Friday 30 September 2011

Carib Tale

Mausica estate off the Arima old road is now no more. The giant immortelles, the mother of the cocoa, no longer house hundreds of yellow-tail bird nests. They were cut down years ago to give way to a school and housing development. The river that ran behind the old estate house has all but disappeared, and the ancient forest from which it sprang has also vanished. Mausica came into our family more than two hundred years ago when a distant relation of my father’s people, who had come from France in the 1780s, married a beautiful half Spanish, half  Carib girl named Mausica.
It was she who brought with her, as her dowry, her inheritance was the ancient Spanish title to this beautiful piece of Trinidad, and it was after her that the estate was named. This truly beautiful human being, who lived to a great age and was remembered by the older people of Arima up until a generation or so ago, also left behind a wonderful colletion of folktales and memories of her mother’s people, the Caribs. This is one such tale:

How the Caribs came to the earth
Once upon a time, the Caribs lived on the moon. They didn’t call it ‘moon’, but they lived there nevertheless, and the outlines of their land on the moon can be seen by everybody on a cloudless night.
Of course, the Caribs were looking at the earth from their land on the moon, and indeed they were wondering why the earth looked so dark and gloomy. One day they decided to come over and give it a good cleaning, so it would shine brightly. They rode on some clouds, descended on the earth and started to clean it, but when they found that they had done enough, they couldn’t find their clouds again to return to the moon. They started to pray to their Most Ancient One, but to no avail. As the day grew to a close, they started to be very hungry. On the moon, they would just pick up the nourishing moon dust, mix it with water, form it into pleasant shapes, bake it and eat those moon cakes. They tried to do that with earth’s clay, but it grew hard and wasn’t edible at all.
The Most Ancient One, however, sent them some birds - which the Caribs had never seen before - which showed them how to pick berries and fruit and eat those. So the Caribs also started to eat fruit and berries, which quelled their first hunger.
After a while, however, they grew tired of the berries. They again prayed to the Most Ancient One, and again their faith was rewarded. In the forest, they found a most miraculous tree, whose branches bore different fruit, and from whose roots sprang all kinds of vegetables: plaintains, cassava, corn and yam.
The Caribs were amazed at the tree, but since they were only used to moondust, again they did not know that this was food. A wild animal came to their help again: this time a wild hog or quenk, which showed them how to rummage in the soft earth and dig out the roots and provisions. The famished Caribs washed all the provisions, put them in the unpalatable clay vessels that they had made and cooked them. What a delicious innovation!
It seemed to become clear that they would not ever be able to return to the moon. When they saw that the fruit and provisions from the miraculous tree were diminishing, again they started to worry about the future. But the Most Ancient One again helped them out: in their sleep, he whispered to them to cut branches from the tree and plant them, so that they in turn would grow to become fruit-bearing. He also told them to keep grains of maize and how to plant some of the roots so they would grow into new plants.
The Caribs did as they were told, and soon, their settlement on earth was a beautiful little village, where everybody grew their food around their ajoupas. And they stayed on earth for a long, long time.
Every now and then, they would look up at the moon on a cloudless night, and think of the times when they ancestors ate moondust and in turn looked at the dark earth. And then they would sit down and tell this story to their sons and daughters.

Crown Colony Rule

The extent to which crown colony politics impacted on the collective consciousness of Trinidad during the 19th century and way into the 20th century is still being played out today. The manner in which political parties arrange themselves in this multi-ethnic society and the ministerial system through which the country is governed are all the natural result of how we started off in the closing years of the 18th century, the 1790s.
In the years immediately after the British conquest, there was no question of granting an elected assembly to Trinidad. The empire was at war and the governors sent out to run the place were military men and professional soldiers: Picton, Hislop and Munroe. Assemblies existed in some of the older British colonies, however, in Tobago, Jamaica and Canada.
In any event, Trinidad possessed Spanish laws. Some 90% of the population - both African and European - were French and Patois-speaking and were catholic. The major engines that drove the economy were the great estates. They were in the hand of mostly French people, both European and ‘free coloureds’, who also happened to own almost all the slaves.
As the time came, almost 40 years later, to free the slaves, the Colonial Office in London decided that the moment had arrived to grant Trinidad a law-making body. Not an elected assembly, but a Legislative Council, the membership of which would be nominated by the governor. This was put into place in 1831 and would not be altered until 1924. This body effectively replaced the Council of Advice that dated back to Sir Thomas Picton’s times.
The new council was organised thus:
a) the official members, being the leading officers of the British establishment, such as the police, health, immigration etc., represented by the heads of those departments;
b) the unofficial members, private citizens who were nominated by the governor. These were drawn from the ‘principle proprietors of the colony’;
c) the governor who presided this body.
The Legislative Council was to enact ordinances to which both the governor and the Colonial Office in London had to assent. This became the norm, although the British government retained its right to govern directly from London ‘by order in council’.
The governor in fact elected everyone and between 1832 and 1862 could command the officials, who were in the majority, to vote for him.
The island was well off. By the 1840s, it was producing a small but literate coloured middle class. The French planter society that had been financially devastated by the freeing of the slaves, were beginning to ‘catch themselves’ in the 1850s. Much like their African compatriots, the French also had nowhere to return to and began to harbour nascent nationalistic sentiments that were to express themselves twenty years later in the reform movements. Culturally, the descendants of both the free blacks and the French Creoles had a lot in common with each other. Both groups subscribed to the aristocratic tradition, were catholic, land-owning and most of all shared a common feeling of being alienated in their own land, now owned by Britain, to which various officials came and ultimately left. This was, however, a limited communality, one that would be eroded with time, as the memory of shared experiences dissipated with the old plantation way of life over the years.
To the mass of recently freed slaves, it hardly mattered who sat with the ‘gobnor’ in the stone-cold building on Abercromby Street, that would later be known as the Red House. The newly arriving Indians, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabs and others were completely out of the picture. The black creole urban culture in its lower economic extremities was just forming a way of life known as jamette or diametre, ‘beyond the diameter of polite society’.
Essentially, government in Trinidad was most exclusive. It included only the Crown’s commercial interest and that of the most wealthy planters. These two, one can say, saw eye to eye. However, as the new legislative worked to tackle issues such as a rationalization of Spanish law, particularly in the context of civil law, difficulties were met. Ordinances in 1843 amended the laws that prevented free disposal of property by will and removed the rights of a woman to property that she brought into a marriage.
“These laws were objectionable to the Spanish and French creoles, who felt that they were a part of the Anglicising process, and believed that Spanish law, with its special provisions for the rights of illegitimate children and married women were more applicable to Trinidad society than British law,” as Dr. Bridget Brereton points out in her book ‘Race Relations in 19th century Trinidad.
With regard to criminal law, it was felt that the Spanish code was too lenient and in favour of the criminal. With emancipation, the harsher British laws were enthusiastically supported by the always nervous upper classes who had a lot to lose. Trial by jury was introduced for the first time in 1844. By 1846, the old Spanish laws were replaced by English law. The fifteen year-old Legislative Council had worked well in transforming the island’s laws. It was during this period, from the 1850s to the 1870s, that the colonial administration, both locally and in England, formed the view that Crown Colony rule in Trinidad was best. The masses, both African and Indian, were largely illiterate and the descendants of the French colonists who had opened up the country in the previous century were not necessary loyal to England. Further, it was felt that the governors and the officials protected the ignorant and the weak against the planters.
“The Crown was the best guardian of the interest of the masses as against the propertied few,” writes Dr. Brereton.
This was of course a myth. The white upper classes controlled everything. British colonial prejudice kept everyone in their places, including the French creoles. However, the planter-merchant society, made up of French planters and British merchants and planters, did exercise extensive influence over the policy-making function of the Legislative Council. Gradually, the unofficials did hold a majority in the council. This, however, could not change ‘the price of cocoa’, as Crown Colony rule was unchangeable. The planters in the 1870s did make an attempt for elected representation. It failed. It was argued that the population was too heterogeneous and basically uneducated to be trusted with a representative form of government. It was against this background that thinking people began to agitate for reform. The ‘New Era’, a paper of the educated black middle class, wrote of the local members of the Legislative Council, the unofficials, in 1885:
“Men who are selected for the business of Government from a particular class will naturally be prone to give undue prominence to their exclusive interests. It is only in the natural order of things that our Legislature would be used as a machinery for the furtherance of the particular interests of the class whose supporters so largely predominate in its composition.”
In 1887, a Royal Franchise Commission was set up to decide whether we were ready for elected members. This had been brought about by a petition with 5,000 signatures, a campaign which had been mobilised by Philip Rostant, a French creole who used his newspaper ‘Public Opinion’ to raise public involvement. The commission found in favour of an elected Legislature. This was, however, turned down by the Colonial Office in London - a frustrating process for the Trinidadians.
It would take a world war, plus the riots of 1903, the great depression, the strikes of the 1920s and 1930s, plus the rise of trade unionism and socialists international for the colonial power to ease its grip.

