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VII) The Aftermath of the Canboulay Riots and the Emergence of the Creole Middleclass

The elimination of the Canboulay in 1884 led to the emergence of many new elements in the Carnival celebrations including Dame Lorraine, the jouvay, and formal costume and kaiso competitions. Also in the last decade of the nineteenth century the calypso became more popular among the middle classes and the tamboo-bamboo replaced the drums which had been banned as the musical accompaniment to the parade of the streets. The era is marked by a gradual decriminalization of African Trinidadian associated cultural activities with rise of black middleclass political leaders and their elevation to respectable status in the process of political emancipation (Trotman 1986:275).

Pearse (1956:40) suggests that the Canboulay riots marked a critical turning point in the relationship of the British authorities to the general population and the political and cultural future of the colony. The colonial government recognized the centrality of the festival for the working classes and the importance of the license it offered to reverse values. Second, hostility to the British administration from many sources coalesced leading to the formation of a unified opposition which claimed to represent the will of "the people." Carnival became "a symbol for a national sentiment shared by a broad section of the community, and in opposition to the British administration (Pearse 1956:40)."

The Carnival's position of prominence as a Trinidadian cultural celebration was bolstered by the political and social transformations which were occurring in Trinidadian society at this time. In the 1890s another segment of the middle-class emerged composed of colored and black creole merchants and professionals who established organizations demanding greater political, economic, and social rights. The most active members of these organizations were journalists, newspaper editors, lawyers, teachers, and skilled artisans. Barbadians who had settled in Trinidad were especially enthusiastic about efforts at reform since they spoke English, were usually literate, and often advanced within the system faster than the patois-speaking creoles (Brereton 1981:145).

In the 1880s a legislative reform movement led by a "radical" white French Creole, Philip Rostant, sought to establish some elected representation to the Legislative Assembly. In response to the agitation of these reformers a Royal Franchise Commission was established to investigate the issue in 1887. The Commission's recommendations of a limited franchise to those over 40 who were literate in English and who met rather high property qualifications was rejected by the Colonial Office in 1889 (Brereton 1981:142).

The leaders of the reform committee demanded the introduction of electoral politics to break the stranglehold of planter-merchant and large-landowners interests, more government support for minor industries, the opening of Crown lands to small holders, and the cessation of the state subsidy for the immigration of East Indians. The continued depression in the sugar industry from 1895-97 intensified hostility toward the planters. Administration officials were seen as extravagant and high-handed concerning spending and the appointment of incompetent and arrogant British expatriates to the civil service over qualified creoles was particularly galling to the local middle classes.

In the 1890s colored and black middle class moderates assumed the leadership of the reform movement. They did not attempt to involve the workers in their efforts. Orderly meetings, tidy petitions signed by respectable members of the middle classes, and discreet delegations replaced the mass rallies and petitions of the late 1880s favored by Rostant. This group of reformers sought to enfranchise members of the wealthier middle classes and remained opposed to universal suffrage (Brereton 1981:144). Colonial administrative officials and the planters expressed continued hostility to reform. The working classes were mainly uninvolved; the only section to give consistent support was the urban middle class (Brereton 1981:145). These attempts at political mobilization were largely unsuccessful in accomplishing their immediate political goals yet they were crucial to the political development of Trinidad for they stimulated debate, served as a training ground for leaders of the movements at the turn of the century, and aroused the middle classes to greater political involvement.

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