: NU MBERSI
TRINIDAD CARNIVAL ISSUE
COVER ILLUSTRATION :
Bill McKenzie and his band of Pierrot Grenade in the Trinidad
Carnival of 1956.
From a photograph lent by Mr. McKenzie.
Reprinted from a copy in the collections of the
University of Florida Librairies
Reprinted by permission of
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES, Kingston, Jamaica
A Division of
KRAUS-THOMSON ORGANIZATION LIMITED
Printed in Germany
DOUBLE ISSUE MARCH, 1956
VOL. 4. Nos. 3 & 4. JUNE, 1956
EDITOR'S NOTES 173
CARNIVAL IN NINETEENTH CENTURY TRINIDAD
Andrew Pearse 175
THE TRADITIONAL MASQUES OF CARNIVAL
Daniel J. Crowley 194
THE CHANGING ATTITUDE OF THE COLOURED MIDDLE CLASS
Barbara E. Powrie 224
CARNIVAL IN NEW ORLEANS
Munro S. Edmonson 233
CARIBBEAN THEME: A CALYPSO
E. L. Brathwaite 246
MITTO SAMPSON ON CALYPSO LEGENDS OF THE NINETEENTH
Arranged and edited by Andrew Pearse 250
THE MIDNIGHT ROBBERS
Daniel J. Crowley 263
THE DRAGON BAND OR DEVIL BAND
Bruce Procope 275
Andrew T. Carr 281
NOTE ON MANUSCRIPTS
MSS. and Communications to the Editors should be addressed to either Editor of
the Caribbean Quarterly at their respective addresses, and not to an individual.
Unsolicited MSS. which are not accepted for publication will be returned if accom-
panied by a stamped addressed envelope.
Copyright reserved, and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
The Cover Illustration "All
from the photograph of:
John D. Lee
Saints" which appeared on Volume 4 No. 2 was
16. First Street,
San Juan, Trinidad, B.W.I.
and not David Lee, as stated.
UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF THE WEST INDIES
PHILIP M. SHERLOCK, U.C.W.I., Mona, Jamaica, B.W.I.
ANDREW T. CARR, Editorial Office, Trinidad, B.W.I.
Single copies can be obtained in the British West Indies from booksellers or from
Resident Tutors of the Extra Mural Department, in the various territories whose addresses
Trinidad and Tubago
Resident Tutor, Extra Mural Department, University College
of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, B.W.I.
Vernon Leslie, Baron Bliss Institute, Belize, British Honduras.
Douglas Hall, Extra Mural Department, Basseterre, St. Kitts,
B. H. Easter, Bridge Street, Castries, St. Lucia, B.W.I.
A. Douglas-Smith, Lee Side, St. Lawrence Gap, Christ Church,
Adolph Thompson, 78, Carmichael Street, Georgetown,
Norman H. Booth, La Fantaisie Road, St. Ann's, Port-of-
Spain, Trinidad. B.W.I.
HOW TO SUBSCRIBE
Subscribers in British West Indies $2.00 (B.W.I.) or 8/4
(4 issues post force)
Subscribers in the United Kingdom 8/4
Do. do. United States of America $2.00 (U.S.)
Do. do. Canada $2.00 (Canadian)
Do. do. Haiti 8 gourds
Fill in the form below and send with subscription to:
ANDREW T. CARR
Editorial Office, Caribbean Quarterly,
La Fantaisie Road,
St. Ann's, Port-of-Spain,
c/o Trinidad Building and Loan Association.
Cor. Queen and Chacon Streets,
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, B.W.I.
"CARIBBEAN QUARTERLY" SUBSCRIPTION FORM
I enclose............................. in payment of....................... subscriptions)
Valid from Vol ............... No................ for 4 issues.
D ate: ..... ...................... ................
A SELECTION OF CONTENTS FROM PAST ISSUES
Volume 1-Nos. 1 to 4 are out of print.
Vol. II, No. 1
The University College of the West Indies
West Indian Family Organisation
Ships and Seamen in the Age of Discovery
Notes on the Reading of Poetry
Vol. II, No. 2
The English Language
West Indian Themes
Glimpses of a Lost Civilization ...
Art in British Honduras
A Note on Verse in British Honduras Four Poems
The Green Flash
Vol. II, No. 3
Extra Mural Programme ...
The Emergence of Afro-Cuban Poetry
Marbial Valley Project
Some Notes on Sir Ralph James Woodford
Birds of the West Indies ... ... ...
Management and the Agricultural Tradition in Puerto Rico...
West Indian Society a Century Ago
A Survey of Dialects in the British Caribbean
Vol. II, No. 4
Four Poets of the Greater Antilles
Salt Fish and Ackee
Outside the Walls ... ... ...
The Problem of Over-Population in Puerto Rico
Vol. III, No. 1
Language and Folklore
Creole-A Folk Language
A Rada Community in Trinidad
Vol. III, No. 2
Recent Developments in Race Relations in the United States...
The Mud Volcanoes
Sir Charles Metcalfe ... .. ... ...
The Rise of the Village Settlements of British Guiana
A Note on Economic Policy in Tortola
Vol. III, No. 3
Citizenship in an Emergent Nation
The Archives of Jamaica
Research and the Lay Scholar ... ... ...
The Apprenticeship Period in Jamaica 1834-1838
West Indian Reptiles
On Being a West Indian
Vol. III, No. 4
Trinidad Town House ...
French and Creole Patois in Haiti
The Choice and Use of Words ...
Form and Style in a Bahamian Folktale
Coco and Mona
T. W. J. Taylor
John H. Parry
A. K. Croston
Robert Le Page
A. H. Anderson
Fr. Raymond Devas
Philip M. Sherlock
G. R. Coulthard
T. W. J. Taylor
Fr. Raymond Devaes
Philip M. Sherlock
R. B. Le Page
Sir T. W. J. Taylor
J. H. Parry
Frederick G. Cassidy
Andrew T. Carr
George E. Simpson and
J. Milton Yinger
K. W. Barr
D. G. Hall
R. K. Gardiner
Clinton V. Black
M. W. Barley
D. G. Hall
H. W. Springer
Sir Thomas Taylor
Daniel J. Crowley
J. A. Borome
Price : 50 cents (B.W.I. or U.S.) or 2/1 U.K. per issue. (post free)
THE articles in the present double issue of Caribbean Quarterly are devoted
mainly to the Carnival of Trinidad, for which she is justly famous. We are
extremely glad to be able to include with these articles one on the Carnival
of New Orleans by Munro Edmonson, an anthropologist at Tulane University.
We do not claim that we have been able to publish the results of a compre-
hensive study of Trinidad's Carnival. That must wait. But a considerable
amount of work was done on it in connection with the Local Studies
Programme of the Extra-Mural Department under the direction of
Andrew Pearse, and two interesting exhibitions of Carnival costumes and
paraphernalia were held at the Museum of the Royal Victoria Institute.
Material for a sociological analysis of Carnival, recordings of other Carnival
"languages" data on techniques and crafts, recordings of Carnival music and
further historical material on the Canboulay Era have been collected, and
await further work before publication. The authors of the Trinidad articles
worked closely together, and owe much to one another, and also to a very
large number of informants and collaborators, including:
Old Carnival P Jones, R. Fortune, V Layne, L. Wehekind,
T. Searl, L. Guerra, M. Estaba, King Pharaoh and S. Supersad.
Dragon Band C. Manners, C. Bennett, B. Willkie, C. Young,
Patrick Jones, E. B. Inniss, W. La Borde, E. Harper, V. Forde,
R. Philip, K. Andrews, E. Taylor, G. Wilson and D. Jones.
Sailors L. Warner, H. Lovelace, N. Jules, W. Maclean,
R. Romain, P. A. Davidson, A. Drayton, F. Henry, S. Jackman,
L. Joseph, J. Gittens, 0. Pile, F. Wallace, 0. Chase and G. Dominique.
Devils and Jab-Jabs B. Charles, C. Ascevero and K. Williams.
Midnight Robbers V. Wilson, C. Bostock, L. Russell, H. Burke,
D. Rennie and J. Seebran.
Indians H. Jackman, C. Pierre, C. Lasselle, N. Inniss,
K. Shepherd, K. Wong, L. Carthy, C. Bomparte, R. Philip,
C. Celestine, A. Bideau, H. Besson, C. de Gale, E. MacDougall,
G. Beatty, D. MacAuley, P. MacIntyre, T. Howard, R. Petty,
E. Mannette, G. Scott, E. Payne, K. Singh, K. de Boissiere, E. Drayton
and W. King.
Pierrot Grenade Bill MacKenzie, Edward Bayack, J. Ramon
Fortune, L. Wehekind, George Borde and H. N. Fahey.
Minstrels D. Jobity, C. Wilkes, L. Charles, V. Hobson,
and K. Savary.
Historical H. Basilon, C. C. Dixon, K. Roshard, W. Joseph,
L. Samaroo, H. Saldenha, B. Ammon, I. McWilliams, N. Aming,
0. Williams, M. Lai, P. Frederick, V. Jones, H. Ewing, E. Timothy,
H. Tillett, H. Cartner and 0. Bernard.
Others E. Houlder, A. Grant, M. Ammon, C. Savary, C. King,
H. Hosang, M. Lee Kow, W. Shepherd, St. C. Preston, Lennox Pierre,
Raymond Quevedo, S. Atteck, C. Chang, C. Laird, C. Ward,
S. Espinet, R. Sharma, M. Jackman, H. Gonsalves and R. Chanka.
Photography Eugene Beard.
Drawings : Carlyle Chang.
Carnival in Nineteenth Century Trinidad
The following is a discussion of the form and content of the
institution of Carnival in Trinidad, viewed from the point of view
of the changing culture and social structure of that island.
PRE-EMANCIPATION SOCIETY AND ITS CARNIVAL-1783-1833
We are not here concerned with the origins of Carnival outside Trinidad,
and so on account of the insignificance of the population before 1783, and
the lack of evidence of any institution of Carnival before that date, we may
use it as a zero-point. The population was as follows:
White Coloured Slave Indian
Spanish 126 245 310 2,000
During the next 14 years following the opening of Trinidad, a Spanish
colony, to Catholic settlers of all kinds, the main immigrants were (a) French
colonists and their slaves from Dominica, St. Vincent, Martinique and Grenada,
unsettled on account of hostilities between Great Britain and France, (b) French
white and coloured planters and their slaves upset by the revolutionary disturb-
ances in St. Domingo, Guadeloupe and Martinique and (c) republicans, and
other unsettled persons from islands temporarily held by the French and at that
time (around 1794) returning to British rule. These included Jacobins, and
"Brigands" as they were called by the British, i.e., bands of ex-slaves who
resisted or fled to Trinidad when the British re-took their islands. The slaves
were mainly Creole. Thus, in 1797 the population was:
White Coloured Slave Indian
Spanish 150 200 300 1,127
French 2,250 4,700 9,700
In the period which followed, changes took place: (a) a considerable
number of French white and coloured free citizens left the island for the
Spanish Main (b) English carpet baggers, merchants, a few planters bringing
slaves, and free coloured from British islands entered (c) a large number of
slaves was imported direct from Africa (d) a large immigration of coloured
people from the Spanish Main entered the island.
The main sources of information on which this article is based are the newspapers
of Trinidad which are to be found in the vaults of the Registry at the Red House
and the Trinidad Public Library. My thanks are due to the Registrar General, Mr.
Hector Deeble, and the Librarian of the Public Library, Mr. Carlton Comma, for the
help they gave, and to Miss Ursula Raymond for her help in excerpting information
from the late Nineteenth Century papers.
1 2 175
White Coloured Slave Indian
Spanish 505 1,751
French 1,093 2,925 20,464
British 663 599
The most marked additions to the population in the period which followed
were (a) the arrival of American freed slaves who had served with British
Forces 1812-13 in Virginia, (b) the settlement of disbanded African soldiers
of the West India Regiment and of freed slaves taken from slave-trading
vessels, (c) a large influx of peons from the Spanish Main, a proportion of
whom returned thither.
By 1826 the population was:
White Coloured Slave Indian
Spanish or Colonies 450 2,154 Creole:
French or Colonies 617 2,150 15.291 655
British or Colonies 938 11,594
African 1,450 African:
American 1,056 7,832
The nature of Trinidad society just before capitulation is important
because, despite the many and varied immigrations, a pattern of rural life was
firmly drawn by the French, whose exceptional pioneering work established,
between 1783 and 1797, 468 plantations, covering 85,000 acres, of which
37,960 were already cultivated, with 159 sugar mills, and 130, 103 and 70
undertakings growing and processing coffee, cotton and tobacco respectively.
The most reliable account of this society is given by Borde in his Histoire
de la Trinidad.
He depicts the French planters of Trinidad as a true rural aristocracy,
authorisedd to wear the sword of Louis XIV a veritable aristocracy of
colour no whit less urbane or distinguished than an aristocracy of blood"
They appear to have been a close-knit group, and they sought their rewards
in their country of adoption, establishing a fairly comfortable standard of
living and maintaining "vastes mais modestes manoirs champetres", usually
near rivers, with orchards and pasturage near the house. Whilst they continued
to import their wines, they adapted the cuisine of Bordeaux to creole fish,
meat, fruit and vegetables and learnt the use of the local flora for making
"tisanes" and medicaments. The women, following the style of Bordeaux,
wore white, but adorned their heads and necks with the brightly coloured
"madras" and foulard. The older men continued to wear culottes, with pigtail
or powdered hair, though the young men took to the pantaloon which was
becoming popular in France at the end of the century. The cordial relations
existing between the French plantocracy were expressed in varied "divertissi-
ments" concerts, balls, dinners, hunting parties and "f6tes champetres", and
these were especially concentrated into the Carnival season, which lasted from
Christmas to Ash Wednesday. This was in the dryest and coolest time of the
year, before the worst rush of the cutting of the canes begins, and when least
attention needed to be given to agriculture. The gatherings of the Carnival
season were characterized by "a contagious gaiety, brilliant verbal sallies, and
comic buffoonery which made the subject of the morrow's conversations."
We must be on our guard against a tendency natural in Borde's descrip-
tion to idealise French society in Trinidad, but there are clear indications that
its members, emerging from their homes, or entertaining therein, sought and
found recognition amongst their peers by excelling in elegance, sophistication
and ability in the arts, conversation, dress, music and hospitality, according
to provincial French standards, rather than regarding the West Indian
colonies as places to be tolerated for the sake of a quick fortune, the fruits of
which might be enjoyed in the metropolitan country, as was often the outlook
of the English planter or absentee owner. It was characteristic of the French
through most of the Nineteenth Century, that they should send their children
to school in France at all costs. Certainly Port-of-Spain seems to have had
blossoming pretensions to a gay and cultural urbanity during the first three
decades of the Nineteenth Century, based on a considerable prosperity.
Eckstein, some of whose notes were published posthumously in the Port-of-
Spain Gazette during 1840, speaks facetiously of this development as follows:
"At this period of the history" approximatelyy 1806) "of our Experimental
Island, the town Society could not yet boast of sufficient stock of elegant to
assume a bon ton and the haut ton, to which it has since so rapidly aspired,
and was scarcely suspected. The seductive soir6es at Mademoiselle Annie's-
the fascinating Ninon of Trinidad, collected at this time the male beau-monde
round her sofa, or the harpsichord and of the 1820's "Satiated with the
ordinary indulgences of the human appetite, the relish of higher society
became so exquisite, that while scores of old pianofortes stand silent
nothing less will now soothe the modern ear than Parisian-tuned harps, from
the Atelier of an Ekhard. None other must touch the bosom of the finished
boarding-school Miss, except a pedal lyre By the sacred honour of the
lovely muses I aver, that the Apollos and the Amphions of Musical Antiquity
never consumed so many strings as are snapped at one soir6e of the tight-
laced dilettantes of our Port-of-Spain" And Colonel Capadose, who was in
Trinidad during the 1830's, reports in his Sixteen years in the West Indies,
that at one period (probably early 1820's) there were three theatres and five
companies in Port-of-Spain, two of which were professional, one being French
and the other English.
Although the French upper class suffered dilution at the hands of the
British Planters who entered Trinidad on a large scale, particularly after 1802,
they remained in the ascendant in the country areas, and in the City they seem
to have set the tone. The "English Party" continued to be regarded by the
Governors and the British Government as "adventurers" and their request
for the replacement of Spanish Law by English Law was not acceded to until
much later. Governor Woodford (1815-1826) was at great pains to preserve
cordial relations with the Roman Catholic authorities (most of his subjects
being such) and was a personal friend of the Roman Catholic Bishop.
But while the pattern of the white upper class was modified somewhat,
the position of the Free Coloured underwent great changes following the
Under the Spanish Regime, they ranged from the coloured and black
slave-owning planters and traders to artisans and petty cultivators. Some of
the planters came from families which had been substantial property holders
in their place of origin, and were similar in language, customs, dress, &c., to
the French, though smaller in number. In their new homeland, these planters
predominated in the Naparimas (South Trinidad), and it was they, according
to Borde, who built the best of the early town houses in Port-of-Spain.
According to earlier Spanish law the Free Coloured were a legal class subject
to a variety of legal restrictions as against whites, but nevertheless having
certain rights secured to them. But the Cedula of Population (1783), and later
the terms of Capitulation to Great Britain superseded this discriminatory
legislation and endowed them with legal status almost equal to that enjoyed
by the whites. Chacon, the Spanish Governor, undoubtedly administered the
although they lived socially separate from the Whites, yet Borde insists that
law in this spirit. Free Coloured were commissioned in the Militia, and,
"il est de tradition authentique la plus parfaite entente existait alors entire
les deux fractions de la society colonial"
The artisan class, though definitely of more humble condition, were
much favoured in a decade of exceptionally rapid entrepreneurial develop-
ment, involving new buildings, installation of machinery, &c., and enjoyed
good wages, respect and responsibility. They became owners of artisan-slaves,
and were able to acquire other property in land and real estate so that they
or their children could progress towards entry into the society de couleur.
By 1826 the content of the Free Coloured section was radically different.
It still included these two classes of culturally-French, amounting to a quarter
of the legal category of Free-Coloured. A further quarter were from the
Spanish Main, consisting of unsettled peons, who worked by contract as wood-
cutters, or hunted for livelihood, or frequented Port-of-Spain, and others
uprooted by Civil War. Coloured artisans, overseers, bookkeepers, cultivators,
&c., from the British West Indian Colonies amounted to about a fifth, freed
American Negroes and Africans from the West Indian Regiment about one-
This varied assortment of free coloured presented a serious problem to
successive Governors, but all appeared to share a common policy in one
respect, namely, they sought to remould the society into a clearly hierarchial
structure in which the elite should be exclusively white, and the free coloured
excluded from the social and political privileges of the 61ite. The successive
steps in implementing this policy were: (1) They no longer received commis-
sions in the Militia; (2) The office of Alguacil, or police, feared by slave and
despised by white, was ascribed exclusively to them; (3) The "Fandango
licence", a discriminatory regulation, was passed making it necessary
for "any free coloured proprietor wishing to give a dancing party in
the night" to "first obtain permission to do so from the Commandant of
the Quarter" and at the same time they were "forbidden under penalty of a
fine of $25 to admit any slave to the party"; (4) During the long struggle to
decide whether Trinidad should continue to be governed under Spanish law,
or should adopt a form of British Colonial Constitution, the free coloured felt
themselves particularly threatened by the demands for the latter, not merely
because they feared the loss of privileges, but because they feared the racist
temper of the "English Party" In 1810, knowing that the introduction of
British Laws was being proposed, they addressed the Governor in the most
loyal and respectful manner requesting permission to forward to H.M. the
King "a dutiful, loyal and affectionate address imploring him to extend unto
them, under whatever system of jurisprudence His Royal wisdom may deem
most expedient for the future government of the colony, such a participation
in its operation as may secure to them their personal security and social
happiness" This request was repressed curtly by Hislop the Governor, who
proceeded to appoint a Commission to enquire into the personal characters
and antecedents of the signatories, several of whom were subsequently
banished on flimsy pretexts.
Spanish laws remained in force, but in 1822 Orders in Council were
published which produced profound dissatisfaction, amongst the provisions of
which was the establishment of an open Court of Alcaldes-in-Ordinary to try
summarily and inflict punishment, including corporal punishment, street
labour in chains, &c., for petty theft, and numerous breaches of regulations,
on free persons of colour.
Dr. J. B. Phillip, accepted leader of the free coloured, headed a deputa-
tion to Sir Ralph Woodford on this above subject on behalf of 13,392 citizens
In 1826 a Royal Proclamation was published removing "certain vexa-
tious regulations", respecting free people of colour. Thereafter, although the
legal status of the free man, the slave, and later the apprentice and the
indentured labourer were differentiated, race and colour were no longer legally
Throughout the period under consideration (1784-1833) Carnival was an
important institution for Whites and Free Coloured, particularly in the towns.
But it was threatened by the special position of Christmas under British rule,
which, during the first three decades of the nineteenth century seems to have
predominated at the urban apex of society as the leading festival of the year.
This was due to the existence of a tradition in the colonies that Martial
Law was enforced during the Christmas season. Amongst the English, Christ-
mas-and amongst the Scots, New Year-were seasons of rowdy merry-
making and licence, and in the older British West Indian colonies, the slaves
were given considerable freedom for dancing, pageantry, parades and tradi-
tional good natured strife between plantation bands. Two concomitants of this
tradition were (1) that while the practice of duelling was contrary to Civil
Law, it was permitted under military law, and there was a tendency to put
inter-personal conflicts which demanded duels into cold storage until Christmas;
(2) the Christmas season came to be a time at which the whole status system
was given outward expression through the vehicle of the Militia. All free
persons were obliged by law to enrol. On account of the mustering of the
militia, business was at a standstill, and the occasion became one not only
for serious military duties, but also for balls, al fresco pleasures, and a variety
of other amusements. In 1821-the Editor of the Port-of-Spain Gazette
apologises on January 10th for his failure to comment on recent events, but
pleads "military duties" in extenuation. In that year Martial Law lasted from
December 23 to January 8. In the Militia General Order issued on January 1,
the Governor and Commander-in-Chief says he had wished to relieve "the
Militia from their permanent duties on 2nd instant. The assembly of the
General Court Martial, which unfortunately became indispensable, and the
duties which crowded upon it, prevented this intention; and the Commander-
in-Chief laments that so many well conducted officers and men should have
been exposed to a protracted and severe duty by the heedlessness of a few"
In that year the First Division of Militia was reviewed on the Cabildo Pasture
on December 30. A day each was allotted for the review of the Second and
Third divisions, belonging to Diego Martin and St. Joseph areas respectively,
and the First Division was reviewed along with the regular Third West Indian
Regiment. "His Excellency with his usual liberality, caused tents to be
erected on the ground for the accommodation of spectators, who were plentifully
supplied with refreshments The Regiments going through their manoeuvres
and firing, and the charging of the Cavalry, together with the novel appear-
ance of the tents, and the assemblage of ladies formed a scene highly
interesting" "On Saturday evening (Jan. 6) an elegant Ball and entertain-
ment was given to a select party by H. E. the Governor at his seat at St. Ann's
the Band of the 3rd West Indian attended. There were fireworks on the
lawn and dancing up till a late hour "
Or, to quote an anonymous rhymester of 1846 (Port-of-Spain Gazette,
20th January, 1846):
"When Xmas came in former days
The time for Martial schoolery
Three guns from Fort George battery were
The signal for Tomfoolery.
Then all our towns folk turned as red
As lobsters in hot water;
And, had there been an enemy
There might have been much slaughter I
But after vapouring a week
The scarlet fever vanished,
And till next Christmas Martial thoughts
Were from each bosom banished."
Carnival, as the end of the social season, was also marked at the apex of
society by elaborate balls to which was added the custom of masking and
disguising. But the major part of the Carnival activities consisted of house to
house visiting and street promenading, on foot or in carriages, witticisms,
playing of music and dancing, and a variety of frolics and practical jokes.
An English officer in 1826 writes to his friend: "I wish, Bayley, you
had been here in the time of the carnival; you have no idea of the gaiety of
the place in that season. Ovid's Metamorphoses were nothing compared to the
changes that took place in the persons of the Catholics of Trinidad. High and
low, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, all found masking suits for the
Carnival. A party of ladies, having converted themselves into a party of bri-
gands, assailed me in my quarters and nearly frightened me out of my wits.
I was just going to cut and run when Ensign *----- who was with me, not
knowing the joke, and thinking they were so many devils come to take him
before his time, drew his sword (Bayley: Four Years in the West Indies.)
Fraser, in a memo to Governor Freeling on History of the Origin of the
Carnival. [Colonial Office Original Correspondence Trinidad (Co. 295)
Vol. 289-Trinidad No. 6460. On the outside of the Memo is written "This
might go to Mr. Hamilton." (Commissioner sent out in 1881 to enquire into
the Canboulay Riots) "Mr. Fraser I have understood was a very inefficient
Head of the Police and he naturally stands for masterly inactivity. E.W. 14.4.]
after referring to the surprising anomaly that "in an Island which never
belonged to France even for a single day the French element so largely
predominates", continues, "Such being the original elements of the popula-
tion it will be easily understood that the habits and customs of the people of
the Colony resembled those of the mother countries from whence they were
derived and amongst these was the Carnival."
In former days and down to the period of the emancipation of the slaves
the Carnival was kept up with much spirit by the upper classes. There are
many persons still living who remember the Masked Balls given at St. Ann's by
the Governor, Sir Ralph Woodford, and also that the leading Members of
Society used on the days of the Carnival to drive through the streets of
Port-of-Spain masked, and in the evenings go from house to house which
were all thrown open for the occasion.
It is necessary to observe that in those days the population of the Colony
was divided into the following categories, Whites, Free persons of Colour,
Indians and Slaves.
The free persons of Colour were subjected to very stringent Regulations
and although not forbidden to mask, were yet compelled to keep to them-
selves and never presumed to join in the amusements of the privileged class.
The Indians kept entirely aloof, and the slaves except as onlookers, or
by special favour when required to take part, had no share in the Carnival
which was confined exclusively to the upper class of the community."
Fraser's account is supported by the evidence, including that of Borde,
and that of Ofuba the Chantwell, a slave, who sang of the "neg dbye p6tla"
-the slave behind the door, mentioned in Mitto Sampson's article. Sampson
also heard tell of Jack Bowell, a slave, famous for his marionette dance, who
was called in to dance at Carnival parties, and who was advertised as a
"marron" or runaway from January 14, 1826, in the Port-of-Spain Gazette
at the end of that month (during the Carnival season).
