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Cartan Global | Tokyo 2020


The re-en­act­ment of Kam­bule on Car­ni­val Fri­day, is sym­bol­i­cal­ly the awak­en­ing of the Car­ni­val spir­it.

The Kam­bule pro­duc­tion recog­nis­es and cel­e­brates the bois men and women, the war­riors of the mas, who are the front­line in the con­fronta­tion with Cap­tain Bak­er in the 1880s, said a re­lease from the NCC.

Kam­bule re­minds us that the Africans cre­at­ed a great deal de­spite en­slave­ment. In the gayelle of the ex­is­tence, the an­ces­tors fought inch by inch to clear a space for the man­i­fes­ta­tions of their cul­ture whether re­mem­bered or forged in the cru­cible of the en­vi­ron­ment to which they had been so forcibly trans­port­ed.

The Kam­bule was root­ed in the re­mem­bered mask­ing tra­di­tions of West Africa, and of course in­flu­enced by the new Caribbean en­vi­ron­ment.

By de­f­i­n­i­tion, the Kam­bule was a torch­light pro­ces­sion which took place from mid­night on Car­ni­val Sun­day. By the 1870s hun­dreds of men, car­ry­ing light­ed flam­beau and sticks, some drunk, most of them masked, marched around the streets of the cap­i­tal. There was drum­ming, hoot­ing, singing, shout­ing, and fights be­tween ri­val bands.

But the au­thor­i­ties deemed it too dis­or­der­ly and out of con­trol. The bands of work­ing-class men and women who came out were threat­en­ing to the re­spectable folk.

Not to men­tion, the light­ed torch­es, in a town with large­ly wood­en build­ings, was a fire haz­ard. Thus, there seemed to be just cause for clos­ing it down. Var­i­ous laws en­act­ed be­tween 1868 and 1879 gave Bak­er the au­thor­i­ty to move against the marchers. At the 1880 Kam­bule, he called on them to sur­ren­der their sticks, drums and torch­es. With­out re­sis­tance, they did as or­dered.

The fol­low­ing year, how­ev­er, the war­riors and the po­lice faced off. Known as the Bois Bataille stick fight, bois men and women fought against the might of the British Con­stab­u­lary.

The mas­quer­aders, stick­fight­ers came out in full force and a full-scale fight en­sued–in­volv­ing sticks, ba­tons, stones and fists–in which 38 out of the 150 po­lice­men present were in­jured.

The po­lice re­treat­ed to the Bar­racks and re­mained there un­til Car­ni­val Tues­day but there was no vi­o­lence there­after and the cel­e­bra­tions con­tin­ued peace­ful­ly.

The his­toric bat­tle took place on Duke Street, in the vicin­i­ty of Neal and Massy Trinidad All Stars pan yard and this year, like in pre­vi­ous years, trib­ute is paid to the war­rior­hood of the for­mer en­slaved.

Kam­bule 2014 is a per­for­mance craft­ed by the Idake­da Group, as they con­tin­ue to re­vis­it this day in our Car­ni­val his­to­ry as it com­mem­o­rates the rea­son for our free­dom and our abil­i­ty to cel­e­brate this fes­ti­val.

Ein­tou Springer, the au­thor of this play that rev­els in the brav­ery of the men and women of the bar­rack yards of East Dry Riv­er, says in the re­lease: "In the Gayelle of the ex­is­tence, the an­ces­tors fought inch by inch to clear a space for the man­i­fes­ta­tions of their cul­ture whether re­mem­bered or forged in the cru­cible of the en­vi­ron­ment to which they had been so forcibly trans­port­ed.

"With­in that space, it is al­so im­por­tant to re­mem­ber the gen­e­sis of the tra­di­tion­al mas as we know it. For ex­am­ple, the dames lor­raine char­ac­terised by their flam­bouyant dress­es and over-ex­ag­ger­at­ed bo­soms were orig­i­nal­ly por­trayed by male slaves who mim­ic­ked the wives of the plan­ta­tion own­ers.

"The jab (pa­tois for di­a­ble or dev­il) mo­lassie (pa­tois for malasse or mo­lasses) is the fear­some crea­ture who car­ries a pitch fork and threat­ens to smear spec­ta­tors un­less they pay him. But the shack­les and chains that re­strain him al­so have links to slav­ery. Com­bined with the mo­lasses with cov­ers his body, the char­ac­ter jab al­so refers to the es­tate gangs that dealt with cane fires."

Deputy chair­man of the Na­tion­al Car­ni­val Com­mis­sion, Don Sylvester, the force be­hind pre­serv­ing tra­di­tion­al mas, be­lieves un­der­stand­ing Car­ni­val be­gins with the Kam­bule.

"The NCC as the ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­er of this per­for­mance is sig­nalling our de­sire to main­tain our his­tor­i­cal con­nec­tions. I would en­cour­age as many cit­i­zens and mas lovers as pos­si­ble to wit­ness this re-en­act­ment," he said.

"If you want to un­der­stand where Car­ni­val be­gan, and where the bat, jab jab and oth­er mas char­ac­ters came from, this is where to be­gin."

Sylvester be­lieves that in re­liv­ing the his­to­ry of Car­ni­val, Trinida­di­ans can keep the tra­di­tion alive amidst the colour and vi­bran­cy for which this fes­ti­val is now known.