Wednesday 30 November 2011

The Cabildo Building

 There is a little building on Sackville Street, recently restored, right next to the newly built office of the Attorney General, that has been known for years as the cabildo building. Tradition has it that this, Trinidad's first governing body, once sat there. This is very likely, as the Cabildo sat in many places, not having a home of its own. It met in the private residences of its members.
The building on Sackville Street, however, does not date from Spanish times, which came to an end in 1797 with the British conquest. The Illustrious Cabildo continued up until the late 1840s and then metamorphosised into the City Council. That particular building may have belonged to the Senoir family, a distinguished Spanish family of Jewish descent.
The Cabildo, as a Spanish governing institution, involved in administration and deliberation, is claimed by some to extend as far back as the tribal assemblies of the original Iberian peoples in the Spanish peninsuar, prior to the arrival of the Romans. This is an interesting piece of historical trivia for anyone wishing to study the origins of jurisprudence in Trinidad and Tobago!
Be that as it may, it started as an annual court to elect their magistrates and their municipium for the year, to manage their local affairs. This annual assembly also legalised or censured the proceeding of the provincial governors.
From the 400s A.D. to 700 A.D., under the Visigoths, and from 700 to 1000 A.D., under the Muslims, the conditions in Spain favoured the risk of the warlords and the powers of the Cabildo waned. It was not until some 300 years later, in the 1300s, that a notable revival took place and the Cabildos were again supported by the crown.
With the discovery of the New World, it was inevitable that the Spanish authorities should take with them their system of Government. The Cabildo was established in Trinidad in 1592. Its membership was slightly altered in 1797, when the British started to keep Spanish low in place.
The revenue of the Cabildo was obtained from various sources, some of which have continued in practice to the present day. The following is a summary of the general heads revenue and the average yield in the early 1920s (from Dr. K.S. Wise, "Historical Sketches of Trinidad and Tobago", Vol 3):

1. Licenses to sell spirituous liquors, which cost about $10 each year. About 50 licenses in Port of Spain yielded about $6,000 a year.
2. Licenses for billiard tables, $4 monthly. Port of Spain had four tables, yielding $192 a year.
3. Rents for stalls in the public fish and flesh markets, yielding $1,100 a year.
4. Rents of land down the islands for planting cotton, provisions etc. Monos, Huevos, the Perroquets (now Five Islands), Diego Martin Islands (now Carrera and Cronstadt) and El Pato had been granted to the town of Port of Spain by Governor Chacon. Rent was from 4 -6 reals a quarree, totoal yield about $100 a year.
5. Rents of lots in Marine Square and in the Grass Market, yielding $1000 a year.
6. Rents of lots at the western extremity of the town, called Puerto Cacao, granted by Chacon, yielding about $120 a year.
7. Rent of the Cocal on the east coast, granted to the town by the Spanish king, renting for $300-500 a year, but for a few years had been without a tenant.
8. Rents of the new lots east and west of the new mole made by filling at the end of frederick Street and which formed a new part of the town. Granted to Port of Spain by Governor Picton. Annual rent $50-$150, yielding $2400 a year.
9. Grant of one quarter of one percent, on inward and outward cargoes at the port. This was collected by the customs officers and forwarded to the Cabildo. It had been granted by the King of Spain, yielding $2500-$3000 a year.
10. Payments for the use of water from the public well and for the use of the pump and aquaeduct by ships in the harbour. Yield $1000 a year.
11. Fines imposed on delinquents, varied yield.
12. Tax on carts, $2 a month, yielding $1400 a year and wholly spent on maintenance of the streets.
13. Duty on foreign liquors, yielding $1000 a year.

The total annual revenue of the Cabildo was thus approx. $17,000, exclusive of the various fines collected in the Courts of the Alcaldes. The population of Port of Spain was about 7,000.
The annual administrative expenditure of the Cabildo was:
Escribano (Secretary) $300
Interpreter $400
Chief of Police $912
Gaol Keeper $365
Seven Police $1680
Collector, 3% on collections $800
Rent of gaol and maintenance of prisoners unable to keep themselves $2,700
Rent of Caibldo building $960
Maintenance of properties $400
Celebration of the Feast of St. Joseph $400

"The necessary expenses to keep the streets in order were variable from year to year, as also were the expenses of the maintenance of slaves employed on works of public utility," writes Dr. Wise.

The records show that any money left over after expenditure had to be invested in fixed property, so as to increase the revenue in future years. In 1802,  fish and flesh market was built. Later, a gaol was completed, costing $20,000. Afterwards, a hospital for those found ill in the streets was commenced, and in 1809, $5000 was spent to repair the mole at the foot of Frederick Street.
The houseowners of Port of Spain also made a voluntary payment to the Cabildo for the maintenance of fire engines. This was introduced by the first British governor, Sir Thomas Picton. 

