What Primary Sources are used?

This section gives readers some background about the key texts, what these sources look like, and where they come from through its focus on oral tradition, visual culture, and embedded rebellion.

The material featured here comes from a variety of different sources. The exhibit contains two journals (that mention Carnival/pre-emancipation Carnival) from Mrs. Carmichael and William C. Day. Mrs. Carmichael, a Scottish woman, wrote a detailed narrative, Domestic manners and social condition of the white, coloured, and Negro population of the West Indies, about her, travels to Saint Vincent and Trinidad in 1834. Like Mrs. Carmichael, William C. Day focuses on the entirety of his experience in the West Indies, so only a small portion of the journal looks at Carnival. William C. Day, a British man, traveled across the West Indies for five years and published a Five years' residence in the West Indies in 1852. Both of these texts are travel journals used to depict colonizer’s experiences in the West Indies.

Carnival is deeply embedded within oral tradition, as shown through many of the rituals performed as well as the heavy emphasis placed on dance, music, and masquerade. The celebration of Carnival is heavily reliant upon memory and spirituality. Visual culture plays a huge role in how Carnival is portrayed throughout this exhibit, as Carnival is primarily based upon traditions that are not able to be fully understood or grasped through words. This exhibit also consists of a series of images from Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora, “a digital archive for hundreds of historical images, paintings, lithographs, and photographs illustrating enslaved Africans and their descendants before c. 1900” (Slavery Image). Most of the artists referenced in this exhibit are western travelers, who oftentimes depicted a romanticized, idyllic portrayal  of the West Indies and enslaved people. The material featured in this exhibit includes pieces by Brunias Agostino, Isaac Mendes Belisario, Jean Baptiste Debret, and Richard Bridgens who focus on images about dance, festivals, music, and costume.

Caption: This is an image of the Slavery Images logo, the source of many texts for this exhibit.
Citation: “About · Slavery Images.” http://www.slaveryimages.org/s/slaveryimages/page/about.

This exhibit illustrates the connection between Carnival and its use of oral tradition to resist the mere idea of enslavement. Acts of defiance were committed in opposition to enslavement in order to remember this idea of home and culture African and Indigenous people were stripped off. Through varying journals and visual aid, a collection of texts that represent first-hand accounts and images of Carnival is created. These sources highlight key aspects of Carnival and forces one to look at the complexity of Carnival that is oftentimes overlooked. All these pieces can be used to really hone in the significance of Cannes Brulees, songs, dance, masquerade, diaspora as well as illustrate how these acts were taking place right in front of colonizers. By performing rituals of rebellion and resistance in front of their oppressors, enslaved people in the early Caribbean were able to both communicate resistance to one another as well as retain ties to their culture.


Works Cited:

“About · Slavery Images.” http://www.slaveryimages.org/s/slaveryimages/page/about.