Monday, 20 May 2019

Tobago's Courlander History

Tobago, a prize of war for the great powers of Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, was originally peopled by the fierce Caribs.

Possessed by Spain from the 15th century, Tobago was contested over by the Netherlands, the Duchy of Courland, England and France, passing eventually into English hands at the beginning of the 19th century.

The Duchy of Courland, which is now the Republic of Latvia situated on the Baltic Sea, had lain claim to Tobago by virtue of its Duke, Jacobus, who had been granted the island by his godfather James I of England. This claim was to be later enhanced when Charles I transferred to the Duke all claims to the island, which were previously given by royal privilege to the Earl of Warwick.
At left: Duke Jacobus (James), born 1610, died 1681.
 He was the founder of the colonial power of the Duchy of Courland.

At right: The Coat of Arms of the Duchy of Courland

Duke Jacobus, energetic and ambitious, made several attempts to colonise Tobago, some of which were temporarily successful. Courland, whose population at the time hardly exceeded half a million, had a strong sea-faring tradition and a considerable navy.

In the spring of 1642, Duke Jacobus dispatched a party of settlers with orders to establish a colony on the northern shores of the island of Tobago at a place they called Great Courland Bay.

Greater and smaller Courland Bays on the Leeward coast of Tobago.
There were several Amerindian encampments in this area. 

Early map of Tobago, circa 1640. The inset is the area of Courland Bay.

They were reported to be most fortunate with their relationships with the Caribs, who usually made it a ritual of disposing of unwelcome guests by eating them. With the clearing of the land and the planting of crops, the settlement thrived and Fort Jacobus was built, containing within its walls the First Lutheran Church in the Western World.

A plan of Fort Jacobus showing the Little Lutheran Church, said to be the first to be established in the New World. Within its walls were dwellings for soldiers and a house for the governor. An Amerindian Village was close by.

In 1654 two Dutch merchants, the brothers Adrian and Cornelius Lampsins, dispatched a number of persons to settle Tobago. They established themselves on the other side of the island and co-existed quite peacefully with the Courlanders for many years, although, at first, neither knew of the existence of the other. Both colonies engaged in agricultural pursuits, cultivating pepper and spices of various types and tobacco, which was becoming very popular in Europe, to the extent where the very name of the island, which might have been Bella Forma or perhaps Concepción or Assunción, was forgotten and it was to become known as Tobacco or later Tobago.

The battleship "Die Pax" (46 guns) arrived at Tobago in September 1656 with 120 Latvians colonists on board.
Three Couranian ships of the 17th century at anchor in Great Courland Bay.
On the land, the settlement can be seen with figures of people working in the field.
 Top right: 
The reverse of a medal showing a typical Couronian ship,
a symbol of the Duchy’s growing sea power.

James I who claimed Tobago for England in 1608.
By the Treaty of London, in 1604, James had agreed to respect Spanish sovereignty only over those territories already effectively occupied by Spain. He is said to have granted Tobago to his godson, Duke Jacobus of Courland, in 1610. The ruling family of Courland was closely related to the Stuart dynasty.

A Lutheran Church was built within the walls of Fort Jacobus in the early years of the settlement.
 It is reputed to have been the first in the New World.

With the fall of the Duchy of Courland in 1658 to the Swedes, who took the Duke prisoner, there was much confusion on the island, and some deprivation as no vessels arrived to supply the Couronian settlement. As a consequence, the Dutch were able to take control, when the Courlanders, in great distress, surrendered to them the garrison at Great Courland.

Charles II of England. In 1664, shortly after his return to the throne, Charles re-granted Tobago to the Duke of Courland, probably in acknowledgement of the Duke's support during his exile.

Over the next decade the French, the Dutch and the English contested violently for this most beautiful island in the far western sea, but Courland’s claim was not put to rest, for in 1680, another attempt was made to colonise the island. This too was without success.