Legislative Council of Trinidad and Tobago 1921

His Excellency Lieutenant-Colonel Sir John Robert Chancellor - Governor, President
H.B. Walcott - Acting Colonial Secretary
R.S.A. Warner - Attorney General
W.C. Huggard - Solicitor General
R.G. Bushe - Auditor General
Colonel G.H. May - Inspector General of Constabulary
A.G. Bell - Director of Public Works
K.S. Wise - Surgeon General
B.T. Murray - Acting Protector of Immigrants
D. Slyne - Receiver General
T.R. Cutler - Acting Collector of Customs
Sir Henry Alcazar
W.G. Kay
S.M. Laurence
A. Fraser
A. H. Wight
H.S. Fuller
A.H. Cipriani
Marice Rostant
E.M. Lazare
Reverend C.D. Lalla
Sir Norman Lamont

Cycles of Revolt

It has been noted that Trinidad, not Tobago, possesses a cycle of violence. From the time of Governor Sir Tomas Picton, slave insurrection, official violence, torture, public execution, public display of decapitated heads, public whippings (1,500 lashes for desertion) from the army was meted out to both free and enslaved, military and civilian, even to young girls, on through to slave poisonings on the estates.
This happened in a short period from 1797-1805. Then the Port of Spain Riots of 1849 took place, when a British regiment opened fire on a mob intent on destroying the Government building, later the Red House, in protest of a law stating that the heads of debtors be shaved in the same manner as convicted felons. The law was repealed. In the 1890s, the Canboulay Riots and the Hosay Riots took place. This was followed 54 years later by the famous Water Riots, when a mele ensued the burning down of the Red House and 16 people were shot.
Just 35 years later, the country experienced a general strike in which riots swept the city and protesting workers were shot out of hand at various places around the country. In 1970, Port of Spain’s Woodford Square again saw demontrations, riots and shootings. The events of 1990 are well known. This re-occuring cycle of revolt, followed by official reaction, has now become virtually inherited, involving basically the same people for close to 200 years.
In the context of these articles, we will deal with events that led up to the Water Riots of 1903.
Crown colony rule was frustrating for the general populance right accross the board. It was reepressive to the lower classes, mostly black people, and it tended to debar upward mobility confining the children of the ex-slaves to perpetual poverty. It was humiliating to the coloured people and the white middle class, who, notwithstanding the heroic attempts at educating their children and mindboggling and convoluted endeavours to achieve and maintain European cultural moirees and a respectable lifestyle, they were still ouside the pale and likely to remain there.
The upper class French creoles were jealous of the English for their positions and power and smarting at the slights dished out by people whom they considered to be beneath their social standing. They were the grandchildren of the original aristocratic colonists who had, after all, come here first. The Indians were completely out of the equation socially and politically at this point.
In the closing years of the 19th century, opposition to colonial rule became more general and in fact more radical. What was mostly a middle class dissatisfaction evolved into movements that attracted working class support.
Joseph Chamberlain, the Secetary of State for the Colonies, the Govenor’s boss, brushed aside the reform movements and turned down appeals for any form of elected representation in the Legistlature, summing it up thus “Local government (falsely so called) is the curse of the West Indies. In many islands it means only local oligarchy of whites and half breeds - always incapable and frequently corrupt. In other cases it is the rule of the negroes, totaly unfit for representative institutions and the dupes of unscrupulous adventures.” He followed this up by ending the token majority of local unofficials in the Legislative Council nominated by the Governor.
He then moved on the Port of Spain Borough Council. An elected body set up in 1853, it had served as an important forum for local politicians, particularly the black and coloured radicals, and was the only voice through which any national view could be expressed by elected representatives. The conditions placed on the members were tough and they voted not to accept these and, in effect, voted themselves out of existence. Chamberlain ordered a Board of Commissions put in place to run the city. It was felt that this amounted to “the killing of a school to teach people to manage their own affairs.”
These were not significant issues, however, to attract mass support. The young but vigorous Trinidadian Workingman’s Association was much better able to do rally people around their causes, and so too was th Pan African Association led by a London-based lawyer called H.S. Williams. The next and sigificant link was forged by the creation of the Rate Payers’ Association, comprised mostly of professionals and businessmen. This group of taxpayers sought to act as a counter balance against arbitrary measures taken by the government, particularly in the distribution of water in the city. These groups acted, more or less, in an organised manner. The grassroots, however alienated, poor and easily manipulated, were moved by the rhetoric of Rate Payers’ Association’s principle speakers, Emmanuel Lazare, Moresse-Smith and others. Those speakers urged them to assemble in Woodford Square, outside the Red House, on the day when the new Ratepayers Ordinance was supposed to be read. The purpose was to seek to prevent this reading. The Ratepayers’ Association’s radicals made a strenuous effort to excite the assembled crowds against the Government. The outcome was a major riot during which the old Red House was completely burnt down. Much of recorded history was forever lost in this fire. Soldiers were called in, and 42 people were wounded, 16 lost their lives.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Tidbits from the Royal Victoria Institute catalogue (1897)