It is most difficult to find out the nature of the disguises used at that
period. The Ball at Mrs. Bruce's in 1831 was attended by "the beauty and
fashion of Port-of-Spain composing a motley assemblage of elegantly dressed
ladies, lovely Swiss damsels, French Marquises, English noblemen, grooms,
postillions, priests and Friars ", but apparently there was a local creole
element in Carnival at this time also. Writing in 1881 (Port-of-Spain Gazette
26. 3. 1881) an anonymous correspondent, in discussing the origin of
"Canboulay" or "Cannes Brul6es" tells us that in those days (1820's) "the
Mlite of our society took an active part in the carnival. The favourite costumes
of our mothers and grandmothers was the graceful and costly one of -the
"mulitresse" of the time; whilst gentlemen adopted that of the "negres de
jardin", or in creole "negre jardin" or field labourer. In that costume, the
gentlemen often figured in the "bamboola", in the "giouba" and the
"calinda" It is traditional in our old families that General P. aide-de-camp
to Governor Woodford, and Commander in Chief of the militia, with the
P.G. who, though then 70 years of age, was still strong and robust, both
excelled in the above-mentioned dances. These pretended ndgres de jardin were
wont to unite in bands, representing the camps of different estates, and with
torches and drums to represent what did actually take place on the estates
when a fire occurred in a plantation. In such cases the gang of the neighboring
estates proceed alternately accompanied with torches at night to the estate
which had suffered to assist in the grinding of the burnt canes before they
Fraser makes no reference to an aristocratic version of Canboulay, but
traces the later Carnival Canboulay to the same original source in the planta-
tion. "In the days of slavery whenever fire broke out upon an Estate, the
slaves on the surrounding properties were immediately mustered and marched
to the spot, horns and shells were blown to collect them and the gangs were
followed by the drivers cracking their whips and urging them with cries and
blows to their work."
"After Emancipation the negroes began to represent this scene as a kind
of commemoration of the change in their condition, and the procession of the
'cannes brul6es' used to take place on the night of the 1st August, the date
of their emancipation, and was kept up much for the same reason as the
John Canoe dance in Jamaica.
After a time the day was changed and for many years past the Carnival
days have been inaugurated by the 'Cannes Brul6es' "
There are certain contrasts and similarities as between the two festivals of
Christmas and Carnival of the pre-emancipation era which are relevant to
the study of both during the subsequent 120 years. (1) Martial Law was
declared at Christmas, and this not only broke the routine of daily work and
allowed time for parties, but it also compelled participation of all free people
in ceremonies (musters) which exactly demonstrated the order of social prestige
after the pattern which the 61ite chose to enforce, thus stressing the down-
grading of the middle and upper class free-coloured who still cherished the
recollection of formal equality of status before capitulation, and, they claimed,
guaranteed to them by its articles. On the other hand, Carnival enabled all
the non-slave population to adopt fictitious social r6les, and indeed, in masking
on the street at least, to overstep the social boundaries of colour. (2) The
celebration of Christmas was closely associated with Church attendance,
whereas Carnival was not, though observance of Lenten abstinence during
the period following Carnival, appears to have been meaningful and accept-
able to large sections of the population. Thus Carnival was more out of
reach of this second superstructural agency. (3) The slaves were excluded
from Carnival, but whether in African, or in Creole and European style
were universally given licence at Christmas time, for dancing, feasting at the
master's expense, some freedom of movement, and elaborate costuming.
After Emancipation, Christmas Martial Law lingered on, but with the
suspension of the Militia Laws in 1846, the public aspect of Christmas pomp
disappeared. What remained were the house-to-house visiting in the French
tradition, with the singing of "quesh" or "Cantiques de Noel, and in the
Spanish tradition, with the serenading with stringed instruments, and the
family feasts on Christmas Eve.
Carnival however, had a different development.
"After the Emancipation of the Slaves things were materially altered, the
ancient lines of demarcation between the classes were obliterated and as a
natural consequence the carnival degenerated into a noisy and disorderly
amusement for the lower classes" (Fraser).
Immediately before Emancipation the free community was split sharply
and the various factions were quarrelling. The Port-of-Spain Gazette of 1832
makes no mention of Carnival, the masquerade itself invades the columns of
the newspaper as correspondents refer to one another as "Sir Richard
Donkey", "Demon of Dullness", "Printer's Devil", "Sir Petulant
In 1833 during January, "an attempt was made by Mr. Peake (Assistant
to the Chief of Police) to check the shameful violation of the Sabbath by
the lower order of the population, who are accustomed about this time of
year to mask themselves and create disturbances on a Sunday. He arrested
two persons who were in masks and lodged them in the Cage. On his return
from performing this necessary duty his house was assaulted by a large
concourse of rabble, who broke all the windows, and attacking Mr. Peake,
pelted, beat and otherwise ill treated this officer" (P.O.S. Gazette 22.1.1833).
Shortly after this incident, there appeared in the Port-of-Spain Gazette
a peremptory Police notice forbidding the wearing of masks before
18th February, ending "Any person being found masked in the streets"
(before this date) "will be immediately arrested and dealt with according
to the Law" After Carnival 1834 the Editor of the Port-of-Spain Gazette
comments "Nothing can more decidedly mark the great change which has
taken place within this Colony than the want of spirit, and we might add,
deficiency of elegant bustle, which was to be seen during the Carnival week
in olden times" The writer walks through the town looking for persons in
character. All he found deserving notice was a party of negroes intended to
represent the Artillery. He looks for an imitation or caricature of reality, and
has little praise for what he sees except "the two jolly Subs., (subalterns)
who were done to the life" Marching and wheeling were "defective" and
"the mockery of the best Militia Band that has ever been embodied in the West
was in very bad taste" He decides, however, that there was no attempt at
ridicule, but that the whole thing was a piece of fun. What is noticeable is
the complete change of tone with regard to Carnival, from the former unctuous
self-congratulation (expressed in phrases such as "the morning breeze of
wit, usually breaking with the dawn of day, the periodical flaws of punning
puffs were carefully concentrated in that more spirited epic style
of jocosity to which character and dresses give the pantomimic zest") to the
apprehensive expectation of disgust tempered by condescension in case of
During the next 30 years, the morphology of Carnival is difficult to trace.
Certain facts, however, stand out clearly. The white 61ite of the society with-
drew from public participation, and the comments of their journalistic repre-
sentatives became increasingly hostile and condescending right through till
the 1890's. It is true that on a few occasions brilliant fancy-dress balls were
held, but the connection of these with the traditional Carnival became remote.
At the other end of the social scale, however, participation in Carnival
increased, resulting in a change of content. The first public reaction to this
appears in 1838, when Carnival was still permitted to run for three days
(Sunday, Monday and Shrove Tuesday) by "Scotchman" who writes to the
Port-of-Spain Gazette indignant over the "desecration of the Sabbath", and
on whose letter the Editor comments : We will not dwell on the
disgusting and indecent scenes that were enacted in our streets-we will not
say how many we saw in a state so nearly approaching nudity as to outrage
decency and shock modesty-we will not particularly describe 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 (we regret to say
that nine-tenths of these people were Creoles)-we will not describe the fero-
cious fight between the "Damas" and the "Wartloos" which resulted from
this mummering-but we will say at once that the custom of keeping
Carnival by allowing the lower order of society to run about the streets in
wretched masquerade belongs to other days, and ought to be abolished in
By 1843 the threat to the Sabbath had been broken by an order restricting
masking thereafter to two days instead of three, and one of the results of
this was that from this period on, Carnival was to begin on Sunday night.
(See above on origin of Canboulay); but the only substantial comment during
the decade came from the Port-of-Spain Gazette in 1848 when it is complained
that "since midnight on Sunday, this festival has broken the slumber of our
peaceable citizens with its usual noisy revelry and uproarious hilarity" No
mention is made of obscenities, brawls or threatening behaviour, but a valu-
able reference is made to "bands of music (soi-disant) including those in-
elegant instruments, the tin kettle and salt box, the bangee* and shack shack.*
The degree of participation by the coloured middle-class is difficult to
ascertain. The evidence seems to point to the following situations: (1) Carnival
remained for them an important season of festivity and sociality, consisting
of house to house visiting with small combinations of musical instruments,
playing in the tradition of the Spanish Main, and also a variety of
19th Century Dances from Europe. It was cherished on account of the tradi-
tions of an earlier period when the standing of the class was less overshadowed.
(2) Whilst avoiding association in the streets with the masses, this class was
deeply resentful of any interference with Carnival by the Government, and
*bangee: probably the banja, or sanza, known to have been played in Trinidad
by Africans, consisting of a box with steel or bamboo tongues of different pitches,
grasped between the palms and plucked with two thumbs.
was ready to use it if necessary as a means of indirect attack on the Governor
and the upper (white) class whenever the tension rose.
In 1846, on account of the general unrest in the city and the numerous
cases of arson, the practice of appearing masked in the streets for Carnival
was expressly forbidden by the Governor, the writer in the Port-of-Spaini
Gazette commenting "we trust this will prove a final stop to the orgies
which are indulged in by the dissolute of the town at this season of the year,
under pretence of Masking" and then, three days later, presumably in
response to representations, the paper points out that the prohibition does not
prevent bands of makers, dressing up and going from house to house, putting
on the masks as they get to the houses. This seems to suggest a4 tardy realisa-
tion by the paper that Carnival in toto could not be threatened, and that at
least the house-to-house visiting by the respectable class should be tolerated.
Carnival in 1847 was fortunately witnessed by Day, who gives us quite
useful details of the various masquerades in Five Years Residence in the
West Indies. "I was residing" he writes "in Trinidad during the Carnival,
which commenced on Sunday, the 7th of March, at midnight. I had seen
the Carnival at Florence, at Syra in Greece, and in Rome; and was now
about to witness a negro masquerade, which, from its squalid splendour, was
not unamusing, cheapness being the grand requisite. The makers parade the
streets in gangs of from ten to twenty, occasionally joining forces in proces-
sion. The primitives were negroes, as nearly naked as might be, bedaubed
with a black varnish. One of this gang had a long chain and padlock attached
to his leg, which chain the others pulled. What this typified, I was unable
to learn; but, as the chained one was occasionally thrown down on the ground,
and treated with a mock bastinadoing it probably represented slavery. Each
masker was armed with a good stout quarterstaff, so that they could over-
come one-half more police than themselves, should occasion present itself.
Parties of negro ladies dance through the streets, each clique distinguished
by bodices of the same colour. Every negro, male and female, wore a white
flesh-coloured mask, their woolly hair carefully concealed by handkerchiefs;
this, contrasted with the bosom and arms, was droll in the extreme. Those
ladies who aimed at the superior civilization of shoes and stockings, invariably
clothed their pedal extremities in pink silk stockings and blue, white, or
yellow kid shoes, sandled up their sturdy legs. For the men, the predomi-
nating character was Pulichinello; every second negro, at least, aiming at
playing the continental Jack-pudding. Pirates too were very common, dressed
in Guernsey frocks, full scarlet trowsers, and red woollen cap, with wooden
pistols for arms. From the utter want of spirit, and sneaking deportment of
these bold corsairs, I presumed them to have come from the Pacific. Turks
also there were, and one Highlander, a most ludicrous caricature of the
Gael, being arrayed in a scarlet coat, huge grenadier cap, a kilt of light blue
chintz, striped with white, a most indescribable philibeg. black legs of course,
and white socks bound with a dirty pink ribbon. There were also two grand
processions, having triumphal wainss", one of which was to commemorate
the recent marriage of a high law-officer; the other, judging from the royal
arms in front (worth a guinea of anybody's money, if only for the painting-
the lion looking like a recently drowned puppy), and a canopy of red glazed
calico, trimmed with a silver tinsel, shading a royal pair, who, in conscious
majesty, sat within, represented the Sovereign pair of England. This brilliant
cortege was marshalled forward by a huge negro, in a celestial dress, made
after the conventional fashion of the angel Gabriel; and who stalked along
spear in hand, as if intent on doing dire deeds. The best embodiments were
the Indians of South America, daubed with red ochre; personified by the
Spanish peons from the Main, themselves half Indian, as testified by their
exquisitely small feet and hands. Many of these had real Indian quivers and
bows, as well as baskets; and, doubtless, were very fair representatives of the
characters they assumed. In this costume, children looked very pretty. One
personation of Death, having what was understood to be a skeleton painted
on a coal-black shape, stalked about with part of a horse's vertebra attached
to him, and a horse's thigh bone in his hand; but his most telling movements
only elicited shouts of laughter. I noticed that whenever a black mask
appeared it was sure to be a white man. Little girls dressed & la jupe, in the
vrai crdole negro costume, looked very interesting. All parties with the assist-
ance of bands of execrable music, made a tremendous uproar; and most of
us were glad when the priestly saturnalia was over."
In this list of masqueraders we can distinguish the persisting elements,
of both European and Creole provenance, and we can note the apparent
absence of the characteristic elements of the late Nineteenth Century Carnival.
Pulichirnello, model for the typical costume of a number of different later
masquerades, the pirates, the Highlander, the Turk and Death are all out of
the European tradition. The first of these is the guise of foolery, but it also
came to be regarded as simply suitable for Carnival. The pirates, the Turk,
and Death are incursive forces which threaten social life, while the Highlander
is the strange and exotic. The representation of Royalty is as much in vogue
today for Carnival as it was in then, and the marriage of the law-officer is in
the same spirit in that it offers homage to a great one, a theme which became
popular again at the end of the Century. Little girls a la jupe presumably
refers to the costume of the late eighteenth century planters' wives and which
remained the festival costume of the country women until a few years ago. It
is certainly interesting that "red" Indians were played by peons themselves
with a high degree of naturalism. At the turn of the century, Red Indians
were played mainly by Negroes, were extremely combative and had a reper-
toire of songs and speeches in what purported to be the language of the
Guarahoons or Warraus. As for the primitives, it is not at all clear what
masque is referred to here, but the chained man (representing the slave?)
may well be the father of the Beast in the Devils' Band. The prevailing
elements of the Carnival which was to follow, however, are not remarked by
the observer. Whilst makers carry staves symbolic of a defensive-offensive
posture in case of trouble, there is no suggestion that conflict between bands
was institutionalized, as was happening 25 years later, nor that individual
conflicts were to be expected as previously during Christmas festivities.
Transvestism is not noticeable, though masking in the opposite colour is usual,
i.e. black as white and white as black. Obscenity is not mentioned.
During the next ten years, Carnival comes to be regarded as increasingly
disreputable. The use of Carnival as a means of ridicule and derision of the
pretentious emerges, and a demand grows amongst the dominant town group
for its abolition. "None but the vilest of the vile now think of appearing
in public streets" to play mask, "why not forbid it altogether?" asks A friend
to mirth but enemy to folly in the Port-of-Spain Gazette of January, 1856.
In 1858 Governor Keate, himself something of a bon-vivant, forbade
masking. According to the Gazette, wearing masks in the streets had become
a nuisance, and a pretext to other nuisances and offences against decency.
More than two weeks before Carnival, a correspondent calling himself
"DUTY" is complaining that "the noise, tumult and barbarian mirth which
fill our streets every evening is greater than anything experienced hitherto
even by the oldest member of the community" He notes that shopkeepers, in
deference to the Governor's Order, are refraining from selling masks, but
suggests that the police should stop the yelling and howling as well. The
Order, however, was not obeyed. The police managed to arrest some makers,
and even persons who were not masked, as aiders and abettors, but the
resistance was so turbulent that they were forced to withdraw. The crowds
were finally dispersed by the arrival of the military. That resistance to
authority on this occasion took an organised form is apparent from the fact
that after the "defeat" of the police a band of Negroes 3,000-4,000 strong
passing the police station, armed with hatchets, woodmen's axes, cutlasses,
bludgeons and knives had the bold temerity to give a derisive shout of
triumphant defiance to the police Another correspondent makes it toler-
ably clear that '"Canboulay" had by this time become an established part
of Carnival: "In our towns commencing with the orgies on Sunday night,
we have the fearful howling of a parcel of semi-savages emerging God knows
where from, exhibiting hellish scenes and the most demoniacal representations
of the days of slavery as they were 40 years ago: then using the mask the two
following days as a mere cloak for every species of barbarism and crime "
Like the Canboulay crisis, the incidents of Carnival 1858 became the
occasion for the expression of various latent hostilities and the crystallisation
of viewpoints. The Trinidad Sentinel, a paper owned and edited by a Negro
group, attacks the administration of Governor Keate for acting on the assump-
tion that this English Colony should be made English in language, custom,
manners, religion and habits of thought, if necessary by force. The Port-of-
Spain Gazette rebutting the charge of colour prejudice (resulting from a letter
by a passing traveller in facetious yet insulting terms about Negroes) takes the
view that Carnival is undesirable because Messrs. A and C down to R and S
in the alphabet of respectability are exposed to the vagaries of X, Y and Z,
i.e., the lowest class. It also points out that "our respectable community would
dwindle down small enough if it was deprived of coloured and black, and the
list of rogues sadly lessens if deprived of some few of white skin."
After the upsurge of pro-Carnival feeling which followed Governor Keate's
attempt at suppression, there is a marked decline in its social magnitude. In
1861 "those who had formerly exercised their right of masking to protest
against the interference of the authorities with such a time-honoured absurdity
had no incentive this season to appear, and the display fell entirely into the
hands of the idle and the vagrant" Whilst "not the usual number of unclad
creatures who sometimes take advantage of the general laxity to outrage
public decency" appeared on the streets, there was "the usual ostentatious
promenade of those ladies whose existence is usually ignored or accepted as
a necessary evil" The only costumes to be mentioned are "the fantastic
mummers who represent the continental pierrots" In 1866, at the west end
of the town, there was "a fair burlesque of a recent trial before the Supreme
Court here, in which the law was somewhat stripped of its dignity by the
extravagant imitation given of one or two of the legal and lay personages
who were engaged on that trial" In 1870 there is a clear reference to Can-
boulay: "an unremitting uproar, yelling, drumming and blowing of horns",
starting on Sunday night, by the fundus of the population. And the year after
we are told that Carnival, which becomes yearly "more thoroughly con-
temptible" is "dying a natural death"
But Carnival did not die a natural death, and within six years the
Gazette could write: "The thing which with the majority of the lower classes
here goes under the name of masquerading acquires a new strength and fresh
vitality every year that it is tolerated"; and ten years after, in 1881, occurred
the famous Canboulay Riots, a pitched battle between the Police and the
organised masqueraders, in which the interests of many groups within the
community became involved, and which was a national issue of the greatest
importance. We are not here concerned with the issues raised by the Riot,
some of which were well dealt with by the Commissioner, Mr. Hamilton, who
was sent out from Britain to investigate the "causes and disturbances in
connection with the Carnival in Trinidad" It is, however, a matter of special
interest that during this period Carnival, not only in Port-of-Spain but in
other parts of the Island, came to have a distinct character and significance
for the society as a whole. It is described as "Jamette Carnival" because of
the wide currency at that time of the word (diamdtre or diamet) which was
applied to what almost amounted to a class in the community, the people
below the diameter of respectability, or the "underworld"
The newspapers of the period give a clear picture of the features of
Carnival which disturbed the authorities most, and comments, exhortations
and criticisms about appropriate counteraction by police, church, and other
In 1874 two important features appear, one of which was to be a public
concern for the next 40 years, namely vagabondagee" and "bands" The
Gazette calls for a Vagrancy Law and a Reformatory School, asserting that the
Government has allowed the situation to deteriorate so far that "the present
order of things does not permit our mothers, wives and sisters to walk the
streets and promenades without having their senses shocked by sights and
sounds in the fullest sense of the word "disgusting" The leading article speaks
about "herds of disreputable males and females organised into bands and
societies for the maintenance of vagrancy, immorality and vice, and some of the
most noted members are those who have paid their footing by an unlimited
number of visits to the Royal Gaol" A week later, immediately after Carnival,
warfare between bands is denounced "all around, the dwelling houses and
shops had to be closed so as to keep out the stones and broken bottles and
other missiles which were set in constant motion by the contending bands.
There are, we are informed, about treble the number of bands as before and
all were in active operation at the Carnival"' To this writer, Carnival has
indeed died out, owing to the loss of interest in it by the better classes, but
"the name and season is but a cloak for the shameless celebration of
heathenish and vicious rites of some profligate god whose votaries rival in
excesses the profligacies and brutalities of Pagan Rome or Heathen India"
In 1875 Fraser, who was then Inspector of Police, realising the threat to
public order in these organised bands, proposed that the Habitual Criminals
Act provisions should apply to persons guilty of offences and belonging to
"the bands, which under different names infest the colony and are fruitful
sources of immorality and crime" (Royal Gazette 15/6/75).
In 1876 the police are mildly criticised for unnecessary harshness
especially in the use of batons, whilst in San Fernando Fitz Simmons, in
charge of the Police, swore in 24 of the local gentry to intervene between two
rival bands reported to be squaring up for war on Canboulay night.
In 1877 Fraser was dismissed as too weak, and was replaced by the
redoubtable and famous Capt. Baker. It appears that he succeeded in con-
trolling the Carnival in 1878 and 79 sufficiently to avoid breach of peace by
the "savage and ferocious hordes" and the Gazette's wrath is concentrated
on obscenities. With these successes behind him, he proceeded to attempt the
suppression of Canboulay in 1880 by calling on the participants to surrender
their sticks, drums and flambeaux, to which demand they agreed. It seems
to have been widely believed that the police action of 1880 was a step towards
the suppression of Canboulay and Carnival, and there is good reason to
credit the conclusion of Hamilton that an organisation was formed to resist
police interference, and that the bands planned to operate in concert in 1881,
should the police take action against them. In the event, Capt. Baker, con-
trary to the wishes of the Governor, once again attempted to extinguish the
torches carried by the Canboulay bands, and met organised and vibrant
resistance which the police succeeded in quelling, though 38 of the detachment
of 150 police were injured. On the following day the Governor, having ordered
the confinement of the police to barracks, reinforced their numbers with
50 soldiers, and swore in 43 volunteer special constables, and then, at the
instigation of the City Council, addressed the people at the Eastern Market,
telling them that Government had no desire to interfere with their customs.
and enjoining them to keep the peace.
By making a personal appeal to the masqueraders, the Governor took
an important step towards re-establishing a relationship based on mutual con-
sent between the populace in its; Carnival formation and the authorities. The
progress of Carnival towards its present position as a national festival, in
which the total society is involved, is marked by similar accommodation.
Fitz Simmons in San Fernando consulted with the leaders of the bands in
San Fernando in 1881. In 1882 twelve band leaders in Port-of-Spain made
a deputation to the Port-of-Spain Gazette asking the paper to use its influence
on "some Bands, composed mostly of strangers" to prevent them inciting
rioting and disorder. Indeed, Hamilton (the Commissioner) draws attention
to the dangers inherent in the gap between the authority of a non-responsible
colonial Government and the consent of the populace-"In my view it is of
great importance, more especially in a Crown Colony where the people are
not represented in the Government that they should as it were be taken into
council in a matter of this port, as by this means I fully believe they may
often be got to acquiesce in a course which they would resent if it were forced
From this point onwards, and most noticeably during the 1890's Carnival
is gradually upgraded socially, and brought under more effective control by
the Police. First Canboulay is stopped by forbidding street parading before
6 a.m. on the Monday morning. Bands of more than 10 men carrying sticks
are forbidden, pierrots are obliged to get a police licence, pisse-en-lit bands,
transvestism, obscene words and actions are prohibited. The paving of the
roads and more effective collection of old bottles deprived the warlike tradi-
tional weapons. The white 61lite once again attend glittering Fancy Dress
Balls at Government House, and the middle class citizens turn out in the
afternoons, masked and disguised in their carriages, and accompanied by
music bands. College boys form up in street bands, and store clerks organise
Fancy Bands. The Carnival competition in Marine Square organised by Papa
Bodi (or Councillor Bodu, author of An Historical Account of Trinidad, and
a noted teetotaller) had the express aim of "improving the moral tone of
Carnival" Lord Executor, still regarded as perhaps the greatest of Calypso
singers, was a balladeer consistently moralising and didactic in tone. The
business men of Port-of-Spain, San Fernando and Arima were now fully
alive to the commercial benefits which Carnival showered upon them. From
1890 onwards Carnival moved spasmodically forward to the place it holds
Thus Carnival has changed its social form three times. After Emancipa-
tion the element which had predominated formerly withdrew from active
participation, and those who had hitherto been debarred from participa-
tion joined in tentatively and experimentally. About thirty years later,
Canboulay became established as the midnight overture to Carnival, and for
the next twenty years its dominant element, whilst the moving spirits were the
jamettes of the underworld. Towards the end of the Century the festival
re-emerged and began to move "upwards" towards the position it occupies
today, namely, acceptable to and practised by all the main sections of the
community with the exception of the older generation of stricter Protestants
and the less acculturated East Indians.
Of the first of these changes we have spoken already. The second arises out
of the peculiar features of Trinidad's development. This can best be under-
stood by use of the concepts "superstructure" and "folk", and their inter-
action. By superstructure we mean the interwoven administrative, legal,
economic and religious institutions stemming from the colonising power (or its
predecessor) and supported by it. By folk in this case we mean the people
living within the above framework, the major part of whose culture has been
transmitted to them from sources other than those of the superstructural
institutions, though they may have appropriated some elements of the latter.
The controlling positions in the superstructure are manned by an 61lite, usually
having broad common interests including a shared general policy with regard
to the society as a whole. In Trinidad the superstructure was by no means
monolithic. There were persistent antagonisms between the British administra-
tion and the French landed gentry, and sharp collateral competition between
the Catholic and Protestant religious institutions. But there was agreement
as to public order, a hierarchical status system grouped beneath the office of
Governor, a recognized system of behaviour as between one class and another,
and the existence of an effective and productive labour force, Christianisation
As for the folk, by 1860 its composition was extremely heterogeneous.
There was a nuclear group consisting of (a) ex-slaves and their children, nur-
tured in both French and English plantation traditions, and speaking Patois
and English respectively, mainly Trinidadian but including many immigrants
from Barbados and other islands, and a few born Africans, (b) descendants
of the non-slave small settlers, labourers and artisans of African and mixed
descent, (c) free Africans to the number of about 7,000 who had immigrated
during the preceding 20 years, and (d) Spanish speaking Peons. In spite of
linguistic and other cultural differences, these four groups moved towards a
form of Creole folk culture, symbolised by the tendency of most to adopt
Patois (the area around Princes' Town, firmly settled by the descendants of
the American Negro refugees, remained English speaking). Beyond this
nucleus were other folk groups, Indians, Chinese and Portuguese all less ready
to merge. Whilst estate work was being taken over increasingly by the East
Indians, the nuclear group described above lived as occasional labourers,
gardeners, semi-subsistence squatters, artisans in town and country, and
fishermen. They were not under heavy economic pressure nor subject to tight
control (as in the smaller islands without land resources) but were subject
nevertheless to the influence of the institutions of the superstructure, such as
law, churches and schools, and also to the influence of the manners and customs
of the l1ite. Thus a type of rural life established itself in which law and custom,
the African drum and the fiddle, the country doctor and the bush healer, the
Catholic liturgy and the cults of Yorubaland and Dahomey, school English
and Patois, lived side by side in easy accommodation, and a dual accultura-
tive process took its course-creolisation, and accommodation to the institu-
tions and standards of the superstructure.
The conditions of urban life in Port-of-Spain, however, give a characteristic
twist to this process which is highly relevant to the history of Carnival.
During the twenty years which followed 1860 the city prospered and the
population grew from 16,457 to 29,468, of which latter figure 40 per cent. were
born outside Trinidad. The city itself was compact and well laid out in blocks
fronted by tolerably well built houses and shops. But behind the perimeter of
each block were barracks, often simply long wooden structures set against the
walls dividing lots, and chopped up into rooms each of which might contain
a family grouping belonging to the labouring classes. Just beyond the confines
of the town were scattered ill controlled settlements, some of whose inhabitants
worked in the city.