The British settle Tobago

From the Historical Society of Trinidad and Tobago Papers (abbreviated)

The settlement of Tobago by the British was not without problems. Let’s first look at the historical circumstances:
Publication No. 329
The Duke of Montague applies for a Grant of the Island of Tobago
January 5th, 1764
“In 1728, the Duke of Montague first applied for a grant of the Island of Tobago in compensation for the loss of St. Lucia whence he had been driven out by the French in 1722. During the years 1725 - 1726, the Duke and the Duc d’Estrées failed to negotiate any agreement to divide the lands at St. Lucia and in 1730, the evacuation of both St. Lucia and St. Vincent was agreed upon by the French and English. By the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, these two islands were made neutral. In 1763, by the Treaty of Peace, Great Britain took Dominica, St. Vincent and Tobago, while France took St. Lucia. The Duke of Montague now applies for a Grant of Tobago.”

Then, a survey was made to structure Tobago in portions that could easily be administered.
Publication No. 330
Recommendations for the Settlement of Tobago by the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations
March 26th, 1764
“As to settling the Island of Tobago, the Board of Trade represents that this island is supposed to contain 140,000 acres, a valuable island with no inhabitants but a few Caribs and French turtlers. A survey should forthwith be made and it should then be divided into Parishes to contain 6,000-10,000 acres and suitable lands should be reserved for fortifications, navy yards and other military purposes. Towns should be laid out of 500-1,000 acres in lots not to exceed 6 acres, each with a 60 feet reservation on the water side for wharves, quays and other public uses; a glebe for the Minister of 100-200 acres, and 30-60 acres for a schoolmaster. Reserves of woods should be kept in suitable places sufficient to maintain a necessary rainfall and a suitable climate. The rest of the lands should be allotted as plantations in lots of 100-300 acres. In each parish, 800 acres should be reserved for grants of lots of 10-30 acres for poor settlers near necessary roads.”

However, when the Governor-General of Grenada, Robert Melvill, set out to get settlers to Tobago from Barbados, he found that nobody was willing to go!
Publication No. 334
The Governor-General of Grenada to the Secretary of State
Barbados, November 13th, 1764
“I arrived here after a tedious passage on the 23rd of last month intending to have stopped only for a few days in order to wait the arrival of the Melvill store ship which had been separated from us; and to furnish myself with all lights which might be useful in establishing and carrying on the new Government and to give what encouragement I could to the disposition which I hoped to meet with for settling Tobago. But to my no small mortification, I was no sooner arrived than informed of a universal dread and dislike of that Island, occasioned by the sudden death of almost every white person who had lately gone thither and the report of an excessive sickness prevailing among the troops.”

In the end, Melvill succeeded by promising the would-be settlers lands on the healthy Windward side of Tobago, not on the fever-stricken Leeward side.
Publication No. 335
The Governor-General of Grenada to the Secretary of State for War
Barbados, November 20th, 1764
“Tomorrow I sail for Tobago on my way to Grenada with all persons of this place who are desirous of being the first settlers and hope to find Lieutenant Governor brown possessed of a very healthy and commodious bay which has been discovered on the Windward side.”
Upon arrival in Tobago, Melvill takes action with regard to starting a structured settlement of British subjects in Tobago.
Publication No. 336
The Governor-General of Grenada to the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations
Grenada, January 3rd, 1765
“After a tedious passage I arrived at Barbados on October 23rd, where I found it absolutely necessary to remain for some time in order to revive the spirit of settling at Tobago, which had been totally quashed by the very fatal sickness that had happened on the Leeward side of it. But by proposing the Windward side (reported to be healthy as well as fertile) for the first settlement, and pointing out all the advantages and encouragements with my best endeavours, a pretty favourable disposition came to prevail even amongst the most considerable inhabitants at the time of my departure. I arrived in Tobago on November 28th and joined Lieutenant Governor Brown. I was happy to find that his report was well founded with regard to the fertility of the soil, its being well watered, having several tolerably shipping places and particularly two very good bays (vizt: Rockly and Little Hog Bays). In a bay formerly called Gros Cochon, to which I gave the name of Barbados Bay, I fixed on a very commodious place for a first town settlement. It promises to be safe for shipping and has a river of wholesome water running into it. The country round is fit for sugar and all other West Indian produce and an adjoining headland projecting into the sea is an excellent and healthful situation for the placing of His Majesty’s Troops ad being likewise very defensible by nature, is very proper for a fort or battery.”

However, it was not easy. Months later, there was still no progress in establishing a proper settlement.
Publication No. 337
The Governor-General of Grenada to the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations
Grenada, April 20th, 1765
“I am sorry to inform Your Lordships that by the slow progress that has been made in the settling of Tobago, owing partly to the sales in St. Vincent and to the disposition of the Barbadians being not quickly enough laid hold of, the town traced out in Barbados Bay and the adjoining lands have not as yet been cleared, so that it not only remains unhealthy but affords no accommodation either for the settlers or for the public Officers.”

