Within a decade of the approval of the Cédula, Trinidad’s population had boomed to over 18,000 residents compared to a few thousand only a decade before. French planters, along with those they enslaved, and free people of colour all flooded into Trinidad, and this is where the magic began. The enslaved from different islands mixed with the enslaved in Trinidad, and a beautiful, much larger culture was born. It is this mixture of Caribbean people that we see replicated in Carnivals up and down the United Kingdom. As Caribbean people, we are always migrating and creating hubs and networks wherever we settle.
We continue the same traditions in the UK as we chip down di road with our call and response to the soca songs, the prosody of which perfectly match the riddim and the lyrics, replicating the chanté Mas while proudly singing the lavwé chorus. Like our ancestors of old in the Caribbean, we are the matadors, the djamettes, the red ochres, the bad-johns and the sensay who meet the djab molassie, the lansé kòd, the djab djab and the nèg gwo siwo that stain the roads black with tar and paint, donning chains that represent the cords used to bind their ancestors, along with horns to appear even more frightening. The anger of our forebears is alive and well. As we pass down each road, we flirt with history, reality and fantasy.
As we head to the streets, I am reminded of how, after being emancipated from slavery, the freed people brought the Masquerade to the streets from the estate. I think of how in Dominica in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially in the towns of Portsmouth and Roseau, the labourers, fishermen and domestic workers were joined by the bands from the villages across the island to destroy the lofty behavioural standards of the ruling class. They would become loud, unrespectable and effectively uncontrollable people. The ruling class, also participating in Mas, did the reverse, performing as characters such as the nèg jaden, the field slave. People would take the opportunity to reverse societal status for a day, showing us that, in a way, class and identity are human fabrications.