The barrack yard community, which still exists in Port-of-Spain, has a
certain character. Accommodation is such that there can be little privacy, and
the yard in the centre becomes a common living place. Water and latrines are
common facilities, and there is competition for their use. Deep antagonisms
develop which burst out at times, but are largely restrained. A sensitive public
opinion develops in the yard and expresses itself sharply. Few actions escape
its scrutiny. An order of domination is built up in a series of encounters
between rivals. In many respects the barrack life of the city is closer to the
life in the plantation barracks, except that the superimposed order and control
of the latter is missing. Antagonisms are relaxed from time to time by fetes,
when the traditional pastimes of dancing, singing and stick-fighting are
enjoyed, with liquor and food. At other times the antagonisms are projected into
hostility to the outside world, particularly into sharp conflict with rival yards.
Thus in the pre-Carnival period, during the rehearsals of the yard bands, the
"chantwell" or leading singer was expected to insult and provoke rival bands
in his "carisos" or Carnival songs, and when the yard stick-men went out
into the streets, they sought out their rivals and single combats ensued. As a
development from this, the bands of a region, lead by the champions, would
form up together. Canboulay itself was a fight between regional bands in which
the rules of single combat were forgotten, and sticks, bottles and stones, &c.,
became the weapons of the bands and their followers both male and female.
And finally Canboulay, in 1881 and on a few other occasions, took on a class
character, with the disappearance of band rivalries in united action against
the police. It was the singers, drummers, dancers, stickmen, prostitutes,
matadors, bad-johns, dunois, makos and corner-boys, that is to say the
jamette class, who dominated the Carnival of the day. It must be borne in
mind that barrack-yard society was not isolated in one quarter of the town,
but back to back with the houses of the middle and upper classes. Its members
were not only constantly confronted with the display of cultural standards of
the higher social ranks, and thus aware of their distance from them, but
paradoxically closely associated with them, especially through the women who
were servants and often the predominant influence in the lives of the children.
On the other hand, middle-class men would seek liaisons with the women of-
and on the fringes of-the jamette world, and some of them became patrons
of yard bands and even stickmen themselves, or "jacket-men" as they were
called on account of their superior class which was suitably marked in their
Thus there existed a jamette sub-culture the ethos and myth-making
character of which finds expression in Mitto Sampson's article. Its bearers were
often recognisable by gait and dress, and were organised in bands for gambling,
stickfighting and exploiting women. The qualities they boasted included skill
and bravery in "bois" or stickfighting, sharpness of wit and repartee in con-
versation and in song, talent in dance and music, indifference to law and
authority, and great sexual accomplishments. Some even were blasphemers
and claimed to be of the Devil's party. Thus they represented the reversal of
the values of respectability and a flamboyant rejection of the norms of the
superstructure. The labouring classes generally, to which they belonged,
aspired to respectability, but they felt excluded from enjoyment of the fruits of
their aspirations by their colour, traditional mores, lack of education and
poverty, and took vicarious delight, both covert and overt, in seeing it over-
turned and ridiculed by the jamettes.
It is not difficult to see why for 20 years Carnival was in the hands of
the jamettes. The festival itself is the occasion for licence and the reversal of
roles and values. But after it ceased to be a significant part of the culture of
the elite at Emancipation, it had no clear direction, content or organisation,
and while its content accumulated from the folklore of the diverse groups in
the island, its organisation fell to the organised bands of the underworld. The
Canboulay clash was the logical outcome of this, and it had two important
results. On the one hand, the government finally became aware of the impor-
tance of Carnival, and the implications of a licence to reverse values for a
few days each year, so they set about purging and controlling it, whilst they
attacked and broke the power of the jamettes' bands. On the other hand,
police intervention on Canboulay night brought to a head several different
types of existing hostility to the administration, causing new social groups to
identify themselves nominally "the People" and the people's festival, so
that Carnival began to be a symbol for a national sentiment shared by a broad
section of the community, and in opposition to the administration, manned
largely by British (i.e. "foreign") officials. Given the exclusion of warfare
and practical obscenity from Carnival, these social groups began to participate,
and Carnival has since moved forward to its present position as the most
important and characteristic national festival of Trinidad.
The Traditional Masques -of Carnival
DANIEL J. CROWLEY
CARNIVAL'S basic structural unit is the masque band made up of any number
of masquers, from two to eight hundred. The word "masque" indicates that
the band wears costumes based on a theme from history, current events, films,
Carnival tradition, from the imagination, or from a combination of these. It
is thus differentiated from "mask", the covering of the face and/or head
sometimes worn by the masquers. In local pronunciation both are "mas"'
but are clearly differentiated concepts in the minds of the masquers. The
kinds of masques played in the last hundred years of Carnival are extremely
varied, suggesting that Carnival is a major focus of culture for the urban
Trinidadian.' He spends more time and thought, has a more extensive vocabu-
lary, and is more praised for innovation in the creation of Carnival masques
than in any other aspect of his culture. This paper is an attempt to trace
some of the major traditions of Carnival, whether these traditions originated
in medieval Europe, in West Africa, or in last year's Carnival. Because of
the embarrassment of riches in research about Carnival, a great deal has been
omitted because of the limitations of space. It is hoped that what has been
included will give an adequate survey of the traditional bands, and serve as a
basis for future documentation.
RARE AND EXTINCT BANDS
Negre Jardin and Batonnier
Perhaps the most ancient traditional masque is that of the "neg jade"
the masque of the kanbul. carnival. As early as 1860 the neg jade was so much
a traditional carnival masque that the Trinidad Sentinel describes how in the
distant past "princes and lords of the land paraded in sooty disguise of the
negre jardin," and how even residents of Government House mimicked their
"garden niggers."4 Later this aristocrat's masque was adopted by batony6
or stick fighters as the appropriate costume for "kalenda" or stick fighting.
This sport in its several forms5 is related to English cudgels or quarterstaves.
'It is often so spelled. A costume received for the Carnival Exhibition was
carefully labelled "beas mas"
2M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, Trinidad Village. (New York: Knopf, 147), pp. 6, 303.
3The orthography used for Creole patois in this paper is the same as that in the
Pierrot Grenade text by Andrew Carr, see below, p. 286. It is based on the Laubach
phonemic system used in Haiti, and stresses the fact that Creole is a language in its
own right, and no more "broken French" than French is "broken Latin"
4Trinidad Sentinel, Feb. 2, 1.860, p. 3, col. 3. Also see above, Andrew Pearse,
"The 19th Century Carnival in Trinidad," p. 182.
'It will be remembered that Little John appears in Robin Hood tales as a quarter-
staff fighter. "Kalenda" is both a sport and a dance miming the sport. "Bajan stick"
is a different sport known in Barbados. Trinidad East Indians play "gutkar," a
OFFICERS OF SAILOR BAND
BEAD WORK FOR FANCY CLOWN COSTUME
MUSICIANS OF HISTORICAL BAND
Five to twenty stickmen formed a band and went about the streets on
Carnival days fighting rival bands. Both groups were accompanied by
drummers and/or tamboo bamboo bands, and by "zom kamisol," (jacket
men), masked middle-class supporters who wore suit jackets, still the badge
of middle-class status. On Mondays the batonye themselves wore ordinary
trousers turned inside out, called "wrongside pants", and their belts were
strung with ribbons and coloured handkerchiefs. They wore bright shirts and
headties holding pads to protect their heads from blows of the "poui" or stick.
These headties were called "fula" from French foulard.
On Tuesday neg jadA wore "kandal", tight-fitting satin or velvet short
trousers, which in this costume extend to just above the knee, and with it
an embroidered shirt or short-sleeved jacket with a "f61", or heart-shaped
panel of cloth of contrasting colour sewn loosely or fastened with hooks-and-
eyes over the chest. The f61 was decorated with swansdown, rhinestones, and
mirrors, and each stickman aimed to "lick off'" his opponent's f61l and thus
win the match. This costume was completed by "alpagats" or rope sandals,
and a cap, hat, or paper crown decorated with spangles and swansdown.
Sometimes the hat carried cow's horns, and all the headpieces covered a heavy
pad or sometimes a cooking pot to protect the wearer's heads from blows. The
costume was trimmed with "willows", (from "gl6 gl ulu", the onomatopoeic
representation of their sound) which are small imported bells or home-made
rattles of "galvanize" loosely bent around a pebble. No masks were worn, but
the faces were brightly powdered or painted.
A favourite place for fighting stick in Port-of-Spain was "dey6 laj61l" or
behind the jail in the present Lord Harris Square. The Mauvais Temps or
"Bad Time" rumshop stood adjacent on the corner of Abercromby and
Oxford Streets, where one could "cool your brains" after a fight. Batony6 bands
came out from Belmont, Cobo Town, New Town, and Carenage, and from
various country districts. Stickfighting has been hampered in recent years by a
maze of police restrictions, so that batony6 are now seen only occasionally in
the country villages. Kalenda songs and drumming survive in an intricate
dance using a stretched handkerchief in place of the stick.
Dame Lorine was a masque played not in the streets but in private yards
wherein street masques were in the process of preparation. At midnight on
carnival Sunday the performance started. Originally there was a very elegant
grand march of people dressed in the costumes of the French aristocracy of
the 18th century. A haughty butler announced the mouth-filling names of each
couple as they entered the stage. A stately dance was then performed, and a
slave was seen peeping in the window, looking on in amazement.6 The next
act was a parody of the first. The scene is a schoolroom, and the butler is
replaced by a "maitre" or schoolmaster. He calls roll as the pupils assemble,
and marks down their presence in a big book. The maitre wears a frock coat
and carries a long whip, and his pupils wear ill-assorted clothes, mock crino-
lines, rags upon rags, and show the exaggerated physical characteristics sug-
gested by such Rabelaisian names as Misi6 Gwo Koko, Ma Gwo Bunda, Misi6
6Cf. "nfg dby6 p6tla," Pearse, op. cit., p. 181.
Gwo Lolo, Ma Chen Mun, Gwo Patat, Koki, BudA, Toti, or Misi6 Mashw6
Tune. These characteristics were represented by pads, coconuts, wood-
carvings, masks, and the like, and there was much horseplay, with the school-
master finally licking them with his whip. The dancing was done to a small
string band, and the following tune is traditionally associated with the
XJ i I I I fj ) II
The performers in Dame Lorine, both men and women, were often
respectable citizens whose identity was carefully hidden behind their masks
and disguises. The audience was made up of people preparing their costumes
in the yard, and their friends. In later years gay blades of the upper classes
also attended, and even escorted a few daring masked women of their own
class. Dame Lorine received a showing as late as 1945 in a Queen Street yard,
and an amusing if bowdlerized version was given by the Stanley Jack
"Caribbean Entertainers" dance troupe at Club 400 in 1955.
A street masque similar in spirit to Dame Lorine was Pissenlit (wet-the-
bed), also called PizAli and Pizan6, and freely translated "stinker"'. It was
evidently very popular the last quarter of the century and is often mentioned
as being the most objectionable feature of Carnival in the long campaign for
suppression. The masque was played exclusively by masked men dressed as
women. They wore long nightgowns, often transparent, and decorated with
ribbons and lace. Others wore very little except menstruation cloths liberally
stained with "blood" They danced an early version of "winin" the rapid
shifting of the pelvis backward and forward and from side to side, and sang
songs which the Port-of-Spain Gazette in 1884 described as "obscenity of
gesture and language".' One of their number collected money from the by-
standers. The dancing was accompanied by sexual horseplay including the
use of a poui stick protruding between the legs, or a skirt gathered together
in front in the manner of the Chiffon6 dance of Carriacou. The masque became
more and mote objectionable until it was suppressed in the early years of this
Still another masque that was suppressed on the grounds of obscenity
was the "Jamet", from French diametre, the underworld or "other half".'
The term currently signifies a prostitute, but as used in Carnival it meant the
7"Pissenlit, a disgusting and foul-smelling practice now practically stamped out,"
C. S. Espinet and H. Pitts, Land of the Calypso. (Port-of-Spain, Guardian, 1944), p. 53.
'Port-of-Spain Gazette, January 2, 1884, p. 3.
'Pearse, op. cit., p. 188.
underworld in general. Jamet women, who were said to be "matadors" or
retired prostitutes gone respectable, were understandably always masked. They
wore beautiful dresses of the traditional douillette type with many starched
and embroidered petticoats over which their skirts were draped and caught up
into their belts. They wore large hats decorated with "a set of flowers and
feathers" over their headties, or men's fedoras over which a wreath of croton
leaves had been placed. Their most startling characteristic, at least in some
epochs and then only in certain streets was their habit of throwing open their
bodices and exposing their breasts.
Their male counterpart, the Jamet man (currently "sweet man") had
trousers of serge or flannel worn low over the hips, and held up by two belts
or rope or leather from which hung multicoloured silk kerchiefs and ribbons
similar to the Monday costume of batony6. Sometimes the Jamet men wore a
"guri" or cummerbund, the name deriving from Sir John Gorrie, the Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court who had introduced the fashion from India.
They also wore their brightly-coloured silk shirts unbuttoned to display the
chains and gold jewelry around their necks. They completed their costumes
with Panama hats decorated with feathers, and with gold fobs and key chains,
thus foreshadowing the saga boys (Trinidad zoot suiters) of the '40's. They
were also the ancestors of the Silky Millionaires, Railroad Millionaires, Nylon
Millionaires and Tourists that still are played occasionally on Mondays. Both
men and women danced and strutted through the streets, and talked to the
bystanders in low, sultry voices while they collected money. Their actions
were so much an affront to respectable society that they were put down in
The term "Fancy Band" was used to describe any band which was
"pretty" dressed in colourful velvets and satins, and boasting a variety of
characters carefully graded from King and Queen downwards. It is still used
in this sense occasionally, as a contrast to "old masque" bands where old
clothes and coarse materials are used. Another definition is that a "Fancy
Band" is any in which fans are carried.
The most famous fancy band of the pre-World War I period was led by
Julian White Rose and carried his name (or vice versa). He wore a long cloak
of green velvet edged in white swansdown and decorated with mirrors, an
"Admiral's" hat bearing a long white ostrich plume, and he carried a long,
gilded wooden sword. His followers wore white and green, the women in
beautiful douilletes, the men in white flannel trousers, silk shirts, and the
double belts and kerchiefs or ribbons of the batony6 and the Jamet men.
White Rose was famous for its calypsoes against its rival, the Artillery Band
described below.10 There was a competition for these shatwels (calypsonians)
held in Almond Walk (the present Broadway) by "Papa" Ignacio Bodu, and
other competitions by Mr. Siegert of Angostura Co. and Mr. C P Chin, a
baker in Charlotte Street. An early calypso ran:
Down on the Almond Walk
Misi6 Bodu di mw6 lav6wit6 (Mr. Bodu tell me the truth) (twice)
0oSee below, p. 200.
It's a double, and a treble
And a grand competition
Sanhumanit6 (without humanity or pity)
Another famous band was the Bluebell Band which carried a banner with
a large bell painted on it, and an arch of bamboo from which was suspended
a large paper bell. This band always came out in blue, the women wearing
blue-and-white striped douillettes, the men in blue-striped shirts, flannel
trousers, alpagats, and sailor hats.
Still another fancy band was the Baby Dolls, a group of women often of
the jamet class who wore short baby dresses exposing their legs, and large
poke bonnets of the kind worn by babies. They seem to parallel in all respects
the Baby Dolls of the New Orleans Mardi Gras." The regular Jamet Bands
were also classed as fancy bands, suggesting still another derivation for the
term, from "fancy women"
Moko Jumby, the stilt dancer, is known throughout the West Indies as a
feature of John Canoe and other Christmas and Carnival fetes. In Trinidad
he was played, nearly always by men, on stilts as high as 10 or 15 feet. The
stilts were brightly painted in stripes, and the masquer wore a long full skirt
and a jacket or "eton" of brightly-coloured satin or velvet. His hat was made
of tbsh6, the dried pulp of the wild cucumber (Luffa aegyptiaca) which was
fashioned into an "Admiral's" hat with long peaks in front and back,
and with the crown of the hat decorated with feathers. Moko Jumby was
sometimes accompanied by a dwarf in similar costume but without* stilts, to
accentuate Moko's height. He danced all day through the streets, collecting
money on a plate from the people crowded into second-floor windows and
balconies. Thus he tapped an audience out of reach of the street masquers.
His dance was similar to a jig, and he either used the music of any passing
band, or was accompanied by a drum, triangle, and flute. In the past few
years Moko Jumby has become virtually extinct because of the difficulty and
danger for him to pass under the many high-voltage electrical wires that are
strung across the city streets.
Congo or Shango Bands
This masque was usually played by five or six people, both men and
women, who wore flowing satin trousers caught at the knees like knickers, a
satin blouse, and a hat made of tbsh6 similar to that of Moko Jumby. The
hat was fashioned with a round, thick brim and with a crown in the form of
a truncated cone. The Congos or Shangos wore a shapl6 (French: chapulet)
or rosary of cashew nuts and palmiste seeds around their necks, and recited
"African" prayers with fervor, satirizing local religious practices. They also
sold charms made of "Jumby beads" (Abrus precatorius and allied species)
and carried on "picong" or "fatigues", elaborate ribbing of each other and
the bystanders. Sometimes they ridiculed prominent people and government
officials with thinly disguised stories incorporated into their picongs.
"See below, Munro Edmonson, "Carnival in New Orleans," p. 244.
In reality merely a gibberish, the following is an example of the prayer :
Ram Barn Betsy Oru
Oru Oru Gibsh6
Gi6sh6 Gi6sh6 K&6k
K&k6 K&k6 Oru Gawwwww!
Cattle or Cow Bands
The cow bands are another masque form which occurs in many places
in the West Indies. Traditionally the masque was played in Trinidad by
abattoir employees, often of Venezuelan origin, coming out of Tozi yard,
44 George Street. On Mondays they wore dry plantain leaves tied around their
bodies from neck to knees, and cow horns fastened to their heads by headties.
These "cattle" would charge at the "jenel"12 or bullfighter, who wore ordinary
clothes and waved a red flag to enrage the "bull" Sometimes the cattle were
"bareback" (shirtless), and wore ordinary khaki shorts and held the horns
over their heads as they charged. They also threatened the bystanders and
made loud mooing noises and clattered their shoes on the pavements. The
shoes often had loose metal plates fastened to their soles to increase the noise.
On Tuesday a "proper" cattle band wore yellow "etons" or short jackets,
and pink kandal worn over long pink stockings. Sometimes these traditional
colours were reversed, with pink eton and yellow kandal. The jenl1 wore
either a black hat with points at each side like a modem matador, or an
"Admiral's" hat with peaks in front and back, and he carried a new red flag.
The "bull" wore the same costume as the jenel, but with the addition of a
wire tail and with the matador hat replaced by a "fula" or headtie which
held the protective pad and the cattle horns in place on the head. Faces were
heavily powdered or painted in lieu of masks. The play was extremely
energetic, with the jenel and often some of the bystanders gored by the horns,
and the cow battered by a pikestaff carried by the jenel. While the cows
threatened bystanders, the jen6l collected money from them. These bands
no longer appear in Port-of-Spain, but are said to come out in a few country
Until about fifteen years ago a masque called "Pai Banan" or Banana
Trash was played in the country districts such as Chaguanas. As in the case
of the Monday "bulls" above, the masquers wore dry plantain leaves covering
their bodies, and their faces were masked with a brown cloth or paper m&ch6
mask similar to that worn by Pierrot Grenade. The headpiece was a white
cloth toque with two long wire antennae sticking upward, or sometimes cow
horns held on with a fula. The Pai Banan "went around at night frightening
Other Extinct Masques
There are a great many other masques of more routine interest which
have become extinct. A few of these are the fishermen who threw nets over
"This term may derive from the patois pronunciation of French gdndral. It is
translated "king of the band" or "starboy", and is described as the bullfighter who
sticks the bull with metal-tipped wooden sticks, e.g. the banderillero.
their victims to extract money from them, the doctors, nurses, and hospital
employees, the 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, and tailors who measured victims for clothes and then extorted
payment. The Pierrot and Pierrot Grenade masques are discussed elsewhere
in this issue."
SAILOR AND MILITARY MASQUES
Bands with costumes based on military uniforms are among the oldest
still extant in the Trinidad Carnival. As early as 1834 the "marching and
wheeling" of an "Artillery" masque was considered defective." In 1859 a
band called "The Veterans of Sebastopol" ran away "from the sticks of a
few Pierrots","s and in 1860 a band from years past was referred to as "A
man-o-war's men."16 In a later period there developed great competition
between the various "Artillery" and "Brigade" bands whose costumes were
derived from actual military uniforms of the local militia. These bands were
classed with the "fancy" bands described above, and are the ancestors of the
contemporary "pretty" military masques such as the French Foreign Legion
or the Canadian Mounties. They were led by a shitw'l" who sang calypsoes in
patois and English to the accompaniment of string music played by a few
members of the band. These bands not only competed in the beauty and
lavishness of their costumes, but also insulted each other thus, "Oh Charge
upon them, Artillery!" to which White Rose would answer "Artillery, if you
charge another one, I going to make you surrender!" Artillery Band was
famous for pushing a big wooden cannon through the streets. This tradition
is represented even earlier by the "canoe on wheels" which caused such an
obstruction in the 1859 carnival that its occupants were arrested,'" and by
the tanks, jeeps, elephants, and other large structures of the contemporary
Bad Behaviour Sailors and Sailors Ashore
In the modern Carnival the most popular masque is that of sailors. Its
freedom of action, lightness of clothing, and relative inexpensiveness appeal in
particular to young people, who sometimes form bands of up to 800 people.
The most popular subtype of sailor band is a takeoff on the "bad behaviour"
of sailors and merchant seamen ashore in Port-of-Spain. These bands, nearly
always all male, dress in the traditional white uniforms with tight-fitting
"jumpers" with wide collars and neckerchiefs, and trousers with exaggerated
bell bottoms. The traditional white sailor hats are worn either very far forward
"See below, Andrew Carr, "Pierrot Grenade", p. 281.
14Pearse, op. cit., p. 183.
"Trinidad Sentinel, March 10, 1859, p. 3, col. 3.
6"Ibid., February 2, 1860, p. 3, col. 3.
"The derivation of this term is obscure, though its root seems to be French
chanter, "to sing". French chanterelle, the commonest alleged source, has many
meanings, none of which seem to fit entirely: highest string (of a stringed instru-
ment), decoy, stool-pigeon, tuning fork, bird-call, malformed carpenter's-square. The
idiom appuyer sur la chanterelle (to lay stress on a point) is almost as farfetched.
"xTrinidad Sentinel, March 10, 1859, p. 3, col. 3.
over the eyes, or on the far back of the head. In the 1955 Carnival one hat
was observed that had been stencilled "Koslosky, E." by a masquer in parody
both of the U.S. Naval custom of inverting the initial and of "foreign"
American names. Or it may have been that this hat was one of the many
"t'iefed" by masquers from unwary U.S. sailors from the Operating Base
during the weeks before Carnival.
The bad behaviour sailor usually smokes a pipe, either an oversized cala-
bash, a briar carved into an animal's head, or a corncob. He may also carry a
small fan, huge cardboard dice, a cocoa pod, bits of feminine lingerie, and
almost any other souvenir that might take a drunken sailor's fancy. Before the
police intervened, sailors had large enamel chamber pots fastened to their wrists
to be used as drinking utensils, and carried bladders with which to beat
onlookers and each other. They also threw flour or face powder on other
masquers until this was made illegal because of the danger to eyesight. Tradi-
tionally the bad behaviour sailor gets very drunk during Carnival, or apes
drunkenness, and gets his uniform very very dirty. During the rains of the
1955 Carnival season a new high was reached in this particular aspect. Some
"sailors" were seen fully clothed and attempting to play cricket in the "East
Dry River" ("neither east, dry, nor a river"), a flooded culvert that doubles
as a sewage drain during rainstorms. Other "sailors" decorated their uniforms
with suggestive smudges on the back of the trousers, or with lips or other
organs drawn in lipstick in suitable places on the uniforms.
Bad behaviour sailors traditionally walk on their heels, with their hands
held in front, fingers spread, and with a rolling gait. When walking alone they
mimic drunkards, lurching diagonally right and left and dragging their feet.
Variations of staggering are added to this basic form, plus pirouetting and
occasional short dance steps or somersaults or other tumbling. A few sailors
together may try more elaborate tumbling, balancing acts, and every kind
of hijinks with the spectators, particularly leering at young girls, and making
"fatigues," witty conversational asides. En masse the bad behaviour sailors
walk six or eight abreast with arms around each others' shoulders. The line
thus formed moves three or four steps diagonally right, then three or four steps
diagonally left, giving a convincing performance of drunken sailors which is
locally termed "rocking the ship" Alternate lines move in opposite directions,
so that in the usual sailor band of from 200 to 800, the street becomes a mass
of relatively-patterned movement. The effect is sometimes heightened by the
singing or whistling of such Navy songs as "Anchors Aweigh" to the accom-
paniment of a steel band.
A subtype of the bad behaviour sailor is the flourbag sailor, whose costume
is made from flour sacks stamped with the red-and-blue checkered design and
lettering of the flour mill. The uniform is made the same way as usual, and the
gestures and dance are the same as above, but the masque is both less expensive
and more colourful than the more authentic "whites" One masquer described
flourbag sailor as "sailor old masque" Particularly vile-acting sailors call
themselves "bassa bassa sailors", which is synonymous with "bad John"
The idiom also occurs in the popular Carnival phrase, "Last lap we go make
SeaBees and Ships Company
It is difficult to draw a clear line between the bad behaviour sailors and
the SeaBees and Ships' Companies. CB is the abbreviation for the U.S. Navy
Construction Battalion, engineering forces who build bridges, roads, and
other installations in forward areas, often under fire. They wear Navy work
clothes, blue denim shirts and trousers, and white sailor hats, and their clothes
are often stencilled with laundry marks in black ink or white ink-eradicator
which fades the blue cloth. The SeaBee masque imitates this in detail, and
adopts the dance and gestures of the bad behaviour sailors, though to a lesser
degree. Sometimes mock telecommunications equipment such as field radios
and telephones are carried by the CB's. When women play this masque they
wear tight-fitting white T-shirts (locally called "merinos") stencilled with the
the name of the masque band or the steel band with which they are playing.
Over this they wear a blue denim shirt which is left unbuttoned and not tucked
into the trousers. The unlikely presence of women with CB's is explained as
either Waves or wives. Insignia is not usually worn on the work uniforms of
CB's in real life, but in the masque "officers" can be seen sporting gold
shoulderboards and collar insignia on their denim shirts.
Insignia is the outstanding characteristic of the Ship's Company masques.
They purport to be the full complement of a particular Naval Vessel, real or
imaginary, such as the U.S.S. Chicago or the U.S.S. Skipjack. The entire
possible range of ship's personnel is represented, including such rare ranks as
Chief Warrant Pharmacist and Jewish Chaplain, the latter a tall Negro boy
wearing a well-tailored blue serge uniform with Ten Commandments and Star
of David on the sleeves, and carrying a Jewish Bible in one hand and a half-
empty rum bottle in the other. Understandably there is a preponderance of
high-ranking officers, white-gloved "Admirals of the Fleet" who pass out
printed calling cards to spectators, Rear and Vice Admirals, Commodores and
Captains. Their uniforms are the realization of the suppressed desires of
anyone who has ever been in uniform, a forest of gold buttons, swords, fringed
epaulets, aigulettes ("chicken guts") of gold braid festooning the uniform and
hanging below the knee like a saga boy's key chain, and embroidered
"scrambled egg" cap peaks. The insignia is often perfectly rendered in both
scale and detail, such things as wings for fliers, dolphins for submariners, eagles
and shields used on officers' hats all created by squeezing putty through a
pastry-chef's canvas tube to make the proper bas-relief design, which is then
carefully painted and gilded. Rows of campaign ribbons ("fruit salad") are
fabricated from grosgrain or pieces of brightly coloured tartan, and decorated
with stars, oak-leaf clusters, medals cut from metal or made of putty.
