ENTER THE DRAGONS
While Emancipation brought freedom for the Africans, it also brought new concerns for the whites. The British were entrenching themselves as the new Colonial power in the West. The French had lost their dominance in society. All the whites were caught up in the problems of labour, low productivity, and financial structures. Therefore, the opportunity was provided for Africans to take over Carnival and embrace it as an expression of their new-found freedom.
In the beginning they celebrated the anniversary of their freedom (August 1) by reenacting scenes of Cannes Brulées. Cannes Brulées had its genesis during slavery. Whenever a fire broke out in the cane fields, the slaves on the surrounding properties were rounded up and marched to the spot, to the accompaniment of horns and shells. The gangs were followed by the drivers cracking their whips and urging them, with cries and blows, to harvest the cane before it was burnt. This event became known as the Cannes Brulées – Later called Canboulay.
After Emancipation the slaves used this celebration as a symbol of the change in their status. They engaged in masking, dancing, stick fighting, mocking the whites and reenacting scenes of past enslavement. The August 1st celebration lasted for about a decade, after which it was transferred to the pre-Lenten season. The Canboulay usually started from midnight on the Sunday. This was, in essence, the beginning of the Africans’ Carnival. During this period the whites and coloureds ceased their participation in the street festival, thereby bringing an end to an era.
FROM CANNES BRULEES TO CARNIVAL
Africans were unperturbed by the preoccupations of whites and coloureds and proceeded to celebrate with gay abandon. They introduced their own musical instruments and dance movements. The drum replaced the fiddle, the poui stick dethroned the sword, while the nut and minard gave way to the Kalenda and Bamboula. The vigour and vibrancy of the African masquerade, the militaristic nature of the Kalenda dance and the violence of the stick fighting rituals, were frowned upon by the ruling class.
The Kalenda (Calinda), a stick dance probably of African origin, was a popular form of entertainment for male slaves. It is an agile and dexterous dance performed to drums and chants while the dancers engage in mock combat with their sticks (bois). In the second half of the 19th century Canboulay and stick-fights dominated the Carnival. The main activity in the Canboulay was the stick-fight. The term Kalenda emerged as a general term for the stick-fight, the dance, the songs and other performances that accompanied it. The stick-fight involved two persons at a time with sticks three and a half to four feet long, who would Karay – take up a defensive position – in the middle of a circle (gayelle) and try to draw blood.
The stick fighters were organized into bands representing different social groups. They were lead by a lead singer called a chantuelle or chanteuse, whose duty it was to egg on the fighters. The chantuelle was supported by a chorus of women. The purpose of the singing was to deride the opponent in song. These activities were all part of the Cannes Brulées and they preceded the street carnival of Monday and Tuesday.
The torchbearers, carrying flambeaux, led the march. They were followed by the batonnieres or stick fighters, then came the king and queen and royal attendants, body of supporters, substitute stick men, paraders, chanteuse, lead band. They all marched to kalenda songs accompanied by horns, conch shells, rattles and skin drums. Cannes Brulées marked the beginning of the organized carnival bands.