Canboulay The canboulay riots reenactment - Trinidad carnival 2017

After the abolishment of slavery in Trinidad in 1845 free blacks began celebrating Canboulay every year on the night before Carnival. They dressed in costumes which mimicked their former slave owners and focused attention on the conditions they were subjected to. This celebration, which took place in the streets of Trinidad's larger cities, in defiance of the British colonial government, involved clashes with the police which culminated in the Canboulay riots of 1881 in Port of Spain and again in 1884 in San Fernando and Princes Town.

The Canboulay riots are a critical piece of Trinidad's movement to independence and are commemorated each year with a reenactment in the streets of Port of Spain followed by a traditional Mas featuring the characters common to the original celebration.

Canboulay horns, made from conch shells, sounded the beginning of the celebration.
The celebration was discouraged by the upper class, who had their own more subdued Carnival celebration, because of the dancing, drumming and, especially, torch carrying which was seen as dangerous to a town made primarily of wooden structures.
Many of the participants dressed in costumes designed to mock their former slave masters. The Baby Doll character in the upper left satirized a mother with an illegitimate child by a slave owner. Fire breathers lampooned the police attempts to stop marchers from carrying torches.
Stick fighting was another popular event the police attempted to ban.
Townspeople finally organized and overcame the police.
After their successful uprising against the authorities the local Governor was forced to grant the people two days each year in which to celebrate Carnival.
Considering it begins at 4:00am, the Canboulay reenactment draws large crowds and a lot of media attention.
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All photos © 2017 Bob Williams

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