Carnival in Dominica
Onto The Streets
The plantocracy of both nations however, were wary of revolt, and would not allow the free movement of slaves or the gathering of large groups in any one place or at any one time.
Only on the Sunday market days in Roseau and Portsmouth were such crowds to be found and, as the old paintings show, red-coated soldiers wandered prominently among them. On feast days it was alright for the slaves of two or three estates in one district to gather in the estate yards, but with active maroon gangs roaming the hills, particularly at the end of the 18th century, a wary eye was kept on such gatherings by the authorities. Street Carnival was out of the question and although the use of the drum was tolerated, the use of masks was strictly limited, often in some cases by proclamation.
These restrictions and the punishments involved are all too clearly stated in a notice appearing in several issues of "The Dominica Chronicle" in early 1825:
Whereas it hath been represented to us that Slaves are frequently parading in the streets of Roseau, to the annoyance of the inhabitants of the said Town. We do hereby give notice, that in future any Slave who may be found dancing in the Town of Roseau without written permission from his or her Owner for such purpose, or who may form in, or whom may form in any riotous or noisy procession in the Streets thereof, shall be punished for such offence by public whipping agreeable to the 19th Clause of the Town Warden Act.
Signed - Town Wardens - Edward Dowdy, A. Patterson, Henry Nisbet, Ralph Ashton, Justin McSwiney.
While such notices were being published in Dominica, the humanitarian movement in Britain was actively working towards the total abolition of slavery. They campaigned in Parliament and in churches, meeting halls and newspapers throughout the country.
In spite of protests by the Dominica House of Assembly that "such a fatal project" would sweep the island "into a Vortex of indiscriminate Ruin" the British Parliament past the Abolition of Slavery Act, which received Royal Assent on 29th August 1833 and became law. It would take effect on the 1st August the following year.
When the sun set on 31st July 1834, there were 14,175 slaves in Dominica and at midnight they were free. As in other islands the liberated people came out onto the streets. The proclamation was read with the customary roll of drums from the steps of the Court House on Victoria Street, where the House of assembly is located. Dressed in their best turbans and starched white cotton petticoats and jackets of "chambray" and brightly patterned calico, madras and taffeta they streamed in from the estates along the coast. Boatmen from Soufriere, Mahaut, St. Joseph and Barroui heaved on their oars with canoe-loads of passengers. Mass was celebrated in churches island wide and by midday the various forms of tambou drums, the long boom-booms and rattling shack-shacks were echoing down the streets. No "written permission" was needed now, no "papier liberté" had to be carried around for identification of freedom. Street masquerade had come to stay.