Occasionally real Victory medals are worn. Women in Ship's Company bands
play Navy Nurses, Waves, telephone operators and even seamen. One rate,
the SP or Shore Patrol has the special Carnival designation of "piquette",
adopted from "picket", British Naval slang, intensified by the SP's use of a
stave or "piquette" as a club. Piquettes enforce a semblance of order, attempt
to keep ranks, and round up bandsmen from adjoining rumshops when the
band is ready to go "down the road"
Fancy or King Sailors and Stokers
The Fancy Sailor or King Sailor bands evidently first came out about
1946. Before that time sailors wore masks made from undershirts or stockings
stretched over their heads, and with holes cut for eyes and mouth. With this
they wore false noses of cardboard or paper mich6, and "shades" or dark
glasses or goggles. Each year this nose grew larger, developed warts, was
attacked by realistic but giant insects, and otherwise expanded. Finally whole
headpieces were made in paper mich6 and the original white uniforms were
covered in gold braid, red or blue ricrac braid, sequins or coloured rhinestones
diagonal sashes, imaginary and fantastic insignia, and a multitude of Army
armpatches or authentic Navy enlisted insignia sewn anywhere on the uniform.
A particularly interesting decorative device was the use of small cartoons or
paintings of insects or animals fighting. These cartoons usually carried out the
theme of the headpieces, which often had no relationship to sailors or their
activities. In 1953 a band came out with huge headpieces of paper mach6 over
bent wire in the forms of monster crabs, with great attention to detail of
colour and form. Others came out with headpieces representing gun turrets
with moving guns, telecommunication equipment with lights blinking on and
off, cash registers with drawers that opened, every variety of clock, and
other intricate mechanical models. Still others have represented a myriad of
variations with the cobra as subject, or the Spider and the Fly with huge wire
webs and the Castle of the Spider conceived as a tadjah or temple of the
Muslim Hoss6 Festival. One of the most brilliant bands in recent Carnivals
represented the Signs of the Zodiac with life-sized paper mach6 figures worn
as headpieces. One of these, the Scorpion, was 10 feet long, and the masquer
carried a live scorpion in a bottle to show its authenticity of detail.
Fancy Sailors have developed a characteristic dance, possibly derived
from the local dance step called "mariko" (Spanish maricon). The King sticks
out his abdomen and buttocks, and with his legs describes loose circles, mean-
while hunching his shoulders and moving his head forward and backward. He
moves forward in little hops, sometimes landing on the inside edges of his
feet. With his hands he pantomimes every kind of activity, flying a kite,
grating cassava, driving a car, skiing, making love. As many as 26 variations
of these gestures have been observed. This dance, while difficult to describe,
seems when seen in the streets to be the quintessence of the angular and
raffish gestures of sailors. With the growth of the headpieces and the greater
crowds in the streets in recent years, this dance has tended to die out.
The King Sailor bands were traditionally preceded by a row of trumpeters
dressed in regular or decorated sailor uniforms. They were followed by the
"firemen" or stokers, another pre-War masque that developed parallel to
King Sailor. The firemen wore "sleeveless merino" undershirts with paintings
on front and back, blue denim trousers, thick white gloves, white sailor hats,
and large goggles over their eyes. These goggles sometimes had moving "eyes"
of cut paper built into them so that they seemed to roll as the firemen danced.
They also carried long rods of iron, bent slightly at the tip to keep them
from sticking in crevices in the pavement as they were pushed along the
streets in front of the firemen. Some of these rods were actually part of a
stoker's equipment aboard ship. The firemen also had a characteristic dance
similar to the "limbo", with the body bent sharply backward, knees project-
ing, and lower legs almost on the pavement. In this position the firemen
pushed their rods forward in mimicry of stoking a boiler, with a great deal of
shoulder-shaking and arm movement as they crept forward through the streets.
This dance is virtually impossible to do in the crowded streets of today's
Carnival. The moment of the King Sailor seems to have passed, since only one
band came out in 1955, though the basic structure is still capable of infinite
The Ships' Companies are paralleled by full complements of Army, Marine,
and Air Corps personnel, either in dress uniform or in "battle dress" or in a
combination of the two. The same meticulous details, putty insignia, authentic
medals and armpatches, transfusion jars full of "blood," and expensive
materials are used. The fine series, garberdines and other uniform cloth justify
their great expense because at least parts of the uniforms can be worn later
as trousers, skirts, and with some changes, jackets. This explains the frequency
of olive drab, Navy blue, and dark green in the wardrobes of Trinidadians.
These masques also provide the military caps that are worn throughout the
year by many people, particularly fishermen and gas station attendants.
Sometimes specific crews such as Visiting Jet Pilots are reproduced, with such
special uniforms as leather jackets with fur trim and gilt name and rank, and
earphones, walkie-talkies, and other equipment are carried. The battle dress
military bands wear "fatigues" of Marine green or khaki, or camouflage
material with its flecks of dull greens and browns, metal helmets (made of
paper mach6), carry rifles, binoculars or machine guns, or push ack-ack guns,
bazookas, lifesized tanks with two living occupants, jeeps, and other field
equipment through the streets. Sometimes they also carry uprooted bushes
and small trees, the traditional West Indian symbol for a fete or a riot, and
also a common device of armies in open country. Military bands sometimes
put on elaborate drilling exhibitions of the "cadence count" variety. Drilling
practice in the steep, narrow, twisted lanes of Clifton Hill is one of the sights
of the pre-carnival season.
In recent years American forces have been most frequently imitated
because of their impact on the community during the war. British, French,
Venezuelan, German, Korean and imaginary uniforms have also been seen.
Casablanca steel band (named from the movie) "always play a French masque
from its name," and came out in 1954 as French Foreign Legion, and in 1955
as Free French Sailors complete with striped jerseys, pompomed hats, and a
leader swinging a Tricolor (with colors reversed) marked with the Cross of
Lorraine. Some special military groups with elaborate uniforms are termed
"pretty" military masques. Examples include the British Palace Guard in
bearskin hats, Scots with kilts, sporrans, a mock bagpipe, and a steel band
playing Scottish tunes, 19 Texas Rangers who played with an Indian band,
Union and Confederates, and even the Nazi High Command (from the film
lSCf. ". one Highlander, a most ludicrous caricature of a Gael," in the 1847
carnival described by C. W. Day, Pearse, op. cit., p. 185.
"Five Graves to Cairo") with polished boots, iron crosses, monocles, goose
stepping, and the slapping of cavalry whips and white gloves. The rich humor
of Carnival can be appreciated when one realizes that sailor and military
bands wear no face masks, and Trinidad's racial potpourri appears as Confed-
erates, Scots, or Nazis.
INDIANS AND OTHER WARRIORS
Wild Indians, Red, Blue and Black
The most popular bands after sailors are Indians, who in the variety
and fantasy of their costumes set the tone of carnival. The most archaic form
of Indians is usually termed Wild Indians, or as Red, Blue or Black Indians,
referring to color of costume rather than of skin. Red Indians are supposed
to have come over from Venezuela, from a village or area called "Lokain"
which is probably Los Cafos (Spanish for "drains" or "tributaries"), the
swamps of the Orinoco Delta. Actually aboriginal Indians of the Guarao,
Guarajo, or "Warrahoon" tribe from this area brought beads, parrots,
hammocks, and other products to Trinidad to barter until the 1920's when
they were prohibited. There are settlements of mixed-bloods who claim
Warahoon ancestry throughout Trinidad, particularly south of Siparia. The
carnival Red Indian band in recent years is led by two Grenadian Negroes
with a following of young Trinidadians of every shade including East Indian.
The masque seems to be popular in Grenada and among the people
of Grenadian origin in the Moruga area of southern Trinidad, where the Indians
are known as "Daymonduru"
Red Indians traditionally wear a short red satin skirt, a merino dyed red
and decorated with painting, feathers, or sequins, and on the head a long,
tangled wig of frayed-out hemp rope, a high crown of wire covered with red
paper, ribbon, and artificial roses, or a warbonnet made from large chicken
feathers dyed and painted, or a wire and paper effigy of a fish, a bird, or even
an airplane.20 Sometimes the merino is replaced by long underwear dyed red,
and the feet are always left bare. The face is painted or dusted with ruku
(Bixa orellana), and long strands of beads are made from Jumby beads.
cashew nuts, or "Job's Tears" (Coix lachryma-Jobi). Thus attired, the
Indians dance single file through the streets, forming a serpentine, while bring-
ing their knees up high at every step and bending their upper bodies forward
and then upright in time to their handclapping. They shout "like Tarzan"
occasionally, or make a yodeling sound by stopping their mouths with their
hands while emitting a piercing shriek. They also sing traditional songs of
a very attractive melodious nature, the words of which are in "Red Indian
Extensive texts of red and black Indian languages have been collected,
but as yet no linguist in control of Spanish, Creole patois, English, and South
American Indian languages has been found to analyze them. When a member
of one band meets a member of another, he challenges him with the word
"Mate!" which means "Stop!" during carnival, but which is thought to
derive from the Spanish matar, "to kill" One Indian addresses another as
20Cf. the Pajaro masque, see below, p. 215.
"Masa 'Waria" which may be disguised English for master Warrior. One of
the most popular song texts begins "Indurubi" which may be Spanish "Indo
rubi" meaning Red Indian. There are many other recognizable phrases,
though without memorizing the challenges and responses word for word they
cannot be understood. Actual classes in "Red Indian language" are held
before carnival, especially in the past when an Indian who could not speak
the language fluently, answer all the questions asked him by his challenger,
and brag as ornately about his warrior prowess, was in danger of being badly
beaten by the clubs and staves of his challenger and followers.
There are several skits that also are performed by Red Indians. In their
yard on the Sunday night before carnival, or sometimes on the preceding
Sunday, the Red Indian Queen Elo-een-ah (last year played by a girl of 12)
is crowned amid great pageantry, the singing of coronation songs, a procession
to the throne, and wild dancing, with one or more Indians "eating fire,"
expelling kerosene (locally "pitch oil") from their mouths, meanwhile lighting
the spray with a match. The resulting minor explosion gives a realistic illusion
of fire-eating, especially in a dark tent or street. A second skit concerns the theft
of the three little boys Moko, Choko, and Toko, the sons of the King, by a devil
called Booboorah who sneaks around dressed in old cocoa bags and with a hood
over his face. When he invades the tent and runs into the dancing line, the boy
who he is to "t'ief" clasps his arms around Booboorah's neck to make it
easier for Booboorah to carry him. There is much screaming and mock-praying
and yodeling during this show, and in the long run the King beats Booboorah
with his wooden sword and rescues his sons. In another skit known in Arima,
when the King is challenged, his challenger claims the King's son as hostage,
after which the Queen performs a long lament for her son, and a spirited plea
for his release, all in deadserious Wild Indian language. Perhaps the most
amusing skit of all occurs when a spectator throws a coin and hits a Red Indian.
Since he is from the bush and doesn't know what money is, he falls down as if
mortally wounded. His fellow tribesmen gather around him and decide to
"make juju" (work obeah or magic) to revive him. They dance around him,
beating him with their chapulets of beads and chanting what sounds like a
Catholic litany of Saints sung in Spanish, "H&st6 Brust6 Santa Maria,
San Antonio They then "make juju" by slowly lowering their bodies
to a squatting position while shifting their pelvises rapidly upwards and down-
wards and grunting loudly, then repeating the process as they rise up to a
standing position. This cures the fallen warrior, who rises up and dances off
with them in the serpentine.
Black Indians are thought of as African rather than Venezuelan, and
their speech is said to contain African words. In this case Indian is synony-
mous with "wild man" or "savage" They wear long trousers and shirts of
black satin decorated with turkey feathers and silver and gold beads. They
wear long black wigs made from frayed hemp rope, gilded turkey feather
war bonnets, and gold nose-rings and earrings, and they blacken their faces
with lamp-black. They carry lances, spears, tomahawks, bows-and-arrows,
and drums, and eat fire. The band is arranged as hierarchically as the
military bands, having a King, a Queen, a "Flying Argentine" (adjutant?),
JOUR OUVERT-OLE MAS'
THE SPIRIT OF CARNIVAL-JOUR OUVERT
FANCY INDIAN CHIEF
WILD INDIAN-forerunner of Fancy Indian
EAST INDIAN BURROQUITE
SAILORS-of Bad Behaviour type
THE SPIRIT OF CARnIVAL
HALF-BREED APACHE SCOUT
Showing the influence of the
a Prince and Princess, hunters, warriors, and other ranks. Some of the
names of the bands are imaginative, such as "Heroes of the Dark Continent",
or "Ibo Sun God Wild Indians" Black Indian is a favourite masque with
Negroes, and several leading masquers are prominent members of the
Ethiopian Coptic Church or other racially-constituted organizations.
Blue Indians, like the other varieties of Wild Indians only appear in one
or two bands of seven to twenty members each carnival. They too have a
distinct language which however sounds much like Red Indian to the unin-
itiated. Blue Indians wear blue costumes, large wire and feather war bonnets,
and in some cases ride horses or donkeys. They too have strange names, "The
Blue Cannibals of the Orinoco" or "Alladin and his Blue Toltec Warriors"
Canadian White Indians wear white clothes, sometimes white leather cut
into fringes and ornamented with embroidery and bead-work. They are
usually large bands, speak very little if any "language", carry life sized totem
poles, and in structure can be classed with warrior bands.
The most spectacular single costumes of carnival are the Fancy Indians,
the delight of tourist photographers. They originated from the Wild Indians
and still speak Red Indian on occasion. But in a desire to "improve" their
masque, each year the headpieces grew larger and more elaborate. Originally
the feather war bonnet was worn around the brows with the feathers sticking
upright. Then the two long tails of feathers were added down the back. Then
the headpiece grew taller, built over a structure of bamboo and roseau wood
held together with twine. Later this structure was made of heavy wire like
that used for clothes hangers. Wire is lighter, finer, and capable of being
bent more intricately, and wire-bending has become one of the most highly
developed of the carnival crafts. In recent years since the war the headpieces
grew so large that a puff of wind could knock down the masquer and "mosh
up" his hat, and he ran into overhead wires and the lighting arrangements
on the competition stages. To counter this, the headpieces grew panels which
run down both sides of the masquer's body, while another support is built
behind, thus creating a tripod to support the headpiece. Since his hat can
now stand alone, the masquer can come out from under it to rest for a few
moments before taking up his huge burden again. The development of this
base allowed for even larger areas of decoration. A modern Fancy Indian
headpiece is usually from 10 to 15 ft. high, its basic form being a slightly
convex disc around the masquer's face, the disc supported by a conical base
covering the masquer's body.
This disc is covered with a rich pattern of bead network, velvet-covered
wire structures, mirrors cut in geometric shapes, baskets of real snakes, and
areas of carefully glued featherwork in dyed or graded natural colours. Its
outer edge is traditionally surmounted by tall, brightly-coloured and very
expensive ostrich plumes. The concave back of the headpiece is similarly
decorated, and the conical base is often conceived as a wigwam, covered with
beads, panels of woven satin ribbons, painted hollow reeds made from cane
arrows (the stalk of the sugar cane flower), featherwork, and paper m&ch6
masks, bas-reliefs, totem poles, canoes, peacocks, altars, calendar stones,
and in one case a life sized human figure of a god seated at the top of a
flight of steps. These headpieces represent an investment of from $300 to
$1,000, and steady work for 5 or 6 people from 3 to 6 months. In many cases
the paper mAch6 work and wire bending is commissioned to be done by
semi-professionals, but in other cases the masquers do it all themselves.
Because of the size of the headpieces it is necessary to rent a room in which
to work, or to remove the furniture from the home in order to have space
in which to suspend the structure while covering it. Fancy Indians, like the
artists they are, always wear beautifully decorated costumes under their
headpieces, even though these are seen only a few minutes when they a r e
taking a rest outside their headpiece. Some carry magnificently carved pipes,
wooden "human heads" or "scalps" dripping with painted gore, or fiendishly
imaginative weapons. Fancy Indians have individual names such as 0 n e
Bull, Guiasuita, Crazy Horse, or Bittalaseru. A band usually consists of
only a few people, a chief, his squaw, and their child, or three chiefs and
four or five less bedizened warriors. In competitions some Fancy Indians
appear as individuals though they nearly always are in company in the
streets because of their frequent need for help in handling their great loads.
In recent times Fancy Indians have combined with large warrior bands so
as to have a more appropriate retinue.
Indian Warrior Bands are usually large bands of several hundred young
people who wear similar costumes of warriors and squaws. These costumes
are based on comic books, National Geographic or other magazine illustra-
tions, and particularly on cowboy-and-Indian movies such as "Broken
Arrow", "The Savage", "Fort Ti", "Pony Soldier" "Seminole", a n d
"Taza, Son of Cochise" The motion picture companies send publicity
photographs on request, and these are copied in detail, though often
elaborated and enriched to suit the carnival spirit. Seminoles, Sioux, Apaches,
and Hopi are represented in recognizable ways, though their trousers are
often made of purple velvet rather than deerskin. They wear soft leather
mocassins decorated with beadwork and rhinestones, beaded pectorals,
sometimes brown-dyed merinos covered with beading, decorated breech
clout panels in front and back, and headpieces varying from a filet with a
single feather to towering Fancy Indian structures. Most of the headpieces
in this type of band are relatively small, and allow for a maximum of
jumping, shouting, horseplay with tomahawks, and dancing, which is the
major carnival activity. Warriors are often "bareback" with painted bodies
and faces, while squaws wear skirts and sleeveless blouses, sometimes with
short bolero jackets. This masque allows the minimum expense (as low as
$20 including music and refreshments), maximum comfort and ease in
movement, while at the same time it is a "pretty" masque of bright colours,
rich fabrics and jewels. The large headpieces are worn by as few as three
or as many as thirty members of the band, who play Kings, Queens, Chiefs,
Medicine Men, Ambassadors from other tribes, and other dignitaries, and
their costumes may cost as much as $300 each.
There is one subtype of Indian Warrior, the historical. In the last few
years bands have come out playing Aztecs (from the movie "Captain from
Castile")21 as well as Mayan, Incas, and other ancient New World cultures.
These bands have been led by some of carnival's greatest artists and are of
unparalleled magnificence and authenticity of detail. Quetzal feathers are
fabricated, paper mAch6 stellae reproduced, and the resulting headpieces
are works the Aztecs might well be proud to claim.
Occasionally bands of non-Indian warriors come out. In recent years
there have been large bands of Africans, the Bakuba (from the movie
"White Witch Doctor"), and the Watussi (from the movie "King Solomon's
Mines"), as well as Yapese (from "His Majesty O'Keefe"), Fijians, Fol-
lowers of the Invisible Goddess, and other real or imaginary non-literate
peoples. These bands also follow the pattern of "authenticity-plus", with
costumes more beautiful than the originals but still authentic in detail. The
Watussi front lines were required to be Negroes and over 6 feet tall. They
appeared with short white satin skirts with large patches of red, blue, and
green velvet, bare chests, and long flowing lion mane headpieces fabricated
from hemp. They danced in the leaping manner of the great Watussi dancer
in the film, tossing their long manes back and forth. The Bakuba had
elaborate beaded headpieces with real cowrie shells, skirts of goatskin, dog-
hide, and cat and rabbit fur, and beautiful necklaces of gilded cobo skulls,
dog skulls, cow teeth, and assorted bones and vertebrae, thus continuing
the tradition of the horse vertebrae mentioned by Day in 1847.22 One
medicine man rode in a hut with several live cobos,* a snake, a dog, and
hundreds of bones and skulls.
Juju Warriors, using a local term for African witchcraft or obeah are a
more traditional masque, wearing "skinfit" costumes of black-dyed under-
wear, skirts of frayed "bag" similar to the pants of a Midnight Robber,23
or grass skirts of frayed hemp rope, wigs of the same material, small hats
with three feathers, faces powdered with coal dust and striped in red and
white paint, and carrying wooden spears, swords, shields, and hatchets, and
an occasional live snake or small alligator. They frighten bystanders into
giving them money. In past years a Juju Band was led by Olumbo Jumby,
said to have been introduced directly from Africa. The Jumby was a man
completely covered by a conical wire structure of black-dyed bag or black
satin. At the tip of the cone was the head of a kangaroo (the informant may
have meant a giraffe) executed in paper mAch6 or paper-covered wire and
painted silver, with a red tongue and ears, white teeth, and glass eyes.
The masquer saw through a Dapier mach6 mask on the Jumby's "chest" and
his hands extended through the cone. He wore silver-painted canvas gloves
and sandals with upturned toes, and carried a small broom called a "kokoy6"
or a "ch6ch6rd" Like the Black Indians, Olumbo Jumby spoke "African"
21Also National Geographic Magazine, Vol. XXXI, No. 6, June, 1937.
22See above. Pearse, op. cit., p. 186.
23See below, Daniel J. Crowley, 'The Midnight Robbers", p. 263.
*Corbeaux; carrion crows.-Ed.
There are several quite different varieties of devils in the carnival. They
are nearly always called "jabs", the patois word derived from French
diable. The Jab Molasi or molasses devil or "devil old masque" wears short
pants of bag or a worn-out pair of trousers with the legs cut off short. From
the back of the trousers extends a wire tail, often with a brush of hemp at
its end. He may wear chains, a wooden lock and two keys around his waist.
and he carries a pitchfork. He may wear horns or a wreath of weeds or a
battered felt hat on his head, and his whole body, face, ears, and hair are
smeared with stale molasses, tar, grease, creosote, or mud.24 He is followed
by one or more little boys carrying cooking pots or biscuit tins on which they
beat a fast tattoo with bolts as drumsticks. In one case another boy carried
a bucket of extra grease or mud with which to replenish the "costume" The
Jab Molasi dances a fast version of "winin" through the streets, threatening
to touch the beautiful costumes of other masquers or the clean clothes of by-
standers unless they give him money, which he accepts in a burlap bag or
a miniature coffin with a slot in the top. In recent years "The Unburied
Dead" or "The Original Adam" covered in yellowish mud and strung with
eight still-living krapo (bufo marinus) has done good business up and down
Frederick Street or anywhere he appears.
Another form of Jab is the Jumbalasi, derived from the same source,
but now a simple masque of swimming trunks or shorts, a wire tail, a sweater
or merino with sleeves, and a hood with stuffed cloth horns. There are also
bands of red, green, or blue devils dressed like the Imps of a Dragon Band"5
with short kandal, tails, and pitchforks, but with their bodies covered in ruku
or green or blue powder.
A "pretty" devil band is called Jab-Jabs or Coolie Devils, because of
the supposed preference of East Indians for this masque. They wear the
most ancient costume still extant in carnival, the kandal or satin knickers, the
satin shirt with points of cloth around the waist from which are suspended
"willows" or bells, the f61 or heart-shaped cloth panel on the chest, stockings
and alpagats, all of which were part of the n6g jade, batony6, and Pierrot2'
costumes of 100 years ago, or the jester's costume of medieval Europe. On
their heads they wear a hood with stuffed cloth horns, and often their
costumes are motley, divided down the centre front and back with colours
alternating in the manner of British football jerseys. The costume is
decorated with mirrors, swansdown and rhinestones, especially the fbl, and
the Jab-Jabs crack whips now made of plaited hemp rope, but originally
leather carriage whips which were used to cut up the costumes of competing
Jab-Jab bands. Only two bands have come out in recent years, and neither
24Cf. Day's description of a masquer covered in "black varnish" and wearing
chains and locks in the 1847 carnival, Pearse, op. cit., p. 185.
25See below, Bruce Procope, "The Dragon Band or Devil Band," p. 275.
26See above, p. 194, and Carr, op. cit., p. 281.
"play masque to get licks," but threaten bystanders and collect pennies as
they run through the streets chanting "Me Jab-Jab, I now come from Hell,
I know you well, pay the Devil, Jab-Jab!" or their "shout", "Plata gumbo
gee gumbo, Coming down the road!"
East Indian Burroquite
As a result of parallel development, two originally unrelated masques are
both called burroquite, from the Spanish for "little donkey" The Venezuelan
type will be discussed below. The East Indian type seems to derive from
the worship of the Hindu mother-goddess Durga or Basuli in the form of a
horse, her emblem in the Sastric literature. In the Chaitra area of Orissa "A
well-decorated horse's head is attached to a truck built of bamboos. A man
enters through the hole kept for this purpose behind its neck. He looks from
a distance as if he has ridden on horseback. He holds the reins of the horse
and dances. The horse moves forward and backward with the man." The
dancing is accompanied by a drum and a flute, and songs are improvised
combining highsounding words and Sanskrit verses"
The Trinidad carnival masque reproduces this completely, except for
the flute and the Sanskrit. The King or leading dancer carries a wooden
sword, and he and his four or five Princes wear satin costumes decorated with
swansdown and rhinestones, metallic paper crowns, and have their, faces
whitened with powder. Another man dressed as a Queen in a sari collects
money in a taria or brass ritual plate. The horse or donkey's body is covered
in a long skirt of rich materials, and the head is made of wire covered with
paper and painted. Sometimes a small boy in costume dances beside the
donkey and attempts to curry it. The traditional Hindi song in Trinidad goes:
Raja, Raja Hindako King, King of India
Dhal bhat, dhal bhat Hindako Peas-and-rice of India
Soooo Mary, soooo Danka (or soooo Girl) (boy calms horse
Sometimes this masque is called "Sumari" from this last line, which is also
interpreted as meaning "so merry" or referring to St. Mary's Junction near
Carapichaima where this masque is still popular. A burroquite masque of
British guardsmen was brought out by a group in the Trinidad Country Club
in 1953, but the masque is virtually extinct in the streets.
Spanish Burroquite and Pajaro
Trinidad shares with the Spanish Main the masque called in Spanish
burraquita, "little donkey or jenny" The burroquite is a construction of
bamboo which fits on the dancer's hips and gives the illusion that he is riding
a small burro. At the front is a donkey's head made of coloured paper over
a wooden framework, while the body is covered with a satin skirt like a
caparisoned donkey, and there is a hemp tail at the rear. Sometimes four
hoops dangle from this skirt. The man himself wears a satin shirt, sometimes
a short velvet jacket, and either a large straw hat or a matador's hat. He
2Kunjabehari Das, A Study of Orissan Folk-Lore. (Santiniketan: Visvabharati,
1953), p. 56.
dances in a way to make the donkey seem to caper and bow, and he is
followed by musicians and other masquers on foot who wear dark trousers,
sashes around the waist, "pretty" shirts, and big straw hats "like Spanish
vagabonds." They play guitars, quatros and shac-shacs, and collect money
while they sing "Andar, andar, andar, burroquite, andar or
Ai si, ai no The hiccoughs (or whooping cough)
la pita que tengo yo which I have
por el sereno de la noche Due to the serenity of the night
la pita se me quito The hiccoughs left me
Ai si, ai no Mariquita gave me
Mariquita me regal6 a canary that sang
un canario que cantaba the verses of God Himself
los versos del mismo dios
The burroquites are extinct in town, but are still to be seen in Spanish
communities such as Arima.