The Royal Victoria Institute was built in 1892 as a museum for art and science. It was named after Queen Victoria, who celebrated her diamond jubilee (50 years of reign) on the 17th September, 1892. The first exhibit was comprised of microscopic pictures. The cost of construction of the Victoria Institute was $6, 500. In 1894, it was enlarged by a reading and recreation rooms for the members of the society.
On 13th April, 1913, the Marie Louise Hall of the King Edward VII Memorial Wing was opened by no other than Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein herself (Schleswig-Holstein is now a state of the Federal Republic of Germany). Seven years later, on the 1st April, 1920, the whole building and all its contents were completely destroyed by fire. Many valuable collections were lost forever. The main building of the Victoria Institute was rebuilt after the original plans three years later.
An interesting collection was exhibited at the Royal Victoria Institute in Febuary 1897, which was staged to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the British conquest of Trinidad. Amongst the several interestin exhibits was one of this island’s lost treasures. It was a book called “El Libro Becerro”, literally The Vellum Book. The catalogue, which was written by Lionel Fraser, describes the book as thus:
“When in 1783, the King of Spain consented to allow the immigration of foreigners into Trinidad, i.e. of non-Spaniards, he issued a Cedula of Population in which the conditions of settlement and various rules and regulations were laid down. Amongst other things, it was ordered that the grants made to the new settlers should be entered in a ‘Libro Becerro’, in which were also to be recorded the names and descriptions of all the newcomers. The first entry in this volume is that of ‘John Black’, a native of Ireland, who subsequently played an important part in the history of the island. This entry is dated in 1784 and is signed by Governor Chacon. The last of the entries made under the Spanish rule records the name of Doña Rosa Desir, a native of Grenada, and is dated 7th December, 1796.”
The Vellum Book is thus a valuable record of the early settlers under the Cedula of Population, and as Fraser adds, it shows the people with whom the ‘History of the Island may fairly be deemed to have practically commenced’.
Tradition has it that there were two copies of this book that contained the names of Trinidad’s earliest settlers. One was known to have been lost in the Town Hall fire of 1947. The whereabouts of the other is a mystery. Anyone knowing anything about this treasure may call the editor!
Another item in the catalogue of the 1897 exhibition are the well-known Murray family, who once owned Woodbrook estate and is remembered there by Murray Street. The Murrays have over the years produced several generations of outstanding sportsmen. In the catalogue, however, the entry takes on the form of an ‘Army List’ of 1797 which belonged to an officer who formed part of the army commanded by Abercromby. Fraser describes:
“Apparently he [Murray] entered the army subsequently to the publication of the list, as his name does not appear, but that he formed part of the army is certain. He settled in the island and married a Mademoiselle Rochard. The late Dr. Thomas Murray was on of his sons and the late Marshal Edward Murray was another.”
The Army List is very interesting as it shows the composition and state of the British army at the commencement of the Great War. Names that later assumed world importance are mentioned ‘in passing’, e.g. Beau Brummell, the quondam friend of the ‘Prince Regent’, was then a mere junior captian of the 10th Hussars, and the future ‘Iron Duke’ Wellington was entered as Lt.-Colonel Wellesley of the 33rd; Colin Campbell, today remembered as Lord Clyde, was simply the Lieutenant of the Black Watch, and Picton, the future governor of Trinidad and later a hero of Waterloo, was the Second Lieutenent-Colonel of the 56th. Many young men had yet to earn their spurs in 1797.
As Fraser futher describes, the list also shows how certain regiments were entirely comprised of non-British, men who had been in the service of France before the Revolution of 1789. Those contingents took part in the capture of Trinidad, and some of the names show that men of those regiments chose to settle here, as their family names are subsequently well known in Trinidad.
There were for example the York Rangers, amongst whose Lieutenants a François Le Cadre left many descendants in Trinidad, the Corsican Rangers, or the famous Irish Brigade. The latter had departed from Limerick to fight for the House of Bourbon under the British flag, along with anti-republican  French regiments. One of the French soldiers who came to Trinidad with Abercromby’s fleet was the Count de Verteuil, whose descendants form today a large family.
Amongst the ancient families of Trinidad mentioned in the catalogue are also the Caracciolo-Pantin family. As Fraser writes:
“Count Guiseppe Caracciolo, who died in Trinidad on the 6th August 1819, was the direct descendant of Domenico Caracciolo. His eldest son, Domenico, married a lady of the family of Ruffo, by whom he had one son with the name of Literis in 1725. In the ‘Golden Book’ of Naples, he is registered as Guiseppe Literis Carcciolo. Literis married twice, and by his second wife, who was also of the Ruffo family, he had four sons, the third of whom, Luigi Guiseppe, married Mariana de la Porta Strabia. Their son Giuseppe was born in 1779 and at the age of 18 was nambed to a Sub-Lieutenancy in the Royal Cavlry. Impatient to earn military fame, in the followin gyear he joined the Russian army under the famous Suwarov who was then engaged in aiding the Austirans to fight the French under MAssena and Macdonald. He served for about a year and then returned to Naples. Subsequently, finding his safety, perhaps even his life, endangered, in consequence of his having taken service with the Russians, he determined to emigrate and arrived in Trinidad about 1801. On the 5th May 1805 he married Marie Josephine Amphoux by whom he became the father of two sons. The older was Luigi and he married Henrietta Pantin de Mouilbert, the younger, Alfredo, married Barbara Almandoz. Of these two marriages there are many descendants still living in Trinidad.”
About the Sorzano Collection, Fraser mentions that the Trinidadian history of this family goes back to holding important administrative posts in the Spanish times under Governor Chacon. Don Manuel Tomas Sorzano de Tejada occupied the important post of Contador de Real Exercito unter Chacon. Being the owner of considerable property in Trinidad, he swore the oath of allegiance to the British King after the British conquest, and served the British government for many years.
“In 1803, Sir Thomas Hislop [the then governor] named him Assistant Commandant of Arima,” writes Fraser. “Ten years later, he was given a seat at the Board of Council by Sir Ralph Woodford.”
At the time of the exhibition in 1897, the Sorzano family in Trinidad was in its fourth generation and, as Fraser said, “supplied trusted and efficient members of the Civil Service”. The Sorzano family goes back to very ancient roots in Spain. In the 9th century, a coat of arms was bestowed upon Don Sancho Martinez Sorazon de Tejda by Alphonso III, the King of Asturia, for his victory over the army of Abdallah the Arab Caliph of Cordova. In 1492, the King and Queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, recognised the Sorzano’s family services formally. The name was again mentioned by Charles V. in 1527.
Other exhibits at the Royal Victoria Institute of 1897 were a roll o the slave children at the Toncilla estate in Arima, which belonged to the Sorzano family in 1803. Another exhibit was an original printed copy of the Cedula of Population of the 23rd November 1783, which Chacon probably  brought with him from the King’s printery.
The Basantas are another family mentioned by Fraser as contributors to the exhibition.
“Don Valentine de Basanta at the time of the capitulation held the office of first commissary of population to which he had been appointed by the King of Spain in the year 1792. He held a commission in the Spanish Navy, and, like Don Manuel Sorzano, owning property, and having married in the colony, decided to remain after the conquest, taking the oath of allegiance to the King of England. The name of de Basanta is that of a very ancient family of Castille and occurs frequently in the chroicles of the 14th and 15th centuries as taking part in the wars with Navarre under Pedro the Cruel and in those waged by Ferdinand and Isabella against the Moors. The father of Don Valentine de Basanta emigrated to Cartagena in 1775 and the latter settled in Trinidad where he has left numerous descendants.”