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Sunday, 17 March 2019

The Chinese of Trinidad

Written by: Bridget Brereton
From: Book of Trinidad by Gérard A. Besson and Bridget Brereton,378f

Immigrants from India were not the only people to enter the society in the decades after Emancipation, though they were by far the most numerous. From Asia also came a small but important stream of Chinese immigrants. As early as 1806, a small  number of men from China had been settled in the island, but significant Chinese immigration really, began after Emancipation. Between 1853 and 1866, about 2,500 Chinese, mostly men, arrived to work on the estates as indentured labourers under the same terms as the Indians. 1866 marks the end of indentured Chinese immigration because in that year the Chinese government insisted on a free return passage, which would have been prohibitively costly; but it does not, of course, mark the end of Chinese immigration to Trinidad. After 1866, they arrived in small numbers as voluntary, ‘free’ immigrants; some came via British Guiana where a larger Chinese community had been established.
The Lee Lum dynasty, for example, was established here when John Lee Lum arrived in 1912 at the age of 20. After the Chinese revolution in 1911, immigration picked up and was quite high between the 1920’s and the late 1940’s, a turbulent era of China’s modern history. Thus Trinidad’s Chinese population had increased from 1,334 in 1921 to 8,361 in 1960. Many of the post-1911 immigrants came via Hong Kong or even the United States and arrived knowing some English and familiar to some extent with Western ways.

S. Hochoy 
V.I.T. Hochoy 
S. Atteck

S. Lee Lum

Few of the early Chinese immigrants remained on the estates for long. Most of them became shopkeepers, market gardeners or butchers. Many married Creole women and adopted Christianity. The post-1911 immigrants, coming in larger numbers, were probably better able to hold on to some of their cultural and family traits as a sizable Chinese community was gradually established. Above all, the Chinese established themselves as rural and village shopkeepers, along with their Portuguese rivals. By the 1940’s, important trading terms had been established by Chinese families, such as the Lee Lums and the Scotts.

Chinese Oyster Vendor of the 1880s.
Photo: U.W.I. Library

Culturally, the Chinese language (in its two major forms, Hakka from North China and Cantonese from the South) survived among the Trinidad Chinese community, and in fact, the 1940’s saw an effort to revive the language and the culture. The Communist takeover in 1949, however, severed virtually all links between China and the Caribbean Chinese so that the language dwindled until, today, few of the young Chinese in Trinidad can speak it. The demise of Chinese religions in Trinidad was even swifter:—by 1960 virtually no Chinese-Trinidadian practised Buddhism or Confucianism. The vast majority were fully integrated into the Christian Churches, especially the Roman Catholic church. Traditional Chinese culture is rapidly disappearing among the community, and it is perhaps only in the field of food preparation that it has made a profound impact on the wider society.
Yet Trinidad’s Chinese community has produced outstanding figures such as Eugene Chen who served as Foreign Minister in Sun-Yat-Sen’s Government in China, Solomon Hochoy, first local Governor and first Governor-General of the nation, the artist Carlisle Chang, and Carnival bandleaders Stephen and Elsie Lee Heung. Prominent especially as businessmen and professionals, the Chinese community seems to exercise an influence out of all proportion to its numerical strength.

Sources: D. Wood, Trinidad in Transition.
T. Millette, The Chinese in Trinidad.


Standing from left to right: J.E. Lai Fook, F. Yip Young, C. Lee Ghin, Miss C. Hosang, G.L. Francis-Lau, Lee Chee, L.R. Lum Yan.
Sitting from left to right: C. Tan Yuk, H. Chinasing, Dr. T.P. Achong, J.R. Hingking, E. Lee Lum, J. Leung, Marfoe. 
Missing: Dr. S.E. Ammon, Dr. M. Chu-Cheong, and J. Ling.
Photograph—Moyin Chinasing

The date of the introduction of Chinese immigrants into the island is given by Joseph as 12 October, 1806, that being the day on which the ship Fortitude anchored in our harbour. He gives the information that the men were Tartars and not accustomed to working in the fields, and that only one woman was among the number; the total being 193. He accounts for the absence of women from the fact that they would be unsuitable as field workers from the restricted size of their feet. He further stated that, with the exception of about 23, the whole number returned by the same ship Fortitude.

