Carnival spirit awakens

By Verdel Bishop

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Today is Kambule. Thousands will go to the Piccadilly Greens in Port of Spain from 4 a.m. to see the street theatre production staged by the National Carnival Commission (NCC) and written and directed by poet, playwright and storyteller Eintou Pearl Springer, and produced by IDAKEDA Ltd, with choreography by Dara Healy. Springer said the re-enactment of Kambule on Carnival Friday, is symbolically the awakening of the Carnival spirit.

Act of resistance

“Once again, we can experience the much anticipated National Carnival Commission street theatre production that celebrates the victory of the recently emancipated Africans, as they fought for their right to cultural expression. The Kambule riots of 1881 represented a significant act by the barrack yard people of Port of Spain. Led by the warriors of the bois, and their enigmatic leader, Joe Talmana, they stood against the then head of the British consta­bulary, a Captain Baker, who was determined to ban the Kambule.

“That act of resistance resulted in our ability to have carnival today. Normally thought of as being named for the burnt cane, on the plantation. Research has shown that Kambule is a Kikongo word that means ­procession.

“The enslaved African would go in procession into the cane fields, armed with their chantwell and their flambeaux to put out the fires. This process was an integral element of plantation life and was the name given to their celebration, which was initially linked to Emancipation Day ­celebrations on August 1,” Springer said.

A ritual of remembrance

Springer said the re-enactment has now grown into a full-length street theatre production. Apart from being a simple re-enactment, Springer views the play as a ritual of remembrance to the African ancestors of the mas. Interestingly, she said, the event is the only Carnival event organised behind the bridge in the East Dry River area. The place generally recognised as where the navel string of the mas is buried.

The play features Mohammed Muwakil, Brendon La Caille, Keon Francis and Shanya Springer, with Christian Strong as the warrior power Ogun and the Young King. Cultural groups involved include the Department of Creative and Festival Arts, Wasafoli and Djab Muen.

The production is now regarded as a must-see by locals and visitors alike. It is filled with stick-fight lavways, the staging of the risque Dame Lorraine Ball, rooted in satire and the Gelede masquing traditions of the Yoruba people, the depiction of the Baby Doll. There is also a cast of extraordinary drummers, including celebrated young drummer Kayode Charles.