Another Venezuelan-derived masque is Pajaro or bird. This is a large effigy
of a bird made of bamboo and covered in coloured paper. It fits over the
upper half of the masquer's body, and he sees through a hole in the "chest"
He wears long satin knickers and sometimes leggings, and is followed by
musicians much the same as the burraquite. This masque is unknown in Port-
of-Spain in recent years, though some Indian headpieces approximate it.
Sebucan or Maypole
Still another masque of Latin-American origin is called Sebucan, the
Amerindian word for the cassava squeezer, a long tube of plaited fiber which
the maypole resembles at the height of the dance. This masque is known in
St. Lucia and Barbados as "plait-the-ribbon", and in those islands it may
derive from England rather than Spain. In the Trinidad carnival it is a
popular masque with families or groups of children or adults in Spanish com-
munities. Like nearly every other masque it is competitive, with prizes going
to the best dance troupe. Each dancer holds a coloured ribbon the other end of
which is fastened to the top of a tall pole held in the centre of the dancers.
Alternate dancers move in opposite directions around the pole, first inward,
then outward, so that their multicoloured ribbons form a pattern down the
length of the pole. When they draw near the end of their ribbons they reverse
and unplait the ribbons until the dance is ended.
Costumes are simple, the girls wearing full short skirts, blouses trimmed
in swansdown, washikongs or alpagats, and decorated metallic paper crowns.
The boys wear similar costumes with short trousers and long stockings of a
contrasting colour. Sometimes ordinary party clothing is worn. Music is
similar or identical with that for burroquite, guitars, quatros, and shac-shac.
In recent years few Sebucan bands have appeared in town, but they usually
dance in "Tamarind Square" between the Cathedral and Columbus Square.
Yankee Minstrels and Tennessee Cowboys
Yankee Minstrels seem to derive from the minstrel shows that were popular
in the United States at the turn of the century, and were probably introduced
into Trinidad by travelling troupes or by Trinidadians returning from the
States. The original minstrels were Negroes, but many of the most popular
were whites who wore "blackface" and followed a set of conventions in
representing Negroes. The Trinidadian masquer, though nearly always a
Negro himself, imitates these conventions including the "blackface",
exaggerated white "lips" painted around his mouth, red spots on cheeks, and
the "Uncle Sam" costume of scissor-tailed coat, tight striped trousers, white
gloves, and tall beaver hat. He is thus a Negro imitating a white imitating a
Negro. In more recent times the costume has been varied, one band of four
minstrels appearing in suits, two black and two white, split down the middle
and recombined so that each suit is half black and half white. The effect is
completed by the hats, faces, and shoes being black on one side and white on
the other. A vaudeville routine of dance steps displayed this black-and-white
effect. Other costumes also derive from vaudeville, with striped blazers and
straw boaters of the '90's.
Yankee Minstrels nearly always consist of four male singers, sometimes
with a female singer as well, and most bands have played together for as
long as 20 years. One or two members play guitars and another plays the
"bones" a clicking instrument derived from the original U.S. minstrels.
Each year the band makes up a few new songs, and learn a few suitable
popular tunes such as "Chi Bum" An example of an original song is
We are the Minstrel Boys from Texas
You can bet we have the caress,
You know we bound to shine
Especially when we have got the taste of Minstrel Boys
Your cheeks are so rosy, and your lips are blooming,
Just like the flowers in May.
You will be happy, Confidentiously
Just stand besides me
Wait Darling, and you will see.
A variant of the Yankee Minstrel is the Tennessee Cowboy, who dresses
in a loud plaid shirt, neckerchief, khaki trousers, and big-brimmed straw hat,
and carries a toy gun. This band is also small in number, and sings cowboy
and hillbilly songs such as "Home on the Range" and "Cheating Heart"
imported from the States via the radio. A "Tennessee vocalist" band won
popular acclaim as early as 190628. The nomenclature of Minstrels is well
within the carnival spirit. To Trinidadians the term "Yankee" means any
American, though in the United States it is properly applied only to white
New Englander of Anglo-Saxon origin whose family was in residence at the
time of the American Revolution. It was also used by the Confederates to
describe the Union soldiers during the Civil War. Thus to call a Texan a
Yankee is tantamount to calling a Scot an Englishman, a Jew a Nazi, or a
Trinidadian a Barbadian. Also there are no cowboys within a thousand miles
of Tennessee, a mountainous hillbilly state of small farms.
2"Port-of-Spain Gazette, Feb. 28, 1906, p. 7, cols. 2-4.
Clowns and Bats
In the early years of this century circus clowns appeared in carnival
wearing conical hats, paper mAch6 face masks with exaggerated noses and
red-spotted cheeks and long loose costumes with ruffles at neck, wrists and
ankles. They wore swansdown pompoms, bells, threw confetti and powder, and
carried trapezes and "make a var6 business" (French: vari6, "variation")
doing acrobatics and dancing. At the time of the upsurge of carnival after
the first World War, "fancy" clowns began to come out, elaborating and
"improving" the masque beyond recognition. Each band consisted of about
twenty men and occasionally a few women called "Patronesses", as well as
a small string band. Each band had a particular name and a basic colour
scheme used from year to year
Mavis (from facepowder tradename)-gold and black
Mystery-royal purple and orange
Melodious (or Melody) blue and white
Troublesome Boys-cerise and green
Honey Boys-pink and white
Parisian Dandies-blue and beige or maroon and gold
As the clown costume was "improved", its dunce cap was replaced by a
crown as befitting a King Clown, and this was held in place by a fula of
brown-dyed merino cloth. The face masks were elaborated and enlarged and
fitted with "elastic work" which provided winking eyes, wiggling noses, lolling
tongues, and other moving parts. The collar ruffle became a high standing
collar of the type associated with Queen Elizabeth I, and "it growing bigger
every year, mon," and is now a wire structure covered by elaborate bead-
work. The costume itself still has the baggy "Turkish" trousers, embroidery
and honeycombing, but the "eton" or jacket has now become a kind of
stage for the display of the theme on front and back. An example is "The
Spider and the Fly" with giant insects of silver lam6, purple velvet, and
diaphanous wings, ensnared in huge webs that nearly covered the wearer.
Other themes are "The Old Woman Who Lived in the Shoes," Arabian
Nights," "Woodford Square Fountain," "Doggie in the Window," "Seven
Pillars of Wisdom," and "The Throne of Elizabeth II" Clowns' shoes are
particularly interesting, being large boxlike forms covering the feet. Some-
times they are paper machU animals, at other times mechanical affairs that
pop open and closed when a step is taken. The size of the shoes makes it
impossible for the clown to dance, and he walks with a characteristic slow,
rolling gait with his legs wide apart. He is supposed to "give jokes" but in
the crush of contemporary carnival this is largely forgotten. He still collects
Clowns originally played in bands of twenty or more, but the costume
and traditional string music are so expensive that bands have disintegrated,
and clowns play in small groups of three or four or as individuals without
music. Another factor is that the personal expression in clown costumes is
so fiercely competitive that it builds up enmities. "Masque is a selfish thing,
oui I Don't mind if you happy, each one fighting for hisself. I playing me one."
The leading clowns are often professional artists, signpainters, or makers of
paper mAch6 and wire structures for other masquers. Like the Red Dragon
leaders, they are bitterly competitive, secretive, and deadly serious about
all carnival activities. Oddly enough they seem to resemble clowns facially
even when out of costume. "You could never stop dressing, you dress to
a standard, it comprise a real art."
Bats sometimes play with clown bands, sometimes as bat bands, and
sometimes as individuals. The typical bat costume is black or brown skinfit,
dyed long underwear, jersey or velveteen. The kandal is short like swimming
trunks, and is made of frayed bag, swansdown, or sometimes yam rug,
material. The head mask, usually made by a professional, fits over the
entire face and head and is made of swansdown with paper mach6 face,
teeth, nose barb, and round eyes. The masquer sees through the open mouth
or lifts up the mask like a visor to get a breath of air. A pair of shoes are
made in leather with metal claws for toes, or regular shoes are covered with
long wool socks to which metal claws have been attached, and a second sole
is attached to the bottom of the shoe soles to protect the stockings. Wings are
fabricated from wire and bamboo to a wingspread of 12 to 15 feet, and
are covered with the same cloth as the skinfit. They are fastened to the
costume by hooks-and-eyes, zippers, or sometimes by sewing. In any case
the masquer is sewn into his clothes with his arms permanently fastened
to the wings. His hands are covered with matching gloves. Sometimes Bats
are played in white velveteen, and recently a "fancy bat" appeared in yellow
satin and black velvet with fine blue embroidery on his wings, but he was
severely criticised "because nobody never see a yellow bat yet," and since
there are no competitions for fancy bats, and hence no prizes, he discontinued
the masque. Many Bats carry a real stuffed bat on their costumes to show
authenticity of detail.
The performance of the Bats is usually called a dance, but it is more
properly a mime. "I can do the bat dance very much, like in daylight it
could hardly see. I start on one side like I looking to grasp something, then
I do the crawl, wings over head. A bat could hardly walk, and nip now and
then for sport. When I see another bat I twinkle (he waves his wings) like
this. And when I see police horses I do a little display, because you know
bats does love to suck animals. I do a flapping towards an animal, and stop
and look like I'm looking to suck." One Bat has appeared on roller skates to
better represent flying, and others "chip" or dance mincingly on their toes to
simulate a bat's walking gait. Just as with. the clowns, the Bats seem to
resemble their masque even when out of costume.
The relatively prosperous times in Trinidad since the second World War
have encouraged the development of historical masques with their large
numbers and expensive costumes. Instead of playing tough, mean, dirty, evil,
drunken, or fiendish, the historical masquer plays rich and powerful for two
days. He may be King Pharoah, a Viking in a long red wig, a Sultan of
Delhi, a medieval English King, a Trojan warrior in metal breastplate and
greaves, Nero complete with lute and train, a Knight of the Garter with
authentic heraldic devices, an aristocrat in powdered wig, or any other real
or fanciful personage who captures his interest.
The sources of historical masques are only rarely imaginary. Like the
Indian Warriors, some are drawn from movies like "Quo Vadis" "Sign of
the Pagan" or "Serpent of the Nile" Others, like Red Dragons, come from
the Bible, religious texts, calendars, and Bible History schoolbooks. Still
others are from the standard primers, from comic books, British or American
Information Service handouts, encyclopaedias, Geographic or other illustrated
magazines, newspapers, Scott novels, Shakespeare, or a combination of any
or all of these sources plus the imagination of the designers. A basic require-
ment is that there should be an extensive hierarchy of Kings, Queens, High
Priests, Priestesses, Sun Gods, Generals, Pashas, Knights, Warriors, and
several ranks of ordinary soldiers and slave girls, known as "floor-members"
This hierarchy not only provides a masque for every taste and pocketbook,
but also faithfully reflects both the African and the Crown Colony societies.
Historical bands tend to be more tightly organized than other types, and are
often "brought out" by semi-professionals who design the costumes, contract
for the music, sewing, bead and wire work, and the "refreshments", direct
the band in the streets and on the stages, and give a fete afterwards, all for
a flat fee.
Like the Clowns and Red Dragons, historical bands must be accompanied
by a "music band of stringed and wind instruments rather than by a steel
band such as accompanies military masques. Music bands are rare and
expensive, thus requiring a fairly large number of masquers to support
them, usually 40 or 50, and often several hundred. They play a special
carnival music based on local and foreign popular music both old and
recent, but marked by "syncopation", which in Trinidad signifies the
constant repetition of a short phrase of music combined with very strongly
marked rhythms. This music encourages ecstatic "jumping-up", while the
steel band music is more suited to a slower, shuffling step. The typical dance
step of historical masques includes the opening and closing of a cloak or
the holding forward of the edges of a shirt or jacket while the lower part
of the body is bent forward executing "winin" and the head is thrown back,
while the feet occasionally leap up or perform complicated acrobatic
arabesques. The historical bands and sailors are the only masquers whose
faces register pleasure, excitement, or abandon. A much more common
expression combines intensity, earnestness, exertion, fatigue, and a kind of
fanatical zeal which must be a much more powerful emotional experience
than mere abandon.
Traditional historical costumes tend to use purple and white or any other
two-colour combination, honeycombing, embroidery, laces, pleating, rhine-
stones, but no mirrors or swansdown. Hats or crowns are beautifully
conceived and constructed in wire and then covered in cloth. These are held
on the head by a hood or fula of merino cloth or satin, a continuation, of
the old pattern of 1847 for covering the hair.2' The robes themselves are
29Pearse, op. cit., p. 185.
similar to those of a Catholic priest vested for Mass. The skirt is often
accordion-pleated, and over it go one or more panels, capes, chasubles, cowls,
and hoods, each one of contrasting colour and material, and each heavily
decorated even where it will never be seen by anyone but the masquer.
Sleeves are double, triple, and quadruple, tight, loose, Japanese, tucked,
puffed, honeycombed and slashed. Sometimes a long cloak goes over all, or
a "gowng" like a magician's cape. Some masques have long wigs of combed,
dyed and curled hemp rope, and others have carved wooden sceptres and
orbs set with false jewels, metal spears and halberds, banners and flags,
wands of office, spiked "cossack" clubs, ball-and-chains, daggers, or any
other required or appropriate properties. Metal crowns, helmets, wristlets,
breastplates, brassieres, belts, anklets, and jewelry show both authenticity and
originality in their combination of local materials with commercial gewgaws
into designs of real merit.
In the intensity of research for perfect authenticity, the historical bands
have recently added short skits, the knighting of a warrior, obeisance before
a King, Joan of Arc at the Stake ("with real fire"), a Greek or Cambodian
dance, a royal marriage ceremony, or the sacrifice of a victim on an Aztec
altar. But for all the attention to authenticity of detail, this authenticity is
sacrificed whenever it clashes with sacrosanct carnival tradition and taste.
Richard III as King of a Band could not be a hunchback because it would
spoil the looks of the masque and no one would want to play it. The rough
brown monastic robes of Friar Lawrence in "Romeo and Juliet" weren't
"pretty" enough, so they were "nastied up" with rhinestones, sequins, and
gold braid. Greek warriors with epicanthic folds over their eyes, dark skins,
or heavy tortoise-shell glasses are not seen as incongruous, but the addition
of swansdown to a Red Dragon gown can have repercussions throughout
The term "original" sometimes means traditional or authentic, as in
the case of "Original Wild Indians" But when applied to a type of band
it signifies the exact opposite, a band conceived with originality, or created
out of fantasy or from unusual, non-traditional sources. Many of these bands
play only on Monday, after which the same groups come out with a tradi-
tional masque on Tuesday. The range of costs and kinds of costumes are
very great, from elaborate historical-like bands such as "Chu Chin Chow in
the Court of Kasim Baba" or "Invaders from Space" with their finely
crafted copper helmets, to the impersonations of "The Queen's Garden
Party", to the prim elegance of "Elite of the 17th Century" carefully masked
and delineated from the mob by a rope around the band, to "Winter Games"
with cotton snowballs, "International Circus", "A Day at Helsinki"
(Olympics), to such simple masques as "Obeahmen and Bushvendors"
"Spanish Vagabonds" "Haitian or Annamese Peasants", or "The People
of Iceland" with their white swansdown Eskimo parkas. Original bands use
both string and steel band music, and are usually not masked.
Advertising bands constitute a very minor aspect of the traditional
carnival, but loom important in the minds of masquers and spectators. At
the beginning of a discussion of carnival, most Trinidadians bewail the past
when carnival was fresh and vital, and not "too commercialized" as at
present. It is difficult to find this commercialization, unless by it they mean
the relative organization of the bands' movements through the exigencies of
the several competitions. Aside from the merchants who sell the cloth and
the rum, only a very few organizations or individuals seem to profit directly
from carnival. Many of the organizers and artists actually lose money or
provide their time and effort free, though it must be admitted that this is
usually unintentional, the result of miscalculation. The few advertisers who
bring out dancing groups or decorated lorries, or pay for their products'
names to be stencilled on jerseys are evidently unaware of the strongly
negative reactions of a large segment of the public, particularly the middle
class "professional spectators" of carnival. Advertising bands may backfire
in still another way: a group of aging ladies in somewhat bedraggled
douillettes carried signs reading "Black is White, drink-(a sweet drink)"
although it was apparent to the most uninitiated that what they had been
drinking was not sweet. Conversely however, merchants gain the goodwill of
hundreds of masquers by endowing suitable prizes, cups, and plaques.
Juvi and Old Masque Bands
Juv6 (French jour est ouvert, "day opens") is that part of Carnival
between the end of Dame Lorine and the coming out of the Monday masques
in late morning. By ordinance juv6 now begins at 6 a.m., but it is thought
to have been much funnier and broader when played in the darkness just
preceding dawn. Juv6 masques are extremely varied, allowing for almost
any crazy improvization. They include parts of last year's costumes, flowing
velvet robes worn over scanty underwear, an Indian breech clout combined
with a hot shirt, a girl or man in a very short, tight dress depicting a
"Tobago Saga Woman", an old woman in a tea box, parodies of current
events and local characters with jokes or pointed commentaries made on
crudely printed signs fastened to the costumes or carried on sticks. Nowadays
juv6 is said to have degenerated because so many masquers appear only in
denim jeans and hot shirts to follow the steel bands before going off to make
a gesture of working Monday morning. The juv6 of San Fernando remains
more traditional than that of Port-of-Spain, and attracts many people
"Old Masque" (or ol' mas') is the general term for costumes made
from old clothing, rags, or castoff materials such as burlap "bag" It is also
used loosely for any band involving a joke or gag, like the 1954 mice band
with a costume labelled "StreptoMICEin" Old Masque bands appeal mostly
to the middle and upper classes. An Old Masque dance is traditionally held
by the French Creoles in Arima in the weeks before carnival. "Bajan Cooks"
has been a popular masque with upper-class Creoles for many years. But
by its nature Old Masque is not traditional, since innovation is its keynote.
Occasionally Old Masque bands play in the streets on Tuesday, with such
themes as "Man Must Live", "For Better or Worse", "A Day at the
Races", "The Cheaty (City) Council", or "The Seven Stages of Man" The
last named included mewling and puking babies, rum-drinking schoolboys
with shining morning faces, indescribable sighing lovers, and an ancient hearse
with a very lively corpse. A 1954 band, "The Singh Story" based on the
celebrated murder case continued the tradition and produced the desired and
equally traditional response of public indignation, heated discussions of bans
and illegalities, and letters to editors about "bad taste" It is interesting to
note that of all the traditional types of bands, only Old Masque and Sailors
employ innuendo, and that to only a limited degree.
The Changing Attitude of the Coloured Middle
Class Towards Carnival
BARBARA E. PowRIE
THE first immigrants in Trinidad were West Europeans and African Negroes.
From the beginning these peoples, formed 'distinct and separate social units,
and only at the economic level was there any form of association. It was
a two-class society, upper and lower, white master and black slave. But,
as is well known, there was a phase during which there occurred sexual
unions. Children of mixed European and Negro parentage were born, but
the social barrier between the parents, or whites and blacks, was in no
degree lessened. Continued immigration of whites and the gradual establish-
ment of their own family units ended the spate of black-white liaisons.
However, this did not alter the fact that a new and recognisable social group
had been established. The mixed, or coloured, population filled, without truly
bridging, the social gap between the upper and lower class.
Economic, administrative and legal developments which took place in
Trinidad, particularly those which followed the emancipation of the slaves,
depended for their success on the emergence of a middle class. Indeed,
articles and letters to the editor which appeared in the local newspapers in
the 1840's made occasional clamour for the creation of a middle class.' It
was even suggested that organised immigration of low-status Europeans be
initiated for the specific purpose. Eventually it was perceived that a ready-
made middle class existed in the island and that the importation of a
middle class en bloc was neither practicable nor necessary.
The coloured people had withdrawn, as far as possible, from social
contact with their black cousins. But they were not accepted or drawn into
the social community life or their white cousins. This isolation, both
self-created and enforced, plus the common aspiration to be 'white' resulted
in closer association between the coloureds. They copied the manners and
behaviour of the whites, education became de rigueur, and 'respectability'
was the aim of all concerned. Respectability seems to have been-and still
is to a large extent-the supreme aim of the coloured middle class, and
the only certain method of achieving this aim was felt to be via the marriage
ceremony. The lower class established consensual unions, and, without regard
for the permanence of such unions, the Church and the whites condemned
the consensual form as being yet another indication of the immorality of the
lower class. The coloured group was not slow to ally itself with the opinion
of 'authority', and the importance of the marriage ceremony as a preliminary
to starting a family took firm hold with them. They married within their
'For example, see Port-of-Spain Gazette, "Council of Government", llth February,
own group and multiplied accordingly. It is these facts of social history
which give us the story behind the existence of the present-day coloured
In most other of the West Indian territories it would not be necessary
to prefix the term 'middle class' with the word coloured-it goes without
saying. It is essential to draw attention to the addition of this word when
discussing social stratification in Trinidad. The population of Trinidad can
only be defined as segmented, for it is not split horizontally in the sense
that there are homogeneous upper, middle, and lower stratums which cut
through the entire society. Instead, there is a complex pattern of self-
contained, parallel, social hierarchies-each with its own upper, middle, and
lower classes. Broadly speaking, these hierarchies are one of two types the
first, and it is applicable to one large segment only, is based on colour, this
is the white-coloured-black structure; the second is of a purely ethnic type,
and contains such segments as the East Indians, Chinese, Portuguese, and
Syrians. The coloured group contains a tiny proportion of persons whose
ancestry is further complicated by occasional marriages with individuals from
the ethnic structures.
Today, the coloured middle class is a distinct and recognisable social
group. In the main, it is definable on the basis of colour, but it is further
differentiated from the rest of society in an occupational sense. Again
speaking broadly, the clerical and executive levels of the Civil Service
embraces and is embraced by the coloured middle class. A few have entered
the professions or found employment at clerical or executive level in industry
and commerce, but their number is negligible in relation to the group as a
whole. Manual work, even at a skilled level, is frowned upon and is taken
up only as a last resort. Private enterprise by coloureds is rare-it is in
this field that great strides have been made by individuals from the ethnic
groups. The respectability of the Civil Service appeals to the coloured middle
class, and until recently it was the only reasonably well-paid employment
available for a coloured person who had gained his school certificate.
Respectability is the keynote of coloured middle class existence. The
ideal person and form of behaviour is still 'white' and life is patterned to
conform as closely as possible to all that is felt to be contained within this
ideal. The idea that there is anything identifiably Trinidadian which could
command respect, interest or admiration is ardently rejected in favour of
outward imitation of the ideal, the white culture pattern. But the coloured
person has a dual culture heritage-the outwardly rejected and condemned
black culture, and the colonial white culture. It is this duality which gives
rise to so much inner conflict and outward lack of positive quality or
personality to the coloured middle class. Generations pre-occupied with the
cultivation of negative personal character have produced the curious lack
of character which today typifies the coloured middle class. Life is pursued
in such a way as to ensure the minimum of individuality; conformity, of
an almost absolute nature, is demanded in all spheres of social life, and this
achieved through social pressure due to the relatively face-to-face organisa-
tion of the group concerned.
Under the circumstances it is small wonder that the annual two-day
festival of Carnival is eagerly looked forward to and ardently entered into
by the middle class. Carnival is, indeed, a grand and exciting spectacle, but
in most western societies it would not be an event warranting year-round
discussion or the near-frenzied enthusiams which it evokes in so many
Trinidadians. The reasons for this are clearly understood when we observe
and study the social facts. The only social excitement available to the coloured
middle class is the 'fAte' or 'spree', which covers anything from a cricket
match to a beach outing, from an informal drinking session to an organised
party or dance. Rum-drinking is the almost invariable accompaniment to
any fete. Without such a stimulant even the minor excitement of the fete-
gathering would be recognized as the unexciting occasion which it really is,
unexciting simply because it is a repeat of similar occasions which have
been, and will continue to be, entered into with such frequent and monotonous
regularity. This need of excitement plus the fact that the confines of life
are narrow in all spheres, together with the tension created by the highly
competitive 'sparring' for the few positions at the social and economic peak,
necessitates some kind of periodic safety valve. This, then, is the value of
Carnival for the coloured middle class.
In a true sense, Carnival 'belongs' to the black, lower class. It is they
who, through most of its history, have been the outstanding participants.
But, whilst Carnival is a direct expression of the folk, it also acts like a
magnet for the coloured population. We have already noted that the excite-
ment factor is the primary value of Carnival for the middle class. But to
leave it at that would mean that we had ignored certain importai factors
of a secondary nature and no less important. The primary value copes with
the situation at the level of conscious awareness, and we must, therefore,
extend the analysis and also touch on deeper levels if the ultimate question
of attitudes is to be properly understood.
Closely related to the excitement factor, and with especial meaning and
importance for the female element, is the bearing which Carnival has on
religious behaviour. Throughout the year the Christian Churches are regularly
filled to overflowing by worshippers (the vast majority of whom are female).
The Church and social convention presents a strict code of sexual behaviour
to be adhered to-it is on this that hinges the whole of coloured middle class
morality. Pious, naive, virginity is the approved ideal for young unmarried
girls. Deviation from this ideal places such girls in danger of social
ostracism. But it is difficult, and becoming increasingly impossible, to live
the ideal life. Deviation is extremely common and the sense of fear and
guilt harboured in the mind of the average girl gives hollow meaning to the
outward show of piety based on regularity of Church-going. The married
female, for somewhat different reasons, is, perhaps, even less happily
positioned. She is supposed to be dedicated to the task of reproduction and
attending to domestic matters, and this leaves her little time or inclination
to go 'feting' with the men-folk (and in any event, at no time of life is it
common for men and women to enjoy their social pleasures in mixed
company). Her life is narrowed down to a dreary routine of domesticity,
and her main social outlets and sources of excitement are gossip and
attendance at weddings and funerals. She is more or less confined to her
home and is expected to observe complete sexual faithfulness to her husband.
Church attendance is important to her, for it represents a social outing where
she can meet and gossip with friends. But her opportunity for 'sinful'
behaviour is at a minimum and for her, too, Church attendance and
particularly the Confessional is empty of meaning in a truly religious sense.
Men, on the other hand, lead an exceptionally free existence, unhindered
by the necessity to lead sin-free lives. Social convention demands that a
man express his sexual urges freely and promiscuously. Few men attend
Church-it would be impossible for a man to abide by Church teachings
and at the same time do what is expected of him by his fellows. One woman
commented on this by saying, "It is for females to go to Church, they have
to pray for the men." Thus, whilst the religious significance of Carnival is
unimportant for the men it is highly significant for the women. It is their
annual opportunity to do all that the Church and society condemns, and,
further, it encourages them to participate with so much feeling and outward
show of devotion in the yearly religious climax of Lent and Easter.
