Culture , kalinda (stick fighting) and me.

Stick fighting, “kalinda” was bought to Trinidad by our African slave ancestors , and has always been a part of Trinidad’s culture , though of course it was never really approved by society.

Also called “creole wood” , ” bois” , ” battaille bois” the tradition has endured into the modern era.

Today , efforts have been made to authenticate stick fighting as a Trinidadian version of the martial arts , and appreciation for organized stick fighting contests have grown in recent years.

There is also no question that stick fighting chants , “lav-ways” as they are called , played an important role in the development of the calypso artform.
Indeed , one of the most popular calypso tunes ever , “Ambakaila” was actually a kalinda chant :

“And oh , de glorious morning come ,
Ambakaila,”

The next line sung in French patois went something like this (from memory , I don’t know patois) :

“Depuis ma mere faire moi etc. etc …….
Ambakaila (en battaille la).

Meaning:
“Since my mama made me I never got beaten,
In the battle ( stick fight)”
Of course that was changed to party lyrics with the chorus of “Ambakaila”.

 

As a lover of my Trinidad culture , I was always intrigued by the stick fighters (bois men) of Trinidad.

I spent a few years in New Grant as a child (deep in the country , in those days) and we lived at Hindustan Road junction. I have vivid memories of bands of stickmen (gayelles ) coming out of the “Mang “, down Hindustan Road on their way to the stick fighting competitions at Moruga Road Junction.
These “Mang” men are the ones who called themselves “Merikins”, and are descendants of American slaves , who fought for the British during the war of 1812 in exchange for their freedom , and who were sent to Trinidad after the war.
They lived in villages designated by the names of their military units , and the Mang was actually Sixth Company Village.

I remember their “flambeaux” torches in the night, their head ties and of course their “mountain dew” rum ( called “babash” nowadays) as the “bois men” (pronounced “bwah” men) marched down to the stick fight, chanting lav-ways like “Benjamin Moanin’, Benjamin Moanin’ in de grave” or “King Cobo dead, tomorrow is a grand funeral”.
In those days , local shopkeepers would donate a “hamper” , usually consisting of rum , groceries (including a shoulder ham), and sometimes some cash , though stick fighting was still somewhat underground.

 

My father loved stick fighting , and owned a fine length of pois wood , which was the stick fighter’s weapon, but my mother detested that aspect of our culture , considering it the province of the lowest classes of society.

I remember one day my mother administered a severe whipping when she saw me trying to dance the Kalinda (ka-raying) in front of the mirror with my father’s stick.

Today however , despite its inherent violence , the Kalinda (Calinda) is gaining respect as a vital and viable part of Trinidad’s history and culture , even though the main objective of the battle is to “cut” the opponent , or to draw blood.

As they chant in one of their “lavways” (patois from La voix – the voice) “No bois man doh fraid no bois man” and “Any bois man could cut any bois man”

 

Final of the “Gayelle War” , the final competition between groups of stick fighters , “Gayelles” , from different areas.

The traditional role of the Trinidadian Calypsonian has been among other things historian and storyteller. He is a true descendant of the West African “griot”.

This calypso by Maestro introduces us to a segment of Trinidad seldom heard of, the men of “The Mang”, Sixth Company , described as “the Mountain Dew Gang”, because of their affinity for illegal alcohol , called “mountain dew” back then but known as “babash” today..
(I’ve always assumed that it was called the “Mang” ,because of the prevalence of mangrove in that area).

The “Mang” men were also some of the deadliest stickfighters, and Maestro salutes them in his classic calypso.

Mountain Dew Gang – Maestro 

I remember several of the names in this calypso from hearing them as a child, and Maestro who I knew ,and who was also from the “country” would also have known of them.

Apart from being a great kaiso, this song also has historic value of a time and place.

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