the event changed in terms of
demonstrating the potential power of blacks to resist cultural oppression by urban revolt
-the police took the view that they had a responsibility to maintain 'public order' in the
face of mass (Black) cultural presence on the streets of Notting Hill. The police effected a
highly sophisticated campaign in crowd control at the Carnival in 1977, 1978 and 1979.
Resisting young blacks were contained over these years. The divergent explanations of the
political behaviour of young blacks at the Carnival, offered by the rival leadership of the
event, denote a bifurcation of ideological/political consciousness. Neither Committee had
an adequate explanation for the persistence of the resisting behaviour of young blacks.
But with the weight of public opinion, and the dynamics of state/sub-state funding
agencies firmly demanding an explanation,21 the 'forces' within both Committees moved
with zeal to provide one.
At a general meeting at the headquarters of the CAC on 24 May 1977, Louis Chase
explained that his Committee's policy was based upon an understanding of the politics of
confrontation between the police and young blacks in the black communities over the
The Notting Hill Carnival cannot be seen as a non-
political event a mere cultural and artistic extrava-
ganza. For it must clearly relate to some of the other
needs and concerns of this community. It is political
for we are dealing with the lives of a minority whose
disadvantage has led to frustration. 22
The CDC leadership, by contrast, failed to acknowledge the political nature of black
youth resistance to the police. Remaining true to its own interests, it indicted the police
for being provocative and over-reactive.23 Further, despite previous assertions that Carni-
val was not a mere cultural extravaganza,24 the CDC, when confronted with suggestions
for changes in the organization and management of the event especially in relation to
black youths resorted to the notion that the Carnival was primarily cultural. "The
Carnival", according to one CDC member, "is the theatre of the streets ... it makes no
distinction between the performer and the spectator. Everybody is free to join in and
have fun, and freak out".25 "Carnival," said the CDC's Director, Baptiste, "is all year
round; it is a learning process for all of us. We learn dignity and we hope to gain respect.
But we have no respect for those who hurt Carnival ... As musicians we feel that to use
Carnival as a political platform . is to hurt Carnival."26
In the eyes of certain forces within the CDC, to "hurt Carnival" to focus on poli-
tics meant devaluing the prestige inherent in the ability to control the most calypso/
steel-bands on the streets of Notting Hill throughout the two Carnival days. To diminish
the kudos of the competition between the bands amounted to knowing 'nothing' of
Carnival, which was equal to being anti-band, and anti-Trinidad, characteristic of 'dem
Jamaicans' who sought to 'brok-up Carnival'. This same force within the CDC subse-
quently advocated the disbanding of the CAC because of its alleged failure to meet the
requirement to 'produce a band'.
By contrast, the CAC's over-riding policy towards the event was that the Carnival
should reflect the needs and aspirations of young blacks, since they bring to bear upon
the event their latent frustrations and deprivation. Carnival, it insisted, is "a celebration
of the black community".27 More important, black resistance within the Carnival experi-
ence is symbolic of an attack against the British state, and is therefore political.
The CAC, therefore, saw the need for the containment of this resisting force of
youth by instituting preventative measures within the structure of the event: the provi-
sion of entertainment predominantly competing reggae sound-systems on the ground,
which could give to the leadership a lever of control in police/youth confrontation. On
this issue of containment of a "disruptive element" both Committees were agreed. And
though the problem was essentially one of the effectiveness of leadership/direction, both
Committees handled it in terms of another question: what form of 'control' ought to be
applied to the "disruptive elements" within the corpus of young blacks at the Carnival?
The two Committees, in effect, wanted practical control of resisting young blacks,
but they differed in their conception of the institution of Carnival and thus, in the
ideology/politics of youth leadership. For the CAC, the spirit of Carnival was best realized
within a community-based Carnival movement, responsive to the needs of young blacks,
and focusing on preventative measures to contain potential rebellion within the Carnival
The Notting Hill Carnival is only the stage on which
the youngsters act out the drama of their lives ...
(it) dramatised the magnitude of something that has
been minimised for years and further neglect and the
absence of preventative action can only forecast, not
hot summer's days as have taken place at Notting Hill
during the past two years, but hot summers which
will not be events for mediocre street celebrations.28
For the CDC, by contrast, the displaying of the cultural/artistic component of Carnival in
venues divorced from the black community, and rebelling youths (such as the Common-
wealth Institute), was not perceived as antithetical to the spirit of Carnival. Indeed, the
rebellion of the young, the CDC asserted, was symbolic of the generalised violence of the
British state, and could not be contained by the kind of preventative action envisaged by
the CAC within the Carnival structure:
The state is aware that an energy which makes spon-
taneous battles and turns them into politically sup-
ported defences in court, is capable of generating
fierce organisation in class combat ... Until and
unless British society ensures that this growing sec-
tion of the population gets what it needs and
demands on its own terms, it will have no option but
to turn up, looking for the main chance at public
The CDC's position reflected a virtual abdication of practical responsibility for the
behaviour of young agitating blacks.
On 8 June 1978, Louis Chase resigned as chairman of the CAC out of the "frustra-
tion .. experienced at the hands of the authorities and the lack of administrative facili-
ties to carry out (his) functions".30 The CDC was to manipulate the revelation to their
advantage with bitter pique. Chase was roundly attacked as a "Carnival Clown" and his
involvement in the Carnival since 1976 condemned as an act of opportunist intervention.
His Committee was also attacked as a conglomerate of "political scamps" out to make
"political capital" out of Carnival.
Afro-Caribbean Identity in Britain
The crisis of leadership-direction for the Carnival suggests not only the conditions
under which Afro-Caribbeans struggle, but also the quality of their lives and their impact
on British society. There is a crisis of Afro-Caribbean identity fulfilment in British
society, which has its basis in the colonial complex of their background, and which,
though determined economically, is nevertheless defined culturally.31 The most signifi-
cant dimension of this reality is the relationship that Afro-Caribbeans have to one another,
that depth of involvement and unspoken recognition of shared experience which create a
way of life. The isolation of the Afro-Caribbean within his own group is clearly illustrated,
for example, in the initial disintegration of the CDC and in its inability to respond to criti-
cism from within the community. Those situations which demand the taking of decisions
and the defining of political and cultural objectives within the Afro-Caribbean community
often generate contradictions and intra -group rivalry.
The cultural assertions that define the dominant directions of the Carnival's dual
leadership can be seen as a way of contending with the class ascriptiveness of the wider
British society, a form of adaptation. This on-going reification process explains how it
was possible for both Committees to grandiloquently affirm the positive character of
Carnival in ameliorating the status of Black people in Britain, while simultaneously
engaging themselves in a divisive struggle for its leadership. The leadership of both
Carnival Committees failed to adequately comprehend the nature of its own social group.
Since the Afro-Caribbean Community possesses few 'institutional' or 'model' Leaders.32
and individual Afro-Caribbeans hardly accept those few members of the group in the
traditional professional and political elitist framework as models for emulation, the
carnival committees' rhetoric of Afro-Caribbean group solidarity via the Carnival evaded
the problematic question of why the community leadership of the Carnival was itself
Several factors account for this fragmentation of leadership. Firstly, there is the
sociological argument which maintains that a less developed pattern of migrant leader-
ship is evident among Afro-Caribbeans as opposed to the Asian community, for
example and less opportunity for the minority to exert its own controls over its
members.33 Secondly, such migrant leadership as does exist tends to draw its support
from loyalty patterns based on island origin relations voluntarily entered and main-
tained, rather than prescribed by factors like extended kinship. Thirdly, we may per-
ceive struggles for positions of leadership within the Afro-Caribbean communities in
Britain as expressions primarily of narrow self-interest and power lust despite the
rhetoric of seeking to articulate the grievances of the less fortunate members of the black
community. This does not seem to be merely an 'immigrant problem', as Bently main-
tains,34 which will disappear through a process of 'integration' or 'assimilation'. In the
specific context of the Carnival Movement, the fragmentation of leadership of the Afro-
Caribbean community can be grasped via an examination of their divergent support-
bases, underpinning ideologies and pragmatic strategies.
All the major groups involved in the Carnival (throughout the period under discus-
sion) at the local level, have varying degrees of preoccupation with the racial question,
and differing modes of operation. The CAC's support-base -- the Black Peoples Informa-
tion Centre, the NKAT, the Notting Hill Social Council (NHSC). and the Community Rela-
tions Commission (CRC) constitute effectively "local political collectivities with
wide ranging interests relating to the area of North Kensington"35 and Notting Hill per
se, and differ accordingly from the support-base of the CDC -- the Race Today Collective
and other nationalist-oriented individuals/ organizations.
The support base of the CAC'S inter-racial mix naturally has much to do with 'race-
relations' in Britain, though their activities may be defined as conducted within the
narrow context of social work, counselling, advice-work, and self-help. This social
support-base, in effect, represents and constitutes a long and shaky historical compromise
in community solidarity in the Notting Hill district, when in the mid-1960s 'scores of
joint white-black formal associations were formed. under essentially white leadership'
to fight campaign battles on housing, public service, and amenities issues, but always
serving the 'limited interests of small groups, and quickly disintegrating'.36 In the absence,
however, of any systematic representation of the views of these groups vis-a-vis the Carni-
val crisis, we may say that they contributed the community-leadership block to the con-
The support base of the CDC, on the contrary, has a wider frame of reference, relat-
ing generally to the activities of Afro-Caribbeans in Britain, and to developments in their
home countries.37 The Race Today Collective's radical disposition daily receives more
sophistication and legitimacy from black and white liberals alike who have found 'con-
sciousness', and from grass-roots politicians who seek votes, and, perhaps, unity. To this
end they further the intellectual creed of middle-class liberals who believe in a multi-
racial society and the assertion of the dignity of the black man. The Collective, further-
more, has a long track record of providing militant leadership and organization for the
As a social force, the Collective is governed by a problematic theoretical and stra-
tegic appraisal of black politics: since the social relation, in its view, is multi-dimensional
- involving politics, ideology, exchange, property, distribution and production the class
struggle itself becomes multi-dimensional. There is strong support for this view in Stuart
Hall's analysis of the representative positions of The Black Liberator and Race Today.38
Elsewhere39 he extends the analysis by arguing that Race Today supports 'the autonomy
of class resistance and its necessary separateness just now', and that this characterises it as
a 'Gramscian party in a sense', although 'It's not an organized party, but it has a formative
and educative relationship to the black community'.40 The political consequence of this,
Hall points out, is that it 'lead(s) them into some very serious mis-analyses and cul-de-
sacs. It leads them to take on a kind of sectarianism, in relation both to other currents in
the black struggle and in relation to the white working class'.41 When in 1977, then, the
Race Today Collective assumed the position of spearheading the CDC, it was fully aware
of its relative political strength, and knew that its policies on behalf of the CDC were
likely to win mass support from different quarters within the broad political spectrum of
Britain. Race Today, as a Collective, contributed the resistance-leadership block to the
These distinct profiles of political support bases, when intersected at the point of
the NHGC, further inspired dichotomous ideological perceptions and conceptions of the
racial and class position of blacks in Britain.
The Ideological Dichotomy
The CAC's ideology vis-a-vis Carnival, subscribed to a notion of race relations that
would subordinate 'blackness' to the requirements of a national identity and acceptance
in Britain, as the country which Afro-Caribbeans have adopted. There was a 'Euro' iden-
tification in its aims, which ultimately determined the strategy it envisaged as most effective
for alleviating the depressed and frustrating conditions of young blacks within the Carni-
val. Its constitution as a community-leadership tour de force held out for the operation-
alization of its strategy, in political terms, a negative response to the problem it addressed,
representing a 'response to the threat posed by alienated black youth'.42
The CDC, although in convergence with the CAC's assertion for the reinstating of
black pride, clearly did not accept that the subordination of 'blackness' to the require-
ments of a national identity was a feasible strategy for alleviating the malaise of young
blacks as expressed within the Carnival. Ideologically, the CDC were suggesting that the
genesis of identity fulfilment must emerge from within the Black community and embrace
a universal 'Black Brotherhood'; it is not blacks who need changing, but the social
systems in which they exist. Hence the CDC's notion of solidarity as opposed to change.
Ultimately, it was not what the CAC demanded that invited the belligerent rebuke of the
CDC, but how the CAC envisaged that its goals would be realized. The affected radicalism
of the CDC exemplified a belief in a multi-racial society, as differentiated from a multi-
racial personality, the character of the latter being the reinforcing of black inferiority
feelings and the consolidating of presumptuous white overlordship. Conversely, the
conservative-moderate CAC, and race-relations industry folks, similarly concerned with
the image of the black man as equal to the white, assumed the acquiescent posture of
respectable decency as defined by whites.
Both of the above ideological positions vis-a-vis the elements of resistance within
the Carnival experience throughout 1976-1978 are manifestations of political bank-
ruptcy, emanating from a historical, though not easily recognisable, entrenched political
contradiction, probably unique to the Afro-Caribbean community in Britain: there is very
little evidence that political as opposed to cultural achievement, is the dominant concern
of Afro-Caribbeans, especially among their leaders. What is indeed evident is that political
leadership elicits deep-seated aversions within the Afro-Caribbean community against the
politically ambitious, despite that leadership's vociferous claims that it advocates the
cause of the community. This contradiction, seen in terms of the struggle between the
CDC and the CAC, suggests that expressions of political extremism, conservatism or
moderation are equally opprobrious to the cynical, especially the black youth whose par-
ticular place in British politics as native Britishers, not migrant labourers -- is yet to be
This contradiction can explain the general inability of the political forces within the
Afro-Caribbean communities, and those who sporadically make academic interventions
into black politics, to translate racial awareness into class politics in Britain. Afro-Carib-
beans necessarily bring to the class struggle in particular instances two racially determined
ideologically imperatives: rejection of racial oppression, and resistance to cultural hege-
mony, which distinguish them as a group from the indigenous white working-class, and
which make the attempt of neo-Marxists to articulate race and class in a non-reductionist
The contribution of Paul Gilroy43 to this debate should be briefly considered, since
he denies that race and class are mutually exclusive concepts. Gilroy begins his analysis
from the curious premise of, firstly, accepting the independence of race relative to class
and class struggle, and secondly, of trying to bring them into articulation. His attempt to
do this consists essentially of arguing that black protest and resistance are reduced to class
struggle in racial appearances, and he thus denies their formerly asserted independence.
He therefore uses the concept of race as a social category without the necessary qualifica-
tions. The serious problem that this line of argument creates for Gilroy, and, indeed,
other neo-Marxist thinkers,44 is that while accepting the political category of race, he
fails to instantiate its role in areas of political struggle, choosing instead to sacrifice its
independence by assimilating it to an untheorised concept of class. Gilroy's line of argu-
ment creates ruptures in analyses designed to label aspects of the social milieu of Afro-
Caribbean blacks as 'middle-class'45 or classically 'working-class'46 without qualifications.
By contrast, I suggest that there is evidence in our portrait of an instance of black politics
and resistance the NHGC for an analysis of blacks in the British class structure that
argues for their characterisation as a black (racially differentiated) political category with
different sets of relationships to the economy and polity, autonomous of other classes.47
It must be stressed that the on-going debate on the dynamics of race and class seldom
makes specific reference to concrete instances amenable to testing theoretical postulates,
or wherein political contradictions are manifested, and tensions between aims and
tendencies given a content.
The ideological contradictions elaborated above probably account for the Janus-
faced politics of the 'forces' within both Carnival Committees vis-a-vis young Afro-Carib-
bean blacks. For the predominantly Trinidadian CDC, being 'pro-youth' was compatible
with control of the 'resisting' young blacks at the Carnival this category being synony-
mous with 'dem Jamaicans'. Furthermore, being pro-youth was also compatible with
being 'anti-youths', 'anti-Jamaicans' and 'anti-CAC'. How was this possible? The simple
answer is the politics of 'divide and rule'.