At a very much deeper level, and applicable to both sexes, Carnival
is also an opportunity to indulge the, normally, dissociated half of their
culture heritage. The lower class is vehemently condemned and criticised
by the middle class for all that it represents and does in the way of reminding
them of their black ancestors. But the beliefs and customs of the black
community ate by no means unknown, totally discounted, or rejected by
the middle class. From childhood at least some part of the folklore is learned
in the home. Attitudes and beliefs are in many ways similar to those found
at the lower class level. The powers of obeah are spoken of in hushed whispers
and awe, and the assistance of the obeah man may be secretly sought in
times of stress. All of this is accounted for by the dual culture situation of
the coloured person. His outward, professed, and material culture is
imitation white, his underlying, sub-conscious, and spiritual culture is black,
it is his sub-culture. The unhappy, ill-knit 'fusion' of these cultures has
produced the negative personality of the coloured people. Carnival is the
one chance in the whole year when the socially embarrassing facts of
inheritance can be used to advantage, freely and openly. Particularly for
the females, the blessing of the Church (Roman Catholic, at least) upon
Carnival behaviour gives sanctioned release from mental tension. It is only
the exceptional and very enlightened members of the coloured middle class
who are consciously aware of this sub-cultural aspect of Carnival. Sub-
conscious awareness is evinced in the majority of persons, but it is presented
in rationalised form. A common remark to be heard with regard to the
attraction of Carnival is that "everyone joins in, it breaks down all social
barriers" In fact, this is but a comforting myth. For example, it is a rare
sight to come upon East Indian revellers, and, except as part of the audience
at the Carnival contests, the whites take no part in the public merrymaking.
This general summary of what Carnival means to the coloured middle
class is applicable both to the pre-war and present day population. But the
generalisation is declining in force and the bases of meaning are taking new
shape. The needs of the middle class are not quite what they were before
the last war and the change of attitude towards Carnival is both an index
and a reflection of the changing needs. Before delving into the rather more
abstract realm of attitudes it is necessary to continue, a little further, our
pursuit of the facts. The time-span chosen for the discussion on change is
between fifteen and twenty years and the specific areas for comparison are
conditions as they were before the last war and conditions as they are today.
Reference to Carnival and to the coloured middle class is to be taken, here,
as applying only to Port-of-Spain. The data was collected in that city, it is
the location of the more important changes in Trinidad social life, it is the
main and most extensive area for Carnival celebrations, and it contains the
greater proportion of the coloured middle class population.
Before the war, Carnival was a gay, colourful, free-for-all. The middle
class donned its fancy dress. Men and women joined in the spirited Jour
Ouvert celebrations, and obscenity commonly distinguished the Old Mas'
costume. The women wore masks-mainly of a yashmak style, the upper
part of the concealing cloth being a domino. They 'jumped up' and entered
whole-heartedly into the street revelries and band parades at night when
chances of recognition were at a minimum. Few parents would consent to
their daughters joining a band. This was in part due to fear of their
daughters being 'interfered' with by male revellers, especially those from
lower class bands. It is a common Carnival custom for men to 'interfere'
with the women-this interference being little more than a touching or
pinching of the more outstanding parts of the female body. It was felt to
be akin to rape. Those girls who did join bands did not parade the streets
on foot. Lorries were used for the purpose, and the lorries would circle the
Savannah, bearing their jumping, singing group of girls and musicians--
men of the middle class might also join the girls on the lorries. The men them-
selves did not hide their identity with masks, or only a very small proportion
did so. They 'disguised' themselves in costumes, which were generally con-
structed immediately prior to leaving home to celebrate Carnival. They were
not so much complete costumes representing a particular theme as the
addition of some item to their everyday wear, such as a bright cummerbund.
It was the 'street mas' and the street bands which attracted atten-
tion during the day and on Tuesday night. On the Monday night it was-
and still is-common to attend Carnival dances, wearing costume, held at
social clubs or public halls (for example, Princes Building). The Monday
night dances were purely middle class in attendance, the white community
attended its own dances, and the mixing of men and women was by contrast
to their relative separation in the street activities. Children were allowed to
wander about on their own, although the younger ones were normally
accompanied by their mothers. On the Sunday before Carnival it was usual
for a mother to take her children, clothed in fancy-dress, to the Botanical
Gardens in the afternoon where she would stroll about with them. It was
a kind of unofficial and individual parade.
This describes the general pattern of behaviour, but it would not be true
to say that the entire middle class community entered into the spirit of
things with the same enthusiasm, indeed, some declined to participate at
all. The reason for this is to be found in the heterogeneous make-up of the
middle class. Although it embraces all coloured persons in the community
it is sub-divided within itself into three main elements. The core, which
regards itself as a minor aristocracy, is the descendants of the French-Negro
mixtures. They are Roman Catholic by religion, and therefore specially
enthusiastic about Carnival. The second group-which rates itself as equal
to the first group in the matter of breeding--comprises descendants of the
English-Negro mixtures. They are Protestant by religion and their Churches
do not regard Carnival as a desirable pre-Lenten outlet. Thus, this group
is more inclined to frown on Carnival and its licentious character. Not only
are they conforming to the attitude of their religious leaders but also
expressing their disapproval of Roman Catholics, and they more openly feel
Carnival to be a somewhat disgusting outburst of paganism. The third group
comprises those coloured people who have emigrated from other West Indian
islands, and especially from Barbados. Unless they have emigrated from pre-
dominantly Roman Catholic areas, such as St. Lucia or Grenada, where some
form of Carnival is an annual event, they have no feeling for Carnival. To
them it is a peculiarly Trinidad phenomenon and the urgent desire to
participate does not arise. Before the war the attitudes of these three groups
were enthusiasm, disapproval and disinterest respectively, and this was in
direct relation to the degree of their participation in Carnival.
Today the pattern of Carnival activity and behaviour has changed from
what it was before the war. Masks are not worn by either sex, either during
the day or night. Jour Ouvert costumes are seldom worn by women and
fewer men take the trouble to don Old Mas' wear. Street bands contain a
fair proportion of women and there is now no rooted objection to women taking
part in such a band. Although, it may be noted, that the women are
clustered in groups of their own sex in the middle and at the head of the
band2, and men no longer 'protect' them from the interfering hands of men
from passing bands. The music accompanying the bands comes from steel
band instruments, which have tones altogether mellower and less feverish
than the brass-percussion bands of pre-war. The steel band music has effected
a change in the old style of dancing or 'jumping up' by the band followers.
Hitherto, it was truly a leaping into the air and required tremendous output
of energy. The shaking and rolling of the body which old style 'jump
up' produced was another reason for it being almost taboo for women.
People felt that they were carrying things too far by indulging in such a
sexy, obscene exhibition of themselves. Now, .the dancing responds to the
music by taking the form of a hip-rolling, swaying, shuffle-a very slightly
exaggerated form of the dancing practised on the Trinidad dance floor all
year round. This exaggerated and erotic dancing, known as "wining", no
longer stands out as abnormal when performed in the streets under the public
2Before the war a very few, the more daring, of the women did join street
bands, but they were clustered together in the centre of the band with men
surrounding them on all sides.
A further point in connection with music is the fact that singing of
calypsoes is no longer heard from the bands parading the streets. The reason
for this is certainly partly due to change in the type and wording of the
calypso. Commercialization and efforts to produce calypsoes 'clean' enough
to be heard by the general public has helped to rob the calypso of much
of its old wit, sting and commentary value. The music and not the words
seems to be the thing which possesses 'catchiness' for the people today.
The number of middle class bands taking part each year is far greater
than before the war. This is partly due to the break-down of middle class
reluctance to be seen openly joining the street parades, and partly to the clique
situation. The middle class bands tend to represent social cliques in their
midst, and it does something to express group solidarity. Another factor
which accounts for the greater number of middle class bands is the
'emancipation' of women, which was one of the by-products of the war.
Women have benefited from this emancipation in two main ways. First, they
are able to enjoy greater social freedom, and they are less inclined to fear
the accusation of sexual promiscuity when they have been seen in male
company or enjoying the social diversions for so long the preserve of men.
Second, a greater variety of occupations are open to them, respectable and
not too badly paid. This bhas given them a certain degree of economic
independence and parading the streets in costumes with a band is a
significant response, for costumes have to be paid for.
The two remaining major changes over the pre-war situation are in the
matter of organised contests. In place of the Botanical Gardens stroll there
is a well-organised Children's Carnival held on the afternoon of Saturday
preceding Carnival. Children are entered singly or in groups for classified
competitions, and prizes are awarded to the winners. It is the junior version
of the adult band competitions which take place in front of the Grand Stand
on Queen's Park Savannah on Carnival Monday and Tuesday afternoons.
The middle class bands which compete in this event tend to build themselves
on a theme borrowed from history or legend. The total complement of the
bands are generally large in number, including several hundred people.
Much time and thought is devoted to research and the emphasis is on
characterisation and accuracy of costumes in matters of detail. The costumes
are well-designed, colour is harmonised and balanced to give the whole mass
a rich glow, and the leading characters are well-robed in ornate and beautiful
costumes. In competition for individual entries the middle class display little
interest and are conspicuous by their absence.
The other type of organised event is the Carnival Queen Contest. This
is organised by a local newspaper and is purely commercial in sponsorship.
The value and desirability of this event, held on the evening of Sunday before
Carnival, is a subject for heated debate by the middle class. Many object
to its mere existence, they feel that it does not belong to Carnival and has
no meaning in relation to the traditional festival. Still more object to the
election of any particular girl to the r6le of Queen. This latter objection is
interesting in that its points the feeling of the middle class with regard to
itself and its characteristics. It is felt that the winner should be representative
of Trinidad, and to the middle class this means someone representative of
the middle class. Most of the entrants are coloured girls, and popular middle
class verdict requires that a coloured girl be the winner. But satisfaction over
the result is invariably marred by some 'defect' which the girl is said to
possess. She is too dark, too fair, she is ill-educated or notoriously lacking
in academic brilliance, she has no talents, her accent is too broadly
Trinidadian, her family background is not of the best. These objections touch
on something fundamental in coloured middle class mentality. It might be
thought that, by an outsider, that a contest of this type could assist the
coloured person to develop a standard of appreciation for female beauty
which bore some relation to local reality, in place of the standard based on
European or Hollywood ideals. But so deep-rooted is the ideal of whiteness
that the only reaction is one of suspicion or disapproval. Each individual
likes to think of herself as lighter in colouring and more European in appear-
ance than she really is. There is no desire to feel lumped in with a group
referred to as coloured. The selection of a girl to typify coloured beauty
serves to draw attention to the social distinction between white and coloured,
and this touches a very sensitive area of the mind and emotions. The winning
girl is given a trip abroad as one of her prizes, and she will be very much
in the limelight on this trip. This, too, arouses basic coloured middle class
fears. They believe that her behaviour and manner on this trip should be
faultless, and that one false move, which might reveal lack of education or
sophistication, could result in their being damned and laughed at by the
outside world. In spite of these attitudes the Carnival Queen Contest has
become a major event in the Carnival programme. It has a certain amount
of novelty and over-all appeal for the middle class. A glance at the audience
packed into the Grand Stand reveals it to be almost one hundred per cent.
coloured. The lower class is very poorly represented in the audience. The
fact which gives it special respectability is that the expensive arena seats are
occupied by whites and wealthy coloured people.
Before the war the coloured middle class attitude to Carnival varied
from disapproval to ardent enthusiasm. It was enjoyed at the emotional level,
and there was a thrilling sense of excitement and daring. Today, there is
little disapproval. Carnival has attained the status of a tourist attraction,
steel bands and calypsonians have won much praise from overseas, and
many of the traditional, African, elements of Carnival has disappeared. All
has become 'cleaner' and much more respectable. The middle class are at
last inclined to take pride in something which is Trinidadian. In doing so
they are developing a sense of nationality, or rather, expressing the emer-
gence of this sense. But behind this new attitude there still lurks the old
attitude to national unity. White is still the colour to respect and bow to,
black is still the colour to despise. The coloured people have not yet grasped
the fact that it is the craftsmanship, artistry, and inventiveness of the lower
class which has given Carnival its wider appeal as a special attraction of
Carnival has lost much of its old appeal as a means to excitement, and
it is rapidly becoming little more than a 'grand spree', when most people
can dress in any old thing or don their beach-party clothes. It offers a very
pleasant opportunity to take time off from work in office and shop. The
middle class is becoming distinctly more sophisticated, and emotional excite-
ment is less of a novelty and gives less of a thrill than it did before the
war. Intellectual excitement is growing in demand. The middle class sees little
in Carnival to stimulate the intellect and an attitude of boredom is setting
in. Even the women, who had so much to gain from Carnival in the way
of short-lived freedom at one time, bemoan the boredom of Carnival. The
life of the coloured woman, despite her 'emancipation', is still narrow and
filled with restrictions, but there is much more freedom for her than hitherto.
Her attitude towards Carnival is merely an index of her stirring desire for
new fields for self-expression. This then, typifies the current attitude of the
coloured middle class towards Carnival. Broadly, it is fun but the thrill soon
wears thin and boredom mounts. The war and all the developments which
have taken place in Trinidad over the last fifteen years have assisted in
vastly broadening the outlook and extending the needs of the middle
class. There has not been anything like so great a development in the
form or variety of leisure-time outlets. The new attitude towards Carnival
is but one expression of a felt need for improved opportunity for self-
expression. The negative character is showing faint signs of asserting itself
and seeking positive qualities.
Carnival in New Orleans
MUNRo S. EDMONSON
ON a broad scale of intercultural comparison the United States is often
described as relatively lacking in ritual. The picture is painted of a sprawling,
urban, materialistic society in which mobility and rapid change prevent the
development of "folk" traditions and rapidly eliminate such traditions
brought in by immigrants from other cultures. The relativity of this comparison
is apt to be forgotten in the development of explanations of this difference
between the United States and other more traditionalistic countries, and it is
accordingly appropriate to make the equally valid observation that American
life is punctuated by ritual at innumerable points.
Even aside from the elaboration of ritual in the specifically religious life
of the United States, we may recall the ceremonial activity of the fraternal
orders, the widespread celebration of patriotic holidays, the family observance
of birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and other
occasions, the solemnities of school graduations, beccalaureates and
commencements, office parties, testimonial dinners, award banquets, official
receptions, ship launching, inaugurations, housewarmings, corner stone
layings, fairs, pageants, such occasions as Hallowe'en, Arbor Day, Labor Day,
Mother's Day and so on and on-all of which create a composite picture
of an almost frenetic ceremonial life. The social groups participating in these
various activities and to which the ceremonial expression refers are as varied
as the ceremonies themselves. Some rituals are sectarian; others, familial,
and yet others are expressions of the solidarity of the school, the party, the
club, the state, the nation, or the community. Many of the American rituals
reflect several of these social groupings at once.
It is striking that among the ritual activities that might be described
as "community" events, there appear to be relatively few that engage the
participation of even a considerable fraction of the population of the
community. In one very useful compendium of American community
celebrations,* the vast majority of the ceremonials inaugurated before 1929,
are described as specialized events (flower shows, music festivals, or sports
competitions). A minority of these older festivals are the "fairs" of the states,
counties and regions, organized in a pattern largely derived from England.
Beginning in 1930, however, there has been a burgeoning growth of
community celebrations, especially in the towns and smaller cities of the
country. Most of these festivals are set apart from the fairs of earlier times
by their emphasis on tradition and commemoration rather than trade,
production and exchange. It is striking that a large proportion of them have
an element of literal nativism-the glorification of a romanticized Spanish,
French, Indian, Frontier, Colonial or European peasant past. The contrast
*Meyer, Robert, Jr., Festivals, U.S.A., New York, 1950.
is sufficiently marked to suggest that the growth of community ritual in the
United States may be a part of the reaction of small American cities to the
frustrations and anxieties produced by the Depression of 1929-1933.
Among community rituals New Orleans' Carnival is unique. With the
possible exception of the Mummers' Parade in Philadelphia it is the oldest
of the big city ceremonials;* it appears to engage a broader participation
than any ritual in a comparably sized city, and it seems to have been the
American point of origin of many of the ritual customs that have found
their way into the social life of other cities in the United States in recent
years. Illustrative of the distinctiveness of Mardi Gras time in New Orleans
is the contrast it makes with the outstanding celebrations of other large
cities: t New York's Easter Parade, Los Angeles' (Pasadena's) Tourna-
ment of Roses, Boston's Patriot's Day, St. Louis' Veiled Prophet's Ball,
Washington's Cherry Blossom Festival, St. Paul's Winter Carnival, Cleve-
land's Air Races, or Portland's Festival of Roses. The state fair remains
the outstanding event in Detroit, Milwaukee, and Providence, as in many
smaller cities, and several of the largest cities in the country (Buffalo,
Baltimore, Cincinnati, Seattle, Houston, and San Francisco) have no real
In New Orleans the Carnival celebration is protean and all embracing.
It is not only the annual focus of activity of a large number of New Orleanians
and visitors; it is also a social issue. It not only expresses the society of
New Orleans and integrates the city's life into one large ceremonial, but also
reflects faithfully its complex society and social differentiation. From an
examination of the organization of the Mardi Gras festivities, therefore, we
may infer a great deal about New Orleans' view of itself as a city and about
the attitudes and values of various groups of its people.
The Carnival season begins in New Orleans in the last week of
December and ends officially at midnight on Mardi Gras. Since Mardi Gras
may fall any time between 3rd February and 19th March the season may
last from about five to twelve weeks. The programme of activities during
these weeks may be divided into three general phases, of increasing tempo
and participation. During the first phase, the Carnival celebrations take the
form of balls, dances and parties by carnival clubs, schools, and other
organizations. After about 27th December there is one of these celebrations
every night except Sunday, and on most nights there are three or four.
Beginning about two weeks before Mardi Gras, the second phase of Carnival
is marked by the addition of street parades. The balls and parties continue
at an increasing pace. There are more than fifteen big street parades, and
at least that many more minor and local ones are staged by schools and
other groups. The final and climactic phase of Carnival is Mardi Gras, when
parades, parties and balls are accompanied by general street masking and
the participation of a large number of unorganized or loosely organized
groups of makers.
*The traditional dating of the inauguration of modern New Orleans' Carnival
is from the founding of the Krewe of Comus in 1859.
tThe cities named are all those whose 1950 metropolitan populations exceeded
that of New Orleans.
The Carnival Balls constitute the most distinctive feature of the first
phase of Carnival. Over eighty of these are held to be "official", almost
all of them being held at the Municipal Auditorium. Those participating are
the members of the carnival organizations called krewes, their dancing
partners, the ruling king and queen and their court, the guests invited to
witness the spectacle, and the musicians, stage manager and other technical
and professional assistants. The balls are organized by members of the white
upper and middle classes. Traditionally the ball begins at nine o'clock with
a tableau, a dramatic performance with music but without words by amateur
or professional performers. The elaborately decorated stage and the perform-
ance of the tableau set the theme of the ball, drawn usually from fantasy
or folklore. The end of the tableau usually coincides with the appearance
of the king. Customarily, the tableau is followed by the entrance of the queen
and her court, although sometimes the queen's entrance precedes the tableau.
(In the upper class, the queen and maids are expected to be formal
debutantes, although this is not always the case.) Often there is a brief
presentation of the reigning queen of the year before, which may precede
the tableau or be part of the court ritual. Formal presentation of important
guests is also customary. The queen is welcomed by the king, and is accom-
panied by her maids, who are met and escorted by dukes for the grand
march. Following the grand march there is a formal programme of ballroom
dances in which the makers (members of the krewe) "call out" their
unmasked guests as dancing partners, presenting each one with a krewe
favour at the end of the dance. A floor committee of men in full dress is
charged with responsibility for locating the dancing partners among the crowd
of invited guests. A reception committee, similarly attired has the honour of
escorting the queen and her court into the hall. The administration and
organisation of the krewe and the direction of the tableau and the dances
is in the hands of the captain of the ball, who is assisted by a number of
lieutenants.* Broadly, the Carnival Balls are phenomena of the white upper
and upper middle class, although the recent history of Carnival in
New Orleans indicates clearly the gradual extension of participation through
the society. Equally important in assessing the position of the krewes and
their balls is the fact that they furnish the pattern for Carnival celebrations
throughout the city, indeed, to some degree, throughout the nation.
Primarily, the krewe type of organisation and the formal ball are adult
celebrations, but the pattern of the festivities is a model for a large variety
of parties, dances, pageants and balls for children. A few of these
are formally organized krewes. Formal balls of a "krewe" type are also
*Arthur B. LaCour's New Orleans Masquerade (New Orleans, 1952) is an
invaluable summary of the more highly structured Carnival celebration of the white
upper and upper middle classes-the krewes and the marching clubs. Robert Tallant's
Mardi Gras (Garden City, 1948) is a broader treatment, including a description of the
Negro loweYr class tribes and gangs. There are no published accounts of the school
carnival celebrations nor of the Negro upper and middle class carnival clubs. The New
Orleans Item, Times-Picayune, States and Louisiana Weekly publish valuable materials
that help to complete the picture.
held in the Municipal Auditorium by several local dancing schools. Most of
the children's Carnival parties, however, are functions of the public and
private schools of the city. There is some measure of class structuring to
these affairs, the children's krewes being upper class and the dancing schools
upper or upper middle. The school parties fairly well blanket the class
spectrum. Similar school pageants and local parades are held at both white
and Negro schools throughout the city.
During the period of children's festivals and adult Carnival Balls of the
schools and krewes in White society, the New Orleans Negroes of the upper
and middle classes stage a series of formal dances and parties. These are
organized by carnival clubs differing in organization from the white krewes.
The clubs, for example, commonly have such officials as a president, vice-
president, recording secretary, treasurer, reporter, financial secretary, business
manager, and chaplain. Remarkably, there is no king. In some clubs there is
also a captain of the ball, although his place may be taken by a master of
ceremonies (who may be an officer of the club). As in the white krewes of the
upper class, the upper class Negro clubs insist on formality, and restrict their
choice of queens and maids to debutantes or other girls of validated social posi-
tion. Some of the Negro Carnival Clubs hold masked balls; often the members
simply appear ini formal dress. It is striking that in borrowing the pattern of
mock royalty from the upper class white Carnival, the Negro clubs have not
institutionalized the male dominance implied by a king and his dukes.
The second phase of New Orleans' Carnival is marked by the appearance
of elaborate street parades, beginning about two weeks before Mardi Gras
and continuing almost daily to the climax of the ceremonial. Sometimes as
many as four or five fifteen-float parades wind through the city in a single
day, and there is commonly a parade each afternoon or evening during the
last week before Lent. These street parades are mainly a function of a few
of the white krewes. Some of them bear old proud names in Carnival history
(Momus, founded in 1872, and Proteus, 1882); others are identified with
particular regions within the city (Mid-City, Choctaw, Thoth, Midas, Freret,
Grela, Carrollton). Some (like Adonis, Orion and Venus) are women's
krewes, others are business men's organizations (Okeanos, Babylon, Hermes).
All of them parade in the same general regal style, the masked krewe members
riding high on the ornate floats throwing trinkets to a roaring crowd.
But the participation in the Carnival parades is not restricted to the
members of the krewes. High school bands drawn from local schools and
from many towns of southern Louisiana, Mississippi or even distant states
parade proudly with the krewes. The City of New Orleans decorates the
parade routes with Carnival banners (of purple, green and gold) and enormous
masks. Each parade is given an escort of city and state police, and is
accompanied by technicians to keep the parade moving. (The floats, formerly
mule-drawn, are now drawn through the streets by tractors.) Customarily
the dukes accompany the parade on horseback. The night parades necessitate
a large number of Negro flambeaux bearers, who cakewalk down the street
in white hoods, bearing the flares that light the way. Thus a private club
takes its place in the much larger circle of a civic ritual.
The tempo of the Carnival celebration and the extension of participation
in it come to a climax on the day before Ash Wednesday. The program
of activities is extensive and colourful, and involves an estimated half a
million people, including a considerable proportion of out-of-town visitors.
All social classes participate. The day begins with the street parade of the
Zulu Aid and Pleasure Club, a lower class Negro carnival club using a mock
African motif to parody the mock royalty of the white krewes and the
pretensions of society generally. King Zulu and his queen ride their
elaborately seedy floats, toasting the passers-by in beer and handing out
coconuts to the crowd. They are accompanied by a jazz band and a number
of Negro makers of the lower class, strutting, "walking raddy" and "shaking
on down" as the parade winds through the back streets all day long.
There is general street masking, and a long-standing tradition is
maintained by neighborhood bands of lower and lower middle class Negro
"Indians", usually marching together in "tribes" chanting distinctive
"tribal" songs strongly reminiscent of calypso. There are some 24 tribes of
Indians including such groups as the Creole Wild Wests, Little Red, White
and Blues, Yellow Poker Hunters, Black Mohawks, Eighth Ward Hunters,
Wild Squatoulas and Gerounemores. It appears that formerly the tribes
engaged in neighbourhood fights at Carnival similar to the stick fighting of
Carnival in Trinidad, but this has not been true for more than a generation
in New Orleans. Parallel to the Indian tribes are the Gold Diggers and Baby
Dolls (and possibly some others), rival gangs of prostitutes of the Negro lower
class from different neighborhoods.
Negroes of the middle and upper classes participate in traditional Mardi
Gras parties (the Gaylords' breakfast dance, the Your Friends mid-day
dance, the Jug Buddies' afternoon party, for example, join the spectators at
the parades or celebrate by masking.
St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street, the focus of Carnival, becomes
crowded with makers and spectators early on Carnival Day. Old homes on
the Avenue many of them draped with the royal flags of the past kings
of Carnival, are crowded with upper class spectators, while the stands built
along the parade routes fill with patrons of the middle class. Most children
and many adults appear elaborately costumed and masked, and wander
around the main streets looking at one another. An uneven procession of
(primarily middle class) marching clubs, many of them with small bands of
musicians and a common costume theme, parade past City Hall and join
At around ten in the morning the parade of the upper class Krewe of
Rex begins its long trek from uptown down to the centre of Carnival, pausing
at City Hall to exchange toasts with the mayor of the city and at the Boston
Club on Canal Street where the King of Carnival (i.e., of the Krewe of Rex)
toasts his Queen.
Following the Krewe of Rex down to Canal Street are the middle class
Krewes of Orleanians and Crescent City, parades of decorated trucks manned
by volunteer makers mainly of high school and college age. As many
as 150 of these trucks may eventually reach Canal Street, each with its
theme elaborated in costuming and decorations. The parading which begins
with Zulu and the marching clubs thus continues virtually all day-the trucks
continue to arrive downtown until about four o'clock. During all this time
the elaborate costumes of the street makers vie with the parades for attention,
and the downtown bars and restaurants do a land-office business. The French
Quarter becomes more and more the centre of this less formal part of the
festivities as the day wears on, and the licence of costume and of behaviour
reaches its peak there. The Bohemian set and female impersonators are a
distinctive feature of Carnival in the Quarter.
