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II) The History of Carnival

The origins of Carnival in Trinidad are traced to the costume balls, feasts, and revelries of the French planters who came to Trinidad after the proclamation of the Cedula of Population in 1783 by the Spanish Crown. However the current configuration of the Carnival is the result of a variety of practices and forms of celebration each of which has its own complex origins and pattern of development. It is the arrangement of these elements which distinguishes Carnival in Trinidad from Carnivals in other parts of the world and which demonstrates the intimacy of the connection of the Carnival to the broader history of Trinidad.

After nearly years of neglect, the Spanish government undertook to develop a sugar industry on Trinidad at the insistence of Roume de St. Laurent, a French planter from neighboring Grenada. Before the cedula the population of Trinidad was just under 3000. Over the next fourteen years Catholic settlers arrived in great numbers taking advantage of the generous inducements of land offered by the Spanish Crown. Three main groups settled in Trinidad during this era: French colonists and slaves from Dominica, St. Vincent, Martinique, and Grenada; French white and colored planters and enslaved Africans dislocated by the uprisings in San Domingo, Guadeloupe, and Martinique; and Republicans from islands which passed back and forth between the British and French like pawns in an international geo-political chess match (Pearse 1956:4-5).

The Carnival was the culmination of the social season for the elite of French Roman Catholic planters and included elaborate costume balls, masquerading and disguising, house to house visiting, street promenades on foot or in carriages, and "a variety of frolics and practical jokes (Pearse 1956:15)." Borde (1883:306-7) describes Carnival during the era of Spanish rule after the Cedula as:

...nothing but a long period of feasts and pleasures. naturally all of these amusements were held in an atmosphere of general gaiety, each one made a special effort to display a spirit of amiability. Among the volleys of laughter and intrigue, they exchanged smart sayings and happy sallies and comic stories which remained the subject of conversation the next day When the British conquered and annexed Trinidad in 1797 many of the white and free colored French left for the Spanish Main while new waves of immigrants arrived. English merchants, administrators, and free colored planters from the British West Indies established plantations and attended to the business of running a colony. Large scale slave importation from Africa began while agriculturists and peasants from the Spanish Main also emigrated to Trinidad (Pearse 1956:5). In 1797 the population included nearly 10,000 slaves, 4,500 free blacks, and 2000 whites (Campbell 1988:1). 95% of the population spoke French or French-patois.

The population continued to grow with the immigration of demobilized soldiers from the southern United States, often former slaves, who had served with the British during the War of 1812, African soldiers who had served with the West India Regiment, peons from Venezuela dislocated by the wars of liberation in South America, artisans, clerical workers, and small cultivators from other British West Indian colonies, and after 1808 and the cessation of the British slave trade, "liberated" Africans from Sierra Leone and St. Helena, the resettlement camps of enslaved Africans taken from slave ships which had been seized by British warships (Pearse 1956:10-11).

From the capitulation to the British in 1797 to emancipation in 1838, the white society of colonial Trinidad was divided by nationality and religion. British Protestant landowners, officials, and merchants comprised one social bloc while French and Spanish Roman Catholic planters and professionals constituted the other powerful group among the wealthy classes.

The British attempted to reorganize Trinidadian society through restrictive legislation and sought to disenfranchise the free colored from the social and political equality they enjoyed under the Spanish Crown. The French Creole "free coloreds" who comprised 25.3% of the population in 1797 and 32.8% by 1838, were outraged and claimed the same status as that of the white French colonists on the basis of their social position, occupations, wealth, and contributions to Trinidadian society (Lee 1991:419; Wood 1968:42-44). The free colored were forced to pay taxes in spite of being subject to curfews, forbidden from assembling in public, and restricted to subordinate enlisted positions in the militia. Beyond the forms of legal discrimination the Free colored suffered under the British, social humiliations rankled as well. Governor Woodford discouraged whites from addressing free colored people with the courtesy titles of Mr., MMe., and so on and expressed open hostility to marriages between whites and free coloreds (Brereton 1981:63). When a group of free coloreds submitted a petition requesting the return of the rights they enjoyed under the Spanish, Governor Hislop denied their entreaties and had several of the signers arrested and deported. In 1826 a Royal Proclamation delineated the status of free man, slave, and later apprentice and indentured laborers, thereby removing the most vexatious restrictions from free coloreds. (Philips 1824; Pearse 1956:12; Wood 1968:42).

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