In their political thinking, the CDC linked the anti-youths element in the Carnival to
the existence of a structure, the CAC, and this facilitated the call for the disbandment of
the CAC. The CDC, therefore, hardly needed an elaborate policy on how to police the
Carnival: what would there be left to police, if the very structure which supposedly
sustained the presence of resisting young blacks the CAC were dispersed?
The CAC's contrastive policy of "preventative measures" was indeed problematic:
the CAC offered the youths little more than a structure of entertainment the sound-
system. This token gesture of support defeated the logic of the enterprise, especially since
reggae music and resistance are intricately linked. The substance of young blacks' cultural
expression in Britain, is their cognitive perception of the current national economic
decline, and the attendant crisis of social relationships that it engenders. Reggae music
articulates the tragedy and suffering, the ideals and aspirations of the ghetto. In militant
reggae music the concept of a just society is affirmed. Thus, black youths see reggae
music and resistance as a marriage which must be made and consummated in the interest
of transformation and development; this suggests that should resistance, and/or rebellion
explode around a structure that perpetuates this music form, it would signal in an ideal-
istic vision of what might be accomplished.48 To attempt to 'control' such a resistance,
while courting it, is therefore to deny black history in the making.
Resistance, not acquiescence, is the core of Black cultural autonomy in white racist
societies, and resisting black youths within the Carnival experience understand this
concept well. They demonstrate their resistance to racial oppression and cultural hege-
mony and containment, in violence against both the symbols of white institutional class
rule and social control, and the ambiguous black CDC/CAC leadership of the event.49 In
raising the sight of struggle from the narrow confines of cultural-race-relations, young
blacks now seek political direction, as is made clear by their willingness to introduce
political themes into their conflicts with the police, irrespective of their having been no
prior 'intentions' to do so. Here, we must uphold Gilroy's criticism of certain sections of
the independent 'white left' for persisting in omitting this reality from analyses of the
unity-in-diversity character of the class struggle in Britain, and for failing to 'see any need
to situate the culture of young Afro-Caribbean people on political terrain';50 but we view
as misguided and dogmatic Gilroy's perception of the process of resistance as revolution-
The politics that informs the culture of young blacks is derived from the require-
ments of survival on the streets, and narrowly distinguishes between crime and politics.
Overt political definitions can hardly be applied to the symbols of resistance of young
blacks, as Gilroy unsuccessfully attempts to do.51 Young blacks' cultural symbols of
resistance are best defined as reducible to the terrain of the politics of critique. The shift
from popular cultural-politics of critique to the politics of participation requires more
than the manipulation of symbols.52 This distinction suggests why it was that young
blacks at the Carnival were unable to identify with the leadership, and why the leadership
in turn flinched from the responsibility to provide political leadership for the potential
power of resistance of the young. When young blacks at the NHGC, throughout the
period under discussion, pulled and used knives, bricks and bottles against the multi-
racial make-up of the symbols of authority,53 the politics of black liberation was no
longer confined to cultural politics; this was the reason the leadership's culturalist asser-
tions lost sight of the basis of the young people's political independence.
Rastafarianism, reggae music, 'herbs', or 'kally-weed', 'hustling', stickingng, 'kiting'
or 'frontlining' are all everyday aspects of black culture, and for black youth these denote
their autonomy from domination by capital; these practices constitute the 'fruits' of their
history, and in turn determine that history. Black history and black culture therefore
define black resistance and rebellion in the historical moment. This suggests that the prac-
tice of black resistance cannot be eliminated by the traditional leadership strategies of
simply retreating into blind and naked ignorance, or proffering limp gestures of support.
The manifestation of resistance among black youths must clearly now be seen as an auto-
nomous social force in British politics.
The daily distortions and debasement of black youth's political reality continue to
lead them in consequence to consider themselves victims, and as such to deny themselves
good leadership, whenever, and wherever it occurs. One very important insight to emerge
from our findings is that the rebellion of the young at the Carnival in 1976-1978 tran-
scended the territorial boundaries, and in this sense validates to some extent Louis
Chase's claim that it dramatisedd the magnitude of something that has been minimised
for years", although the basis on which he made this assertion was a slight misrepresenta-
tion of the attitude of the young.
Equally, Darcus Howe was perceptive in recognizing the political undertones of the
young people's behaviour, but dogmatic in dismissing the phenomenon as of no concern
within the context of the Carnival. Young Afro-Caribbean blacks persist in being non-
hypocritical in their attitudes of defiance, and in their every stride of life reject the defini-
tive socio-political labels used to describe their existence which would relegate them to a
peripheral relationship with British society. Their struggle within and beyond the para-
meters of the Carnival crystallises 'the struggles of the oppressed to contest and transform
the categories of their oppression into a source of political strength',54 and this affirms
optimism in their 'survival' game in Britain.
This was an issue overlooked by the CDC: the forces within this leadership spoke
through the organ of Race Today, above, rather than directly to, the social reality of
young blacks. This further highlights the autonomy of young blacks on the political stage
in their communities, especially when we consider that they, much more than their
parents, cannot look forward to a return 'home' because they are home, and as such will
be more bitter than their parents about blockages to advancement and about racial pre-
judice and state harassment.
The form of their rebellion at the Carnival in 1976 1979 contained the seeds of
what was to follow by way of political revolts, in Bristol (1980). and Brixton. Toxteth.
Liverpool 8, Moss Side, and Southall (1981): its aim was to achieve a sense of political
potency.55 The specifics of these revolts by young black militants, regenerating the
guerrilla politics of their slave ancestry, enhanced a thirst for political participation and
representation, but, it should be stressed, was in no way revolutionary.56
The NHGC invariably tends toward expressing two opposing tendencies within a
unity of form; one toward a symbolic affirmation of the status quo, and the other toward
expressions of mass resistance, protest, and violence. To this extent, Carnival constitutes
'an ambiguous symbolic formation that camouflages and mystifies a contradiction'.57
The NHGC through the years 1976 to 1978 encompassed both acquiescence and resistance.
with resistance being the dominant theme, given the on-going tension in the relationship
between Black and White Britain. The nature of this relationship, as expressed in the
behaviour and attitude of young Afro-Caribbean blacks, changed the precarious balance
of the event in more ways than one.
While young blacks can be said to have given the practice of resistance within
Carnival in Trinidad from 1784 to 19 1858 a certain continuity. the form of their relation-
ship to the event in its new multi-racial setting must be noted. They did not appear in
1976-1978 to be overt supporters of this cultural form, but tended rather to view the
event as a vehicle for achieving certain particularistic and individualistic ends, which were
not reducible to cultural goals. The youth's participation in the experience of the Carnival
en masse since 1976 focused attention on the basic demands sought by the black masses
in Britain in the process of cultural-political-econonmic and social liberation.
Reggae music, at this conjuncture, has superseded calypso as the weapon tradition-
ally used to symbolise resistance against state oppression although an uneasy alliance
prevails between these two music forms in the British setting. Reggae, and the drama that
occurs around it within Carnival in Notting Hill today, has become the Freedom Proces-
sion, or the 'Canboulay'59 of young Afro-Caribbean blacks. The message, therefore, that
eluded t.e leadership of the Carnival throughout 1976-1978, was that young Afro-Carib-
bean blacks do not consider the solution to their unspoken dilemma to be preserved
within the beating of steel-drums and masquerading costumes, nor in the posturing of
Afro-Caribbean professionals. Carnival which, nevertheless, is part of their cultural
heritage allows for demonstration of the extent to which their relationship to British
society is literally and morally a blood relationship.
What is instructive about the Notting Hill Gate Carnival, and the politics and leader-
ship that emanate from it in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is that it is indeed the con-
temporary reality of British black youth sub-cultures not cultural nostalgia which
provides Carnival with its raison d'etre. The political consciousness that young Afro-
Caribbean blacks brought to Carnival in the years 1976-1978, was that as a mass black
cultural event, it could only claim to be expressive of resistance against cultural domina-
tion by virtue of its advocacy of a youth sub-culture. The Notting Hill Gate Carnival will
help realise the potential power of the black masses as a subordinate minority striving for
solidarity-resistance within the deeply racist structures of British society only when the
youths themselves gain control of its organization, and transform the symbolic resistance
power manifested at Carnival time into actual political power in the British state.
1. In my investigation into the histories of the NHGC, I necessarily relied a great deal on oral
history in determining some of the sequence of events. Other commentators have, however,
arrived at different conclusions with regard to the actual beginnings of carnival in Notting Hill.
See, A. Cohen, 'A Polyethnic London Carnival as a contested cultural performance'. in Ethnic
and Racial Studies, Vol. 5., No. 1.. January 1982. pp. 23 -41. I or a view closer to my own, see
C. Gutzmore. 'Carnival. The State. and the Black Massess in the United Kingdom'. in The Black
Liberator. No. i.. December. 1978. pp. 9-27.
2. Cohen, Ibid., comments on some of the wider political frictions within the community in
Notting Hill Gate that formed the backdrop to the takeover bid of Carnival by blacks in the
area. He also offers some interesting explanations for these early conflicts. See pp. 27-34.
3. Ior populist appraisals of the 'Sound System' phenomenon to black culture in Britain, see C.
McGlashen, 'The Sound System', Sunday Times, (Colour Magazine), february. 1973; M.
Banton, 'The Definition of the Police Role', in New Community, Vol III, No. 3. 1974 and K.
Iletcher. 'Notting Hill Starts to Throb'. The Sunday Times, 28 August 1983. p. 5.
4. For a full account of these incidents, see, inter alia. Time Out, 21 27 July 1972. and Race
5. See C. Jones, 'The Caribbean Community in Britain', in the The Black Liberator. No. 1. Decem-
ber 1978, pp. 28 37.
6. See Race Today, relevant years.
7. See E. Cashmore, Rastaman: The Rastafarian Movement in England, London: George Allen/
Unwin, 1979 and H. Campbell. 'Rastafari: Culture of Resistance'. in Race and Class, Vol.
XXII, No. 1, 1980.
8. L. Chase, Notting Hill Carnival: Street Festival, Interlink Longraph Limited, London.
9. See Race Today Collective, The Road Make to Walk on Carnival Day: The Battle for the West
Indian Carnival in Britain, Race Today Publication. 1977.
10. See the Editorial. The Times, 1 September 1976. Between 1976 and 1978, the NIIGC attracted an
estimated 700,000 people; 948 injuries were sustained by both police and civilians; over 600
crimes were reported to have been committed: well over 100 steel-bands and floats paraded the
streets of Ladbroke Grove; over 96 arrests were made for a variety of offences ranging from
'muggings' to drunkenness, followed by numerous convictions; and the overall financial turn-
over was well in excess of 3/4 million.
11. For a brief account of Baptiste's first involvement in the 1967 Carnival, see A. Cohen, op. cit.,
12. Kensington News and Post, 27 May 1977.
13. See The West Indian World, 3 June -9 June 1977; Charles Laureen and Paul Smith; The
Evening News, 13 March 31 May 1977. resp.; The Kensington News and Post, 3 June
17 June 1977, resp.
14. "1 believe the most terrible responsibility rests with all of us who allow such a task to be thrust
on our police. We did not have the moral courage to say "No", so we gave way. and in doing
so put several hundreds of London's police at terrible risk". Peter Kirwan, "Letters to the
Editor", The Daily Telegraph, 2 September 1976.
15. See C. Gutzmore, 1978.op. cit.
16. Interview with Louis Chase, conducted on 8 April 1978 in Notting Hill Gate.
17. It seems somewhat opportunistic that Howe, having attacked the CDC leadership of 1976, now
sought to take over the leadership of this faction. In an open letter reproduced in Race Today
Collective, 1977, op. cit. pp. 17 18. Howe he said:
One quarter of a million black people on the streets of Britain in 1976 is a political
event. That is how the state sees it. It is not simply an artistic festival of fun-loving West
Indians . We understand that you are calling on the Home Secretary to institute an
inquiry into the events of Sunday and Monday. To what end, we ask? Who will inquire?
.. you were outwitted and out-manoeuvred at every turn by the Metropolitan Police
.no one, bar no one, expected so many police officers until the week before the
You must have known, you ought to have known what the plans of the police were.
After all you were in negotiations with them for eight months ... you remained silent.
We suspect that you were too paralysed to act ... Cf, also, Race Today, 1973.
18. Race Today Collective. Ibid.
19. Ibid. p. 2.
20. M. Foot, 'Carnival Splits', Time Out, 27 May 2 June 1977. There is the implication deriving
from the CDC's manifesto that Carnival in Notting Hill is predominantly a West Indian affair
that should not be influenced by British-based reggae music and its symbols.
21. See the following selected press reports: Robert Parker, 'Clash over who runs Notting Hill
Carnival', The Times, 12 May 1977: John Clare, 'Cut Back on Carnival Police, Rees Asked', The
Evening Standard, 11 May 1977:'Carnival Disaster Warning'. The Evening News, 13 May 1977;
T. A. Sandrock. The Daily Telegraph. 13 May 3 June 1977;The West Indian World, 29 April
5 May 1977; The Paddington Times, 14 May 1977; and The Kensington News and Post, 6,
2U/27 May 1977.
22. Citation from a transcript of the speech.
23. Race Today Collective, op. cit. p. 13.
25. Larry Forde. quoted in Time Out, 1 September 1977.
26. Sclwyn Baptiste. quoted in Time Out, May- June 1977.
27. Chase. 1978.
28. Ibid. pp. 4 27. See also. The Kensington News and Post, 20 May 1977.
29. Race Today Collective, op. cit. p. 17.
30. Interview with Louis Chase conducted on 23 July 1978, in London. See also. The West Indian
World, 19 June -22 June 1978.
31. Ior extended discussions and analyses of the predicament of Afro-Caribbeans in Britain, see,
Allen and Smith in Parek (ed), 1977; Allen, 1971: Moore. 1975; Miles, 1978; Hiro, 1971.
32. S. Collins, Coloured Minorities in Britain. London: Latterworth, 1957.
33. M. Banton. 'The definition of the Police Role', in New Community, Vol. III, No. 3, 1974.
34. S. Bentley, 'The Structure of Leadership among Indians. Pakistanis, and West Indians in Britain',
(Unpublished M.Sc. Thesis) University of Bradford, 1970.
35. According to Vince Whyte, former dispatch-worker with the BPIC in personal communication.
36. Cohen, op. cit. p. 29. See also, The New Statesman, 18 June 1960, 5 November, 1960.
37. See any number of copies of the journal Race Today.
38. The Black Liberator, probably black Britain's best theoretical and anti-imperialist journal,
ceased publication in 1979. See, however, S. Hall, et al Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State,
and Law and Order, Macmillan Press. 1978. Ch. 10.
39. AFRAS Review, 'Cultures of Resistance and 'moral panics': An interview with Stuart Hall',
No. 4. 1979, pp 2-18.
40. Ibid., p. 12.
41. Ibid. Ch. 10.
42. See G. John, 'In the Service of Black Youth: A Study of the Political Culture of Youth and
Community work with black people in English Cities', (National Association of Youth Clubs
Special Report Series) Special Report, No. 2, March 1981 for discussion on the social control
function of selfhelp groups.
43. Gilroy, Ibid.
44. For example, 'Black Style', in New Community, Vol. IX., No. 1/2, Ch. 1. See also, Autumn-
Winter, 1983. pp 194-195.
45. A strong tendency to do this is present in Foner, 1979. See also A. E. Pryce, 'Jamaican Migra-
tion: Colour, Class and Status', in New Community, Vol. IX., No. 1, 1981. pp 136- 138.
46. C.R.C., Participation of Ethnic Minorities in the General Election October 1974, C.R.C..
47. Cf. X.A. Cambridee and C. Gutzmore. 'The Industrial A Action of the Black Masses and the
Class Struggle in Britain' in The Black Liberator. Vol. 2., No. 3.. June 1974 January 1975:
X. A. Cambridge and A. I. Pryce, 'Race, Class Culture, and Resistance in Lambeth', paper com-
missioned by, and presented to, The Working Party on Community/Police Relations in Lam-
beth (1980) (unpublished): J. Rex 'Black Militancy and Class Contlict', in R. Miles and A.