Usually the great crowds of noon-time have dissipated by sundown into
private and semi-private parties in the bars, restaurants, hotels and homes
of the city, but by 7.30 a large number of people are again on hand to
witness the night parade of the Krewe of Comus. At about 9.00 or 9.30 the
balls of the Krewes of Comus and Rex are underway at the Municipal
Auditorium, and at about 11.00 the King and Queen of Rex leave their ball
to join the King and Queen of Comus in a symbolic gesture regarded by
many as the heart of Mardi Gras. Since the Krewe of Comus is generally
considered to be the elite krewe, while Rex, though formally monarch of the
whole Carnival, represents a somewhat less exclusive and more public set
of values, we may agree with Saxon* that a critical aspect of the whole of
Carnival is contained in the formula that when the courts meet Rex visits
Mardi Gras ends at midnight. Most of the spectators have retired long
before that. Private parties sometimes continue into the early morning, but
by the formal beginning of Lent the city is supposed to be unmasked and
the ceremonial is considered as ended. Carnival motifs continue to be used
at parties through the spring season, and a few maverick carnival dances
may be held, but these are exceptions and not comme il faut.
With regard to the participation of the people of New Orleans in
Carnival activities, it is useful to differentiate between the "public" and
"private" aspects of the celebration, separating activities open to the public
(the parades and street-masking) from those limited to private associations
and their guests (including the krewes, carnival clubs, schools, and similar
groups). In each of these areas we may then distinguish three degrees of
intensity of involvement in the celebration. People may attend the parades
and balls as spectators, as guests or street makers, or as members of the
krewes, clubs or parades. The following table presents estimates of
the numbers of people involved in Carnival in these various capacities.
*Lyle Saxon, Fabulous New Orleans, New York, 1928.
PARTICIPATION IN CARNIVAL IN NEW ORLEANS
Children Negro White Sub- Per
(under Adults Adults total Visitors Total cent.
PUBLIC CARNIVAL PARTICIPATION
Paraders 7,000 700 1,600 9,500 6,000 15,500 2
Makers 19,000 5,400 20,400 44,800 (?) 44,800 6
Spectators 168,000 70,000 149,000 387,000 100,000 487,000 69
PRIVATE CARNIVAL PARTICIPATION
Members 72,000 2,600 5,600 80,200 80,200 11
Guests 6,300 11,000 17,300 (7) 17,300 2
Spectators 120,000 120,000 42,000 162,000 23
Population 198,000 132,000 270,000 600,000 100,600 700,000 100
For many, possibly even for most New Orleanians, Mardi Gras is a
children's festival. Many people attend the Carnival parades (or say they
do) primarily or exclusively because their children want to go. The table
of estimates would indicate that the participation of children in Carnival is
proportionally much greater than that of adults. The participation of Negroes
in Carnival would seem to be (again proportionally) only slightly less than
that of white adults, though both for Negro children and for Negro adults
the celebration is largely separate from the white festivities in the "private"
sphere. There is a lingering aura of violence to the excitement of the great
crowds at Mardi Gras, and many Negroes, especially among the lower class,
are afraid of it. Nonetheless, it seems likely that over half of the adult
Negroes in the city attend at least one of the parades.
The figure for adult white spectators at the Carnival balls may be high.
It was estimated on the basis of one-half of the auditorium capacity, to
eliminate the relatively insignificant factor of unfilled seats and the more
important one of duplication. There are stringent attempts to limit ball
attendance to the upper or upper middle class people, and it is likely that these
are more or less successful, though it seems probable too, that some upper
lower class New Orleanians have attended some of the "lesser" or "newer"
balls, as local idiom has it. The "upper class" krewes have a "gentlemen's
agreement" ban on Jewish and Italian guests, and are also very careful to pre-
serve their class exclusiveness. It is possible that as few as 15,000 attend these
14 balls each year, and that they are almost entirely upper or upper middle
class. In general, of course, the "call out" invitation lists are more carefully
screened, and the number of "guests" in this category is accordingly more
restricted. The estimate of the number of "moddy graws" or street makers
may be taken as a maximum. It is based on a proportional count in the
downtown area on Mardi Gras. Masking is, of course, less common in bther
sections of the city. As is indicated in the table, it is impossible at this time
to estimate the proportion of "call out" guests at the balls or the proportion
of street makers who are out-of-town visitors.
New Orleans' present population (1954) is estimated at close to 600,000.
During Carnival it probably approximates 700,000. It appears that well
over half of these (69 per cent. in our estimates) participate in Carnival at
least as spectators at the parades, and almost a quarter (23 per cent.) may
attend Carnival balls. This degree of participation in a big city ritual appears
to be most unusual in the United States.
There can be little doubt that the main ideological content of Carnival
is aristocratic. The gorgeously clothed krewe makers ride their gaudy floats
high above the profanum vulgus, carelessly and capriciously distributing their
dime store largesse in response to cries of "Throw me something, Mister,"
from children and adults in the street below them. The carefully French style
of masks, strongly reminiscent of the Marquis in Tale of Two Cities, adds to
the illusion of arrogance and elegance. Nor is the aristocratic motif of mock
royalty restricted to the parades; there is a very real and self-conscious
ideology of exclusiveness to the membership of the krewes, and the court
ceremonial at the balls is taken very seriously. Nowhere more than in Carnival
is the traditional prestige dominance of the Anglo-French upper class in
New Orleans so clearly expressed.
Carnival expresses, too, New Orleans' view of itself as a "Latin" city,
meaning by this not that it is still French, but that it is gay, wicked,
sophisticated, and subtly lascivious-all that the Anglo-American understands
by the term "Latin." Although the formal religious element is no longer of
more than very minor importance in Carnival, the ideology of the celebration
is far more congenial to Latin Catholic than to Anglo-Protestant culture.*
The drinking of champagne toasts as a formal part of the Carnival ritual,
for example, brings about a sharp contrast between the behaviour of even
the Baptists queens and kings and the complete ban on drinking by both
the Baptist and Methodist denominations (the two most numerous Protestant
groups in the city). The institutionalized licence of Mardi Gras, with elements
of wholesale inebriation, transvestism, and even sexual licence, would be
impossible in a truly puritanical milieu. It is interesting that although the
trappings of Carnival royalty are mainly designed on a European model of
the late Middle Ages, the "official myth" about Rex, the King of Carnival,
implies that he spends the time between visits to the city somewhere in the
Middle East. To say that Carnival is "Latin" implies that it is exotic, and
the impression is heightened by referring it to times long gone and places
far distant. And if Spanish and French colonial times are too close to be
romantic, there is always Arabia. New Orleans prides itself on being wicked,
and it is likely that many tourist visitors go away convinced.
In considerable part, however, the French and Spanish tradition is
romantic enough, and Carnival glorifies and romanticizes the genuinely
colourful history of New Orleans to a very high degree. There is no doubt
some revivalistic nativism in this, and it seems to be widely understood in
the city that Carnival royalty expresses symbolically what New Orleans used
to be. The menial role of the Negro flambeaux bearers, and the burlesque
*A majority of New Orleans' church-goers are Catholic; although the figures are
disputed, it appears that Catholics are very close to being in the absolute
majority in the population. The largest Protestant sects are the Baptist,
Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran, in that order.
of Africa presented by the Zulus may be interpreted as reflecting the old
plantation society. The planters (or their descendants-sometimes literally)
are the men on horseback and on floats. There is, in any event, a strong
traditionalism to Mardi Gras, and there are many people who deplore its
popularization and vulgarization. The very fact that so large a segment of
the population participates in Mardi Gras gives testimony, however, to the
continued appeal of New Orleans' traditions to some people in all social
classes. Apparently the glamor of the Old South, and of Creole times
retains sufficient lustre that people are still eager to retain some identification
with it, at least in fantasy.
It has been mentioned that throughout New Orleans Carnival is a social
issue. A large minority of the population pointedly leaves the city for the
season, and many people (for a variety of reasons) do not attend even the
public parts of the festival. Some people regard the celebration as a colossal
waste of time and money that might be better spent on civic improvements;
some feel (with very little justification in the fact) that the whole thing is
a publicity stunt. Some people resent the ethnic and class exclusiveness of
its structure; others (particularly in the upper class) are equally resentful of
the pressure brought to bear on them to participate. The anti-semitism and
anti-Italian feelings of contemporary Carnival parallel the anti-Irish feelings
of former times. Negro-White conflict is a subdued but threatening back-
ground rumble. (In former times Negroes were forbidden to mask; in current
celebrations the Negro press complains of unnecessary arrests of Negro
"troublemakers.") The preceding brief description of the Carnival will suffice
to make it clear that invidious class comparisons are pointed up by Mardi
Gras. It is not to be wondered at that class feelings might lead to conflict
at this time. Thus in the 1953 Carnival season there was considerable local
tension over the actual violence of teen-aged gangs of "cat" and "frat"
boys, crudely identifiable with the lower and upper classes, respectively.
Middle class (and other) boys who refused to take sides in this clash were
labelled "squares" There is apparently some tendency for the tensions
brought out in Carnival to appear even within the family as a source of
annoyance between husbands and wives. Many people, at least, interpret the
survival of balls and the "callout" system as largely due to the enjoy-
ment of them by the ladies, and there is a tendency for men to attend
unwillingly-especially if, as often happens, they are to sit in the balcony to
watch their wives dancing with a masker friend below. The formal debutante
system is intimately linked, in the upper class, to the Carnival balls, and
some people feel resentment at the necessity for a rather considerable outlay
of money in Carnival expenses in order to validate their daughters' claims
to status. There are no doubt some visitors and many natives who are simply
bored or apathetic about Carnival, a reaction that is perhaps to be expected
to a ritual which properly demands participation rather than mere spectator-
As a result of these and other frustrations, there is a considerable feeling
in New Orleans that Carnival is undesirable or unnecessary. The develop-
ment of this feeling is probably one of the best indices of the importance
of the festival in New Orleans life. It should be noted that there is little
cohesion to the "anti-Carnival" viewpoint it is rather a series of objections
and complaints about unrelated aspects of the celebration. This is doubtless
inevitable in a complex society, and is the clue to the differentiation of
New Orleans society into a number of segments, each of which has its own
unique position in the general society, and consequently in Carnival. Friction
between such segments, and between individuals of each and the demands
made on him by his group, are inevitable. It is perhaps remarkable that
they have resulted in only minority disaffection.
For the upper class Rex is Carnival. The leading krewes are felt to be
performing a civic duty in furnishing a spectacle to the people of the city,
carrying on the traditions of historic New Orleans, and providing, at great
personal cost, a season of fun and merry-making to everyone. Care is taken
to route the parades past available hospitals, to choose an eligible orphan
to present the keys of the city to Rex, to arrange ringside seats for the elderly
people of the Golden Age Club. The ideology of community service is
coupled with the ideology of secrecy and class exclusiveness in the very
organisation of the Krewe of Rex, which is reported to have an "inner
circle" of membership more or less coterminous with the membership of the
Boston Club, an exclusive social club of the city, and a less exclusive "outer
circle" of membership drawn from among the business and professional
leaders of the community. The King of Carnival is traditionally a member
of the Boston Club, and his queen is the daughter of a member. Nonetheless,
the krewe has a function as the leading official organization in the whole
Carnival celebration, and this necessitates a less "exclusive" m rnbership
than that of Comus, for example. Symbolically, therefore, the fact that on
Mardi Gras Rex visits Comus may be taken to mean that the monarch of
the city-wide Carnival privately acknowledges the supremacy of the aristo-
cratic upper class.
Rex is Carnival to the upper class in another sense as well. When it
becomes necessary to cancel the Carnival celebration, as is formally done
in time of wir, the fact that the Krewe of Rex does not parade signalizes
that for the upper class "no Carnival was held" during that year. Ordinarily
the other upper class krewes will also cancel their parades and balls. In 1952,
due to the outbreak of the Korean War (and certain more local difficulties),
Rex did not appear. A more commercially minded group put together a
Krewe of Patria with a soldier-king; most of the upper middle class krewes
held their balls on schedule, and Carnival went on without a number of the
upper class krewes. Officially, however, "Carnival was not held" because
Rex was absent.
It is the upper class point of view that provides the dominant aristocratic
note in Carnival, and while Rex is of paramount importance, publicly,
privately all eyes in the upper class focus on Comus. Even a casual observer
can scarcely avoid the conclusion that the ball of the Mystic Krewe of Comus
is the top social event of the year in New Orleans-and it is no accident
that it is the last official event of a crowded Mardi Gras. For those who
know New Orleans society there are other krewes which share with Comus
its pinnacle of prestige, but Comus is generally taken to symbolize the social
leadership of the established upper class. The brevity and obscurity of the
tableaux of the upper class balls, the rigorous secrecy of membership and
choice of monarchs, and the arcane classicism of their themes reinforce the
impression of elegance and exclusiveness to which these balls are dedicated.
What the society leaders call the "commercial" stratum of society might
be translated as the lower upper and upper middle class. For this group,
broadly speaking, aristocratic exclusiveness is less important than conspicuous
consumption. The street parades of some of these krewes and the tableaux of
their balls are often far more spectacular than those of the higher prestige
krewes, a fact which fits with the usual relationship between upper upper
and lower upper classes in American communities. The ideology of community
service is probably just as strong as in the upper class krewes, and associations
of individuals of this class sponsor the popular truck parades on Mardi Gras,
special viewing stands for orphans, and similar worthy causes. They are
lavish in their provision of carnival "throws" for their parades. They cling
to the appearance of exclusiveness, secrecy and ton, but a basically demo-
cratic ideology shows through almost despite them. Ethnic discrimination,
for example, is not characteristic of this level of society.
There is little truly "commercial" feeling to Carnival. A few companies
have tried advertising by Carnival give-aways or by street makers, but the
street parades are devoid of advertising. It is true that Carnival visitors bring
into the city a trade estimated in the millions of dollars, but the hotel, restaurant
and entertainment operators in the city need do little to ensure a maximum
custom during the later period of Carnival. The city spends a considerable
sum for Carnival decorations, and New Orleans' Mardi Gras is widely
advertised, but these are relatively minor aspects of the whole celebration.
In a subtler way it appears to be true that it is "good business" for many
men to belong to Carnival krewes. They make important social contacts
through them, are enabled to give visiting business acquaintances a real treat
during Carnival visits, and often feel that they cannot afford not to join in. A
great many doctors in the city find it useful to belong to the krewes for these
and other reasons. To some extent these reasons for participation are true
of both the upper and the middle classes. While the term "commercial"
may, therefore, describe the occupational area from which the middle class
krewes draw membership, it does not describe their ideology.
For the bulk of New Orleans white society, involvement in Carnival
is more casual and diffuse. Its ideology is accordingly less structured. Many
appear to feel that "a good time" is all that is involved. Probably most
identify Carnival as primarily a children's festival and secondarily as a
spectacle. The identification of New Orleans as "The City that Care Forgot"
is probably as important to the lower and middle classes as the cool aris-
tocracy and a genteel Latin wickedness are to the patricians. Large numbers
of people participate in Carnival only as spectators or street makers, and
a considerable proportion of these are from the lower middle and lower
Organizationally and ideologically the middle and lower class emphasis
in Carnival may be characterized as democratic and egalitarian. The private
carnival clubs of this social stratum represent neighborhoods or regions
within the city rather than occupational groups or prestige groups drawn
from the city at large. Proportionally, too, there are fewer of them, and the
bulkl of the Carnival celebration is organized through existing clubs and
associations-political groups, school associations, fraternal orders, and the
like. There are even some balls thrown open to the public through the sale
of tickets. The queens and kings may be elected rather than "selected"
There is less of both formalism and formality. Everybody, it is implied, has
a right to a good time at Carnival.
Nowhere in Carnival is the traditional licence of the occasion taken so
literally or exercised so freely as in the Bohemian fringe. This loosely
organized segment of the society involving artists, musicians, men about
town, a few professionals, some college students and the comfortably
unemployed, exists in a classless limbo with relatively free access to all
classes. Its members may attend balls, or even join krewes, but its distinctive
contribution to Mardi Gras comes in street masking. Costumes are often
designed with the elaborate care typical of a Beaux Arts ball. There is a
high incidence of cross-sex masquerading, and numerous portrayals of the
fairies or Greek gods symbolizing the "gay" world of homosexuality.
Defiant and contemptuous of the norms of the rest of society, New Orleans'
Bohemia, largely identifiable with the French Quarter, uses Mardi Gras to
dramatize its protest, and to enjoy itself with insistent unconventionality.
The lower class Negroes present their view of Carnival in subtle and
ironic form through the Zulu -parade, and more directly and superficially
through the tribes of Indians, the gangs of Baby Dolls, Gold Diggers and
Zigaboos, and the flambeaux bearers for the night parades. Ostensibly, the
Zulus are granted the amused tolerance by white society for their burlesque
of primitive Africa because it presents the Negro" in a light more or less
consonant with the white social myth as a primitive child of nature, fun
loving, musical, and not too bright. Actually, the Zulu parade is subtler
than this. It has sometimes engaged in rather pointed satire (handing out
jars of hair straightener as "throws" for example), glorifies Negroes who
have "made good," (Jackie Robinson was invited to ride on a float one
year though he didn't arrive; Louis Armstrong has been King of Zulu),
and attracts enthusiastic attention of crowds of whites and Negroes alike.
By some process of economic scarcity or reverse snobbism a Zulu coconut
is more prized than more conventional throws in many circles.
It is probably no accident that the lower class Negroes should
memorialize the Indians. As a result of the Spanish practice of enslaving
captured hostile Indians, a considerable number of Louisiana's Indians found
their way into slavery, and many more inter-married with Negroes to become
gradually assimilated to Negro status. There have been a few "Indian"
masqueraders in recent years who have claimed actual Indian descent. The
Indian "tribes" no doubt mainly reflect the neighbourhood gangs long
characteristic of New Orleans Negro society. The Baby Dolls and Gold
Diggers appear to reflect the feminine segment of the same lower class stratum.
These proceedings might be expected to outrage the sensibilities of the
upper and middle class Negroes, and so they do. In a society where
respectability is hard won and easily lost, and where self-respect is under
constant assault, the "better class" of Negroes cling rigidly to "standards"
in Carnival as in life. The carnival clubs reflect a democratic matriarchy to
Negro upper and middle class life. The officials are those common to
American "committees"- there is no king but ubiquitous queens. In the
middle class a large proportion of the clubs are women's organizations (as
is true in white society), or men and women's. In the upper class (again
as in white society) they are men's clubs. There are attempts to limit the
participation in the Carnival balls and dances, but these are less stringent
than in white society. The carnival clubs re-affirm the basic ideology of
gaiety and Latin charm of the whole carnival, but within limits imposed by
a rather sedate formality.
As would be expected in a large and complex city, New Orleans' Carnival
is a complex ritual. Both ideologically and organizationally it expresses a
unity in diversity that is far more difficult to comprehend through contempla-
tion than at a glance. It stands in an intermediate position between the
community rituals of other American communities (many of which it has
fathered) and the Carnival celebrations of the Latin Catholic world. It
contains elements of the French, Spanish and Southern traditions, but in
another sense is firmly geared to the contemporary world. Its structure is
the structure of the city itself; its history is largely the city's history. We
have seen that it is not quite true that Carnival is New Orleans, but it reflects
faithfully the self-image of a society that has attained a degree of ceremonial
integration unique among American communities.
Caribbean Theme: A Calypso
E. L. BRATHWAITE
The stone had skidded, arc'd, and bloomed into islands
Cuba and San Domingo
Jamaica and Puerto Rico
Grenada, Guadaloupe and St. Kitts
Nevis, Barbados and Bonaire.
Speed of the curving stone hissed into coral reefs
White splash flashed into spray
Wave teeth fanged into clay
Bathsheba, Montego Bay.
Bloom of the arcing summers
Flamboyant flamingo flower
Tamarind tear tree
Green in the arcing summer.
In Dominique the last of the Caribs died
Last of the sick civilians of a sunken civilization.
Died with his faith to the sunset
And his faith was gold to the last
Died near the beaches, where the coconuts gossip and nod
Beyond the speeches of the evening tide.
The islands roared into green plantations
Ruled with silver sugarcane
Sweat and profit
Islands ruled by sugarcane.
Of course it was a wonderful time
A profitable, hospitable, well-worth-your-time
When captains carried receipts for rices
Letters, spices, wigs
Opera-glasses, swaggering asses
Debtors, vices, pigs.
O it was a wonderful time
An elegant, benevolent, redolent time
(And young Mrs. P's quick irrelevant crime
At four o'clock in the morning.)
For the others there was no tradition
They had lost the memory
By hours in the tom-tom sun
By the hot gutter of the lash that overflowed their backs
By the scorched hope of parents
Mourning names of children stifled among chains
When they had come to islands
Where the sick sea sucked the sand.
Islands arc'd in the sun
Mansions floodlit with fun
The waltz, the billiard table
And the cards.
Slave girls curved to the sun
Young landlords lusting fun
The beach, the stable
And the yards.
That's how the brown-skins came
You see her there
Mixed in her eyes the rain and cane
One smile the sun, one sun the snow
(There will be fools, mulatto.)
But what of black Sam
Of the big splayed toes
And the shoe-black shiney skin?
He carries bucket-fulls of water
'Cause his Ma's had another daughter
And what of John with the European name
Who went to school and dreamt of fame
His boss one day called him a fool
And the boss hadn't even been to school.
Steel drum steel drum
This is not my way of dancing
Hot rum hot rum
This is not my bacchanalling.
My shoot is sweet and slender
Like the crop-time cane
I love my skin, yet fain would have it peeled
In this hot field of prejudice
I fain would have the knife
Search out the rain within me
Would love the pain of being sucked
By strong white death.
I grow towards the sky, between the winds
Ripe as a pregnant girl
Hurting to feel the bright breath of the blade
Rip through me, through this green shade
Juicing towards the whistling steel's release
When I can streak towards the tom-tom sun
The flames of the sunset dance.
Where is your culture Jamaica
Haiti and San Domingo
Where is yourself Aruba
Cuba St. Kitts Barbuda
Some people doing well
While others are catching hell
0 the boss called our Johnny a fool
And the boss hadn't even been to school.
Many migrate, fare far to miles of tubes and tramcars
To dig imagination and to find their roots
But all they get is tea-eyed stares
And double-breasted suits.
Once when we went to Switzerland, a rich old lady asked
Have you no language of your own
No way of doing things
Did you spend all those holidays
At England's apron strings?
And coming down to Bellevueplatz
A bow-legged workman
Said, I don't know why, but surely that's
A negre en Switzerland.
Our colour beats a restless drum, but only the bitter come.
Perhaps we should have gone to the lectures after all
To negotiate our heritage
That we glance the banjo, dance the calypso
Grow our crops by maljo
Have loose morals, gather corals
Father our neighbours' quarrels.
Perhaps when they will come with their cameras and straw hats
We should go down to the beaches
And assume a vulgar stance
Then if we don't wear breeches
It becomes an island dance
Perhaps we should go to the lectures
Where the cars drive up at night
And John turns up upon the seat
Of a Raleigh bicycle complete.
I too have journeyed to the Serpentine
Where shine the white-winged doves
Autumn was adolescent, and walked the town's streets
Sleepy, lulled to dreams by bells.
But in the Tudor building
Lights smile on slight hypocrisy;
How I collected carbon-copy smiles
From the just-over-middle-aged
Anxious to 'place' me, to make me 'feel at home';
Smiled to hear Akibo quizzed until he knew the answers;
And when the tea-pots curved correctly,
Near me, like Icarus,
Watched them make notes of names
Invite battalions of us out to tea.
If I am as you are
Let me be so, for granted
Don't open doors for me
Or try to wash me white with smiles
If I am as you say you are
There should be no more than walks with you
And talks with you
There should be toasts of thoughts with you
There should be wine with you.
But rather help me to become the thing I am
To walk barefoot among the pools
Not with fool's pride
That this is Culture
But with unrumoured dignity
Of those who bait the vulture sea
Or watch their nets' geometry accomplished in the sun.
In Dominique the gold civilian fell
The others couldn't remember what tales the tom-toms tell.
No. Let me alone to wander where I will
Alone to wander if I will
To feel the hiss of the stone at sea
The rush of the islands growing under me.
Mitto Sampson on Calypso Legends of the
arranged and edited by ANDREW PEARSE
The text which follows has been compiled from two or three typescripts
of Mitto Sampson, and from two hours of recorded interview. This procedure
was necessary because Mr. Sampson left for the United Kingdom at short
notice. He holds a unique place in the study of Trinidad social history. He
is a polemic writer of force, as may be guessed from the titles of some of his
articles-"When Vice Overflowed", "Trinidad, Political Stink-pot of the
Indies", "Between Mirth and Muck", &c. Only 31 years of age, he has spent
a great deal of his time in tracking down truth and legend, often inextricably
mixed, about the underworld of Trinidad, either by frequenting "old heads",
or else by perusal of the old newspapers.
Mitto Sampson's grandmother, Mrs. Florence Atherley, was a proprietress,
a mid-wife known to have a healing hand. Her father was a Portuguese and
her mother a quadroon. Mrs. Atherley's maternal grandmother had a deep
interest in genealogy, and kept a, book in which she noted all she heard about
her forbears on the white and slave sides. This interest was passed on to
her grandchild (Mrs. Atherly), a great raconteuse, whose hobby was remin-
iscing about old Trinidad. In her outlook she was something of an enigma.
In her actions she was a negrophile, but privately a negrophobe, and always
sided with Hannibal the Mulatto's sayings. She was very familiar with all
his calypsoes. She was a kind woman, yet hot tempered. She was fond of
predicting and sometimes her predictions were right off the mark. I once had
a little companion who was a very dark urchin and pitched marbles with me.
One afternoon I cheated him and he gave me a severe drubbing: he had my
eyes swollen, and nose bloody. She looked at him: "You're a little rascal.
Your future is the scaffold" Twenty years after the incident he was actually
a doctor in Canada. I had another friend who was very quiet and mild-
mannered and he actually was her favourite. She always termed him "a little
gentleman-so well behaved!" He actually went to the scaffold in 1943.
She always tried to discourage me from being a writer; she claimed that most
writers died poor. She did not know it, but she based the character of every
writer on that of Edgar Alan Poe. She was a keen reader but she never loved
any high brow stuff. She read Scott, Mark Twain and Conan Doyle, who was
her favourite. Her grandmother passed on legends to her, one of which con-
cerned Shadrach, a famous obeah man from St. Kitts. A woman came from
Nevis to interview him because she wanted to damage an enemy who was her
rival in love. He gave her a charm which would cause illness, but he warned
her to throw it overboard if rain fell. She was so wicked and so bent on harm-
ing this woman that when rain fell, she refused to throw it overboard and
placed it under herdress.
Soon after she broke out in what is known in creole parlance as cocobay
but what is really known to be Hansen's disease or leprosy.
Mitto Sampson's father was a druggist, of mixed Negro and East Indian
family in Arima. He was "fiercely negro", and a great reader of Darwin,
Ingersoll and Tom Paine. His son read these books, and any others he could
get from relations, voraciously. He went to Nelson Street Boy' s R.C. School,
Belmont Intermediate and St. Mary's College, mixing with the children of
middle-class families at school, and at home in Nelson Street on the edge of
the underworld, his companions were little slum children, and urchins from
the La Basse with whom he fought, romped and pitched marbles. On leaving
St. Mary's he taught for one year at Belmont Intermediate, went to work
at the U.S. Base for a time, and then in an effort to devote my entire
time to reading poetry and studying art I became 'a gentleman of leisure.
I spent night and day in a garret reading and studying, haunting the libraries,
reading old newspaper files, meeting queer characters and trying to dig as
much as I could from them. I enjoyed that immensely,-more than anything
else,- and I still do.
