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Friday, 24 December 2010

227 years of Christmas into Carnival

ASTRIDE: Actor Nigel Scott on horseback plays the part of Governor Sanford Freeling
Trinidadians have always loved their mas and this is what Captain Baker found out when, high on the success of the previous year, he again tried to stop the Canboulay procession in 1881. And while a lot is known about this period in our Carnival history, Sir Sanford Freeling is a lesser known figure.
This was brought to light however at the launch of Carnival 2011 recently at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain. There were a lot of police present but unlike the events of 1880 and 1881, the police were there to make sure everything went okay.
John Cowley, in his Carnival, Canboulay and Calypso, notes that “Canboulay was seen as an integral part of the Carnival”.
The recent Carnival launch took place under blue skies and hot sun, Perfect weather for a launch in the outdoors and the kind of weather, no doubt, that would have been immediately familiar to “Captain” Arthur Wybrow Baker (he really was only a Lieutenant). Baker, an Englishman, had arrived in Trinidad in 1877 and he did not like Carnival or Canboulay. 
Cowley reports that in 1880, “police were stationed judiciously on foot throughout Port of Spain. Baker controlled the streets on horseback, assisted by sub-Inspector Concannon and Sergeant Major Brierley. On commencement of Canboulay they interposed at each stickband conflict and forced the surrender of flambeaux, drums and sticks”.
Into all this, later on the year 1880, November to be exact, came Sir Sanford Freeling to take up the post of Governor of the then colony. Baker had already made up this mind that Canboulay would not happen in 1881 and he went to Freeling with the request to stop it, which he refused. According to Cowley a notice was posted in Port of Spain and environs which stated, “Captain Baker demanded from our just and noble governor, Sir Sanford Freeling, his authority to prevent the night of Canboulay, but our Excellency refused”. Baker thought he would have been able to suppress the Canboulay as easily has he’d done the previous year, what he did not know was that the stickbands had organised to oppose him and the fights that took place on the night of February 27 and early morning February 28 are now in the pages of history and on the city streets through the now annual Canboulay renactment on Jouvert morning.
It was up to Freeling to restore order and he had no intention of stopping Carnival. What he did was to confine the police to their barracks and allowed the population to continue with their Carnival. He also made a speech to the masqueraders giving them the assurance he was on their side and had no intention of stopping their pleasure. 
This speech was heard once again on December 5 at the launch of Carnival 2011 themed “Back To De Savannah”. At the launch, the role of Freeling was revived by well-known local thespian Nigel Scott. It shows that while Freeling had been in the country less than a year, he understood the town of which he was Governor.
Governor Sanford Freeling’s Speech:

My dear friends, I have come down this afternoon to have a little talk with you. I wish to tell you that it is entirely a misconception on your part, to think that there is any desire on the part of the Government to stop your amusement. I know everybody at times likes to amuse themselves; I have no objection to amuse myself whenever I have an opportunity. I had no idea what your masquerade was like. If I had known you should have had no cause for disaffection. There has been entirely a misconception on all sides, for the only interference was the fear of fire; I thought that the carrying of torches at this time might be attended with danger, and I was anxious to guard against it. That was the only objection; it was the fear of fire and nothing more. The Government had no other objection. I did not know you attached so much importance to your masquerade. I also wish to tell you how proud I am to be Governor of your island; I had a desire to come here and know you, that I could write and tell Her Majesty the Queen that no more loyal and peaceful subjects inhabit the other colonies like Trinidad. I am come down this afternoon for I felt I could have confidence in your loyalty. I have trusted myself among you, and I would not hesitate to bring my wife and my children on such an occasion – I feel they would be very safe, if your decision be to carry out your masquerade in a peaceful manner. I am willing to allow you every indulgence. You can enjoy yourself for these two days and I will give you the town for your masquerade, if you promise me not to make any disturbance, or break the law. I shall give orders that the constabulary shall not molest or interfere with you, if you keep within the law. I trust that you will continue to enjoy yourselves without any disturbance. There shall be no interference with your masquerade. Thank you. 

There’s just one more point to be made about Trinis and our Christmas into Carnival celebrations. Cowley says that there was no annual Carnival during the Spanish rule but when the French Creole planters and their slaves came after the Cedula of Population in 1783 and he offers this description from Pierre-Gustave-Louis Borde:

The pleasures of meals at the dining table and picnics were added to those of music and dancing. There followed nothing but concerts and balls. There were lunches and dinners, hunting parties and expeditions on the river, as well as Carnival which lasted from Christmas time until Ash Wednesday. It was nothing but a long period of feasts and pleasures. 

We’ve been partying like this, ladies and gentlemen, for roughly 227 years and that’s one thing about Trinidad that’s not likely to change any time soon. A very Merry Christmas and Happy Carnival to all.

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