Phizacklea (eds): Racism and Political Action in Britain, Routledge, 1979; J. Rex and S.
Tomlinson. Colonial Immigrants in a British City. Routledge, 1979.
48. In this context, Gutzmore's essay (see Note 1), stands as the most graphic description to emerge
on the nature and quality of the violence at Carnival in 1976 and 1977.
49. For pictorial accounts, see inter alia. The Daily Telegraph, 31 August, 1977;The Daily Mail. 30
and 31 August, 1977: The Sun, 30 August, 1977.
50. Gilroy. op. cit. p. 280.
52. pp. 26-27. 'Deoating Britain's Election 1983' in The West Indian Digest, June 1983,
53. Carnival 1977 saw the use for the first time of black stewards, in conjunction with the police,
in the business of the 'policing' of the young. Cf. also, Note 49 above.
54. Gilroy, op. cit. p. 289.
55. For an excellent account of these incidents, see M. Kettle and L. Hodges, Uprising: The Police,
the people and the Riots in Britain's Cities, Pan Books, London and Sydney, 1982.
56. See S. Taylor, 1981, For an excellent summary of some of the main approaches to the study of
violence and their possible use in explaining the riots in Britain. S. Taylor. 'Riots: Some Expla-
nations', in New Community, Vol. IX.. No. 2 1981.
57. See M. Gulkman, Rituals of Rebellion in South-East Africa, Manchester University Press, 1954,
and Cohen, op. cit. p. 37.
58. See E. Hill, The Trinidad Carnival: Mandate for a National Theatre, Austin: University of Texas
59. Ibid. see also, G. Rohlehr, 'An Introduction to the History of the Calypso' (Paper 2), in
The Social and Economic Impact of Carnival Seminar Papers, ISER, UWI, St Augustine,
Trinidad, April 1984, pp 42-120.
BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS AND POPULAR MUSIC
IN JAMAICA IN THE 1960S AND 1970S
Some years ago I used to help with the training of social workers at the University of the
West Indies. I felt then that some of the assumptions on which we based the training were
faulty. I felt for instance that clients came to social workers and the agency because the
problem-solving strategy that they had been using had broken down. What they required
from the therapist at that point was help in removing the blocks from it and in recon-
structing the device. One's training seemed to assume that clients came to one naked and
that the social worker was to show them the 'right way'. This approach to therapy was
time-consuming and potentially confusing. I felt that if we knew the kinds of strategies
our clients used to solve their problems we could meet them half-way and reduce the
therapeutic time as well as the psychic pain. So I went into the field in 1975 to look at
the nature of problems and the kinds of problem-solving techniques Jamaicans tradition-
I interviewed ninety persons over the age of 70, all but two of whom were black-
skinned.' The intention of the interviews was to get the respondents to freely define
what was problem and what was solution as it occurred in their lives. The question I
asked all, in one guise or another, was "What is the earliest thing you can remember?"
and with guidance they took it from there. What struck me forcibly was the desire to talk
about a past: Africa, Slavery, Marcus Garvey, but more, the strength of the sentiment
which accompanied this desire. One informant, more than 80 years old, and whom I call
'Bambi'2 told me the story of her grandfather's near hanging in the disturbances of the
1830s in Western Jamaica.3 He had lived to tell her his story and she felt that I had been
specially sent to record it. Bambi's comment at 80 plus was pathetic:
If me even come and see dem a do a white man any-
thing, me na talk. No man. I don't business wid it. Me
have anything wid whiteman! I couldn't business wid
it. The ole ginneration pay for it. Lawd .. .dem meet
it. Dem meet it ...4
Despite the motto 'Out of many, one people'5 nothing had been done to address the
sense of ancestral hurt that Bambi felt.
Another, after discussing slavery, commented that "the ole people nuh like how
dem dish out August".6 He was referring to the fact that Emancipation Day, formerly the
first of August and parochially called 'August', no longer exists and we have instead a
holiday on the first Monday of August to celebrate Independence. This man felt that
there had been a conspiracy by the Establishment to down-play his history. And there is
some truth to this. Higman's7 discussion 6f the celebration of Emancipation in Jamaica
suggests a continuing effort of the white elite and black middle-class throughout the
twentieth century to de-emphasize the Africanisms therein and the references to slavery.
Part of this celebration as my informants give it, was the singing of songs which
had obviously been made by the freedmen and handed down. One such is
First of August morning
March round the booth
Then you see how we
get in freedom now
Jubilee aa come.8
While I was empathising with the generation born about 1900 and which I call the second
generation of freemen, the sound of Burning Spear,9 a group of youngmen under thirty
years of age, was singing through the amplifiers of the record shops in tones similar to
Bambi's: "Do you remember the days of slavery? Do you remember the days of slavery"?
It was as if a river of sentiment that had been running underground for decades had
suddenly surfaced. I and my kind of Afro-Jamaican knew only the silence of that senti-
mental river. Nowhere in elementary school, in high school or in university had I and my
agemates in the scribal tradition seen or heard that river.10 We were glad to hear this new
sound. It relaxed us. We took off our make-up, we washed our hair and left it natural;.we
took off our jackets and ties and made ourselves comfortable in shirt jacks. And we
understood at a personal level that for us black Jamaicans, there were two orientations: a
mulatto-orientation and an Afro-orientation, the latter having been submerged in our con-
sciousness. The persistent reggae beat and the lyrics it carried was partly responsible
for awakening this consciousness.
I cannot document the causal connection between this music and our awakening in
any other way than to point to the tact that among those ot the middle-class, the scribal
and the mulatto traditions, the Afro-centric reggae tunes were being as frequently and
later more frequently bought than the formerly sought-after American tunes. This pheno-
menon the penetration of the mulatto-orientation by the Afro-orientation through the
medium of the song is what I want to look at. I want to look first of all at the career of
the two orientations, then to look at the 'Afrosation' of the song and the process by
which it became a penetrative tool.
Traditionally, the Afro-Jamaican middle-class has emphasized its European family
connections11 and where there are no such, its grasp of European culture. This has been
much less so among the underclass so that within the black population 90 per cent of
the Jamaican population there are two predominant orientations: an Afro-orientation
and a mulatto-orientation. As we are all aware, the history of the Jamaican society is a tale
of European efforts to keep plantations viable and, therefore, black labour co-operative if
not quiescent. One technique used to achieve this was education which emphasized
literary skills.l" It is this education which produced and so successfully maintained the
distinctions which I have called orientations. The unlettered lower class, depending on the
oral tradition for its information, was kept in touch with its past of Africa and slavery
and with its African identity. The other was exposed to English textbooks, curricula and
examinations which taught about and distributed certificates for jobs based on an under-
standing of European ways.
The literate Afro-Jamaicans, who sought positions in places controlled by the
plantations, tended to see this book learning not simply as a tool for making a livelihood
but as the ultimate truth, and just as the reading materials saw their bodies and the lives
lived around them as at best unmentionable, so they saw themselves.13 This orientation
is typified in the correspondence of Rev Geddes,14 an Afro-Jamaican of the Methodist
Church who in 1922 was acting Chairman of the Methodist district in Jamaica. Rev
R. M. Parnther, another Afro-Jamaican clergyman serving in Jamaica, had recently died.
A eulogy appeared in the Methodist Recorder, the organ of the church world-wide. It
referred to him as a "highly honoured negro". Some Jamaicans, including the Rev Geddes,
were annoyed by the epithet. He submitted one Jamaican's response to this reference
with his own comments to the Secretary of the Methodist Missionary Society, [sic].
The enclosed was sent to me soon after the Recorder
with the reference to the late Rev R. M. Parnther
reached the island. I am sending it to you because it
really expresses the indignant feeling that the Notice
has stirred among our very best people. If the
Mission House perpetuates these blunders too often
there will be an alienation that we can hardly afford.
People of coloured race in the island are never called
negroes. Indeed a black man, educated, gentlemanly,
and successful is never referred to as a negro. except
by the Apostles of Garveyism. I commend to you the
suggestion in the enclosed that reference to us should
be "West Indian", "Jamaican". "Barbadian" etc.
There were, however, some Afro-Jamaicans in the late nineteenth and early twen-
tieth century who defined themselves in terms of race and grouped themselves accord-
ingly. Some of these early professional and lettered people were Dr J. Robert Love16 and
Dr J. Albert Thorne17 who admittedly were Afro-Bahamian and Afro-Barbadian respect-
ively. But there was also Alexander Dixon18 who in 1901 got enough support from
propertied blacks19 to be the first "full-blooded negro"20 to be elected to the Legislative
Council. This kind of consciousness on the part of the literate middle class appears to
have been short-lived. In the 1920s. an age which followed Alexander Bedward's21
mobilization of a great part of the black underclass into a religion which conceived of
black people as possible angels in the heavenly hierarchy, Marcus Garvey for all his popu-
larity among Jamaican peasants who left all parts of the rural areas to stare at a ship
manned by black people,22 could not get enough support from propertied blacks to get a
seat in the Legislative Council. In fact, his emphasis on colour and Africa got little open
support from them: they saw themselves and wanted to be seen in terms of the place
where they were born rather than in terms of their ancestral history.
This orientation continued into the late 1930s. At a time when Britain was terri-
fied of the force of black unity24 and could possibly have been brought to make more
concessions if faced with its actuality, the lettered middle-class politicians who took over
the mass movement of 1938, chose to define themselves and their followers in terms of
country of birth and in terms of occupation and eschewed race, a common African
ancestry as a bonding agent.25 How is it that in the late 1960s and the 1970s we find
politicians advertising themselves as "young, gifted and black",26 that we see middle-class
Afro-Jamaicans giving their children African names, that we find them wearing Africa-
inspired clothes and hairstyles and find them wanting to know more about Africa a
first in the known history of Afro-Jamaica?
Like any other trading post, plantation Jamaica has been sensitive to the changes in
values in the metropolitan centres. The culture of those employed in it has been similarly
sensitive. Changes in the Euro-American attitude towards blacks laid the foundation for
change in middle-class thinking in the 1950s and 1960s. About this time the world began
to accept Africans and their way of life. It began to admit that they could govern large
populations and that their national dress was a good enough garb in which to address
world fora. And it gave its attention and approval to the struggle of US blacks for civil
rights. This new attitude towards things African and black set the scene for the recogni-
tion and acceptance among the middle class of an Afro-centricity which long existed in
Jamaica and remained unbroken in the oral tradition stretching from Love and Bedward
to Garvey and to the Rastafarians who had maintained a presence sotto voce from the
1930s to the early 1960s.27 At home, there were University-sponsored talks on "identity",
a study and a serialised report on Rastafarians;28 a lawyer defining himself as black and
inviting others into a political party on this basis;29 visits from African heads of state30
and Miriam Makeba. black South African singer, presenting her beauty and talent in its
racial and cultural characteristics.31 'Black' and 'negro' were no longer for the middle-
class necessarily pejorative terms. But it was the pop-singer, the loudest voice in the oral
tradition, who now arrmed with the appropriate technology continually reinforced, in the
1960s and 1970s, a black aesthetic allied to a black-centred religion.
Race. Colour and Song
After the 1938 riots, the British Cabinet admitted to itself that the "social and
economic condition of the coloured population" in the West Indies was bad and should
have been attended to fifty years before. This finding was no news to some Afro-
Jamaican song-writers and singers, now anonymous. They had been lamenting this condi-
tion well before the 1960s. I remember hearing my mother sing in the 1940s and 1950s
what seems to be an American import:
From morning until noon
I wish I had a different shade.
They had been pondering in song what to do about their condition. I heard in the late
1950s when black Jamaicans were migrating to England in droves:
Come on now everybody
And hear what I have to say
Listen and I will tell you
The talk of the town today
In every street and every corner
That you may walk
You will see a group
Of people park
They're not skylarking
They're only talking
And the beautiful lines indicating disinterest in the wrangling of political theorists of.the
You can tek way
Mi land and mi dumb thing
I don't care a kick about that
But take me back to Ethiopia.
Let me mark out mi burial spot
For if I die before that day
My duppy will be going to stay
For in my sickness,
I have a weakness
Migration to Africa was obviously one answer. HIM Haile Selassie, the manifestation of
God on earth according to Rastafarian theosophy, would guide them home. I heard also
in the 1950s the Rastafarian chant:
We're going to leave this Babylon35 world
King Rasta lead us home
Glory to God in Zion
We are going home
To Ethiopia, we are going home.
None of these lyrics, enchanting though the tunes which carried them were, made
the 'top ten'36 i.e. were bought by the middle-class in great numbers for dancing or for
listening. None of them could. There was no 'top ten'. Radio was just coming into its
ownr3 and the local record producing industry was just being born.38 As is usual in the
oral tradition, one had to be physically close to the source to hear a Rastafarian chant,
be close enough to the traffic in the week-end markets to get a 'track' and hear the lyrics
on it sung.39 But by the late 1950s middle-class Jamaicans were moving away from the
'yards' and their contact with the market people and their proximity to Rastafarian
camps. Their reach for education had always taken them out of the culturally mixed rural
areas and into Kingston where most of the secondary schools were and where the jobs for
which their certificates fitted them were. Now middle-income housing schemes were
taking them out of the culturally mixed yards40 and into mulatto ghettos. Interpenetra-
tion of orientations was becoming difficult.
Politicking and the Song
There is one level at which contact between the Afro-orientation and the mulatto-
orientation has always been maintained the political arena. Certainly as early as 1901
the middle stratum has used the threat of mobilised crowds of unlettered people as a wea-
pon in their constitutional struggle with the British Crown.41 Universal adult suffrage,
which came in 1944. made it imperative for the politicians in the mulatto-orientation to
devise ways of influencing their unlettered brothers into voting for them. A technique
used by both political parties, certainly from the late 1940s, was the replication of the
Afro-religious meeting on their political platforms, the hymns in this orientation being
sung with the name of the candidate replacing that of the deity. This traditional mani-
pulation of the Afro-culture popularised its style -its music in particular and in time
broadcast the message of the singer which by the late 1960s and the 1970s was consonant
with that filtering in from the rest of the black world black power.
The Pop-Singer and his Song
There have been in Jamaica three kinds of singing, each relating to a different kind of
musical occasion. There is the ballad, the lyrics of which are inherited and have even lost
their meaning. Tunes and words in this case are community property and the singer
merely the mouth-piece for the group or song leader. Then there are the love-songs and
the hymns in which the singer is individualized and his stance a soliloquy. Both these
styles are reinforced by the formal education system. European love-songs were taught
in singing classes and though the references in the lyrics were hardly likely to be under-
stood,42 the sentiment was effectively carried through the musical arrangement. Odes
to the Christian God were similarly taught and were reinforced by the church after school
and throughout adult life. These were then familiar models lyrically and instrumentally
and were accessible to anyone who wanted to express his own feelings through music.
There had also been traditionally special places for performing different music. The
roadside or field of work gangs and later community meetings for the folk songs; the
church for religious music and the stage, night club, dance hall and dance yards for the
love-songs; the night club being patronised by those in the mulatto-orientation while the
dance halls and yards were the province of the Afro-cultured.
The gramophone and the record players, latter-day adjuncts of oral transmission,
have been with us for a long time too but, like the radio station which came in the 1940s,
the music and songs they played tended to be American and the listenership restricted to
the mulatto culture i.e. those who could afford to buy them. It was not until the 1950s
when the mento and calypso bands were drawn by the tourist trade to the North Coast and
the 'sound system' introduced by returning contract labourers to the US43 began to reign
in the rest of Jamaica, that the voice of the Afro-cultured singer began to be separated
from his body and to be widely transmitted.