Mitto Sampson is probably best known around Port-of-Spain as a Strong
Man. Finding himself weak from too much studying at the age of 14, he took
up barbell training and became phenomenally strong, and a daring acrobat,
diving from heights into crowded streets on occasions, and achieving the
"hangman's drop" on his seventeenth birthday. He relates I read how
Palmer Burns developed his neck to such an extent that he was able to resist
the Hangman's noose. I was fascinated with that particular facet of his life
and I settled to duplicate it. I trained for 3 years doing neck exercises
until I was able to do it. These feats led to the growth of a legend that
they were accomplished by use of supernatural or demonic forces. What caused
the legend to bloom is that I did eventually become a spiritualist and did
extensive spiritual work, and people wrongly associated the diving over the
river wall, the hangman's drop and the phenomenal strength with super-
Of the informants from whom Mitto Sampson acquired his knowledge of
folk tradition, his grandmother was possibly the most important. Others were :
Remmy Roberts "More popularly known as Bobby Alves, he was one of the
most popular of raconteurs, a sweet man and a "Mako" (formerly this word
meant a pander or tout, but has now come to mean a gossip monger, or a
very fast person). In 1944 he was 93, with all his faculties intact. He spent
an entire life in the underworld amongst calypsonians, bad men, panders, &c.
He knew Piti Belle Lily, Alice Sugar, Mossie Millie, Ocean Lizzie, Sybil Steele,
Darling Dan, Ling Mama, and all the long list of celebrated female under-
world characters. Remmy Roberts was present when Alice Sugar fought in
a brawl with the famous Cutaway Rimbeau and all the other fellows. He was
very friendly with Lord Hannibal and he knew of all his calypsoes. Remmy
Roberts told me "Son, calypso today come from the mouth, but long time it
was from the soul. When the Canboulay stickmen sang 'Djab s6 y6 neg, me
Die s6 nom-la blA' they couldn't feel when you licking them, it used to deaden
the skin . but today is nothing at all." The only living calypsonian whom
he considered was the venerable and esteemed Lord Executor. His favourite
calypsonians of all time were Cedric Le Blanc and Lord Hannibal.
Shiffer Brathwaite who died in 1952 at the age of 82 had been a chauffeur,
but was known to have been a good stickfighter, brawler and "butter" He
was of the jamette class, but aspired to decency. He was not as well informed
as Roberts because his life did not extend so far back, but he heard a lot
second hand from Jo Jo and others, and kept a little book of clippings which
his father had made of interesting events reported in the newspapers. He
also learnt a lot directly from his father. He had extensive information about
the underworld from the time of the Canboulay Riots (1881) onwards. He
confirmed much that I had learned from Remmy Roberts.
Jo-Jo was a son or nephew of Thunderstone, Chantwell to the Congo
Jackos, who lost his wife Cariso Jane to Surisima the Carib. He had the
honour of bearing her notorious sister Alice Sugar to her last resting place.
Jo Jo became a jamette in his early twenties, and later a wayside preacher.
At times he was reluctant to give the salacious details, but would yield under
pressure, though he thought it was a waste of time to probe into what was
best forgotten. He was strong on African slave legend, and gave me calypsoes
from Ofuba the. Slave and his son Possum. If it were not for Jo Jo, the
information about Surisima the Carib would have been lost; his father knew
Surisima personally, and had taken part in the ceremony known as "the
burning of Caziria" Jo Jo was over 92 when he died. What I learnt from
him, I was able to piece together with the stories of my grandmother, Remmy
Roberts, and other informants such as Ken Laughlin's father and Jean de
Boissiere (Editor of "Calalou") who know much about Lord Hannibal, and
If the claims of Surisima 'to a Carib origin of Calypso could be taken
more seriously, if they had less :of the aura of misty legend and Ossianic
nostalgia, then it might be proper to give them priority. As it is, they will
be given in the account of the mid-Nineteenth Century singers, of whom he
was one. This leaves us with the Begorrat legends as a realistic starting point
at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. Anyone who visits Diego Martin
today can raise the matter of Begorrat and Begorrat's cave with the older
villagers, and be regaled with tales of a rather stereotyped character touching
the cave, its treasures, and the guardian spirits which bring misfortune on
those who dare to enter it. In addition "to supernatural fears, there is also a
belief that a serious treasure seeker, when he finds his quarry, must make
a human sacrifice on the spot to "pay" the guardian spirits. As to Begorrat
himself, he' is spoken of as an old slave owner who was powerful and cruel,
who used to hold court in the cave, and who would be carried to it on a litter
borne by four slaves. The road to the cave goes Westward from the village
zig-zagging up the steep hillside out of the Diego Martin valley, rather over-
grown, but very well formed and wide, with a drainage ditch on either side.
At about a thousand feet the road is so overgrown that it is difficult to deter-
mine whether it led originally to the cave, or whether it was built to provide
a way into the neighboring Tucker Valley. The cave (or caves) has two
entrances, both very narrow, and running downwards in such a way that
soil has been washed down from ground level, and plugged up the passages
as they straighten out. Quite near the surface is a large curtain stalactite, and
the whole impression made is that they are entrances to an extensive system
of limestone caves which may contain large chambers, and which probably
lead subterraneously to an outlet to the sea three miles ;to the south by a
system of swallets and dollines in the usual pattern of limestone formation.
Pierre Begorrat came to Trinidad from Martinique in the year 1784 with
his son St. Hillaire. The estate on which the cave is situated is shown on
Mallet's Survey Map (1797) as belonging to Begorrat, probably the son.
Already at this early date he was one of the most powerful of the planters.
According to an anecdote current 100 years ago, Picton soon after he became
Military Governor of the island at its capitulation in 1797, is said to have
called the Cabildo together, and, unbuckling his sword and laying it on the
table, to have exclaimed "I have called you together to dismiss you, as a
set of the greatest villains in the place. I dismiss you all but Begorrat, whom
I shall retain and appoint as one of the members of my next Council for he
is the greatest villain among you, and knows all that is going on : If he
neglects to inform me of any dmeute, I will hang him up forthwith" He
acquired lands in several parts of the island, and became a close associate of
Picton. In the famous case against Picton for the torture of Luise Calderon,
it was Begorrat who, in his capacity as Magistrate of the City gave the order
for the girl to be put to the picket as the appropriate legal method of extract-
ing a confession from her. His name appears frequently in official papers.
The only historical comment upon him which suggests that he was excessive
in behaviour is a note by the commissioners on his extravagant claims sub-
mitted to the Inquiry in Titles to Land (case 45 "Port-of-Spain Gazette",
2/2/1828) saying that "the mind of the complainant must be indeed warped
by passion or prejudice. "
Legend has it that Lawa (King) Begorrat used to hold court in his cave,
to which he would adjourn with favourite slaves and guests on occasions and
indulge in a variety of entertainments. The court was attended by African
slave singers of "Cariso" or "Caiso" which were usually sung extemporare
and were of a flattering nature, or satirical or directed against unpopular
neighbours or members of the plantation community, or else they were
"Mdpris" a term given to a war of insults between two or more expert
Gros Jean is said to have been the first of these bards or "chantwells"
to be appointed Master of Caiso, or Malt' Caiso.
Whenever Begorrat got furious, one of his many wives hurriedly sent
for Gros Jean to sing him back to serenity. Begorrat's weak spot was an
inordinate craving to be known as a monster, pitiless, destructive and terrify-
ing. There was one ditty in French patois which never failed to stir that
pathologically egotistical tyrant. It went like this:
"Begorrat et Diab'la, c'est un
Begorrat et Diab'la, c'est deux
Begorrat fort, cruel et mauvais
Begorrat roi-la dans son pays"
It is said that Begorrat and Gros Jean became inseparable companions
and that their friendship was of a kind to arouse the jealousy of the former's
wives, who finally poisoned him. Begorrat swooned and fainted, cursed and
swore, refused to eat for three days, while Gros Jean's body was being
embalmed. He had it wrapped in flaming red fabric, placed a gold cross on
his forehead, and buried him in the family's cemetery at Diego Martin.
Praising his voice another chantwell on the estate, Soso, sang
"Gros Jean, Gros Jean tu ni vu6 di tone
Gros Jean, Gros Jean tu ni vue di tone
Gros Jean, vu6 u 16v6 mama mwe mb"
(Gros Jean, you have a voice like thunder
Your voice can raise my mother from the dead).
Soso, who succeeded to the title of Mait' Caiso after the death of Gros
Jean, is supposed to have been elevated to the position of a Chantwell on
being heard singing by Begorrat while waiting in the cachot for execution.
One night his rich bass voice was so compelling that the slaves within ear shot
all began to take up the chorus. Begorrat arrived on the scene, and stood
enthralled. Sensing his presence, Soso stopped singing. Begorrat entered his
cell and inquired: "Jeune homme, pourquoi avez-vous arrWt6 votre chanson?"
to which Soso replied in Patois: "MRt-la, ba mwe pad6, soupl6!" Smiling,
Begorrat answered him: "Chantez, Soso, chantez!" Apart from being reputed
to have had a taste for "wrinkled and decrepit women making his
house a cross between a hospital and a house of refuge," and thus supposedly
bringing into the vocabulary of patois the word "SOSO" for one who seeks
lovers amongst the aged, he is spoken of as having been generous, humane,
charitable, and in certain moods, extremely religious.
He met a violent end as a result of singing a Caiso destroying the
character of one of Begorrat's enemies. Exactly a year afterwards his body
was found horribly mutilated from tortures received from his master enemies,
who had tried to force him to sing a song against Begorrat. It is said that
one of his murderers later made a deathbed confession, naming the other
participants, two of whom, Fouchet and Dardaine, were tortured to death in
Another famous singer of Caiso of this period was Papa Cochon, who is
remembered perhaps more as a notorious obeah man and finder of hidden
treasures. Through his dreaming ability, he is reported to have discovered
large quantities of pirate gold for his masters on the Manzanilla beach and
at Mucurapo. His powers of divination trebled the wealth of his owners and
raised him almost to the status of a relative. They consulted him for every-
thing including the capture of runaway slaves. It is said that when Papa Cochon
whistled, the birds flew to him. He prayed snakes to death and the wildest
animals grew docile in his presence. On several occasions he rescued his master's
sons and daughters from death, though to accomplish his life-saving feats
he needed certain ingredients. His miracle recipe included a young female
slave's life (for blood sacrifices) the brain of a black cat, sea water, &c. As
his reputation skyrocketed the resentment of the slaves quadrupled. Even if
Papa Cochon did not actually murder one of his slaves for his rituals, the
slaves believed (and the owners also) that he had the power to transfer the
disease from which his owners were -suffering to one of the slaves. While pre-
paring for some of his obeah tasks, he ate snakes, cats and dogs, slept in
graveyards allegedly to hold meetings with evil entities. When his owners
brought him down to Begorrat's court to sing against rival chantwells,
Begorrat never failed to get predictions from him.
On one occasion Papa Cochon was invited by the L- family
ostensibly to sing. He accepted the invitation and he sang. He was never
seen again. His owners made desperate efforts to locate him but to no avail.
Tradition states that he was locked up in an underground dungeon and starved
to death. So ended the life of Papa Cochon, arch-gossipist, scandal-monger,
imposter and Chantwell, whose scarlet life hangs like a dark cloud over the
The chantwell Danois,1 unlike his contemporaries, was a free man. He
is remembered as "a mediocre singer, a first rate rascal and an all round
thief" He was caught stealing vegetables from an estate, and burned alive
after his limbs had been broken. Of him Papa Cochon sang:
Danois v616 Begorrat lajA
Danois v616 Begorrat laia
Danois v61l tout moun-Dieg Martin.
(Danois steals Begorrat's money
Danois steals from everyone in Diego Martin).
The Mid-Nineteenth Century is profuse in stories of a group of famous
singers. There was Possum, son of the slave Ofuba and a Black, Hannibal
the Mulatto, Surisima the Carib, and Cedric Le Blanc, the famous white
Just as Ofuba had complained of the exclusion of the negro slave from
Carnival, so his son took up a similar theme in the following circumstances:
In 1860, Cedric Le Blanc, the great white Chantwell was invited to
entertain a party at the Governor's residence. Possum heard of it and rashly
decided to be present, though not invited, and certainly not wanted. The
guards refused to admit him and smarting under the insult he went a little
way off and sang the lament which still keeps his name alive:
Nom-la bl& pa ri nom-la bla
Nom-la blA pa ri nom-la bla
Mf n6g-la vi6, 16d 6 mov6
Tut mun, tut mun pa AmA-i
Cedric le Blanc s6 m6t mwA
SAIlmI d6 li coulA.
'Danois probably means Virgin Islanders. A considerable number of slaves reached
Trinidad from the Danish Virgin Isles early in the century. A "Rdgiment Danois" is
reported as an early band or association, and the word had the connotation rowdy
and jamette combined. Further research into the connection between the Virgin Isles
and Trinidad would be useful in view of (1) tradition in the Virgin Islands connecting
the Bamboula dance with slave insurrection and (2) the existence of the "Cariso"
ballad in the Virgin Islands.
(White man don't laugh at white man
But old nigger ugly and bad
All the world, all the world don't like him
Cedric Le Blanc is my master
Only through his colour).
Thunderstone was a towering six-footer with a frightfully noisy voice
and brawny arms. He was the Chantwell for a band of roughs known as
the "Congo Jackos" They were the most feared desperadoes of that era
and were regular items of the prison. While Thunderstone was serving a prison
term, Surisima the Carib, poked fun at his reputed wife, Cariso Jane:
"Cariso Jane u pa ka bhy6
Thunderstone da la morumb6
Congo Jacko, Congo t6y6-u
Janey s6 y6 lababa"
Cariso Jane you doesn't bathe
Thunderstone in the gaol
Congo Jackos, Congoos beating you,
Janey is everybody's plaything
When Thunderstone came out, Cariso Jane deserted him for Surisma the
Carib. He left the city crestfallen, a blackguard who had lost his voice, his
bravery and his dear beloved. In 1947, Jo Jo, then his only living descendant
said of him: "His was a wasted life"
According to the legends passed on by Surisima the Carib, a well-known
Calypso singer of the mid-Nineteenth century, the word Cariso (by which
term "Calypso" was known, prior to the 1890's) is descended from the Carib
term "Carieto", meaning a joyous song. Surisima was famous also as a
folkloristt" and raconteur. People would pay him to come to their homes
and enlighten them on long forgotten events. He was a wayside historian,
and wherever he spoke, people gathered. He recreated much of the old Carib
tradition which is still remembered today. Carietos were used to heal the sick,
to embolden the warrior and to seduce the fair. It is said that under the great
Cacique Guamatumare, singers of Carieto were rewarded with special gifts of
land, and that next to the tribal leaders they also owned the fairest ladies.
In the time of Guancangari, the two great singers were Dioarima, tall,
powerful and extremely handsome, and Casaripo, an undersized weakling,
whose voice was capable of arousing cowards, invigorating the jaded and
placating the delirious. Dioarima had two beautiful daughters who were guarded
day and night. One night a singer hid in the bushes, and sang a series of
haunting songs which had the two girls uneasy. The following night they
escaped from their guards, and met the singer in the woods. He took them
to Conquerabia (now Port-of-Spain) and lived with them in regal splendour
until he was killed in battle. Guandori, a great stick-man of the 1860's, was
the last of their descendants. When the Spaniards heard of these miracle
singers, whose voices spurred men on to battle even in the face of learful
odds, they used bribery and clever manipulation, and finally ambushed the
two through the treachery of the Carib slave-woman Caziria. The singers were
subjected to unspeakable tortures and molten lead was poured down their
With the death of Casaripo and Dioarima, the Carib forces rapidly dis-
integrated, and were eventually conquered by the Spaniards.
Surisima himself used to organise a procession of Carib descendants from
the city of Port-of-Spain to the heights of El Chiquerro where a huge effigy
of Caziria, the betrayer, was belaboured and burnt after drinking, feasting
and singing obscene songs. The only song remembered is:
"Cazi, Cazi, Cazi, Caziria
Dende, dende, dende dariba"
Shiffer Brathwaite reported to me his father's assertion that when these
people sang they actually felt the pain and sorrow experienced by the Caribs
when Casaripo and Dioarima were betrayed, and sang with real hate and ran-
cour towards Caziria and just as they finished singing that song they began to
belabour the effigy, then burn it. On one occasion Surisima the Carib tried
to carry on that ceremony in the city but police "ran" them, and they were
all brought to court.
Thus, when the African slaves came here (Trinidad) they found a form
of singing. They took up the local songs and of course they sang their own
songs too. They introduced more pep, more vigour, more liveliness and more
animation. Singing under extremes as a form of escape from conditions
abhorrent to them, it is natural that they should carry a greater intensity into
their singing. Consequently the negro enriched the calypso but did not
originate it. In 1859, Mr. William Moore, an American ornithologist, came
to Trinidad. He. gave a lecture on birds and he had cause to make allusion
to the Cariso, saying that many of the Carisos are localised versions of
American and English ballads. When Surisima the Carib heard that he was
annoyed. Two days later he went to Mr. Moore's hotel with a crowd of
followers and he lampooned him viciously. The lampoon is preserved to this
day. This is what he sung:
Surisima: Moore the monkey from America
Crowd: Tell me wha you know about we cariso
and they kept on singing like that creating a furore until the police intervened.
Hannibal, of whom Zandoli sung "Hannibal, mama u s6 y6 jal; mw&
chant la v6wit6, Hannibal n6 da la morumbe" (Hannibal. your mother is a
prostitute, I am singing the truth, Hannibal was born in the jail), was the
mulatto son of Soucoush Piwi and a negro carterman. Hannibal's bon mots
were just as popular as his calypsoes. A dandified half caste, he made negroes
the butt of ridicule in nearly all his compositions. Sometimes he sang ditties,
sometimes he recited rhymes, but whatever he did interested the populace.
His most widely quoted remark is still secretly repeated by many negro
mothers to their daughters-"Black and black make pure devil-Black and
white make half angel" His rhymes intensified the gulf which existed between
black and brown skinned negroes.
"I aint black, I aint white
If it comes to blows or fight
I'll kill the black to save the white"
He continually recalled the misdeeds perpetrated in slavery by Dan the'Mulatto
(who was even more inhuman than some of the white masters).
"Dan is the devil, the devil is Dan
Brown nigger more bad than Bacra man
But black is the baddest
The baddest in the land.
What Dan did to Tasa
Mek whiteman vex
L'annais was bad, bad
Dan worse than all the res'
God you is a white man
I want to know de truth
Who but de Devil
Could mek these nigger brutes"
This theme was not merely the peculiar view of Hannibal the Mulatto, but
had a much wider currency. It was attacked by the leading Trinidad advocate,
Mr. Maxwell Philip, a mulatto, who became Attorney General, when he called
upon stickmen in the 1870's to stop singing a song which, in his opinion
stygmatised the Negro race atrociously:
"Djab s6 y6 neg
M6 Di6 s6 nom-la bla
The Devil is a Negro
But God is a white man
A certain element co-operated but the majority of the leading stickmen
refused on the ground that whenever they sang "Djab s6 y6 neg" they were
infused with a satanic spirit which actually made them immune to pain; they
could walk right in to battle, and meet sticks, stones, conch shells and even
daggers as it were anaesthetized. They came to feel that since God is a white
man and the devil is a negro every negro has that devilish ferocious quality in
him, and it whipped them up. When Rocou John fought the invincible Tiny
Satan at Laku Pebwa (Bread-fruit-tree Yard) in 1875 Tiny Satan caught him
six consecutive blows and smashed his skull in completely, yet still Roucou
John stood up. When he fell finally to the ground shortly before he died he was
still mumbling incoherently "Djab s6 y6 neg, Die nom-la bla, Bamboula."2
One of Lord Hannibal's most famous songs, which was a Road March
and Kalenda (stickfighting) song during the Canboulay era (1870-90) was on
2Bamboula. The words of this song were earlier associated with the Bamboula
dance, which is supposed to have originated in Trinidad during slave days. At certain
stages in the dance the dancers stamped, went prostrate and beat the ground, a gesture
which was symbolic of the final victory when the negro would eventually be able to
be the tormentor and not the tormented.
Piti Belle Lily. The melody of this song has emerged intermittently many times
since that, its most recent appearance being as "Ram-goat baptism" a few
Piti Belle Lily
Piti Belle Lily
Lorn s& kamisol
Tut mun kas6 bambirol
Piti Belle Lily jen fi du
Piti Belle Lily s6 y6 fu
Piti Belle Lily maliw6
Su la jim-li m6t6 dif6
Piti Belle Lily
Piti Belle Lily
Man without jacket
All are making free with her
Piti Belle Lily sweet young girl
Piti Belle Lily she'w crazy
PiWi Belle Lily she's unfortunate
They put fire to her legs.
Piti Belle Lily became so notorious, in spite of her great beauty, that
even Congo Jack, a grave digger and police spy who was ostracised by the
jamette world itself, aspired to win her. Hannibal was jealous, and angry that
she had fallen so low, and attacked her in this song. The incident referred to
in the last line occurred on a Canboulay night. Piti Belle Lily was assaulted
by Congo Jack, who threw some inflammable liquid on her dress and attempted
to set her ablaze. Of course this was great sport for the roughs of the
Canboulay era and they laughed and pranced about while she was surrounded
by flames, until Pappy Mammy put out the flames. Pappy Mammy was the
most notorious invert of those days, hence his queer appellation.
One of the most famous incidents of the Nineteenth Century was the
murder of Abb6 Jouin, in Diego Martin. N. B. a planter, was placed on trial
and acquitted, the simple folk attributing his escape to the efficient obeah of
the notorious Djab Papa, who during the trial stood outside the Courthouse
looking up at the sun. Hannibal and his two contemporaries Zandoli and
Cedric Le Blanc both sang on the incident, and all of them concentrated their
venom on Djab Papa.
'Jacket-man or Lom Kamisol was a name applied to persons of superior class who
patronised the underworld heroes, playing stick with them but their coats on to
Lalin cuwi ju baw6-i
Maldise su la t&t Djab Papa-la
The moon is running, but day catches it
Curses on Djab Papa's head
Djab Papa s6 y6 silira
Djab Papa, ami d6 Lucifer
Djab Papa s6 gAye libMt6
D6 nom-la ki tchu6 lab6
Djab Papa is a criminal
Diab Papa a friend of Lucifer
Djab Papa won liberty
For the man who killed the priest
Cedric Le Blanc :
The sun, the trees, all nature cried
The day when Abbe Jouin died;
Ah, what a brutal death!
In a thousand years we'll never forget
It was Djab Papa, the villain who save the murderer!
Hannibal died in gaol. While in extremis he kept on singing his patois calypso,
"Lalin cuwi ju baw6-it' Terrible visions menaced him before he died. He
kept on shouting that a man armed with a gun was threatening to shoot. His
last words were: "Zandoli, why you ain't find your hole?"
His death (in 1873) was just as stormy as his life. Annie Coals and Myrtle
the Turtle fought over his grave. While the wake was in progress a terrible
skirmish ensued between rival gangs. Exactly 7 days after his burial, ghouls
dug up the coffin, carried away his head and shroud, leaving, the rotten car-
cass at the side of the grave. When news of the incident went out, curious
crowds flocked to the cemetery. Bodicea, the female Chantwell accused Congo
Jack of disinterring the corpse. Others felt it was a notorious obeah man who
instigated it. Accusations and more heated counter accusations were exchanged
at the graveside. While ruffians cursed and harlots giggled, Bodicea composed
an impromptu ditty.
Congo Jack vol6 tOt-la Hannibal
U vol6 la m6, gad6 bakanal
(Congo Jack steal Hannibal's head
You steal from the dead, look, bacchanal)
The calypso appealed to the crowd and they began to gyrate in the
cemetery. Bodicea's shrill voice whipped them into unrestrained hilarity. The
police came in and demanded the rogues to leave. The mirth-maddened
carousers refused. Bodicea tore off her dress and waved it as a banner, still
singing the captivating ditty. More policemen came in. They arrested Bodicea
and five of her entourage. The others escaped. Their reprehensible conduct is
recorded in Cedric Le Blanc's deathless lines:
"It was shocking, it was shameful and bad to see
Carnival in the cemetery
It could'nt happen in Grenada
St. Kitts, Martinique or Antigua
When such lawlessness can prevail
Tell me what's the use of the Royal gaol.
Bodicea the jamette who we all know
Is a real disgrace to we Cariso
I really can't understand
Why she did'nt take the training of the Englishman
Roaming all about the vicinity
Cat and dog passing they mouth on she
Is better she die or lock up in jail
She disgrace every woman in Port-of-Spain"
At one stage of her life Bodicea became so notorious that any little city
girl showing wayward traits was told by her parents-"You playing Bodicea"
She had a beautiful voice, a masculine face and was a wizard at extempora-
neous verses. Her life was devoted to three things-singing, drinking and
fighting. Her clash, with the equally notorious Alice Sugar lasted a full hour
and they ended up completely battered. They fought like animals over a
celebrated stickman, Cutaway Rimbeaih. His stick was known as "Man Tamer"
and after the fracas he handed it to Bodicea as a token of her victory. Women
were not her only victims. Enraged when Rimbeau got enamoured with Piti
Belle Lily (Alice Sugar's younger sister) Bodicea mauled him into cringing
submission with his own poui. (hardwood stave)
When her English sponsor (one Mr. T.) left Trinidad, she sank to the
lowest depths. Infirmity and calamity conspired to make her twilight a living
hell. She crawled along the city streets infested with sores-a ragged mendi-
cant, pitied by a few, molested and scorned by the majority. When blindness
set in, her ravaged features, shrunken beyond recognition, bore no resemblance
to the once feared termagant. She died in the "Hangman's Cemetery" while
sitting on the spot where her executed lover was buried some years before.
Her demise failed to silence her vulgarly vocal rivals. Rumour ran riot
with fanciful conjectures. Fabrications which staggered credulity were born
overnight. Bodicea suddenly became the devil's disciple. Zeemau, the street
crier, ran out of his room at midnight screaming "Murder, murder, Bodicea
come wid a knife to kill me" Zandoli gave a similar performance a week
later, but in more sensational fashion. He ran from his den, I Rue Trois
Chandelles (now Duncan Street) until he reached the Police Station panting
and perspiring. Crazed with superstitious fear he complained of Bodicea's
ghost beating him with a thick piece of chain. A wastrel with a phenomenally
nimble imagination heard a bird chirping merrily. The next day he told how
Bodicea's spirit sang on top a mango tree surrounded by flames of fire.
The death of Petite Belle Lily plummeted the Bodicea ghost vogue into
obscurity. Cedric Le Blanc, the great white Chantwell reviled them in a
number reeking with sarcasm and ending with the cruel chorus:
'Bodicea first and then Petite Belle
The devil waiting for them in hell"
After Cedric Le Blanc sailed for Martinique, Zandoli shifted from
Chantwell to Shouter. "This is Zandoli bringing God's word to all!" became
his religious catchword and he caught many a drifting sinner in his net. The
case of the calypsonian turned theologian fascinated city folks and they turned
out in large crowds to hear him. His zeal as a reformer was limitless. He
cited the tragic end of Hannibal and Bodicea to his listeners, urging them
not to deviate from the path' of rectitude. He saved many sinners and much
cash. He died in peace, a comparatively wealthy respected man.