The Hospital

As controversy engulfs various issues with regard to the General Hospital in Port of Spain. It may be of use to recall for posterity the origins of this splendid institution and the names of the illustrious individuals who devoted themselves to the ‘calling’ of the medical profession, serving selflessly and giving generously to those in need.
The hospital was commenced to be built during the Governorship of Vice Admiral Sir Charles Elliot V.C.B. (1854 - 1856) and completed in 1858 by Govenor Robert W. Keate. Keate Street nearby is named for him. The site was originally the Orange Grove Barracks and had been built some 40 odd years before as the principal British Military Station in Port of Spain.
One may hazard that a ‘Dr. Jones’, who was medical officer to the British troops at the capture of the island in 1797 ,and who was subsequently stationed at the barracks, was perhaps the first doctor ‘in the house’.
The building was some 300 feet long and the width was 64 feet, with an open gallery 10 feet wide on either side. It could accommodate some 200 patients. Dr. Raoul Seheult, President Surgeon from 1911 to 1922, remarked that “the architect L.W. Samuel Esq., a Trinidadian, kept in mind the importance of simplicity and the value of light and ventilation”. Controversy had swirled about the new hospital be built on the site of the Orange Grove Barracks, in that many deaths had occured there at the time when medical science had not yet linked malignant fevers to mosquitoes.
The resident surgeon at the time of the opening was Dr.Richard Mercer and his staff consited of :
Chaplain, House Surgeon, Consluting Surgeon, Dispenser, Assistant Dispenser, Clerk, Head Nurse, 8 other Nurses, 2 Wardsmen, 1 Washer woman, a Cook Porter and two  Gate Porters.
There was a rapid increase in population in the second half of the 19th century, from 84,438 in 1816 to 200,028 in 1891. Much of this occured as a result of immigration from India, the West Indies and Venezuela. Trinidad was plainly an immigrant society. In this period 44% of the population or 37,502 were born outside of the island. Indentured Indians numbered 13,488 in 1861 and 45,028 in 1891. West Indians who came in search of opportunity numbered 11,716 in 1816 and 33,180 in 1891. Some 6,035 natives of Africa were liberated on the high seas by British battle ships and brought to Trinidad and released. There was some 18,980 people living in Port of Spain in 1861 and 31,858 in the city proper in 1881. Cholera had swept the city in 1854, when during a six week period, deaths averaged between 15 - 35 people per day and returned a few days later with the same appalling intensity. There was a high occurence of leprosy, said to have been introduced to the colony by the Indian immigrants.
In its first year of operation, some 638 patients were treated at the General Hospital, but there were strict rules, for instance:
“No persons suffreing from Asiatic Cholera, Small Pox, Measels, Leprosy or other infectuous or contagious diseases or insanity will be admitted”. These unfortunates had to be looked after at home. It was not until 1896 that two small wards were opened for the isolation and treatment of infectuous diseases. Already a steam laundry had been built in 1897 and a mule-drawn ambulance service had been started. 1897 also saw the installation of electric lights which replaced the kerosene lanterns of 40 years previously.
Famous Trinidadian doctors of the early period were Dr. Sir Louis de Verteuil M.D. (Paris), born in 1807, Dr. Antoine Leotaud M.D. (Paris), born in 1814, Dr. Jean V. de Boissiere M.D. (Edin) M.R.C.S. (London), born in 1830, and Dr. Richard Mercer M.D. F.R.C.S.E., House Surgeon 1858 - 1870.
There was a high standard of discipline as the following incident will demonstrate. A superintending nursing sister on making her rounds of the hospital at 6:15 pm met a visitor in the private rooms. Visiting hours were 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm. She politely but firmly informed him of the rules of the hospital. The gentleman expressed his regret and left the ward. A few days afterward she was complimented by his Excellency the Governor, the same gentleman, for the manner in which she had discharged her duties.
This sketch would not be complete if mention was not made of the nurses, who worked hard, taught the student nurses well, but reaped a poor harvest. Amongst these from long ago was nurse Hackshaw, of the Gordon ward, a strict disiplinarian, nurse Smith of the Acute Female Surgical ward., nurse Senator of the Acute Male Surgical Ward, nurse Barrat of the Police Ward and nurse Irene Mitchel of the Surgery Ward. The wardsmen in the early days were Mr. Boyce and Mr. Shockness.
The Hospital’s gardens were especially remarked upon and so to was The Bell’. One peal denoted that a patient was coming to surgery. Two peals informed you that a patient, accompanied by a constable, was proceeding to surgery. Three peals were for the Surgeon General. Four peals announced the Governor.
An institution is built upon the people who serve it. In memory of the hundreds who have served we will list a handful of them - for Auld Lang Syne, my dear.

The Administrators of the Colonial Hospital
1858-1870            Richard Charles Mercer, M.D., F.R.C.S.E.
1870-1872            Thomas Cuddeford, M.R.C.S.
1872-1874            John Stuckey, M.R.C.S.E.
1874-1877            Samuel Weekes Fitt.
1880-1882            N. Claude burgoyne Pashley.
1883-1884            Charles Francis Knox, M.R.C.S.E.
1885-1887            Lewis Fabien M.R.C.S.E.
1888-1892            Henry McCaul Alston M.D. ch.B. (Edin)
1893-1897            E. Inskip Read, F.R.C.S.I.
1897-1906            Edward Angel Gale Doyle
1907-1910            Edgar Nicholas Darwent, M.D., C.M. (Edin)
1911-1922            John Francis Raoul Seheult, M.D., C.M. (Edin)
1923-1924            Ernest Abert Turpin, M.B., ch.B. (Edin)
1924-1929            Rudolf Carl Wupperman, M.B., ch.B. (Edin)
1929-1937            Joseph Erwin Adolphe Boucaud, M.B., B.S. (Lond.), M.R.C.S. (England), L.R.C.P. (Lond.)

Medical Superintendent
1938-1948            James Cook, F.R.C.S. (Edin), L.R.C.P. (Lond.), D.P.H. (Durham).

Superintending Medical Officer (Specialist)
1948-1951            Joseph Erwin Adolphe Boucaud    (Retired 1951)

Deputy Director of Medical Services and Superintending Officer
1951-1952            L.P. Younglao, M.B., ch.B., D.P.H.
1952-1955            James Arnold Waterman, M.D., ch.B. (Glas.), D.T.M. & H., F.R.C.O.G.    (Retired 1955)

Superintending Medical Officer
1955-1957            David Strthu Gideon, M.R.C.S., (Engl.), L.R.C.P. (Lond.).     (Retired 1957)
1957-                Lancelot Francis Chan, M.B., ch.B. (Glas.)

Ministers of Health
1950-1956            Norman Tang, C.B.E., Minister of Health
1956-                Dr. Winston Mahabir, Minister of Health, Water and Sanitation.