Jamaican pop singers were recorded first as imitators of American singers and songs
and later as singers of their own compositions, first for dancing in the sessions controlled
by the 'sound system' owners and then as music to be sold on records for general dancing
at house parties and for listening. Much of the early compositions which began to be
heard in the 1960s dealt with morals and with love, some (such as Eric Morris's popular
hit of 1964.44 Sammy Dead) being re-issues of folk songs. Here there is no apparent effort
to change the lyrics so that they carry an additional meaning. The singer sang as genera-
tions before him had:
Sammy plant piece of
corn dung a gully
An it bear til it kill
Sammy Dead, Sammy Dead
Sammy Dead oh.
The tune however had been jazzed up from the traditional slow mento beat to a ska beat
- a new and Jamaican dance-style.
But the record-buying, night-club attending, house-party going middle-class did not
like these songs as much as they did the foreign ones. In 1963 the most popularly bought
songs according to the national broadcasting station's list of popular hits, and one pre-
sumes most played tunes, were Whatcha gonna do about it by Doris Troy, Empty Chair by
Keith Lynn, Still by Bill Anderson, You're the reason I'm living by Bobby Darien, If you
need me by Solomon Burke, Dan is the Man by Sparrow, Mockingbird by Inez and
Charles Fox, Come softly by Jimmy James and The End of the World by Skeeter Davis.
Jimmy James and Keith Lynn were the only Jamaicans to make this list. Their songs like
those of the foreigners, with the exception of Sparrow's Dan is the Man, were secular love-
It was not until the late 1960s and early 1970s that Jamaicans began to choose
local tunes as much as, and later more than, foreign ones. In 1968 there was an increase
in the number of locals in the top ten. The Maytals, Judy Mowatt, Joe Higgs, Andy Capp,
the Gaylads. Laurel Aiken and King Stitt were becoming household names. Romantic love
was still the theme of most of the lyrics but not as strongly as in 1963. Andy Capp's
Pop a top and King Stitt's Lee Van Cleef, for instance, had nothing to do with love. In
1973, five years later, the foreigners were still being popularly bought. Al Greene, Jerome
Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Roberta Flack, Marvin Gaye and Johnny Nash were still with
us. but the locals dominated. Romance was still in evidence in the local tunes as in the
foreign but in the former a wider range of circumstances was now being celebrated by
the lyricists and bought by the record-playing public. There were songs about the new
dance craze but there were also an increasing number dealing with the singer's personal
response to his environment.
One factor which encouraged this trend was the politician's traditional strategy of
using the trappings of the Afro-culture to court the masses. Justin Hinds and his Carry
go bring come is an early case of this exploitation leading to popularisation. This tune
done in 1964 and accompanied by the then popular ska beat, in the moralising vein of
some of the folk songs. describes the hero's quarrel with a woman whom he characterises
as Jezebel. Western literature's most evil woman. Our hero will of course triumph over
her in time because it is written "the meek shall inherit the earth". The lyricist and the
song go on to universalise the quarrel "How long shall the wicked reign over my
people". This feature made the song an apt vehicle for making innuendos and it was used
as such. being background music at the street meetings of the opposition party during
the election campaign of 1966 1967. This exposure naturally made it very popular and
brought into the political and public arena the emotions, problems and style of expres-
sion of the country's urban youth.
Politicisation of the Song
This kind of transfer and the ensuing popularity of this tune must have done much
to convince young singers that there is no taboo on the public expression through music
of their personal feelings. Put cynically, a market existed for their personal thoughts and
their comments on their environment and on their interaction with it. More. their anti-
Establishment position would find welcome ears among an opposition waiting to be
re-elected and happy to see and use signs of disaffection among potential voters. The
Wailers' Rude boy ska was one of the top tunes of 1966 and Desmond Dekker's 007
was there in 1967. The Maytals' That's my number made it in 1968 and in 1969 everyone
danced to the Elthiopians' Everything Crash. The Wailers and Dekker described the
alienated youth of depressed Kingston a group of which the\ were a par and their
constant battle with the Establishment in the form of the police. The Maytals described
their experience in jail while the Ethiopians pointed to the disintegration of the Estab-
lishment itself. In the 1970s Bob Marley and the Wailers iln luppy Conlqueror described
their confrontation with the law and the feeling on being released from jail but with a
difference. This time the record-buying public were told that the singer had found
spiritual strength through the "powers ofl the most high Jail" and had become a "duppy
conqueror" able to defeat his foc. the Establishment. Tihe song writers were now not
only describing the conditions of depressed blacks but ofTcring solutions: enlist the help
of your God inl your struggle with the temlpoial powers.
The singers' sense of themselves as important spokesmen had led ilanyl of them
into meditation on the nature of their identity and their purpose in lifei4 These medi a-
tions had led some to seek a deeper understanding o! the sub.jecCs of which tihey spoke
God. the Bible. tle black experience and the IutLure of their race. The result was an
attraction to and often conversion to Rastafarian philosophy. This world view began to
affect the lyrics, thus the reference to "Jah" one of the names by which Rastafarians
call their God, in Bob Marley's Duppy Conqueror. By 1971, a song whose lyrics expli-
citly canvass its listeners towards an acceptance of the Rastafarian concpet of black his-
tory was among the top ten.46 The singer, now political analyst activist and priest, sings:
Bring back Maccabee version
that God gave to black man
Give back King James version
It belongs to the white man
Black man get up stand up on you foot
And give black God the glory.
And he accounts for the anguish of blacks:
You [white man] stole the land God gave I
And taught I to be covetous
What other wickedness
Have you got in mind?
The singer now identifies himself not just as an angry youth, colloquially called a 'rude
boy', hounded by the establishment, or as a balladeer pointing as in the song on page 57 to
a group of people determined to return to Africa. He was now one of this group a
black man with a distinct culture with its own traditions, heroes, God and an explanation
for the lower-class status of most of his race and colour.
In the 1972 elections this black consciousness was taken by the politicians into the
political arena. Delroy Wilson's hit tune Better must come, the lament of a young man
who feels that he is unfairly oppressed, who examines his life, sees that it is righteous and
accordingly feels that "better must come", blasted from the microphones of the oppo-
sition's candidates. This singer like the one turned 'Duppy Conqueror', invokes the power
of Jah. The many who went to these political meetings or who attended dances could
hear the invocation constantly. The theosophy advanced by the singers was further cata-
pulted into the mainstream when the opposition leader publicly displayed a rod which
he had been given on his tour of Africa by HIM Haile Selassie. His opponents claim that
he had lost it and they now had it and the ensuing political farce got media coverage.
Those who had no access to ghetto singers and therefore to the world view they advanced
could learn about it from the debate between the two major electioneering parties. The
connotations associated with the rod were made very clear in Junior Byles's very popular
reggae hit of the same year Beat Down Babylon:
I and I a go beat down Babylon:
I and I a go whip them wicked men
I and I a go beat them, whip them
For I and I's a righteous Rasta man.
The sense of self as a black man, a Rastafarian, a man with a home in Africa. a
man with a particular life style and as one charged to guide others continued to be aired
and was unequivocally stated in Bob Marley's confessional "Natty Dread" of 1974.
Dread Natty Dread now,
Dreadlocks Congo Bongo 1.47
Natty dreadlocks eena Babylon
A dreadlock Congo Bongo 1.
Children get your culture
And don't stay here and jester
Or the battle will be hotter
And you won't get no supper.
O Natty. Natty.
Natty 21.000 miles away from home
O Natty Natty
And that's a long way
For Natty to be from home.
Bob Marley's utterances in this vein continued throughout the 1970s and continued to be
carried by rhythms attractive enough to be accepted by people from all walks of Jamai-
Other well-known singers joined him in stance, philosophy and purpose and on the
nation's top ten. One thing reinforces another. By the mid- and late 1970s, the language
and the references used by the now decidedly Afro-cultured singers had been so clarified
that they became part of the lexicon48 and their message, therefore, more widely under-
stood than ever and the words on wax more widely bought. Their speech, their dress.
their ideas moved with their songs into the record-buying middle-class to help to produce
a cross-class cultural form which economist George Beckford identified in 1977 as the
"Culture of Dread".
The culture of Dread represents a challenge to both
racism and the class oppression of capitalism. That
culture is the most positive and dynamic factor with-
in the Jamaican body politic and body social at this
time. Precisely because it provides a hope for revolu-
tionary change, the culture of dread is embraced by
many among the working class, middle-class youth
and some professionals. Manners of dress and speech
and a virtual revolution in the natural culture through
music (art and sculpture to a lesser degree) are but
some of the manifestations of the culture of dread.49
"Culture's"50 song (here cited) words as well as music epitomises the confi-
dence in his role of prophet, social commentator, black activist and prime creator of the
Culture of Dread, which the singer had by the beginning of the new decade:
Too long in our little ghetto
Wrongs been going on
Children of Israel
Who really love rights
For Jah set I and I as a watchmen
Around Babylonian walls
O children of Israel,
I and I should never hold I peace
While wrong is going on
Day or night
Man bust down Babylon Gate
Ah say prepare ye the way
For Jah people.
Bob Marley's award of the Order of Merit, one of Jamaica's highest honours, is
evidence that the mulatto-orientation had been pierced, and was beginning to empathise
with the empassioned cry of the old people whose involvement with the oral tradition
had made them feel "Dem meet it ... the old generation pay for it"51 or "Lawd nega
(the negro) tough you know. Black people tough".52 His voice at the beginning of the
new decade was a clear echo of their sentiments:
Old pirates yes they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the Almighty
We forward in this generation
The Afro-orientation and the oral tradition had found a loud voice in the singers
with their microphones, electric guitars, catchy tunes and discs. But for how long? I ask.
Was this confluence of sentiment across class lines and generational lines, this culture of
dread, this sense of self as a part of the Afro-Jamaican experience just a surge from below
that would double back to its subterranean caves? And was this perceived racism which is
obviously a traditional problem to be put back under a bushel?
1. The transcripts from the interviews have been compiled into a collection called Life in Jamaica
in the early twentieth century: a presentation of ninety oral accounts (Erna Brodber 1980)
They are housed in the ISER documentation Centre UWI Mona.
2. "Oral Historian" (parish of St James) tape reference 60Stj Fa in 1rna Brodber above.
3. For orthodox accounts of this rebellion, see Mary Reckord "The slave rebellion of 1831 Jamaica
Journal Vol 13. No. 2 June 1969 pages 25-31 and E. Kamau Brathwaite "The rebellion
of the Great River Valley" unpublished seminar paper. Dept. of History. UWI Mona February
4. "Oral Historian" already cited page 10.
5. This became the national motto after Independence in 1962.
6. "A conveniently Deafman" (parish of St James) page 15 tape reference 63StjMb in Erna
Brodber already cited.
7. B. W. Higman "The Celebration of Emancipation in Jamaica" The Journal of Caribbean History
pages 55- 74.
8. "Oral Historian" already cited page 8
9. For more information on Burning Spear, see Swing April-May 1975 Kingston, Jamaica.
10. It was not until the 1960s that West Indian history was taught in high schools. Teaching of
course requires texts. Those such as Parry and Sherlock A Short History of the West Indies
Macmillan 1960, Augier, Gordon, Hall and Reckord The Making of the West Indies Longmans
1960 and F. R. Augier and Shirley C Gordon Sources of West Indian History Longmans 1962
did not appear until the 1960s.
11. This tendency is so remarkable that R. T. Smith, following Jack Anderson, calls it the "'myth of
the origin of the Jamaican middle class" R. T. Smith Family, Social Change and Social Policy
Jayawardena lecture UWI Mona 15 March 1982.
12. This function of education was explicitly stated in 1835 in the Sterling Report on the need for
the education of the ex-slaves. See Shirley Gordon A Century of West Indian Education Long-
mans Group Ltd 1963, p. 20- 21. This position is once again re-stated at the beginning of this
present century by J. R. Williams, superintendent of education in Jamaica. See Samuel J and
Edith P Hurwitz Jamaica a historical portrait Pall Mall Press London 1971. p. 162.
13. Book IV of the Royal Reader by Nelson and Co 1886, the series used in primary schools in the
early twentieth century is the only one of the series which dealt with black people. It empha-
sised their 'peculiar' physical features-" the negro has black skin and wooly hair". It implied
that they were lazy and silly.
14. Methodist Missionary Record (Jamaica) 744. Geddes to Burnet 16 January. 1922.
15. As above. End.
16. See Rupert Lewis "Robert Love: a democrat in colonial Jamaica" Jamaica Journal Vol 12 nos
1 and 2 page 56.
17. CO 137/731 dispatch 197 Probyn to Viscount Milner. Encl. 14 February 1919. See for official
comment on Thorne's politics and his petition to the Crown for lands in the Congo for the
settlement of West Indian and American negroes.
18. For reference to Dixon. see CO 137/610 Conf 22 March 1900 Hemmings to Chamberlain.
End. Report from G. E. Maunsell.
19. There were franchise qualifications 10/- per annum tax or 40 per annum income.
20. "Figures in West Indian Politics" (author not stated) West Indian Critic and Review Vol V April
1930 no. 4 describes Dixon in these terms.
21. Alexander Bedward was a politico-religious leader whose ministry in Jamaica lasted from
1895-1920. See W. F. Elkin Street Preachers Faith Healers and Herb Doctors in Jamaica
1890-1925 Revisionist Press Place 1977.
22. "Cou Meme" (parish of Manchester) page 19 tape reference 26MFb in Erna Brodber cited
at note 1.
23. Associations of the late 1920s and the 1930s such as the Jamaica League, the Jamaica Reform
Club and the Jamaica National League, which emphasised change within Jamaica, were some
of these groups to which middle-class blacks subscribed. See James Carnegie Some Aspects of
Jamaica's Politics 1918-1938 Chapter 5 Institute of Jamaica, Kingston 1973.
24. This impression comes through the governors' dispatches of the day. In CO 137/827/68868
Cabinet SECRET "ProposedRoyal Commission" memo to the Secy of State for the Colonies,
for instance, race consciousness inspired by ill-treatment of the "coloured" race is accepted as
the underlying cause of the 1938 disturbances. The Cabinet suggests that certain social and
economic reforms be quickly instituted to forestall further manifestations of racial discontent.
25. The founders of the two major political parties championed nationalism (Manley) and labour
(Bustamante). The latter for instance felt that celebrations of Independence should be asso-
ciated with the successful labour movement of the 1930s rather than with memories of slavery.
See B. W. Higman cited at note 7, page 70.
26. This is the title of a song made popular by black America's Nina Simone in the 1970s. It was
later re-worked by Jamaica's Prince Buster. Both versions made the 'top ten' of the Jamaica
Broadcasting Corporation's popular hits but the local version was more popular. The title
became the logo of the campaign in 1971-1972 of P. J. Patterson who won the elections and
became a minister of government. Patterson is black-skinned and a lawyer.
27. For a discussion of the influence of Rastafarianism on the black consciousness of the 1960s
see Rex Nettleford Mirror Mirror Collins-Sangster, Kingston 1970 (Chapter 2)
28. This was the Report on the Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica ISER, Kingston 1960
done by Smith, Augier and Nettleford.
29. Millard Johnson, a lawyer who had worked in Africa launched the People's Progressive Party
and campaigned in 1961-1962. The party's programme was racial.
30. See Rex Nettleford, Mirror, Mirror and especially for the response to the visit of Haile Selassie
I, Emperor of Ethiopia.
31. Miriam Makeba visited Jamaica in 1966. She wore her hair unstraightened and close-cropped
and wore her national dress.
32. As at note 24.
33. The detractors of the People's National Party, one of the two major political parties, labelled it
communist and said that it would nationalise all property including the "land and dumb thing"
of the peasants.
34. I think this song was done by Laurel Aitken.
35. "Babylon" in this case refers to Jamaica.
36. Both radio stations in Jamaica today compile lists of the top ten tunes most frequently bought,
and broadcast these in special programmes.
37. The first radio station, ZQI started broadcasting in September of 1939. It did so for only two
hours per day.
