Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago: A Continuity of History

An interview with Dara Healy, founder of Idakeda Group and the Indigenous Creative Arts Network.

The Arts Interview

 

Eintou and members of the cast perform Kambule
Eintou and members of the cast perform Kambule. Photos courtesy of Dara Healy.

 

Editor's Note: This essay is part two in a three-part series on the history and celebration of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. Read part one here.

 

 

In the cases of most oppressive phenomena, the subjugated resist the denial of their personhood in a myriad of ways. Consequently, many facets of the offensive undertakings they endure come to be infused with elements intrinsic to the cultural landscape from which they were ripped. This was very much the case with enslaved Africans in Trinidad and Tobago and the French Cannes Brulées. During the Cannes Brulées, (‘the burning of the canes’) the French plantation owners would rouse the enslaved out of their sleep with horns and other implements and “drive” them with whips to the cane fields to extinguish fires. 

 

Some of the most notable African elements infused into this procession were the calinda songs, which were tongue-in-cheek songs of resistance. These have since morphed into the modern day Calypso composed for and sung during the Carnival season. Along with these songs, the kalenda/calinda, a form of traditional Guinea stick fighting, was also reformed and is still an important part of the Carnival agenda today. 

 

The stick fighting, calinda songs, and African drumming became acts of resistance during the violent Cannes Brulées processions, and forms of expression during periods of release at social gatherings. The attempt by the British in 1881 to outlaw and ban the Carnival (a period of social gathering and release) resulted in the Kambule Riots of that same year. These riots saw the colonised reaching for the ritualised behaviours of resistance and release they demonstrated at social gatherings. 

 

This second instalment of this series will progress along the line of continuity and change, processes which contribute significantly to how we humans come to define ourselves through time. In exploring the history and current state of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, we open ourselves to discover points of connectivity between the past and the present. Pulling on the tangled mass that is contemporary Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago we would find that the spiritual and daily practices of our African ancestors are contained and continue therein.

 

I’ve begun exploring this line of continuity and change through conversations with actors who have taken up the mantle of social activism by educating the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago on the historiography of the festival, thereby ensuring that the linkages between our past and present are not lost to the annals of time. I spoke with Dara Healy, who along with her mother, Eintou Pearl Springer, created and manages the theatre arts organisation Idakeda Group. From my interview I learned that the performance is not just a show, and that the masquerade is not simply about having a good time. 

 

*****

 

Shrinagar Francis: With respect to the re-enactment and the Kambule Riots how are you involved? 

 

Dara Healy: I am the choreographer and also function as the producer on behalf of Idakeda. The show is produced on behalf of the National Carnival Commission.

 

SF: What does the name Idakeda represent?  

 

DH: Idakeda is an amalgamation of the names of the women in the family:

  • Ida (grandmother)
  • Kisembe (sister)
  • Eintou
  • Dara
  • Attillah (sister)

 

SF: What prompted the group’s creation? 

 

DH: Idakeda was initially formed to protect and promote the creative works of Eintou Springer. However, the group has since evolved and now engages in social activism, advocating on behalf of vulnerable communities and using Carnival and the Theatre Arts as our medium of intervention. 

 

SF: Why Kambule? 

 

DH: Kambule may be described as a Ritual of Remembrance for the ancestors who fought for freedom and for those who kept our Carnival traditions alive. The 2009 play by Eintou Springer has been titled ‘Kambule’, is the Kikongo word for procession. It is performed at 4:00am every Carnival Friday morning at the site of the original riots, to pay homage to the people who saved Carnival so that we can experience it today. Trinidad and Tobago can boast of a Carnival that has inspired over 100 similar celebrations around the world. It was due to the bravery and sacrifice of these rioters that we still have Carnival today. 

 

SF: What is significant about this particular re-enactment? 

 

DH: ‘Kambule’ the play re-enacts the riots and pays tribute to our warrior ancestors of the Mas, bringing their achievements centre stage to be witnessed by the entire society. The Carnival that we now take for granted was a hard-fought accomplishment. The former enslaved of the barrack yards of not only Port of Spain but also in the East and South of the island, agitated intensely; however of these the 1881 riots in Port of Spain were the most significant

 

SF: What is the significance of the Kambule?  

 

DH: Kambule reminds us of the creative influence Africans had on the festival despite enslavement. In the Gayelle of existence, those ancestors fought inch by contested inch to clear a space for the manifestations of their culture. 

 

Dara Healy as Orisa warrior goddess Osun
Dara Healy as Orisa warrior goddess Osun.

 

SF: Why is the re-imagining and re-presentation of the Kambule important today?

 

DH: Kambule says to our youth that they have much to claim, and much of which they can be proud. The play also reminds us that theatre and the arts have a seminal role to play in rekindling ancestral memory and creating the positive self-image necessary to deal with the now and to prepare ourselves for the challenges of the future. Cultural resistance should not be a phenomenon of the past.

 

SF: Do you see what you are doing having an impact? 

 

DH: Yes – our audience every year is easily about 3,000 people, who come out from as early as 2:00 – 2:30AM to see the show that commences at 4:00AM. The audience includes students, from as young as primary school age to university students, professors, attorneys, senior citizens, members of the diplomatic corps, returning nationals and the people from the scene of the original riots, that is, East Port of Spain. 

 

SF: Where would you like to take Kambule? What would you like to see happen with it? 

 

DH: Our vision is to share Kambule with the rest of the world. We would like to travel to the different Carnivals inspired by T&T, to spread the message of how our Carnival was threatened and saved. In order to showcase Kambule outside of Carnival, we would have to attract the funding to make this a reality. We would also like to document Kambule on film, and be able to protect that copyright. As it stands, individuals and organisations currently record the production, and  some then use these recordings to generate profits abroad, but not to our benefit or on our behalf. 

 

SF: What is your eventual hope for yourself and the people around you who are involved in Kambule? 

 

DH: We will continue to positively affect vulnerable communities and keep strengthening the Idakeda group and our brand. It is important for us that we are a constant source of continuous growth and engagement for members of our artistic group. We are thankful for the input of Attillah Springer as Production Coordinator and the commitment of our performers and back-stage crew.

 

At the executive level, we are constantly challenging ourselves to find ways to allow all of us to continue to grow in strength together. Financial strength is important as well, since this will allow us to be able to implement our programmes in a sustained manner and achieve our goal of positively impacting society.

 

SF: What do you want the legacy of your work with Idakeda to be? 

 

DH: I would like this work to inspire public acknowledgement of the contribution of African peoples to the development of Port of Spain. It is also important that this act of resistance is taught as part of our school curriculum. It will empower people of African heritage and benefit our entire nation. I envisage that one day the 1881 rebellion and its relevance to society will feature prominently in our lesson plans from primary school right through to university level. 

 

*****

 

About Dara Healy, M.A.

 

Dara HealyDara E. Healy is the founder of the cultural organisation Idakeda Group and the NGO Indigenous Creative Arts Network (ICAN). She is a dancer/choreographer, writer, stage and film actress and storyteller. She is the recipient of the University of the West Indies (U.W.I) Felix Harrington prize for Dance.

 

Dara is an experienced communications specialist, executive coach and trainer. She is a former journalist and has worked across the Caribbean as a television producer. She has been a columnist with the T&T Newsday since 2015. She combines her professional experience as a communications specialist with her skills as a performance artist to create unique training and development programmes for vulnerable populations, government, private and community-based organisations.

 

 

The Mantle PatreonIf you like this article, please consider becoming a Patron and contributing to the work we do here at The Mantle.

 

Trinidad and Tobago, Carnival, Theater, History, Women, Culture