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IX) Carnival at the Turn of the Century

One of the truisms (or cliches depending on your sympathies) regarding the Carnival is that it is an opportunity for members of different classes to come together and breakdown the social barriers among them (Lee 1991, Powrie 1956, Wood 1968). With the illegalization of the Canboulay in 1884, more and more members of the middle classes return to the streets and participate in Carnival related activities. White and mulatto shantwells with secondary school educations began singing kaisoes in English in the late 1890s. Norman Le Blanc under the kaiso name of Richard Coeur de Leon is credited with singing the first fully English calypso, "Jerningham the Governor" in 1898. "Respectable gentlemen" were frequent patrons of and even participants in the Dame Lorraine performances (Lee 1991:427). Social transformations in the class composition of the society led to a lessening of the correlation among class, race, and color in the early 1900s (Lee 1991:421). The middle class grew to include more African creoles as a result of the greater social mobility afforded by an improved system of primary and secondary school education, the opening up of middle sector jobs in the clerical and teaching professions, and the growth of the civil service (Lee 1991:421).

During the early 1900s, the festival became an acceptable amusement to more members of the society and appealed to a broader spectrum of revelers than ever before. All of the major sections of the social world except for the "older generation of stricter Protestants and the less acculturated East Indians (Pearse 1956:35)," participated in Carnival. The Port of Spain Gazette described the Carnival of 1900 as " of the most respectable, most orderly, least obscene, and yet most thoroughly enjoyed Carnivals many years...(Anthony 1989:14)." Anthony (1989:13) suggests that the Boer War also brought the various strata of Trinidadian society together in a patriotic fervor that was particularly strong at Carnival time when kaisonians would sing songs of praise of British victories and masqueraders would dress as British field commanders.

However there were two Carnivals as the members of different classes undertook different practices and activities. Whites and members of the upper classes paraded around the Queen's Park Savannah in decorated lorries, enjoyed private parties and dances at exclusive social clubs, and staged theatrical spectacles and beauty contests while the middle and laboring classes continued to hold their celebrations downtown at Marine Square under the sponsorship of merchants.

By 1903 the new found enthusiasm of some quarters of white society for the new Carnival seemed to have waned as the Gazette of 25 February 1903 proclaimed that the festival lacked the color and gaiety of recent years and that the Carnival was below standard (Anthony 1989:17). By 1907 the Gazette complains bitterly about the growing indecency and the increase in violence among stickfighting gangs. Women are criticized for "gyrating as though they were spineless (Anthony 1989:17)." Complaints about vulgarity and violence continued for the next several years.

Forms of masquerade and the organization of masquerade bands was still closely tied in one whole unity of mas, music, and song. Bands were small groups of 10-20 usually no more than fifty arranged in a kind of hierarchy whether military bands depicting a militia, a wild Indian band with chiefs, subordinates, and warriors, or the complex demonic hierarchy of the Devil bands which grew in popularity after they first appeared in 1908. Royal coronations of the King of the band would be held in the band's headquarters immediately preceding the street processions and formed elaborate ritualistic ceremonies in the barrackyards (Hill 1972:35).

Still, the middle class and laboring classes forged a temporary alliance during the Carnival as merchants and businessmen found the festival to be an ideal forum for publicizing their stores, gaining public support, and generating business by sponsoring competitions for costumes and bands in a variety of categories at Marine Square and other locations in Port of Spain. The middle and upper classes come to participate more enthusiastically in the Carnival as the number of bands in decorated cars and lorries increased in the period before World War I.

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