38. The first recordings are said to have been pressed in 1960. See Sebastian Clarke Jah Music: the
Evolution of Popular Jamaican Music, Heinemann, 1980, p. 58.
39. The usual method of disseminating popular songs prior to the era of the disc, was to sell copies
of the lyrics written on sheets of paper. The singer apparently sang the songs to his clients.
40. In Yards in the City of Kingston ISER 1975, I discuss the move from 'yards' to other kinds of
41. CO 137/627 Dispatch 304 Hemmings to Chamberlain 27/5/1901 End. Report on the riots
on Montego Bay. The commission of inquiry concluded that the second of the two riots had
been planned. Herbert Thomas, one of the officers handling the investigation, in his The Story
of a West Indian Policeman, Gleaner Co. Kingston Jamaica 1927 states that it was planned by
the gentry angry at proposed increases in taxes.
42. Even songs written in the British dialects were taught. Take for instance Maxwelton's braes are
bonnie (Wi Douglas/Lady Scott).
43. Sebastian Clarke cited at note 38, attributes the introduction of the 'sound system' to the
Jamaican music scene, to Clement Dodd aka Coxsone aka Downbeat, who went to the US
several times as a canecutter and was introduced to it there.
44. The Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, the government-owned station came on the air in 1959.
One of its features was the Top Ten tunes (see note 36). Their records concerning this program-
me are the data base for the discussion of popular tunes. The records of the Swing magazine,
Kingston, Jamaica are also used for the period 1971-1978. I did all but one of the transcripts
of these songs, there being no published collection of popular lyrics available at time of writing
of this paper.
45. In Reggae and Cultural Diversity (Brodber and Greene) Working Papers Series, Department of
Sociology, St. Augustine, UWI, 1981, we note that the singers began to see themselves as the
"singers and players" ordained to enter the Theocratic Kingdom referred to in Psalm 68, v 25.
46. It appears that the original done by Max Romeo was not the one which got airplay but a
'version' (without words) done by a group called the Brethren. Max Romeo's version was never-
47. "Dread" and "Dreadlocks" are terms to describe hair worn long and matted. "Natty" refers tc
matted hair not yet long enough to hang. "Congo" and "Bongo" are of course references to
Africa and Africans. The singer is therefore saying "I am of African heritage and my hair is
consequently of a particular kind. I am proud of these things."
48. Velma Pollard in "Dread Talk, the speech of the Rastafarians in Jamaica" Caribbean Quarterly
Vol 26 No. 4. December 1980 points out the extent to which words coined by Rastafarians
have seeped into everyday usage.
49. "Institutionalised racism in Jamaica" Daily News 8 May 1977.
50. This is obviously a stage name. I have not been able to find the real name.
51. "Oral Historian" cited at note 4.
52. "Casual Labourer on the Portland-St Mary Properties" (parish of St Mary) tape reference
71StMMc in Erna Brodber already cited.
53. This transcription comes from Adrian Boot/Vivien Golaman Bob Marley: Soul Rebel, Natural
Mystic page 21 Eel Pie Publishing Co. Ltd. 1981.
THE AFRICA THEME IN TRINIDAD CALYPSO
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES
Africa, as theme or motif, appears with fair frequency in Afro-Caribbean oral and written
literature. This theme does not appear in isolation for Africa is intricately woven, struc-
turally and thematically, in the various African oral literary continuities which have been
documented. The Anancy corpus is the most easily recognized and prominent example
but there are others. The calypso, which has attained its highest form of expression in
Trinidad, is recognized as a re-interpretation of a traditional African topical song.1 While
several scholars have identified its form2 as African, content analysis has focused on its
social and political commentary, especially its highly visible male/female conflict.3 The
calypso's Africa content remains unexamined except for passing commentary within the
larger context of race and class discrimination. This paper explores the representation of
Africa in this popular Caribbean art form.4
A few studies have examined the representation of Africa in Caribbean literature
in general and it is important to examine them in order to put this present work into a
larger context. Edward Brathwaite in "The African Presence in Caribbean Literature"
identifies four ways in which Africa is expressed in Caribbean written literature: (1) the
rhetorical which is largely surface "romantic rhetoric" in which the word "Africa" is
repeated; (2) literature of African survival which describes traditions but makes no
attempt to interpret or reconnect to the "great traditions of Africa": (3) literature of
African expression which experiments in a limited way with the transformation of folk
material into literature; and (4) literature of reconnection written by writers who have
first-hand knowledge of Africa and are attempting to "rebridge the gap".5
Throughout his essay, Brathwaite makes relevant references to the calypso but
points out in one of his notes that calypso and carnival are separate traditions which fall
beyond the scope of his paper. Applying the Brathwaite Model to our study, however, it
becomes clear that calypso, likewise, exists in all four of the above categories. Indeed,
individual songs may display aspects of each type although my analysis reveals that con-
temporary calypso on Africa tends to be largely Brathwaite's category four: literature of
reconnection. The level and type of identification with Africa is closely allied to the
calypsonian's (artist's) political consciousness and exposure to Africa.
Much of the discussion of Africa in Caribbean poetry centres around Negritude,
Afro-Cubanism, and indigenism of the 1930s. An early, unsigned article, entitled 'Africa'
in West Indian Poetry", identifies a number of ways in which Africa is evoked.6 In works
of a number of poets of this period, common themes are exile and nostalgia; lament over
past greatness and present destruction; a sense of Africa as a haven of rest and relaxation
from toil (akin to the "flying back" theme). Then there is the creation of an animalistic.
primitive quality of Africa and Africans in which the writer glories as a direct rebuttal to
Europe's cold industrialism. Connections with European primitivism and romanticism as
well as with the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s can be, and have been, made.7 Beyond
the romanticization of Africa, however, the author found important the sense of "soli-
darity as coloured people suffering from racial discrimination or colonialism" which often
appears. He maintains that "this particular kind of Africanism often takes the form of
going back to the times when slavers were tearing the Africans away from their homes to
carry them to slavery in Africa".
G. R. Coulthard in his chapter "The Theme of Africa" and in the rest of his book
Race and Colour in Caribbean Literature8 reaches similar conclusions. Additionally, he
identifies the creation of imaginary stereotyped jungle landscapes. Yet, for some writers
he records a Garvey-like hope and optimism in the future emergence of new African
Africa as an object of dreams and fantasies is very
common in the literature of the British and French
West Indies, an ever-recurring obsession. It may be
that with the emergence of the new African states
and a more frequent cultural interchange with the
real Africa, this theme of an Africa as a country of
the heart will disappear.9
Clearly, practical identification with/of Africa in the literature is a function of the
writer's sense of the African political reality. This practical, political identification in this
period no doubt owes much of its inspiration to the Pan-African movement in general
and the organization of Marcus Garvey. For this reason, Afro-American literature of this
period has been appropriately called "literary Garveyism".10 This descriptor may logi-
cally be applied to the Africa-oriented literature of the Caribbean and Latin America of
the 1920s and 1930s, as an alternative to the fragmentation according to language and
geography (indigenism, negrism, negritude).
It is significant to note that Afro-American poetry of the 1960s and 1970s, in the
wake of the Africa-oriented political movements in America, England, and the Caribbean
and nationalist movements in Africa, demonstrates a renewed connection with Africa,
based in large measure on actual experience with Africa, cultural exchange, expansions in
communications and the like. Contrary to Coulthard's projection, actual experience with
Africa has not led to an abandonment of this theme but to a rebridging of the gap with
what Brathwaite calls the "spiritual heartland". Similar movements are observed in the
Africa in Some Early Calypsoes
The earliest calypso-type songs were sung in an African-based creole and explicitly
espoused freedom. A number of British historians and journal writers report the singing
of songs unintelligible to Europeans because they were sung in African languages or the
patois of the slaves.1 One of the earliest recorded songs, accepted as an antecedent of
the calypso, expressed the determination of Africans to observe Shango ceremonies after
they had been banned. According to Raymond Quevedo, translated it means, "I am
coming to worship the god Shango", a definite protest against suppression of African
Ja Ja Romey Eh
Ja Ja Romey Shango
Ja Ja Romey Eh, Mete Beni
Ja Ja Romey Shango. 12
Maureen Warner-Lewis believes this may be a creole version of he authentic Yoruba verse,
recorded in Shango festivals:
Ojb ro mi-O Rain is wetting me
Baba 'lufe Father of lie Ife
Ojo ro mi-O Rain is wetting me
In this case, ojo means 'rain' and is a metaphor for distress. Ojo, however, is a personal
name for Shango. There is also a pun on ro 'worry, cause distress' and ro 'wet'. Closer
linguistic analysis of the two verses should reveal some more interesting information
especially as it relates to religion, language, the question of survival, reinterpretation, and
transference into the popular culture.
Very little Africa content is observed in calypsoes on hand from the pre-Emanci-
pation period. There must have been many but means of preservation and documentation
were obviously not as sophisticated as they are today. The recorded ones do show veiled
social and political commentary. Irony and satire, double entendre and subtlety are
among the concealment devices employed. Above all, calypsoes of this period actively
protested the condition and notion of slavery and articulated freedom for African people.
Aesthetically they are important, because besides being sung in an African-based creole,
they set the basic genres of calypso (derived from various forms of African song): the
praise song, the satirical topical song, the war song and/or song of protest.
Calypsoes of the immediate post-Emancipation period (1838-1898) continued to
be sung in African and African-based creoles. Because they were wedded to the Can-
boulay (Cannes Brulees) parades, the African freedom celebrations which would subse-
quently merge with the French creole carnival and to which the Africans would add their
traditions of masking and drumming, they developed an even stronger inflammatory
potential. Reports describe "disgusting, indecent scenes" such as "the African custom of
carrying a stuffed figure of a woman on a pole which was followed by hundreds of
Negroes yelling out a savage Guinea song".14 Derisive songs on policemen and other
"decent people" in the middle and upper classes continue to be reported, leading to the
Canboulay Riots of 1881 and the Peace Preservation Act of 1885, an act aimed at the
songs, drumming and other cultural and religious observances of the Africans.15
The switch from African creole to English as a medium of calypso fostered a major
change in its content. It signalled a move towards integration and towards a measure of
censorship of the singers and their lyrics. Calypsoes continue to criticize social conditions
as well as the upper classes. But there is evidence in some of the lyrics now of identifica-
tion with colonial policies. For this reason, while its form continued to be African, its
content showed explicit allegiance to Great Britain as the "Mother Country" and not
In 1900, George Adilla whose calypso name,16 the Duke of Marlborough, also
reflects this colonial identification, sang,
In the rein of Victoria
We marched on Pretoria
Our valour the world will remember
And destroyed the Boers' predomination
Now the Transvaal is ours; the population
Have raised the imperial flag of Brittania
Over South Africa.17 (emphasis mine)
Other available songs of the period, while they are important as historical record, and
while they continue social commentary, show little emotional identification with Africa.
There is no evidence of any change until the Garvey Period as indicated by the
1920 calypso of Patrick Jones (Calypsonian. Inventor) titled "Class Legislation" which
deals not directly with Africa but with the larger question of oppression and class discri-
mination, but which in its critique of colonial policy implicitly addresses the oppression
of African people.
Class legislation is the order of this land
We are ruled with the iron hand (repeat)
Britain boast of democracy
Brotherly love and fraternity
But British colonists have been ruled
In perpetual misery
According to Tony Martin, noted Garvey scholar, this calypso arose in the milieu of
the organization of several UNIA branches, rallies and meetings on one hand and on the
other persistent British and American attack on the spread of Garveyism via the Seditions
Publications Ordinance (1920) aimed directly at the Negro World.18
Because of the intensity of Garveyism, many Africa-identified calypsoes should
have survived but I have been unable to locate any in available collections. It is known
that calypsonians Houdini and Sam Manning.19 who lived in the United States at this
time, periodically went to Trinidad, picked up calypsoes and made versions for the
American market. Several of these calypsoes deal with Trinidadians consciously trying to
camouflage their Afro-Caribbean identity with American accents and the like. According
to Steve Shapiro. the fact that in the 1920s all recording was done in the United States
eliminates the possibility of too many calypsoes surviving. It was not until 1934 that
calypsonians, like Atilla and Lion, travelled to the us to record their songs.20
Calypsoes of the 1930s reveal a much more politically conscious commentary. This
is perhaps a legacy of the 1920s combined with the influence of the labour movements of
the early 1930s. At any rate, the Mussolini invasion of Ethiopia would be the next rele-
vant event to engage calypsonians in particular and the Afro-Caribbean people in general.
An unquestioning allegiance to Africa is documented. Arthur Calder-Marshall who trans-
cribed the calypso "Mussolini De Bully" comments that long after the majority of
European newspapers had relegated Ethiopian news to the waste basket, the Abyssinian
war was still being followed in Trinidad.21 The calypso in point heaps castigations on
Mussolini, comparing him to Judas, Napoleon and William the Kaiser and all that is evil
and treacherous while it lauds Haile Selassie and reinforces the Garvey credo that "Ethi-
opia will rise again'. It is important to note here that at the same time in Jamaica,
Garvey's birthplace, the Rastafarian movement would spring directly from this crisis,
apotheosizing Selassie and employing the "Back to Africa/Africa for the Africans"
philosophy of Marcus Garvey.22
Some of the verses of this calypso are:
Oh what a bully is Mussolini!
Dictator of Italy
Oh what a bully is Mussolini
Dat dictator of Italy.
He did everything to violate the League
and that is why he is so fatigue
But Selassie said: 'Tis best to die free.
than to live in de world without libertee."
(Refrain sung after each verse)
Dere is no difference in any way
Wit' Judas and Mussolini. I'll say.
Judas betrayed Christ and was fatigue
Jus' as Mussolini betrayed de League
But de Bible made us to understand'
dat Ethiopia will stretch its han'.
But I only hope when it's stretching out
dat it will grip Mussolini's mout'.23
Another calypso with similar lyrics was sung by Neville Marcano (Calypsonian: The
Growling Tiger). In Marcano's case, a connection is made. on a continental level, between
Africa's wealth and the attempts at domination by Mussolini. His extensive repetition of
the word "gold" conjures up an elaborate image of Africa's plundered wealth -- mineral
and human resources and suggests larger, imperialistic motives than the good versus evil
struggle which the former calypso outlines.
The gold, the gold, the gold, the gold
The gold in Africa
Mussolini want from the Emperor
Abyssinia appealed to the League for peace
Mussolini's actions were like a beast
A villain, a thief, a highway robber
And a shameless dog for a dictator
He crossed the borders and added more
The emperor had no intention for war
That man I call a criminal
The man destroyed churches and hospitals.
He said expansion he really need
He had 45 million head to feed
Why he don't attack the Japanese
England, France, or hang on to Germany.
The gold, the gold, the gold, the gold
The gold in Africa
Mussolini want from the Emperor.24
One other calypso has to be included here as representative of the affiliation with
Africa in this period. Raymond Quevedo (Calypsonian: Atilla) created a calypso in hon-
our of the 100th anniversary of Emancipation. Titled Emancipation Centenary", it goes,
Sons and daughters of Africa
What are you doing for the future (repeat)
1933 makes it a century
Since our parents were set free
So let's hold an anniversary
Of the emancipation centenary.25
The rest of the calypso does not deal directly with Africa but its sense of historical
connectedness is what is most important. It resonantly calls, in its first line, to the
descendants of Africa, charging them to recognize the struggles of their ancestors and the
contributions of black men in a number of spheres: "In medicine negroes have done their
part/They have excelled in science and art/Dumas and DuBois in literature/And empire
builders like L'Ouverture . ." This is probably the first calypso to celebrate black history
and in so doing establishes a bridge between Africa and Africans in the New World. Each
of its five verses ends with some variation of "Let's hold an anniversary/Of the emancipa-
No Africa calypsoeswere found for the 1940s and 1950s the World War II period.