Surgeon Generals
1871-1893            Samuel Leonard Crane
1893-1901            Sir Francs Lovell
1901-1907            James de Wolf
1907-1919            Henry Lewis Clare
1919-1935            Kendrick Staton Wise

Directors of Medical Services
1936-1942            Adam Rankine
1943-1944            Norman M. Maclennan
1945-1947            George Maclean C.B.E.
1948-               Esau Jymshed Sankerali
1948-1956            A. August Peat
1956-1957            Horace Gillet, O.B.E.
1957-               L.P.Younglao (Acting)

Consultants to the Hospital as Part-time or Honoray Officers
1958                Consulting Surgeon- Bury Irwin Dasent, M.R.C.S.
1871-1893            Hon. Consulting Surgeon- S. L. Crane, M.D., ch.B.
1871-1900            Consulting Physician- Hon. Sir Louis A. A. de Veerteuil

Party Politics

Dr. Eric Eustace Williams founded the ‘People’s National Movement’ in the early 1950s. History could argue that both he and the political party that dominated Trinidad and Tobago for almost half a century had its roots ultimately in the French and Patois speaking, free coloured intelligentia of pre-emancipation days and in the Afro-Franco reform movements of the later 19th century. These came into existence largely as a reaction to British Crown Colony rule. Was this the genesis of party politics along racial lines? That these 19th century ‘movements’ did not include the slowly arriving Indians, whose indentureships kept them on the estates and whose way of life ensured that they remained rural, that this isolation was encouraged by the colonial government and the planters lobby even after 1917?
During this period of indentureship and in the years that followed immediately after, significant leaders on the political stage did not come forward from the Indian community. Dr. Kusha Haraksingh attempts a definition of Indian leadership in the indentureship period, which was published in Caribbean Issues, Dec. 1976 (see pages 36 - 37), where he describes that with immigration to Trinidad, hereditary patterns of authority in family, caste and village were removed and institutional leaders like drivers and shopkeepers stepped into that vacuum, influencing the behaviour of other Indians.
“On the estates, the emergence of people as leaders purely on the basis of personal qualities was rendered difficult by a number of factors which generally coalesced in the atmosphere of coercion which pervaded the system. In reality, the estate managers chose the leaders they wanted and tried to ensure that no other worker achieved prominence as a person with influence. The Indians were always operating at a loss.”
Indian leadership seems to have operated through extended families, religious life and through the trade unions, producing personalities such as Sarran Teelucksingh and Ajodhasingh by the 1930s.
There is a real need to understand these 19th century reformists, what was achieved by them, the legacy that they have left behind and the people who took up the challenge. 
J. B. Phillipe, who may be described as the first reformist to challenge the British government’s policy in Trinidad in the 1820s, provided leadership with regard to racial predjudice directed at the ‘free blacks and people of colour’ by the Woodford administration, but he was not promoting the liberation of slaves.
The reformists of the second half of the 19th century sought a franchise that would eventually produce a freely elected legislature. They did not lobby for independence, however. They did however oppose indentureship. The arguments of politiians like Sir Henry Alcazar, C. Prudehomme David, Stephen Laurence and others, and of the newspapers such as ‘New Era’ and organisations like The Workingman’s Association, led to the Comissions of Enquiry to investigate indentureship. They rejected the idea that Indian immigration led to unemployment. Already by 1909 the reformists’ positions were hardening.
The chosen slogan for the reformist movement in 1870 was ‘Trinidad for Trinidadians’, meaning black, mixed and French creoles - the creole-born Trinidadians. Indians, however, were seen as transients. Trinidadians were dissatified with the British administration’s incompetent and high-handed officals and extravagant spending. The reformists felt that the use of public funds should be monitored by the representative in the Legislative Council, elected by tax payers. They felt strongly that local people with the right qualifications should man the upper levels of the Civil Service. Many of the reformists were either black people or coloured descendants of the free blacks of pre-emancipation days, and these were the people who should be elected. Sir F. Napier Broome, governor from 1891 to 1897, described them as “a middle class upheaval” and saw them as a bunch of lawers and businessmen who were seeking out their own interests.
Leadership was provided during the 1880s by Phillip Rostant, a French creole, who during his education in Ireland had taken part in Irish radical politics against British occupation in Ireland. He knew the power of mass meetings and understood how the British government would react to huge petitions containing 5,000 signatures. He was however compromised by his heritage. He was decended from the nobility of the Bourbonnais and held a deep respect for the property rights. Rostant could not bring himself to offer the vote to all people. He felt that the vote should be given to the people who were able to understand the responsibilities of citizenship. But as a French creole, he shared in common with the black intellectuals a dislike and distaste for the British administration. He was anti-colonial and he demonstrated that he could organize public support dramatically. This upset and startled the planters, however, who felt threatened that the working class was listening to the beat of another drum, particularly as the drummer was one of there own.
The black leadership that succeeded Rostant was more moderate. They perhaps had more to loose. Sir Henry Alcazar, a lawyer with a strong grasp of local politics, was on one hand ‘black enough’ to be accepted by the working class, and on the other sufficiently brilliant as a thinker and as a speaker to command the respect of the British administration. Alcazar was able to put it plainly in saying “it had not been proposed to place power in the hand of the working class, but only in those of the wealthier middle class.”
It is out of this struggle for self-determination, framed in nationalistic sentiment, that the baton was passed to Captain Arthur André  Cipriani, who in turn supported ‘the barefoot man’ and went the next step to put back-bone into the new-born trade union movement, the Trinidad Workingman’s Association, itself a product of the reformists. Cipriani was however compromised by the fact that he was, like his predecessors, a loyal colonial and not a revolutionary. Challenged in his old age by the young, vigorous, out-spoken and ‘man of the people’ Portuguese politician, intellectual and trade unionist Albert Gomes, Cipriani faded from the stage of local politics.
The Gomes years, important to the development of nationalism, stretching from the middle 1930s to the early 1960s, were the period when middle-class trade unionists were allowed to play at politics by the Colonial Office. The ministerial government brought together Gomes, Roy Joseph, Norman Tang, Victor Brian and Ajodhasingh, the ‘Knox Street Quintet’. “We had all been elected to the Legislature,” said Albert Gomes, “from different party platforms and one of us even had socialist aims.” Playing at politics with no real agenda, this representation, meagre as it was, had been hard-won with blood in Fyzabad and Apex in 1937, and in the Water riots of 1903, and the Canboulay and Hosay riots in the 1870s. Gomes, according to Owen Baptiste in his work on Cyril Duprey, “slammed the door on trade unionism when he joined the executive council of Sir Bede Clifford, governor in 1946. A year later, he was surprised to see that he had lost the seat in the city council that he had held since 1938.He no longer possessed the support of the working class.”
And this is where Eric Williams appeared on the scene. He was doubtlessly the  inheritor of the Afro French creole intelligentia of the previous century, he proved himself eminent in scholarship, in debate and his command of language. He possessed the common touch, was arrogant enough to deal with both the British and French creole establishment. He was the locus of the entire French/African colonial process. His stature was messianic. What he said, what he did in those formative years are cast, to this day, in iron, immutable, or so it would appear.
Dr. Williams took advantage of the post-war disenchantment of the ‘Gomes government’ and its loss of working class support. But he was now not alone in terms of locally-grown ‘genius’. The first generation of significant Indian leaders on a national level was defining its role on the political scene. The Capildeo brothers, Lionel Seukaran, Mitra Sinanan, Badase Maraj and others ranged from the local estate life and rural politics on through to the Legislative Council in the Red House. An opposition in the waiting.
Was Williams a revolutionary? No, he was a colonial. Did he continue the reform movement? In launching the People’s National Movement in 1956 he said, “you ignored the warnings” and went on to describe the then government as former “leaders of labour who have now become leaders against labour”. Williams attracted black middle-class professionals and the black working class. The PNM, he assured them, would not be a labour party. History may well pose the question whether it was a version of the reformist party in the mid-20th century, a nationalist party, a socialist party? Fact is that in 1956, the PNM found its most formidable opponent in Badase Sagan Maraj’s PDP. Williams emerged victorious with 39% of the vote and 13 of the 24 seats. The PDP won five seats and 20.3% of the vote. The Butler party won two seats and Gomes was annihilated. The era of party politics had begun. 

