History of T&T’s Carnival
To fully understand how Carnival as we know it came about, it is imperative to understand the whole history of T&T as a country. If you remember your school lessons you would know that Christopher Columbus “discovered” the island in 1498 and gallantly claimed the land for Spain. Spain repaid his loyalty by mainly ignoring the island for over two hundred and fifty years.
All the way until 1776, when the Spanish king José de Gálvez finally had a revelation and issued a Cedula of Population, a decree that effectively invited residents from surrounding French administered territories to move to Trinidad. Another Cedula of Population in 1783 brought a new influx of French Creoles and the island became irrevocably stamped with these cultural influences.
In 1797, Great Britain took over control of the territory and, in true British fashion, immediately went about colonising it. Meanwhile, the ongoing revolution in France was still spurring on migrants from its territories into Trinidad. Thus, Trinidad was, at that time, a British Crown Colony with a mainly French speaking population.
The British imposed strict martial law during Christmas and Lent was a period of sacrifice and solemnity. So naturally, everyone partied between the two seasons. These festivities were markedly different depending on one’s social class and standing. The rich, white French Catholic planters and their elite associates staged elaborate masquerade balls with masks and costumes. Their subordinates, the enslaved Africans, mimicked their actions in their own clandestine celebrations which incorporated similar elements, including masks and costumes.
In 1838, slaves in Trinidad were freed but they still were not allowed to participate in Carnival. This small matter of being banned did not deter them from carrying on as they please. This led to the Canboulay riots in the 1880s, which are still commemorated today.
Today, Carnival is a grand spectacle that attracts people from all over the globe to T&T. They wake up early to sling mud at each other on J’ouvert morning, play Mas in the scorching hot sun, and lime at our premium selection of fetes throughout the season.