In Brief: The Calinda is a musical accompaniment that has become synonymous with the practice of competitive stick fighting, popularized  in Trinidad and Tobago and several other Caribbean islands.  It is both a martial art, a sport, a dance, and a musical form, with origins traced to the 1720s.  As popularized during French rule of the island nation, Calinda is a French spelling variant.  This practice is particularly popular during Carnival season, and stick fighting has been linked to civil unrest during periods of white oppression and occupation- most famously the Canboulay Riots in Trinidad.  More specifically, the Calinda itself is the music and singing, and the term in its narrowest form has been used to refer to the three drum combination of bouller, the fouller and cutter  that accompanies the dancing and stick fighting.

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Origins and History: Calinda has its origins in African stick fighting and drumming traditions, of which there are many varitations.  Imported with African Slaves to the island, the art has developed into formalized competition during Carnival season.

The ban on carrying sticks, imposed by the British government, was a major factor in the civil unrest that became the Canboulay riots.

Costuming: Early stick fighting costumes were akin the Princely Pierrot in some ways, which lends further confusion to the differentiation between the two roles, as also Pierrots are known to be openly combative when facing other Pierrots.  Stick fighters in the 1800s have been cited as wearing a heart or diamond shaped breast cloth reffered to as a “fold” which was often beeded as well and covered with shining baubles, glass, etc.  Often constructed by loved ones, this central area was of particular connection to honor, and if shattered, it was a demoralizing blow to the assailed fighter.

The stick itself is roughly thirty inches in length and made from a variety of woods selected for a balance of strength and flexibility, treated with oils and often with heat to harden it.  The sticks have been referred to as “beau-sticks”.

Sounds and Speech: In addition to sounds made by fighters, there is a chorus singing the “lavway”, patois for la voix, or “the voice”.  A chanter often leads the group and the lavway is sung.

Movement: Each stick fighter is said to have his own movement patterns.  However, commonly there is a rhythmic repetition akin to an exaggerated, highly stylized “chip” or shuffle.  The repeated rhythm of the movement pattern can be varied to throw off an opponent, and is often used tactically.  Certainly, the non-combat segment of the fight could be described as dancing.  Stick fighters exchange blows.

Other Behavior:  Traditionally, the sound of the Calinda worked in tandem with the fight and movements of the bois-men (trans. “wood men” or “stick men”) who were the stick fighters.  They would lend energy, dictate tempo of fight movements.  The Chantuelle, the singer (or chanter)  would instiage, and invite the audience from the gayelle (the ring of onlookers) to jump into the ring for battle.  It has been said that this extemporaneous speech/song style is the root of competitive calypsonians.

In addition to formalized Gayelles, there is also a network of “open” Gayelles that allow for far less regulated stick combat.

Variations and Developments of Note: n/a

References in Arts and Popular Culture: n/a

Related Characters: The Negue Jadin.

Bands and Individual Performers: n/a

Other Information: A sample title of a chant in the Gayelle would be, “Pretty man nuh play in Gayelle”.

Sample Text from a Gayelle Song Would be,“Tell yuh muddah doh cry, tell yuh sister doh cry, tell yuh children doh cry. If yuh loss yuh teeth, real bois man doh cry. If yuh die yuh die, real bois man doh cry.”

Another sample Calinda text, presented by Errol Hill is, “Rain can’t wet me/When I have my poui in my hand./Rain can’t wet me,/I advancing on the foe like a roaring lion!”

Interviews and Scholarship: Please refer to the archival interviews above.


Henry, Jeff. Under the mas’: resistance and rebellion in the Trinidad masquerade. San Juan, Trinidad and Tobago: Lexicon, 2008. Print.

Hill, Errol. The Trinidad carnival; mandate for a national theatre.. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972. Print.

Baynes, Cori. “MAS REPUBLIC: Stick fuh so.” MAS REPUBLIC: Stick fuh so. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2013. <>.

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