The history of the Trinidad Carnival in the 19th century is a continuous process of transgression by which two separate and distinct festivals occupying the same festive space became creolised into the one Carnival which we celebrate annually.
It is generally assumed that pre-emancipation Carnival was a decorous affair in which the behavior of free Africans was regulated, and in which the enslaved played no part. This notion derives from Fraser’s memorandum to the Commission of Enquiry investigating the Canboulay riots of 1881, and is reinforced by scholars like Andrew Pearse, Errol Hill and Anthony de Verteuil.
This paper argues otherwise and uses as evidence material found in the work of the afore-mentioned scholars. The larger case constructed from this re-reading of the conventional scholarship on the Carnival is that before emancipation there has been an African tradition which has persisted until today.