Tuesday 27 September 2011

José Marti

Amongst the great ‘masters’ who helped shape the destiny of the Caribbean people, one finds the name José Marti. For the student of history, this Cuban hero stands shoulder to shoulder with Tousaint L’Ouvertue of Haiti and Simon Bolivar of the South Americas as an individual who shaped the future and defined a beginning for his homeland. He finds a place next to Roume de St. Laurent, who established a population in Trinidad, and other Caribbean statesmen such as Marryshow of Grenada, Adams of Barbados, Williams of Trinidad, and Bustamante and Manley of Jamaica.
Cuba escaped the colonial wars that destroyed the Spanish empire in the west. Its first great struggle for freedom from Spanish colonial rule came in 1868, more than forty years after independence had been won in Venezuela, when the lawyer, Carlos Manuel Cespedes, led an uprising and declared Cuba independent. Most of the fighting took place in the wild mountain country to the east of the island. It lasted ten years and expressed itself in bitter guerilla warfare. During this terrible period, a Santo Domingan, Maximo Gomez, burned his name in the pages of Cuban history.
Cespedes was killed by th Spaniards in 1873. Support came from the rebels from the United States, and gun-running was big business. Spain reacted with the sinking of the U.S. merchantman ‘Virginius’ and executed fifty-three of her crew.
Peace eventually was brokered, which lasted 17 years. During this period, José Marti came of age. The son of a ropemaker, he was born in Havana in 1853. Poor, he however excelled in school. He empathised with the war for freedom and published patriotic poems and opposed, with others, the forced enlistment into the Spanish army. For this he served six years hard labour.
In this way, this 16 year old boy, grave and serious beyond his years, worked in a stone quarry in Havana with iron shackles on his legs.
Today the quarry is a national monument preserved in memory of those who served there. Pardoned part way through his sentence, Marti was exiled to Spain, where he attended a university at Saragossa and achieved a law degree. From there he travelled in Europe and associated with the thinkers and writers of his time, eventually making his way to Mexico and thence to Cuba under a false name. He made the creation of a revolution his life’s work. He created cells amongst Cuban cigar workers in Florida, exiles in New York and Cubans in Mexico and Jamaica - a superhuman undertaking of the same degree as that of the great liberator Bolivar. Professor Phillip Sherlock in a paper on Marti describes him as ‘a flaming sword’ and thinks of him like Toussaint in Haiti. He is described as a man with a rare combination of gentleness , patience and strength of steel.
The flame in him kindled a flame in others. He wrote and published, he created and maintained a network. He reminded them “To many generations of slaves must succeede one generation of martyrs,” and he was willing to be one. He sought nothing but freedom for Cuba. He declared “What I must say before my voice is silenced and my heart ceases to beat in this world, is that my country has all the virtues necessary for the conquest and maintenance of  her liberty.”
In exile in New York City, he organised the return of General Gomez and planned the arming of the revolution. In 1895, the uprising came to the little town Baire in the province of Oriente, near to Santiago. José Marti joined the revolution in his beloved Cuba, and despite the appeals of friends and comrades in arms, put himself under the storm of bullets, cannons and cold steel of the Spanish army. His friends appealed ro him to stay in the rear of the battlefield. They knew he was not a warrior, that he was a man of ideas. But his brave heart took him to his destiny. Sword in hand he met his death and glory was his forever.
The Spaniards seized the body, put it on display and then buried it deep. At this moment, José Marti’s death did more than the living man could have done. The news of his death roused a passion for rebellion. For three years the struggle lasted. Slowly but surely, Spanish power was broken. Then the battleship ‘Maine’ of the United States was blown up in Havana harbour. This brought the U.S.A. into the war and the end came quickly.
No man’s memory is so loved and honoured in Cuba as Marti, whom they call ‘the Apostle’.
In this time of difficulty and oppression in Cuba, let us not loose faith in the people who gave José Marti to the Caribbean and to the world.

Where slaves were hung

Myth becoming history

Myth is often an unavoidable, some may even say an integral part of history. In an attempt to create precedent and to come to terms with what has happened, people at times create myths as a witness of the past and, if there is nothing available to inform their thinking otherwise, myth becomes history and then fact.

“That is the remains of the hanging tree,” said the custodian of Woodford Square. “They cut it down, but people come all the time and pick up pieces, the woodchips.” The great stump of the samaan was cut almost to the level of the walkway in the middle of the Square. It was another one of those historical mistakes - a case of a myth becoming historical fact!
In truth, it was Sir Ralph Woodford, Govenor from 1813 to 1829, who laid out Brunswick Square - later call Woodford after him - with exotic trees imported from various places as was the custom in England at the time. That particular samaan had come all the way from  South America along with several others and would have been a very small sapling at Woodford’s time, becoming the magnificent giant 150 years later in the 20th century. In any event, there were no public executions in Trinidad in the Woodford years. For that sort of display one would have to go back several decades to Govenor Picton’s time.
Another case of myth becoming history concerns the brick stone and iron structure on South Quay opposite to the old Railway Station (City Gate). To the utter amusement of the older heads of Port-of Spain a few years ago, this vault or safe, was declared a slave cell. Candlelight vigils began to take place there, processions of hundreds of people assembled in the vacant lot around this forlorn, abandoned structure.
This vault was never a cell for slaves. It was part of a building constructed in the 1870s on reclaimed land, some 30 years after the  emancipation of the enslaved by a Portuguese family for the purpose of keeping their money and other valuables. After the demolition of the building, the vault proved to be indestructible and remained there for several years.
Yet another claim at identifying another ‘slave site’ was launched some years ago by a clergyman. This time it was King George V park in St. Clair, where it was said the bodies of hundreds of slaves of the St. Clair estate were buried. Again this is not the case. As the original plan of the estate would show, the estate cemetery was not too far from the house where a dozen or so slaves had been interred along with various members of the Grey family, proprietors of the St. Clair estate.
But the most suprising of all the recent cases of myth progressing into history was the one concerning the mythical sea creature that once formed a part of the weather vane atop the rotunda of the Red House. In fact, this was a matter concerning the politicizing of superstition, in truth the institutionalizing of superstition. The so called ‘Dragon on the Red House’ was said to have placed there by a political party that having lost an election was out of power and the newly elected government was seeking to denigrate them. In fact it had been there since 1907 when the building was rebuilt after the fire of 1903. As a sea creature, it matched the Marine Venus in the nearby Woodford Square fountain, and kept verey good company with Port of Spain’s Marine Square and of  course the nearby Dragon’s Mouth. By no stretch of imagination was this unfortunate beast put there in recent years. In fact, as a historical monument, it should be replaced!