According to Gordon Rollehr. however, many "Trinidadians were anything but loyal,
and saw Britain and Germany as two sides of the same racist and imperialist coin".26
A struggle was being waged between the colonial administrators and an increasingly
aware, nationalist public. Calypsonians concentrated on local politics and attacked all
facets of colonial control: individual foibles, policies, the middle class, licentious beha.
viour. Equally important, however was the establishment of an American base in Trinidad
and the influx of American dollars which lowered male and female values and, from all
reports, also coloured the mode and content of calypso. It is in this period that the
"female castigation" seems to have gained prominence as a theme in calypso. At any rate,
a tension was created between the traditional "message-oriented" calypso and the need to
entertain for entertainment's sake alone. Prostitution of values also occurred in calypso.
This development would not be arrested until the Black Power Movement of the late
1960s and early 1970s.
Slinger Francisco (the Mighty Sparrow), the Caribbean's most reputable calypsoni-
an, is a living example of this tension. A large proportion of his calypsoes are sex-oriented,
female castigation. Beautifully packaged, clever lyrics and good music surround the most
explicit and vilest form of female verbal abuse in the calypso to date. Yet, throughout his
career, and at certain important historic junctures, he has, like the true poet, been the
effective voice of the people and created masterpieces in verse. He has experimented
with form and content at an unprecedented level and is credited with giving calypso its
His classic "Slave"27 stands out in an otherwise unremarkable field of calypsoes in
the early 1960s. It begins by arresting the listener with the call of the drums, after which
the singer proceeds to make some definite connections with Africa. It is a historical
journey through captivity, the Middle Passage, plantation abuses. Emancipation and
attempts at reconstructing the damaged psyche of the slave. Its first two lines. "I'm a
slave from a land so far/I was caught and I was brought here from Africa" are repeated
with variations and emphases before he plunges into the narration. The song, calculated
to arrest the listener's attention and wring out all emotions, ends each verse with a cres-
cendo of drums and the wail. "Oh Lord. Lord, I want to be free".
His second Africa calypso. "Congo Man",28 by contrast is much more problematic.
Its scenario is "deep in the jungle" and it graphically details the demise of two white
women who find themselves "in the hands of a cannibal headhunter". The song develops
around the process by which the cannibal makes a meal of these women and is a master-
piece of double entendre with enough sexual allusions, vocal sounds and laughter to
communicate the sexual metaphor. Discussion of this calypso is best summarized in the
positions taken by Gordon Rohlehr and Lloyd Brown.
Gordon Rohlehr sees it as "the most disturbing example of the 'phallic calypso'
which Sparrow has projected throughout his career, especially since it was the recreation
of an actual rape of some Belgian nuns in 1964. He adds that it is an excellent indicator
of the West Indian's cultural limbo for
Sparrow has used the white man's stereotype of
the African. which reveals his divorce from the
African, to make a deep and serious joke against the
white, which reveals his alienation from the whites.
But in so doing, he reveals a deep psychic need
within the West Indian to prove his manhood through
a fulfilled phallic vengeance for ancestral rape which
proves his alienation from himself.29
Lloyd Brown provides another excellent analysis, seeing 'Congo Man' as an important
reversal of the stereotypes of Africans created by whites, an expropriation of the "grin-
ning Beast mask" for ironic ends.
The Congo Man is an object of ridicule, not as an
African reality, but as the image which White Wes-
terners have about Africans and other blacks:
Africans are savages, and all Black men have an
insatiable bestial appetite for White women. Hence
the song's laughter becomes an important satiric
weapon that is typical of the calypsonian's irony. The
animal sounds of expectation reproduce White myths
about Black sexuality .. the Black man's desire-hate
for the White woman, as an object of sexual craving
and racial "revenge," is dramatized by the sadistic
fulfilment implied by the cannibal motif.30
These two Sparrow calypsoes of the early 1960s appropriately close off our histori-
cal examination of the use of Africa in the calypso. They are important pivotal calypsoes
because they crystallize some early ideas and signal a new mode of expressing Africa.
"Slave", for example, is much like the poetry of the 1930s in the sense of recreating the
mood of enslavement and yearning for freedom as well as in the sense of exile it communi-
cates. The notion of returning to Africa and/or rest and relaxation is expressed in the
plaintive repetition of the phrase "I'm dying! I'm dying! Oh Lord, Lord I want to be
free!", after acute descriptions of hard work, toil in the hot sun and physical abuse. But
it also contains elements of rebellion, escape and survival: "I studied night and day how
to get away", and after slavery: "from the white boss I had to steal".
"Congo Man", on the other hand, recreates the stereotypical jungle landscape refer-
red to in the 1930s poetry, replete with exotic animal sounds and landscape features. The
African here is strictly a sexual animal with whom the poet/singer identifies and sees
himself as an extension of (or sees as an extension of himself). It is a clearly a glorifica-
tion of primitivism and barbarism. Yet, in its irony is communicated a new image of black
power in the Congo Man's control after years of powerlessness. From another angle, it is
the same image as the "Jab Molassi" or Molasses Devil, a traditional Afro-Caribbean
masquerade, in which the masquerader blackens himself with molasses and/or indigo and,
with swift pelvic thrusts, and threatening stance, attempts to rub himself on the neatly-
clad spectator, especially the white tourist, and thus expropriate reward. As far as
Sparrow goes, we shall see that over the years his songs increase in their level of prac-
tical/political identification with Africa.
Africa in Contemporary Calypso
The most important factor in the examination of calypso in the contemporary
period is the entrance of a politically and socially responsible vanguard of calypsonians
who explicitly identify themselves as African people in the Caribbean. An acute con-
sciousness of Africa as homeland advanced by a number of political developments in the
African world accounts for the increase in the number and quality of calypsoes which deal
with Africa in the contemporary period (1970s and 1980s).
The 1970s Black Power Movement with much of its activity spearheaded by the
National Joint Action Committee (NJAC)31 exerted considerable influence in the forma-
tion of this vanguard. NJAC's cultural education wing, in fostering the expression of Afro-
Caribbean culture, correctly recognized the calypsonian's art as crucial and saw the
calypsonian as the poet/philosopher of his people. Calypsonians like Brother Valentino
openly credit NJAC with creating the climate and the audience for the reception of
serious calypso.3 Jamaican Rastafarianism and reggae music are clearly another influ-
ence. The popularity of reggae with its large Africa content pushed calypsonians to create
lyrics and music to accommodate the needs of their listeners. Calypsonians sought to cor-
rect the erroneous perception that calypso was bankrupt of political consciousness.
Three major thematic concentrations dominate Africa calypsoes in this period: Pan-
African unity. African history, and Cultural identification with Africa.
These calypsoes stress political and historical identification of African people in the
Diaspora with Africa and also accept a Nkrumahist conception of a United Africa as a
political reality. They are calypsoes which strongly support the total liberation of Africa
and consequently forcefully denounce white majority rule in Southern Africa.
Calypsonian Brother Superior's calypso "African" is an excellent example of Pan-
Africanism in calypso in its insistence on total acceptance of the term "African" as
primary identification for all black people internationally:
Black people in Trinidad and Tobago
Barbados. Jamaica and Puerto Rico.
Ah talking to black people who live in America
Brazil and Venezuela, all over Europe and Canada.
The gap that exists between you and me
Must be bridged for it's high class stupidity.
We are all the same, I mean we are one people.
And isn't it a shame we can't learn to take example
How come if an Indian born in England is an Indian
And ifa Chinese born in Scotland he is a Chinese man.
I think it is time that my black brothers try to
No matter where you born you still African, yes man.
I don't care where you born, you still African.
Trying to be what you are not, that is the curse.
We are Africans and that should always be first.
We are divided only by water from Africa.
So remind your sons and daughters that blood thicker
than water.33 (emphasis mine)
Subsequent verses of the calypso call for racial solidarity and the political unification of
black people based on common blood. The calypso's large geographical sweep projects a
strong sense of the widespread dispersal of African peoples and the need to understand
identity first and the potential political power which unity could bring.
In the midst of the Zimbabwe freedom struggle, another calypso would reinforce
this theme of the blood bond but now as a basis for political and military support of the
freedom struggles in Southern Africa. Much like a war chant, the calypso attempts to
rekindle the fighting spirit of the pre-colonial African nations. Brother Valentino's "Stay
Up Zimbabwe" goes in part:
Woe be unto Rhodesia!
Woe be unto South Africa!
You pushing my back against the wall.
Appalling the tribes of Hannibal.
I man decide to put on his boots
And march to defend his roots.
Calling them Juju!
Calling them Zulu!
In South Africa and Rhodesia
Blood go run like water.
Prepare my brother for the bloody river.
Just remember brother, blood thicker than water.
Stay up Zimbabwe!
Stay up Zimbabwe! (repeat)
1 pay homage to Steve Biko
And the children who died in Soweto.
To the freedom fighters I declare
Africans affair is my affair.
lan Smith and Vorster got to go
The revolution say so.
So. stay up Zimbabwe!
Stay up Zimbabwe!34 (emphasis mine)
A number of calypsoes by Kelvin Pope (Calypsonian: The Mighty Duke) carry similar
messages. His "We Won't Give Up" and "Uhuru" sing about complete freedom for all
Africa and of the calypsonian's personal identification with Africa arrived at through
lessons learnt within his family (oral history) and subsequent adult knowledge that the
oppression of Africans continues today.
Until the whole of Africa is free.
Until we gain a total liberty.
Until my people can live peacefully.
There'll be war, endless war.
And we won't give up this fight.
We won't give up, this fight.
Tell them, tell them.
Until Apartheid in South Africa falls35
and in this one whose Uhuru chorus recalls the Kenyan Mau Mau freedom fighters.
Ever since I small 1 clearly recall my great-grandfather
How white men came with guns breathing flames and
took us away.
Drag we off to slavery.
Chain we foot and hand.
Yes I know the enemy;
I'm an African.
How can I be still when you people kill my brother.
In South Africa.
You murder my brother.
You ravage my land.
Don't I look familiar;
I'm an African.
Tell them I say
Freedom today!36 (emphasis mine)
Several other calypsoes would repeat this militant theme, linking unity to common
blood and common oppression. Some. like the Mighty Sparrow's "Isolate South Africa"
(1981) and the Mighly Vernon's (Antigua) "Right is Right"37 deal exclusively with the
condemnation of South Africa and its apartheid system. This condemnation often
includes a criticism of America. Britain and other superpowers for their support of South
Africa and indirectly of apartheid. Others, like "United Africa", are devoted to the pro-
motion of a stronger continent if African nations, and Africans in general, unite.
Form, mode of presentation and style vary but the content is the same. Common
images, motifs, emphases and language make this type of calypso the most evocative of
African History and Heritage Education
Calypsoes in this category are veritable catalogues of information on Africa's past
greatness, demonstrating meticulous research and documentation on the part of the
calypsonian. Here the singer becomes the griot and/or teacher, supplying otherwise un-
It is perhaps appropriate that calypsonian Chalkdust (Hollis Liverpool), by profes-
sion a teacher, dominates this genre. His calypso "Black Child's Prayer" is one of the best
examples of the calypso which educates with African history.38 It expresses pride in race
based on an awareness of the greatness of African civilizations and of Africa's contribu-
tions to scientific thought, art, architecture, medicine, writing and a number of other
areas. It lists the great African nations of Egypt, Nubia, Kush, Mali, and Ghana, and great
African historical figures like Chaka and Zulu. Osei Tutu of Ghana and Jaja Opobo of
Nigeria. It ends with the child's (Mamba) thanks to God for his parents and teacher for
the knowledge and pride that he has gained. Clearly Mamba is meant to be an example to
youth for Mamba's situation is by no means representative. Mamba's experience becomes,
through the calypsonian, all children's and parents' experience and sense of the possibility
Duke's "Teach the Children"39 communicates similar information directly to an
adult-targeted audience whom he entreats to "Teach the children about the truth that they
hide/that Africa was the cradle of civilization/. . Teach the children/So their forefathers
they see with honour, respect and pride/Teach the children that in Africa man found
utopia four million years ago/ . Prepare children to take their rightful place/Teach the
children how Europe stole Africa's gold ..."
A second type of calypso in this category is designed to challenge black people to
throw off their mental slavery and be more responsive to the needs of their people. If not,
their oppression will never end. Crooner's chorus "Raise your head. Mr Africa, raise your
head/Destructive elements plotting to kill you dead/Raise your head Mr African raise
your head/Wake up, shake up, the dreadful times are ahead" illustrates. So does Stalin's
"Time" with its "Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat, Lord I tired knock/Get up, get up, get up Black
man/You sleeping too long".40
Explainer's "Integration", Duke's "Black Skinned White Man" with its echoes of
Fanon, are other examples. Chalkdust also has a number of calypsoes in this vein, all
determined to educate the people about their failings and to challenge them to correct
what the calypsonians see as negative, self-destructive attitudes and postures. His calypso
"They Ain't See Africa At All" is an example. It attacks myopic black people for over-
looking Africa in their haste to identify with European and Eastern cultures:
1 see black women running from dey race.
They own black children, they can't face.
They don't know their roots have a glorious bloom.
Blessed be the fruit of they womb.
They does be acting as if they shame of their history.
They does take pride in other people's own.
They does be glad to disclose their baby's ancestry.
Putting their child upon a false throne, not their own.
For hear them boast to their friends and their
My baby's nose from his Spanish grandfather
My grandmother married a Chinee named Lau
That is why he face so pretty and he have such thick
He dimple come from mi husband side whose grand-
father was Irish,
And watch how the eyes pretty and wide cause mih
mother with British
And watch at me, I'm Carib and Portuguese,
So mih chile hair curly.
But the baby black down to the eyeball,
They ain't see Africa at all, at all.
The baby black like a Voodoo doll,
They ain't see Africa at all.41
In many ways, this calypso is a 1980s critique of the retreat from the black beauty
standards of the previous decades evidenced in Duke's 1969 calypso, "Black is Beauti-
ful".42 Additionally, however, it attacks the psychological denial of heritage and conco-
mitant self-hatred which colonialism creates which Fanon has already identified.
Prophetic Vision in Calypso
A third type of calypso in this group projects hope and in so doing stimulates and
challenges its listeners with the attainability of victory. The calypsonian has confidence
that his people will eventually triumph. These calypsoes are often presented through a
prophetic vision or some other type of leap forward in time. Valentino's "Ethiopia Will
Rise Again" sees a world turned upside down, an inversion, in which the Third World
becomes the First. The image of the African is not the stereotyped "primitive with spear"
but one more historically accurate. On his journey/vision, accomplished through a time
"wheel", the calypsonian meets revolutionary leaders of the past and each tells him con-
vincingly that Africa will reign again, that "Ethiopia will rise again".43 In a sense, it is a
simultaneous backward and forward thrust into a realm of possibility,for the heroes of
the past are also those of the future, the mighty Africa of the past is mightier in the
future, and thus continuity is established.
This type of calypso, largely of the 1980s, is often stimulated by certain political
advances: victory for freedom fighters after long struggles, the overthrow of oppressive
leaders and the like. Explainer's "Tables Turning" which says in part, "Tables turning,
suh/round and round/all the oppressors/Falling down/Now the oppressor is the oppressed
one" and Sparrow's "Wanted: Dead or Alive" in which he jibes at fallen rulers like Idi
Amin, Bokassa, and the Shah of Iran who were wanted for crimes against their people are
examples. One other calypso in this group recounts the singer's visit to Zimbabwe after
the revolution. There he saw "smiling faces everywhere/joyful songs clapping away all
sorrow/Little boys and girls singing/ Bangala Africa/Bangala Africa". Through the Zim-
babwe experience, the singer is able to capture the future total liberation of Africa.
Calypsoes in this category connect culturally with Africa. Calypsonians see definite
African elements in the Caribbean landscape, people, folk culture and social structures.
These bind them inextricably to Africa. In this group are represented all of the Brathwaite
categories: the rhetorical, the literature of African survival, the literature of African
expression and the literature of reconnection.