H. Lu Affat 
R. Austin 
C.D. Fung-Fatt 
C.M. Fung 
C.H. George

C.E. Huggins 
D.R. Huggins 
K.M. Lee 
P.A.S. Ling 
C.M.C. Ling 
U.L. Look Yan 
R.L. Low

Above: The Chinese Council, Queens Park West. Originally the home of Packer Hutchinson. It was acquired by several members of the Chinese community in Trinidad to serve as a cultural centre and Council after the collapse of the Chang Kai-Shek Government in China. It fell into disuse and was eventually demolished. It is now a vacant lot. Photograph—I.P. George.

Above: Members of the Madame Chang Kai-Shek Club, an American organisation composed of Chinese girls, march past in the chorus in ‘Strike Up the Band’ which formed part of the celebrations for American Independence Day. Left to right are Vida Wong, Ulrica Lee Kai, Adrie Archer and Madge Chin. (U.S. Army Signal Corps Photograph—courtesy of Trinidad News Tips)

Miss Thora Thomas, dancer and choreographer,
whose contribution to dance to the young
in Trinidad cannot be exaggerated.
Photograph—I.P. George.


Based on a lecture by: Dr. Robert K. Lee  
From: Book of Trinidad by Gérard A. Besson and Bridget Brereton, 383f

1944 "Chien Chiao" Cover
The first documentary evidence of the Chinese community in Trinidad is contained in the census of 1810 which mentions ‘a colony of 22 Chinese males who lived in misery in Cocorite, making their living selling charcoal, oysters, and crabs.’ Prior to Emancipation, the small number of Chinese immigrants can be accounted for by a general indifference to the outside world in China and the fact that the legal penalty for emigration was death (this law was not repealed until 1894); there was also a strong tradition that ancestral spirits should only be cared for by descendants. Towards the end of the 19th century, however, various factors in China prompted a move towards emigration:—the collapse of the feudal system, the doubling of the population from 120 million in the 1790’s to 300 million, and the burden of increased taxation imposed by the corrupt Empire. 
The Chinese immigrants came from two groups: the Punti and the Hakka. The Cantonese, speaking Punti, originally from the North of China, had intermarried with the ethnic Chinese Miao. The Hakka, who spoke their own language, had settled on land cleared of Punti, who were suspected of disloyalty to the Empire. Following the Civil War between Hakka and Punti 1854-68, the Hakka, who were already accustomed to the maritime life, began to look across the sea, especially after hearing the news of the discovery of gold in California in 1848. 
Chinese immigrants came to Trinidad in different ways; some came under contract as indentured labourers; many were ‘shanghaied’—abducted into virtual slavery by European traders either in the West Indies or South America. Hakka prisoners were also sought by Punti traders for the infamous ‘Pig Trade’ whereby Hakka, described as pigs on bills of lading, were shipped off to the New World. Older Trinidadian Chinese still refer to mainland Chinese or recently arrived immigrants as ‘mee chee chai’—young pigs or fresh pork. By 1874, the Governor of Canton had banned the ‘Pig Trade’ and the Chinese were replaced with the more tractable East Indians as indentured labourers. 
Advertisements for Lee Lum & Co.
and Sam Lee's Laundry, 1941
During the early years of immigration, Chinese merchant houses acted as facilitating agencies for new arrivals; they provided temporary accommodation, job placements and community centres; they also imported brides and shipped back bones for village interment. 
Although the Chinese community has apparently been assimilated in Trinidad to a greater extent than anywhere else in the world, it has left indelible marks on contemporary Trinidadian culture. It was the Chinese who originally introduced ‘whe-whe’ or ‘Pakka Piu’. Today’s game still bears a strong resemblance to the original Chinese game; the marks are largely derived from the Chinese zodiac and still retain much of their original symbolism. Trinidadian cuisine also owes a debt to the original Chinese immigrants who brought various plants and vegetables with them; the East Indians later supplemented these and consequently the fruits and vegetables in Trinidad are the best in the Caribbean in terms of freshness and variety (Chinese cooks insist on using only young, tender and nutritious produce). Cantonese cooks set up shops and over the years have educated the Trinidadian palate. Thus it was that ghingee, carailee, christophene, snow peas, narchoi, pakchoi, mustard bush, white radish and white melon entered local markets. 

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