In 1807, the British government made a law to end slavery. In 1834, African slaves in Trinidad became free. Here is what happened next…

Camboulay – 1834

At Camboulay (Cannes Brulees), free African slaves would act out the Cannes Brulees celebrations through the streets. They would parade in masks, carrying burning torches and to the rhythmic sounds of the African drums. They would act our their time as slaves and mimic the slave masters. Bands of freed slaves would carry sticks called ‘Bois’ in the streets.

Mardi Gras Carnival

‘Mardi Gras’ is French for ‘Fat Tuesday’. French plantation owners would celebrate the beginning of Lent with dancing and great feasts. For two days the wealthy Europeans would take to the streets in their finest clothes to celebrate.

By the 1840s the Camboulay celebrations joined in the French Mardi Gras Carnival transforming it with African drumming and dancing.

Did you know: the word Carnival comes from the Latin words ‘Carne Vale’, meaning ‘farewell to the flesh’? This is because people would give up meat for Lent.

The Camboulay Riots

In 1883 the British government stopped drums from playing at the Mardi Gras Carnival to try and control rival carnival bands and neighbourhood gangs. During Carnival, rival bands and gangs would meet and have speaking, singing, dancing and drumming challenges, but these would nearly always end with a fight.

The British government also feared the drums would be used to send secret messages to plot a revolt against them.

After the Camboulay riots of 1884, when carnival bands and gangs came together to challenge the British government, they passed a law banning all drum-beating.

We can't beat d'drum in we native land!

Instead, the freed slaves and their descendants found new ways to celebrate Camboulay and their music. An exciting chapter of the Carnival story was born…


Q.5: What is Lent?

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Illustrations © Rhian Kempadoo-Millar
Banner photo © Tony Bartholomew (2019)