Words by Tishanna Williams—
Our preview of Trinidad Carnival continues with a look at the tradition of kambule.
4:30am: It’s Carnival Friday morning, the air is thick with excitement, and people are coming down the streets to assemble around the Piccadilly Greens in Port-of-Spain. Dignitaries, children, elders and others fresh from the previous night’s Carnival fetes sit on bleachers, enjoying conversation while some buy breakfast from carts selling coffee, tea and bake. This is “Behind the Bridge,” where some Trinidadians only walk when they have to. This is where many of those to whom we owe our right to play we mas. This is where, on Carnival Friday morning, throngs of people return and overflow bleachers… waiting.
5am: An Orisha chant begins and a dancer emerges. She dances around a group of stickmen, frozen in warrior positions. Her energy awakens them and they thrust into slow-motioned combat as the chants fades into an EDM-like mix of stickfight lavweys. Just as the beauty that is the battle before your eyes envelops you, a sharp voice pierces through the air with a cry:
“Five five five in the morning…..Half past four to five in the morning”
Immediately voices are everywhere and people march into the streets with sticks and flambeaus in hand. Armed for war, they meet greet, and begin to prepare to reclaim their birthright.
This is Kambule! – The Street Pageant, an annual re-enactment of a historic moment in Trinidad’s history, as written by national icon, historian and lifelong activist, Eintou Pearl Springer.
During Carnival 1880, beatings and arrests of masqueraders were led by then police-chief Captain Baker, under orders from a British colonial administration wishing to stamp out the revelry of Port-of-Spain’s working classes by deeming it dangerous. In retaliation, the barrack yard communities—where ex-slaves and their descendants made their homes after leaving the plantations— launched a strategic mass ambush on the armed forces on Carnival Friday, 1881, armed with bottles, sticks and stones. The historic defeat of Baker led to a Commission of Enquiry that decreed the right to Carnival masquerade be given back to the citizens.
Kambule! is dedicated to imparting the history of Trinidad and Tobago to its citizens—simply and with a sense of urgency tangible to all who view it. Over the years this production has incorporated various communities and schools such as Belmont Freetown Cultural Folk and Performing Company, the Laventille Rhythm Section, St. James Police Youth Club, The Centre for Creative and Festival Arts at The University of the West Indies, and even students of Trinity College in the U.S.
Its cast also boasts some of the best talents in Trinidad & Tobago’s performance industry. Among them is Muhammad Muwakil of the band Freetown Collective, who has been a part of the production for the past four years. Of his experience and why he continues to participate in Kambule, he says: “It is the root of my Carnival. My reminder everyday of what I am doing and why.”
This year’s Kambule re-enactment will be held at 5am on “Fantastic Friday,” Feb. 28. Produced by the Idakeda Group in association with the National Carnival Commission, it is definitely a must-attend on your Carnival calendar.