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Have rice? - Be wealthy!

Perceptions of wealth in the traditional Indian society in Trinidad

Almost 30 years of after the system of indentureship had been introduced, an Ordinance had defined a legal minimum wage. The plantations found a way around this by simply increasing the tasks to be performed. The result was lower wages. When this was added to the poor housing and almost total lack of amenities, there was considerable disappointment and depression on the sugar estates. Many protested that they were working “daywork” instead of tasks.
A variety of laws oversaw the working conditions of the Indians. By law, they were guaranteed not to work more than 280 days of work per calender year, with five days a week out of crop and six days during crop. A task was a body of work performed over a seven-hour period by an able bodied person. Day work, on the other hand, was nine hours in the field. However, up to fifteen hours was day work in the factory during crop time. The Ordinance laid down a minimum wage of 25 cents per day or per task and 16 cents for youngsters. Field work during crop went much longer than nine hours, but there was a little more to be earned.
The indentureship period was a boost to the plantation system and to the economy of the colony. Indians worked in both sugar, cocoa and coffee estates. The third crop of great importance to Trinidad was rice. This was entirely in Indian hands. Rice was introduced by Indians and to the present is mostly cultivated by them. By the 1870s, it was apparent that rice was being cultivated in the Caroni swamp; and to some degree in the Oropouche lagoon. In a 1960 study produced by Arthur and Juanita Niehoff entitled “East Indians in the West Indies”, it is said:
“In the first place there is a traditional sentimental value attached to growing and possessing large amounts of rice. Among Hindus rice is the one important crop in which religious rites are involved.”
Trinidad’s other agricultural harvests, sugar and cocoa, were not invested with supernatural beliefs by the Indian immigrants. However, rice fields were supposed to have guardian spirits, and many Hindus made offerings to them in form of rum, cigarettes, candles and biscuits at the time of harvest.
Rice is treated much more ceremoniously by the Hindu society in Trinidad than other crops. This also includes the preservation of religious traditions, e.g. that a small amount of the first  rice crop were given to a Brahman, preferably a pundit  (priest), or to a saddhu (religious ascetic). At pujas and weddings, rice is an intergral part of the ritual offering.
“The only other crops in this area to which religious ceremonialism is attached are watermelons and cucumbers, of which the first fruits are given to the Brahman,” write A. and J. Niehoff. “It may be relevant that both of these are grown in the rice fields during the dry season. That is, the fields which produce rice take on some of the sacred character which is attached to the grain itself.”
Apart from the religious standpoint, the possession of rice serves as a symbol of plenty. No matter how poor a family may be, to have several barrels of rice put away was an indication of worth. The possession of money, however, was another matter. Banks were generally not trusted by the Indians.
“The Indians came to Trinidad in search of better economic conditions,” write A. and J. Niehoff. “Those who came were consequently from the poorer classes of India and they had little more than their personal belongings when they arrived. What they have today is therefore a result of their efforts since they have lived on the island.”
The living wage, 1 shilling, 1 pence per day for men and 8 pence for women was even in those days hardly a sum upon which great future investments could be built. Thriftiness had to become a lifestyle beyond modest living for the Indians. As Niehoffs write, Collens described that the Indians ‘hoarded to a fault, often living on the plainest and coarsest diet in order to save money’.
However, in the 1870s and 1880s, Indians deposited large amounts of money in the local branches of banks. Not quite trusting the slip of paper they got in return, it so happened that sometimes an Indian would withdraw all his or her savings just to verify that it was really there! Many Indians didn’t trust banks at all and hid their money in hollow trees or buried it. Others again didn’t even trust in money and instead melted their silver coins and made beautiful bracelets.
“There are Indians of the present generation who remember this thriftiness to the point of deprivation among their emigrant ancestors,” write A. and J. Niehoff. “The old Indians were described by this son and his wife, who were by no means spendthrifts, as follows: ‘They didn’t spend their money. You could never tell a man was rich by looking at him. They wore plain clothes even if they could afford better.’”
Education was perceived as a way to an improved life, and by the late 1860s the opportunity was grasped. Historian Gertrude Carmichael remarks:
“Early in 1869, the Reverend John Morton proposed to Sir Arthur Gordon a scheme for the education of the East Indian children, to be entirely dependent on Government finance. The matter was raised before the Legislative Council by the Govenor who said:
‘The present system of education has failed to produce the anticipated fruits ... hardly an Indian child has attended a ward school, whilst the small number of children of these immigrants who are recieving any education are almost exclusively tobe found in private schools of the strictest denominatioal character and uninspected by the state.’”
It seems that 130 years ago, the education system in Trinidad and Tobago already had its familiar problems: inactivity of the Board of Education, the inefficiency of many of the teachers, and lack of supervision and local interest (as Governor Arthur Gordon said in 1869 in reference to the failure to educate the children of the East Indian community).
No satisfactory policy on schools for East Indian children was produced by the members and the chairman. It was the Reverend John Morton, the Secretary, who due to his personal enthusiasm, petitioned the Board of Education to open a trial school with government aid in San Fernando.
“In 1871, the first school for East Indian childeren was opened in Cipero,” writes Carmichael. “Government aid amounted to £175 per year for a teacher; $5.50 as result fee for every child who showed reasonable progress in the annual examinations and a 50 cents capitation fee per quarter for every child who recorded thirty attendances. Under these conditions it was possible to send a child to school to make a small profit towards the rent of £200 per year for which the mission was responsible.”
With four hours’ teaching per day devoted to secular objects, and outside of this complete freedom of religious instruction, the education scheme found the support of the planters in  south, and by 1874, twelve school were open, ten supported entirely by planters, one by the Mission itself and one by the government. By 1899, Rev. Morton directed 16 schools, 14 of which received government support.
The importance to the colony’s economy of its agricultural sector is today hard to understand. The extent to which this sector had collapsed in the period right after the abolition of slavery was such that virtually all economic growth had been seriously threatened. The recovery was slow but steady. The impact of the new immigrants was felt in many ways as is reported by Daniel Hart, Senior Civil Servant, who in 1865 states:
“Crop of 1864
78,678,000 lb Sugar; 5,090,017 lb Cocoa; 13,329 lb Coffee; 72,120 lb Galls. Rumm; 1,729,640 Galls. Molasses; 55,500 lb Cotton. - Population 90,000.
No doubt some estates have made good crops, and those crops have yielded to the proprietor a fair, or even a handsome nett return, but how many estates have done so? On the other hand, it cannot be denied that without the large number of immigrants that have been introduced, the present crops could never have been made.”
The immigration of thousands of people from a completely different culture was not without its problems in the eyes of the Victorian westeners, however. In the days before radio and television, even before colour photography (black and white photography had barely been invented in 1838 and was still a complicated, expensive and poisonous affair), people had no idea of what people from other parts of the world looked like and behaved like. This led to immense cultural clashes in the 19th century, which Hart describes:
“It is stated that on their arrival in the French Colonies, the Indians are, previous to landing, made to attire themselves as civilised beings. For this purpose proper clothing is provided for them- nor are they permitted to be engaged as shopkeepers or traders in any way. In Trinidad the eyes of the inhabitants, high and low, are to behold these people almost in an entire state of nudity- it being contended that there should be no interference with them in this respect. ... Surely there should be no reason why they should not be told that they must clothe themselves as other people do- and if this were done, it would also tend to benefit trade- as the Dry Goods merchants would necessarily have to increase the importations.”
In many ways, the local population (which was in itself constituted of European and African immigrants and their immediate descendants) misunderstood the Indians’ way of life completely. Because the Indians were not Christians, they were considered as people who did not respect the ‘laws of God and Man’, as Hart describes:
“They cannot tend to the general benefit and advancement of the Colony to that extent as they ought, or, no doubt, would do, were the frequently and quietly exhorted by the clergy who should without, in the slightest manner, infringing on their Faith or Religion (if they do possess either, which is doubtful) remind them that the laws of God demand that every man should labour honestly and industriously six days of the week for his daily bread, and that the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord his God.”
The thiftyness of the mostly dirt-poor and displaced Indians also was interpreted as a disadvantage by the Europeans.
“Indians have no motive for any great exertion. Their simple wants are confined to a few pounds of rice, and a few peppers, and thus one or two days’ work is sufficient to provide them with a week’s subsistence. Hence, the limited extent of labour that is performed by or obtained from them as a whole.”
Daniel Hart as the statesman and economist was not only observant in the ‘cultural clashes’ between the local planters and the immigrants from far-away countries, he also deduced what action needs to be taken in order for the situation to improve:
“From all this follows the necessity for the planters to do all in their power for the benefit of their labourers. This should be one of their primary objects. Attention to their wants and comforts, together with sound and wholesome advice, would tend to do much good. Nor can it be denied that it is within the means of every planter to do a considerable amount of good in this way. Measures such as these, aided by the labour of the clergy, will, no doubt, tend to make the Indian and Chinese labourer more treatable.  This would render the task of dealing with them less irksome. The advancement of an island like Trinidad, where there is such a mixture of nations, depends in a great measure upon the spiritual attention and instruction of the labouring population; the stringent enforcement of the p olice-laws; and the prevention, by the strong arm of the law, of vagrancy and idleness.”
Daniel Hart’s overall attitude and point of view is typical of the colonists. Underlying it all is the real fear of a collapsing economic future.
The reality, however, was that there was actual privation in the Sugar Belt, if not the entire agricultural sector. The vast majority of indentured Indians earned far less than the minimum wage that was legally guaranteed to them. Strikes on the estates began to occur. They appeared to be spontaneous. They were basically concerned with the collapse of working conditions as the Indians understood it. Some 50 strikes occured between 1870 and 1900.
“They usually occured in response to planters increasing tasks, reducing wages or withholding accustomed privileges; the strikes were defending existing plantation conditions from interference by planters rather than demanding new and better ones, and so the strikes were not a serious threat to the indentureship system.” (Dr. Bridget Brereton, ‘Race relations in Colonial Trinidad’)
In fact the system provided little protection for the indentured. More often than not the Protector of Immigrants, an official member of the Legislative Council, sought to protect the interest of the planters and not those under his charge.