Many songs postulate that African culture is the core on which Caribbean culture is
built. Chalkdust's 1972 "We Is We" with its famous lines "Is right here you will find your
identity"4 does contain some ambivalence. On the surface, he seems to be chastising the
Indian and African youth for trying to find their identities by looking at the distant
motherlands. But it is timely in the sense of developing national responsibility and the
removal of the exile mentality. Beyond that, however, there is another interpretation, in
line with the cultural diffusion theory, which already assumes the connection with Africa
and suggests that the Caribbean holds Africa for the Caribbean man/woman in a much
deeper way than going back to Africa (or India) to search for roots does.
Calypsonian Black Stalin's 1979/1980 composition "The Caribbean Man" is a
similar calypso. Unlike the Chalkdust calypso, however, it is direct in its acceptance of the
historical connection with Africa for the Caribbean people and attacks Caribbean politi-
cians for failing to utilize this singular history in their attempts to build Caribbean econo-
mic and political unity. Consequently, it applauds Rastafarianism for making that politi-
cal leap and, therefore, being much more beneficial, ideologically, to the people: "A man
who don't know his history, can't form no unity/How could a man who don't know his
roots form his own ideology/. .. If the Rastafari movement spreading and CARIFTA
dying slow/Then is something them Rastas on that them politician don't know."45 His
chorus: "Well is one race the Caribbean Man/From the same place the Caribbean
Man/That make the same trip The Caribbean man/ On the same ship The Caribbean
man . ." repeats this affirmation.
The majority of calypsoes in this genre express cultural identification with Africa
through music, dance and religion, the most common avenues for African retention.
(Other less prominent avenues are economics, language and social organization). For
example, Calypsonian Black Wizard in 1981 describes a situation in which he was attemp-
ting to sing a "serious song" with slow rhythm but his efforts were totally rejected by a
young woman in his audience who claimed that she wanted the real calypso. Using the
justification that her great-grandfather was the best Shango leader in the land and her
great-grandmother, an old Baptist preacher, she demanded the "rhythm of the drum".
Darling I want Kaiso
So that I could bongo
I want to hear the tempo
So I could limbo
And dance like a Shango
To the beat of the Mambo
I want to hear the Conga
I want to hear the tumba
You know that I got African blood. (emphasis mine)
One should note here the use of African linguistic retentions for descriptions of musical
instruments, dance, religion and of course the use of the traditional descriptor of calypso,
"Kaiso". Another calypso, Blue Boy's "Soca Baptist" for which he won the 1980 Road
March (the most popular calypso for Carnival), describes the music of an African syncretic
religion. The calypso identifies the music and rhythm of the Spiritual Baptist religion as a
source of contemporary music but offers no explanation of (no doubt takes as a given)
the African base of the religion.46
Shango and obeah, retentions of African religion, appear with most frequency in
this group of calypsoes. The Mighty Duke, for example, recounts how the Shango drum
calls him to participate in the ritual ceremonies.47 The Mighty Sparrow, however, is the
recognized expert in this genre. In a large number of calypsoes of cultural identification,
he either makes himself the descendant of a legendary obeahman, the recipient of his
ancestor's knowledge: "For Papa Neza is me grandfather" (from his "Obeah Wedding")
or is the Shango man himself, as in "Shango Man" (1967) "Witch Doctor" (1976).48
His mastery of this form has been achieved by his undaunted usage of African
(Trinidad Yoruba, Nigerian Yoruba, Patois) words, phrases and complete sentences in his
lyrics. His "Ojo rome o, come see the Sparrow dance the Shango", is authentic Yoruba,
used in Shango ceremonies, as we have discussed above.49 In this case he alternates
Yoruba and English lines throughout the chorus. After his visit to Nigeria, during
FESTAC (The Festival of African and Black Cultures, 1977) in Nigeria, he composed
"Olori Egbe" which describes an encounter with a Nigerian girl during the festival. The
extended Yoruba chorus was obviously meticulously reproduced and is easily understood
by speakers of Yoruba:
0 lri' egbe(Leader of the Club!)
0 ma kti rere bni o (Greetings for good things
or blessings of today)
0 si wa's wa'soko, dudti yemi(. ..Blackness
O digba mo ri o e je ka wa sire oni o (. .. let's
entertain each other our ourselves)50
Sparrow's experiments with language and form are clear examples of aesthetic
reconnection they move calypso back to its origins. As discussed above, the first
calypsoes were sung either completely in African languages or an African-based creole. In
this way, Sparrow has provided the artistic counterpart of the explicit political identifi-
cation of the Pan-African calypsoes.
At times, his content is still problematic, a hallmark of the complexity, of this
calypsonian. One sees, however, a certain advancement or refinement as the singer
matures. As this refinement relates to Africa, his visit to Nigeria where he was given a
hero's welcome and even made a chief (Sparrow discovered that he was immensely popu-
lar in Africa) obviously provided a much more realistic impression and direct knowledge
of the cultuIe of which he had earlier sung simply from stereotyped, second-hand, often
distorted information. So that "Witch Doctor", made belole his visit to Nigeria. displays
all of the negative stereotypes about traditional healers in its detailed description of ques-
tionable ingredients and the motives for their use. Yet "Love African Style", made after
I ESTAC, is an echo of "Congo Man" in its assertion that African people (continental and
diasporic) have superior, excessive sexual talents. On the same album, however, he would
reaffirm his political integrity and sing about the apartheid system and white rule in
South Africa as discussed in the previous category.
A few other calypsoes in this group attribute superior knowledge to Afro-Caribbean
elders but make no explicit connection with Africa. Calypsonian Relator, for example,
points out in "Bush Medicine" (1971) that the old people had well proven cures for all
ills. A much earlier calypso had specifically catalogued the names and types of herbs and
bushes in currency in the Caribbean. Several other aspects of African culture in the
Caribbean in the areas of folk literature (tales and motifs rendered or included in calypso);
social organization ("lend-hand"); economics ('susu), food and language may be gleaned
from an examination of calypso over the years.
Any researcher into calypso has to make allowances for the entertainment impulse
and the fact there is a whole parallel tradition of calypso being used as accompaniment
for dance. This is faithful to African tradition in that topical songs were/are used to enter-
tain, to educate, to communicate and to attack social and political inequities. Thus
calypsonians, like other artists, have to balance popularity (the financial and emotional
reward of having your song sung and played throughout the Carnival season and beyond)
with the traditional political and social responsibility. In the final analysis, the best
calypsonian (artist) is the one who is able to find some effective balance or marriage
between these two competing interests.
Contemporary calypsonians keep rhetorical romantic Africa to a minimum,
although it appears in calypsoes otherwise devoted to practical concerns. Much of their
art is directed towards re-establishing linkages. Interchange with Africa has not dimi-
nished the Africa theme but has heightened it. Perhaps as long as there are Africans who
remain oppressed, and portions of Africa which are not liberated, there will continue to
be "war, endless war" in this case verbal war, and calypsonians "won't give up" this
The Africa theme in Caribbean calypso51 is an engaging, inexhaustible topic. Much
more research is needed to unearth calypsoes especially of the Garvey period much of
which may still exist in oral history. I have attempted to discuss calypso historically and
within the framework of Africa's representation in literature in general. This study makes
no claim to be definitive or conclusive. Calypso, like all vibrant oral traditions, is a
dynamic, continuous artistic process. Even as this is written or read, calypsoes are being
created. Logically, calypsonians have their own critical apaparati One calypsonian
encapsulates the permanence and continuity of this African oral tradition this way:
All kind of music will fade away
But calypso music will always stay
I tell you
All kind of music will pass you by
But calypso music will never die
Its over a thousand and fifty years old
It's the African heritage we hold
A people's commentary of their joys and woes
Folk poets they call we, singing calypso.52
*This paper was presented at the Second International Colloquium of the International African Oral
Literature Association, at Eot Vos University. Budapest, Hungary in August. 1984.
1. Richard Alan Waterman, "African Patterns in Trinidad Negro Music." Unpublished Ph. D.
dissertation, Northwestern University, 1943: Andrew C. Pearse. "Aspects ol Change in Carib-
bean Folk Music", Journal of the International Folk Music Council 7 (1953), pp. 29-36:
Theodore Van Dam, "The Influence of West African Songs of Derision in the New World".
African Music Society Journal I (1954), pp. 53 56; Jacob Delworth Elder, "The Evolution of
the Traditional Calypso of Trinidad and Tobago: A Socio-Historical Analysis of Song Change".
Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1966. University Microfilms: 67 3066 and
"Social Development of the Traditional Calypso of Trinidad and Tobago. Irom Congo Drum to
Steelband". (St. Augustine, Trinidad, University of the West Indies, 1968: Errol Hill, "The
Trinidad Calypso: Form and Function" (Chapter 7) in his The Trinidad Carnival: Mandate for a
National Theatre (Austin, University of Texas Press, 1972), pp. 57 59: Laz E. K. Ekueme,
"African Sources in New World Black Music",Black Images, I (Autumn and Winter, 1972), pp.
3-12; Carole E. Boyce, "The Trinidad Calypso: An Analysis of the Functions of an African
Oral Tradition in the Caribbean". M. A. Thesis, Howard University. Washington. D.C.. 1974,
University Microfilms, 75-M6760.
2. Charles S. Espinet and Harry Pitts, Land of the Calypso: The Origin and Development of Trini-
dad's Folksong. (Port-of-Spain, Guardian Commercial Printery, 1944), pp. 13. 23-30. All of
the works cited in note 1 above contain some discussion of the form of the calypso. The tradi-
tional descriptor of this topical song, used especially as vocal audience commendation for
excellent composition and rendition, is Kaiso, a term which is attributed Hausa origin. For
discussion, see Raymond Quevedo (Calypsonian("Atilla the Hun") "History of Calypso" in
This Country of Ours: Independence Brochure of the Nation (Port-of-Spain, PNM Publishing
Company, 1962), pp. 81-97. The complete Quevedo manuscript was edited by Errol Hill and
published as Atilla's Kaiso. A Short History of Trinidad Calypso. (St. Augustine, Trinidad,
Department of Extra Mural Studies. University of the West Indies. 1983.) Errol Hill's discus-
sion in his Mandate, pp. 60-62, provides additional information on the word kaiso.
3. J. D. Elder, "The Male/Female Conflict in Calypso", Caribbean Quarterly 14:3 (September,
1968), pp. 23-41; Hyman Rodman, Lower Class Families: The Culture of Poverty in Negro
Trinidad. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971; Flma Reyes, (Trinidad) "Women's Image
in Calypso", Caribbean Women's Feature Service 19 February 1980; William R. Aho. "Sex
Conflict in Trinidad Calypsoes 1969-1979", Revista/Review Interamericana 11:2 (Spring,
1981), pp. 76-81; "Images of Women in Calypso in the Caribbean", The Tribune No. 14 (New
York, International Women's Tribune Center, 1981); Keith Q. Warner, "Male/lemale Interplay
in Calypso" (Chapter 4) in his Kaiso! The Trinidad Calypso. A Study of the Calypso as Oral
Literature, (Washington, D.C., Three Continents Press, 1982), pp. 95-121.
4. While it is accepted that calypso is composed and sung in other Caribbean countries, calypso-
singing has reached its highest development in Trinidad. Calypsoes from other islands are also
circulated in Trinidad and often have to "pass the Trinidad test". This study examines mainly
Trinidad calypso but refers to calypso from other parts of the Caribbean where appropriate
material was available. Hence, the interchangeable usage of Trinidad calypso with Caribbean
5. Daedalus 103:2 (Spring. 1974). pp. 73 109.
6. Caribbean Quarterly (1955). pp. 5 13. No author is given, but because of the content, possibly
was authored by G. R. (oulthard whose work is mentioned below.
7. See. for example, Janhein. Jahn, Neo-African Literature. A History of Black Writing. New York:
(rove Press. Inc.. 1968.
8. London. Oxford University Press. 1962). pp. 71- 79.
9. Ibid. p. 79.
10. Tony Martin, Literary Garveyism. Garvey. Black Arts and the Harlem Renaissance The Major-
ity Press. (Dover. Mass.. 1983). Several Afro-American scholars describe the Harlem Renais-
sance as a type of literary Garveyism because of the thematic return to Africa, and/or the
African experience in the Southern USA of many of tile artists.
11. Carmichael. A. C. Domestic Manners and Social Conditions of the White, Colored and Negro
Populations of the West Indies. 2 vols. (1833). Reprint: New York: Negro Universities Press.
1969. p. 3)1 and other histories of this period describe the language of the African slaves.
12. Quevcdo. Atilla's Kaiso. p. 6.
13. This version and the following explanation was supplied to me in a personal communication,
Budapest, Hungary. August 29. 1984. Ms. Warner-Leewis has been one of tile major researchers
into linguistic survivals of Yoruba in Trinidad. See Maureen Warner, "Trinidad Yoruba Notes
on Survivals", Caribbean Quarterly 17 (June. 1971), pp. 40 49 and "African Ieasts in Trini-
dad', Bulletin of the African Studies Association of the West Indies (December, 1971), pp.
14. Hill (1972) p. 59 and the historical sources he cites has further discussion on songs sung by
15. IIlder, "From Congo Drum to Steelband" hias extensive discussion on this period.
16. Calypsonians sing under sobriquets which are usually given to them by their peers as a type of
initiation into the realm of calypso-singing. In the early colonial days, these naines had royal
affiliation like Lord and Lady. Prince. Duke. More aggressive names like Tiger. Invader. Atilla
were introduced during the period of the two World Wars. Singers are given names reflective of
their personalities, e.g. Crazy: professions e.g. "Chalkdust": singing ability e.g. "Sparrow",
"Relator". "Crooner", and the like. See Sophie H. Lainson. "Music and Culture in the Carib-
bean". M.A. Thesis, Wesleyan University. Middletown. Connecticut. 1951. pp. 16 19 for dis-
cussion and comparison with the same phenomenon in African oral tradition. See also Hill, pp.
73 74 and Warner, pp. 15 16 for further discussion.
17. I. G. Rolilehr. "Political Calypsoes", english Department, University of the West Indies. Trini-
dad. 1970 (mimeograplied) p.l
18. Tony Martin. The Pan African Connection: From Slavery to Garvey and Beyond Schenckman
Publishing Company. Cambridge. Mass.. 1983. pp. 71 72. Calypso also cited in Rohlehr
19. Saim Manning who was a calypsonian during this period was an active Garveyite. An unfinished
and undated Imanuscript "'The Yorubas of Carapiclnna. Trinidad. Pre- 1910" is included in
Martin's The Pan African Connection. pp; 217- 218.
20. Personal communication with Steve Schapiro I October. 1984. According to Schapiro. the
nature of recording in the 1920s is tile important factor. All recording was done in tile US. lHe
states that there are several iazz numbers on Garvey and the Black star Line. Hollis Liverpool
((Chalkdust ) reports thalt there are several calypsoes w ith Garvey lyrics. Tony Martin who has
done extensive research on Garveyisml in particular states that logically there should be several
calypsoes on Africa during this period which extensive research should turn up. Personal coim-
munication. September. 1984.
21. Arthur Calder-Marshall, Glory Dead Michael Joseph, (London, 1939), p. 169.
22. See for further discussion Rex Nettleford, Mirror Mirror. Collins/Sangster. London: 1974 and
Leonard Barrett, The Rastafarians. Heinemann/Sangster, London, 1977; Sebastian Clarke,
Jah Music. London, Heinemann, 1980.
23. Calder-Marshall, pp. 167-169.
24. Quoted in Quevedo, Atilla's Kaiso, p. 108.
25. Ibid., pp. 120-121.
26. Rohlehr, "Political Calypsoes", p. 4. This writer recalls a calypso refrain played on the radio
during her childhood in the late 1950s which went something like "Well look I want to come
back home Africa/Darling how I tired roam'- Africa/ ..." but so far has not been able to
verify singer or date.
