THE RE-ENACTMENT of the Canboulay Riots made an emphatic return to the Piccadilly Greens in East Port of Spain on Carnival Friday morning as thousands of people gathered at 4 am to witness the event.
The event on Friday marked a return to Piccadilly for the first time since 2020. Last year, because of the covid19 pandemic the event was held at the National Academy for the Performing Arts and in 2021 it was not held.
The Canboulay riots took place in 1881 in Port of Spain and later in 1884 in San Fernando and Princes Town as a result of colonial police, led by Captain Baker, attempting to prevent Carnival celebrations from happening. Many people were killed as result of the riots.
After the re-enactment, director and producer of the production Eintou Pearl Springer made a plea to the Government. She believes more effort should be made to ensure that children in TT, especially those of the African descent, understand the history of Carnival and African people in this country by finding creative ways of passing on that knowledge in schools.
Springer would have been pleased to see hundreds of children in attendance on Friday to get a taste of the Carnival history. “It don’t have to be through a boring text book,” Springer said to encourage the Government to explore innovative ways.
Springer, who was thankful for the opportunity to direct the re-enactment of the Canboulay Riots again, wants East Port of Spain to be developed more like Ariapita Avenue in Woodbrook.
MP for Port of Spain South Keith Scotland listened to the words of Springer.
Speaking to Newsday, he said, “I listened to her words about the development of East Port of Spain and there is development in East Port of Spain planned. And maybe the time is now to disseminate the information so that the nation can know that we are not only about the Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina but we are about developing our history, appreciating it. And that is what is happening now.”
Asked to comment specifically about the call by Springer to teach children in schools about the history, Scotland said, “That is a clarion call…just by the concept of the East Port Spain development I think that is part of the Government’s thrust to make sure the entire country, both Ariapita Avenue which falls under the constituency that I represent, and East Dry River gets part of the country’s attention.”
Keon Francis played one of the major roles in Joe Talmana, a bois man who struck Captain Baker off a horse during the riots.
He was elated to see the energetic atmosphere again.
“It feels nice to be back out on the road with everybody around…the space itself has so much meaning and relevance as mother (Springer) spoke about with the situation in East Dry River and these areas…lack of resources, lack of recognition as Mother said of the African contribution to the Carnival, so it is really important for us to be in this space.”
The event was filled with dancing and singing as traditional Carnival characters including moko jumbies, the pierrot grenade, the negre jardin and baby dolls were involved. It was also not short of important messages throughout.
After Baker and his team attempted to end celebrations the revellers responded with force.
When slaves were freed they still had to fight for cultural expression one participant in the re-enactment shouted. “Captain Baker want to show us who is boss. What we have to lose in this battle.”
Francis, who is an imposing figure at over six-ft, barked, “Today we take a stand. We will fight to the death.”
Baker’s name was continuously brought up during the re-enactment. “He came to stop we Canboulay,” one participant said.
Another said, “No woman doh fraid…we crying out for justice and fairness. We fight for our right.”
As the show progressed, the authorities and the revellers got into a physical confrontation. The revellers eventually overpowered the authorities played by students from Morvant/Laventille Secondary School.
The revellers calls for justice seemed to work as a judge said you are free and there will be no “disturbances.”
Revellers beat a dummy of Baker to a frazzle as the former had prevailed.
Francis said leading up to the re-enactment the participants rehearsed three to four days a week and three to five hours a day.
The mood was vibrant as spectators joined in on the fun after the official end of proceedings alongside blue devils, stick fighters, drummers and pannists. Olatungi’s song Engine Room is clearly one of this season’s most popular releases as the song was played on pan with spectators chipping behind.
Josiah Moodoo was seen standing next to the drummers chanting. He said the event has “cultural significance” and mentioned the dedicated actors who have been involved for years.