Monday 26 September 2011

The Ligahoo or Loup Garou

I remember him well; the first time we met I was “pelting” home, up Hermitage Road in Belmont. It must have been near Christmas, because it was not that late, but it was already dark. It may have been Thursday; the street was empty because the shops, Chinee John and Papits Cecils, were shut half-day. I had gone to missing ... for comics and had run right into him. Tall, black, dressed in a black suit, he smelled like mothballs. I really remember his eyes, bulging red. By the time I got home, grandma was waiting in the gallery, “You meet him?” She had seen him, “Serve you right.” That night I could feel his eyes. He had seen me. He knew me. Tantie Rose said he was on his was his way to Lapeyrouse to dig up some grave dirt with a big black ...
He was the science man who could read the ‘teetal-bey’ on the black ants. And deals with the devil. He could turn into any beast and roam the streets at night. Sometimes people saw him by Reform Lane, a coffin on his head and dragging chains. In everyday life he is a practicing obeah man and a genius at maiming or killing anybody. People say sometimes he is so tall that his head disappears into the clouds. “Take care you get to-tool-bay,” she said. “Say your prayers.” I did, twice.
Obeah is the general term used for the system of magic and sorcery in Trinidad. The word is African in origin, according to anthropologist Herskovits. In Trinidad, most overt African religious practices were suppressed during the period of slavery, and it is generally believed that obeah is made up, basically, of fragmentations of rituals and remembered religious practices of African cults that were brought to Trinidad at the end of18th century. This was further reinforced by fresh information brought straight from Africa in the 1850s by the Freed Africans, that is, people taken off Portuguese slavers on the high seas by the British Navy and ‘freed’ in Trinidad.
The power of the obeah man was and still is significant. In the ‘old days’, this had to do with life and death. It was said that the one on our street had sold his son’s soul to the devil for wealth and power and later renegged on the deal and that is why he had died badly. Every culture possesses a tradition of black magic. In Europe, for example, the vampire, the werewolf and the undead are now big business with books, movies and games.
Long ago, obeah was very common, so much so that the British authorities would sentence you to a jail term for it. But that did not stop the practice. As boys we ventured into ‘his’ yard to retrieve the only corkball we had. Bush surrounded the old wooden house. There was an air of abandonment. His lights had been cut. While the others searched, I peeped in through the jealousies. I saw a dusty old room, old books and papers scattered on the floor, broken furniture, a single bed in the middle of the drawing room, a big white posy on a bench, bottles and a pitch oil lamp. I could smell it. A pile of dirt lay on a newspaper in the middle of the floor.
“You want to see? Come.” A hand rested on my shoulder. I felt my ... quake as I looked up into his red eyes blazing in the mid afternoon.
“No,” I quivered.
“Then go home.” I fled. Over the years, the pure African system of obeah has been altered to include the western magical tradition, the use of medical books, such as those by Albertus Magnus, and also the mail order catalogue of deLaurence ‘Books of Magick’ of Chicago.
Indians too have a tradition of black magic sorcery. They call it ‘ojah’ or ‘indra jal’. There are books on witchcraft such as ‘Kautak Ratan Bhandar’.
Obeah can be used either for harm or for good. The most common purposes for which people resort to this magic are to cure sicknesses or to make enemies sick, to make money, to get a better job, to win a case in court, to cure someone of spirit possession and as love magic.
In the old days, there were lots of rules with regard to the dead. Firstly, you were told that when a corpse was leaving the house, the water in which it had been bathed must be thrown out after it, or else the ghost will haunt the house. For the same reason it must be carried out feet first, otherwise he or she may well return.
Want to see a Loup Gahou? Get some dog yampee, put it in your eye and look through a key hole at 12:00 midight. After dark, never stand in a doorway in such a way as would prevent  another person from passing through; for there may be a ghost who wants to pass, and it may touch you. Then you feel a sudden sickness in the region of your stomach, get goose bumps and feel a chill. Oh, and never call your childrens names out loud at dusk, the Duenns would hear you and steal the name and call your children away ...

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