27. Slave, National Recording Company. NLP 4188.
28. Mighty Sparrow: Trinidad Heat Wave. Scepter Records M10003.
29. "Sparrow and the Language of Calypso", Savacou. 2 (September, 1970), pp. 94-95.
30. "The Calypso Tradition in West Indian Literature", Black Academy Review 2: 1&2 (1971),
31. Tony Thomas and John Riddell, Black Power in the Caribbean Pathfinder Press, (New York,
32. Specific to Trinidad here; still an active political organization with an African socialist ideolo-
gical orientation. NJAC organized several concerts in which progressive calypso talent was
showcased and additionally offered lectures and teach-ins on African history led by noted
33. Some calypsonians would be earlier and independently influenced by the Civil Rights/Black
Power Movement in America. Rhetoric and philosophy of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King is
revealed in the lyrics of the Mighty Duke and Lord Superior in the late 1960s for example.
Lyrics for this calypso were published in booklet Calypso Revue. (Unique Publishers, San
Fernando, Trinidad). Another calypso entitled "We shall Overcome" by Superior is included in
the same booklet.
34. Brother Valentino, Third World Messenger, Semp 5012. Calypsonians Valentino and Superior
would drop the former title "Lord" in favour of "Brother" around this period.
35. Mighty Duke, Poetry and Music Charlie's Records, 136-B, 1977.
37. Here I Come, Antigua Records 303A.
38. Chalkdust With a Bang, Straker's Records GS2243B.
39. Lyrics recorded at live performance "Black Traditions in Art", Howard University, Washington,
D.C., 22 August, 1984.
40. Cassette recording, 1980.
41. Chalkdust: Kaiso With Dignity. RH Productions, 1983. Lyrics printed on dust jacket.
42. Lyrics published in Trinidad Carnival and Calypso (Booklet) 1969.
43. "Black Traditions in Art", Howard University, 22 August, 1984.
44. Claudette La Fortune, Chalkie: Hollis Liverpool (The Mighty Chalkdust) and His Calypsoes,
45. Work quoted and discussed in Warner, Kaiso, pp. 83-85.
46. Earl Lovelace, The Wine of Astonishment (Heinemann, Caribbean Writers Series, 1983) uses the
Spiritual Baptists as its subject. Several anthropological studies have been done on this religious
47. All Night Tonight MCA Records, MAP-S-1980
48. Sparrow at the Hilton: '67 Carnival Hits, National Recording Company, NRC8070.
49. The Sparrow version, taken directly from the Shango religion is the authentic version of Ja Ja
Romey O discussed earlier, cf. note 13.
50. Transcription and translation by Karin Barber, who has done eleven (11) years of research in
Yoruba, along with some Yoruba-speaking Nigerian students, informally, in Budapest, Hungary,
51. The bulk of material used in this paper came from Trinidad calypso but this writer wishes to
recognize that calypso singing is Caribbean and not limited to Trinidad and that comparative
research is needed on thematic and formal conventions in calypso from other islands.
52. Poetry and Music by the Mighty Duke, Charlie's Records CR136-A, 1977.
Now they burn west
across the christian
ocean humming high above the high drift
of the harmattan
lights blinking on/and off/in touch with stars. the vulcans
slumbering within their bowels
stealthily stealthily stealthily stealthily
they search they search they search out human rights
scandle and damp. the mist upon the window panes
where we are making love
they disappear in cloud
and come back glinting in white sunshine high
above the coral reefs
the palm trees sparrows pigeon doves woodpeckers
quetzalcoatl green green glory adoration to a flower
inland above the tolmec far north above the thun/
der of the orinoco up beyond salmon/ jump
the pine trees cold coyote water tendril all along the heaven
of this world that god made without adam from my bones
and night came down upon the causeway with the horses hoofs
cylops. sparks. fire of popocatepetl still burning in my engine
and so we fell upon them on the day of pentecost
more than five. no fifty thousand perished in that lake
alone along the saltway of the thirteenth year
the cycle of the shears and crossroads
the parrots crying all night long
and ever as i turned to face them/ i
came back full of arrows darts and stones
for there was water all around & they could hit
us with impunity
inwards towards the night
search out guatomec's darkened heart from your steel
knuckle around your talon fist his chains of golden shrimp
and strip him bleed
pinion his caciques
make them kneel before your newly found immortal and your
i will let them worship the head of my horse
as they have worshipped mol and moon and white and yucatan
in the house of the dead landlord
for i have determined
to destroy these mosques i call them steps
to growl and grim and slaughter, steps
to mouth and growl and akbal. these sharp slant down. ward steps
sierras in my blood
scream. metal vision blocked down. dark
inside my head. my vizard helmet crying for the light
this club foot god that haunts me
makes me vomit out destroy
never chantments like these
salamanca in the legend
palaces of stone and cedar
destroy though they were
heard or told in cadiz
of amadis and there were
walls painted as if in
after the fashion
bird beast bowl
as if always hungry
of great colourful
of their calmecac
of cotton cloth and awesome
spattered hieroglyphics of
and there was fruit and native
roses and great cisterns of
and birds of many breeds and colours that came into the lake and
build la scala and the eiffel
seen or heard
tour i swear i had not
dreamed of lands more beautiful than these not in the whole of
i stood there looking out as if i had discovered the pacific
though there was yet no thought of andes inca atahuallpa darien
and so i overturned their idols rolled
them down the stairs and stare out at you from your
cortez condor clubfoot
EDWARD KAMAU BRATHWAITE
Maurice. Lemoine, Bitter Sugar. Slaves Today in the Caribbean. Chicago: Banner Press,
1985. 308 pages, appendix and illustrations.
The history of conflict between the two parts that make up the island of Hispaniola
goes back to the colonial period. In the beginning, it was the settlement of the French
Buccaneers; then the disputes to determine the border. The problem of commercial trade
between the two colonies followed. In the 19th century it was the problem of the wars of
empire, the rebellion of the slaves and then the twenty years of Haitian control over the
whole island until in 1844, with the creation of the Dominican Republic, the wars began
again. Afterwards would come trade and the peaceful settlement of the Dominican border
regions by Haitian farmers.
American occupation of the Island (Haiti from 1915 until 1930 and the Dominican
Republic from 1916 until 1924) would introduce new elements to the equation. The
Americans, owners of the sugar mills in the Dominican Republic, started bringing in
large numbers of Haitians to cut the cane. By doing this, they resolved a number of prob-
lems they faced. They eased the economic and demographic pressure on the Haitian
people; they were responding to the problem of the shortage of Dominican manpower,
and they were also lowering the cost of the production of sugar by means of reducing
So there arose two trouble spots on the Dominican-Haitian scene. On the one hand.
the occupation of the frontier lands by Haitian campesinos and, on the other hand, the
problem of the sugar workers brought in to cut the cane.
The Haitian campesino became established on the frontier and reached a status
superior to the Dominicans, especially those Haitians who were involved in coffee produc-
tion and commercialization. The Haitian on the frontier was admired and envied by the
Domihicans. The sugar-cane worker, on the contrary, was a part-time labourer who was
over-exploited, so that even his physical appearance caused him to be rejected by the
The slaughter of the Haitians in 1937 affected the farmers who lived mainly along
the border. But even this did not have an effect on the Haitian work-force in the sugar
plantations. As a matter of fact, the system was strengthened.
This same geographical consideration prevails even today. Along the border the
Haitian runs the risk of being killed or deported. But in the canefields, although he is mis-
treated, he is needed and, therefore protected.
It is calculated that some 200,000 Haitians and Dominican-Haitians now live in the
Dominican Republic. In spite of this large number, the Dominican sugar industry still
has to contract each year for 15,000 cane-cutters from Haiti. This is the theme of
The study by Lemoine was published originally in Paris in 1981 by the Nouvelle
Societe'de Editions Encre. The Spanish edition was done by the Centro Ecumenico para
la Accion Social in Santo Domingo in 1983. Now we have the book in English.
In style, the book is multi-faceted. It makes use of history to explain the begin-
nings and the relations between the two peoples and to illustrate the struggle against
slavery carried out through Haitian history. The book deals with the problems of the
economy of sugar, markets, prices and so on. Political events are narrated; negotiations
between the Dominican and Haitian governments over the contracting of the sugar
workers are revealed. In the style of Oscar Lewis, the book tells the story of Estime
Mondestin, a Haitian cane-cutter contracted to work in the Dominican sugar harvest.
Along with the public figures who are named, the people in the book are real, Lemoine
asserts, although for obvious reasons their names have been changed.
The action takes place in the years 1978-1980, within the framework of the con-
tract for the recruitment of cane-cutters signed by the governments of A. Guzman of the
Dominican Republic and J. C. Duvalier of Haiti on 14 October 1978. This contract is
inserted in the index of the book. The Haitian government committed itself to recruit
15,000 workers in the space of 30 days (Art. 2a). The Dominican government would pay
1,225,000 U.S. dollars to the Haitian government to cover the costs of recruiting (Art.
10). Other articles in the contract regulated different aspects of the work. All the
articles were drawn up in a very humanitarian tenor.
Lemoine uses the different articles of the contract to introduce the chapters of the
book, to contrast the tone of the contract with the real life conditions of the cane-
cutters. This device allows him to highlight the situation of the cane-cutter and to sustain
his conclusion that the corruption and waste that is rampant in the State Sugar Council,
CEA as it is known in Santo Domingo, which administers the eleven government-owned
sugar mills, requires "superexploiting the manpower to the point where it approaches and
ends up becoming slavery". (Page 295)
The theme of slavery is a preoccupation awakened by the denunciation of the
Society against Slavery in London in 1982. The Society Against Slavery made the
denunciation to the International Labour Organization which sent an investigating com-
mission to the Dominican Republic and to Haiti in 1983.
Some people argue that the word slavery is unjust and imprecise. By slavery we
understand the system in which a person is bound to the will of another against his own
will. It is true that today slave societies and institutions have just about completely dis-
appeared; but it is also true that situations of slavery can still survive. The situation of
the cane-cutters in the Dominican Republic has characteristics of slavery. Quite apart
from the bad living conditions where he makes his home, the lack of health and hygiene
safeguards, the bad food and clothing, the cheating in the weighing and the paying for
the cane that is cut, apart from the social marginalization of the Haitian, most of all, he
is obliged to remain "manu military" in the batey in which he is working obliged to
work seven days a week and twelve hours each day. Part of his salary is retained with the
excuse that it is to be given to him on his return to Haiti. The concept of slavery may
be open to discussion, but not the reality of injustice.
IHow is it possible to maintain tlis situation? Because of cultural, political and
economic pressures that exist in both llaiti and the Dominican Republic. Poor economic
conditions in Haiti make the salaries that are offered in the Dominican sugar mills look
attractive. The political repression of Duvalier facilitated the recruiting of the workers.
Meanwhile in the Dominican Republic the theme of the cultural inferiority of the Haitian
is promoted and by contracting him to cut cane you are doing him a favour. In this
manner the exploitation is disguised.
ANTONIO LLUBERES, S.J.
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Monica Frolander-Ulf and Frank Lindenfeld. A New Earth: The Jamaican Sugar Work-
ers' Co-operatives, 1975-1981, Lanham. Maryland. University Press of America, 1985,
pp. 240. Price: Hardback 524.50. Paperback S12.50.
A New Earth is a readable account of the history of the sugar cane co-operatives in Jam-
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realized and unrealized benefits to co-operators of the sugar crops. Chapter 4 explores
the limited nature of workers' control as implemented in the co-ops. and the less than
full commitment of the PNP government to full workers' control. Chapter 5 presents a
discussion of the ideological bases of the workers' movement, the resistance of the
workers to co-operative ideology and the struggle between co-op organizers and gov-
ernment agencies over education of the co-operators. Chapter 6 attempts to place the
co-operative movement in a broader context of economic development and to examine
the reasons for the failure of the PNP reforms, including the sugar co-ops.
On the whole, A New Earth is a relatively unsatisfactory work for several reasons.
The authors' approach to the subject fails to adequately reflect the large body of theo-
retical and empirical works on the subject of workers' participation and control.
Frolander-Ulf and Lindenfeld point out, quite legitimately, that workers were given the
right to participate in their co-ops. but were never granted full control of their enter-
prises. However, they never fully distinguished between these two key concepts. Had they
spent more time defining participation and control and placing them in a theoretical
framework it would have been clearer at what levels of the enterprise and for what func-
tions participatory rights were granted and when they were not, and why as a result full
workers' control could not be realized.
The authors' emphasis on control over participation reflects their theoretical
attachment to dependency theory. This paradigm of economic development empha-
sizes the need for a radical transformation of both the developing society and interna-
tional economic relationships. The authors argue that workers' control should have been
granted at the outset of the co-operatives. However, an extensive body of literature
emanating from the left identified workplace participation as the base of this societal
transformation. According to this theoretical school, as workers participate at the lowest
level of the enterprise they gain the skills necessary for participation and develop the
ideological commitment to egalitarian and co-operative principles. As a result, they
demand more participation at higher levels of the enterprise, and then the industry, and
finally society. Workplace participation is thus hypothesized to escalate into a demand
for full workers' control and then for a transformation of all social relations within a
society. By ignoring the arguments of the "participatory left" the authors missed an
important chance to tie the various theoretical strands of the left together.
Another important weakness of this book is the limited data on which the authors
rely. They interviewed approximately two dozen co-operators in addition to staff, top
executives and middle managers. They also attended co-operative meetings and lived
among the sugar workers. They clearly came to know and sympathize with the workers.
This identification with the workers is both a strength and a limitation. They are able to
portray the lives and struggles of the workers beautifully. However, as they note. they
make no attempt to remain unbiased. Frolander-Ulf and Lindenfeld's view of social
research, one which this writer cannot accept. is that .all research dealing with social
issues is partisan and . most so-called objective studies are biased in favoul of those
who hold power and against those working for structural change" (p. 8. no. 5). It would
appear that it is this view of social research that justified their failure to interview any of
the government officials who were connected with the sugar co-operatives. Certainly
these administration officials would have provided important insights and information
regarding the co-operatives.
InI summnary.The New Earth i; book xell worth reading, pi \ided at the amiie time
that its limitations and biases are kept in mind hb the reader.
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Franc Lessac, The Little Island, Macmillan Publishers, Hampshire, England, 1984, pp. 48.
The Little Island by Franc Lessac, published by Macmillan Publishers 1984, is a delight-
ful little book which gives a clear and detailed description of the Caribbean island of
The picturesque language and poetic style of the writer exposes the youngster to a
wealth of new words and exciting ways of describing Montserrat. which is referred to, and
known as the Emerald Isle throughout the Eastern Caribbean.
The childlike illustrations and the author's style help to facilitate an understanding
of the activities which take place on the island, and present information about the people,
their way of life. the flora and fauna and many of the island's special features.
Young children can travel with the author through the island and enjoy every bit of
it, while acquiring some interesting facts about it. It should be noted, however, that as a
visitor, the author tends to present an ethereal and rather simplistic picture, thus making
the island appear quaint and a little unreal. It is this that would make it appealing to
children between ages 5 and 8 who live in a world of phantasy.
This book should be in class libraries in the region: teachers of young children can
get many ideas for preparing graphic and reading materials for Social Studies activities
Shelley by Katherine Orr. published by Macmillan Publishers. 1984, is all about the
Caribbean Conch, and provides the young reader, parents and adults working with young
children with a clear description of its life cycle.
The illustrations complement the information given in a clear and easy-to-follow
narrative style. The reader is first given an overview of the various types of conchs found
in the Caribbean, then is allowed to follow the growth and development of Shelley, a
The journey through Shelley's life cycle is exciting, fascinating and factual. In addi-
tion, information about other creatures of the deep she meets along the way helps to
make her life story that more interesting and enjoyable.
This is an approprialc introduction of the young marine enthusiast to the wonders
of the deep, which may well effectively motivate budding marine biologists.
It is a good resource book and will always be treasured by children and teachers.