A year later, houses were still lacking in Tobago, and the British government sent two ships for the administration to live “off shore”.
Publication No. 338
Requisition for two Ships of War for Accommodation of Officers at the Island of Tobago
London, March 30th, 1766
“From the Island of Grenada by letter of January 27th, 1765, Governor Melvill asked for two ships of war to be sent to the Island of Tobago as hulks for the accommodation of the Lieutenant Governor and other officers and settlers until convenient houses could be built ashore. This was approved and done and on March 21st, 1766 they were still being used and were continued for one year more.”

Even off-shore, the climate of Tobago was still detrimental for the British settlers, and the death of the Lieutenant Governor almost leads to abortion of the settlement of Tobago.
Publication No. 339
The Governor-General of Grenada to the Secretary of State
Grenada, July 26th, 1765
“I am very sorry to inform Your Lordship of the death of Lieutenant Governor Brown on the 9th instant after a very short illness. This is a public misfortune so sensibly felt and sincerely lamented by the Officers of the garrison and the few purchasers who have been actual settlers in Tobago that it even threatens a very detrimental retardment if not a total miscarriage of that infant Colony.”

A year and a half later, there are still few “Residenters” at Tobago, even though many plantations have been purchased. The proprietors in Tobago sent a petition to the Governor General in 1767, asking for proper local representation and administration. In subsequent correspondence, there is the first talk of a House of Assembly, but a slave insurrection in 1770 stalled developments in that direction, but by the beginning of 1771, the “President and Members of the Council and the Representatives of the People in the General Assembly of the Island of Tobago” had been elected.

Indian Women

Thank goodness, today we can take it for granted to see women of East Indian descent hustle to work in their “power suits”, see them dance “Chutney” in beautiful, traditional outfits on television, and enjoy their competence and leadership on many levels of national life. To reach there, the way has sometimes been rather thorny for the daughters of India! Shameen Ali, in a chapter of “150 Years of the Indian Contribution to Trinidad and Tobago”, gives a very interesting summary of the historical development of what Indian women were “permitted” to do. “Permitted” stands here in a rather wide sense: the 19th century Victorian and early 20th century society operated based on very narrow class, race and gender restrictions for everybody. The women of East Indian descent, a minority in a minority in a minority, had therefore a particularly difficult situation from where to fulfill their dreams and grow.
But to start on a positive note: the women who migrated from their homeland to an unknown place in the western world were probably the more “gutsy” ones from the start. More often than not, they had gone through hard times in India, fled from impossible familial situations, abuse, prostitution, famine. Some had been kidnapped by recruiting officers. Only a small minority came as wives or daughters of male immigrants.
In Trinidad, they faced the difficult situation of being very few in a ever-growing male Indian immigrant population. From the start, they had the handicap of being paid even lower wages than the indentured men, if that is at all possible. Having come from the caste system and an overbearingly strict patriarchal structure, they were used to be at the receiving end of injustices, and took it in stride. Bad housing conditions were nothing new for many of them, as was a lack of medical care.
In Trinidad, those sub-standard living conditions for the indentured labourers were, however, often life-threatening for the East Indian women. Promiscuity, prostitution and “wife-chopping” were not infrequent 19th century occurrences in the Indian community, isolating them even further from the Creole population (who saw themselves as “indigenous”, albeit the fact that both Europeans and Africans had immigrated just 3 or 4 generations earlier).
From the start, Indian women were earning their own living, something that was not always easy for their male counterparts to deal with. In traditional India, that was just never heard of. It lead to many conflicts, often with a violent outcome, in the Indian population, which contributed to its stereotyping by the Creole population, namely that the Indians were promiscuous and violent “wife-choppers”. As more and more Indian women came to live in Trinidad, this situation eased up, but the prejudices often remained.
In terms of religious and family life, Indian women had several challenges to face. On the one hand, they were much coveted as brides, given the fact that they were few and far between. Large dowries often changed hands. On the other hand, Hindu and Muslim marriages were not officially recognised by the British administration, which made children of a marriage illegitimate.
From the 1870s onwards, when many Indian women had terminated their indentureship contracts and decided to stay in Trinidad, they became increasingly the religious and cultural backbone of their families, maintaining beliefs and practices. Indian villages were created with the land the formerly indentured received as grants instead of a return passage to India, and some families were now in their third generation.
The majority of Indian women lived in rural areas, or more precisely in what was then rural. A lot of Indian villages from 100 years ago have grown into sizable towns since! Many of them interacted more with black and Creole Trinidadians than Indian men did. The Indian woman selling cow’s milk was a frequent sight in the morning light, so much so that she was depicted in popular comics. One such woman was, for example, Valiama, who came to settle in Trinidad from Martinique with her daughter. She spoke French and Patois, and wore foulard and madras, which made it easy for her to interface with the Creole neighbourhoods of St. Clair where she delivered milk. Eventually, she was able to carve out a niche for herself and her family in Boissière Village, and she became the mother of all the Pillais!
Education was and is of course key in the advancement of women. Today we know that women excel in academia, but many patriarchal cultures denied girls even a basic education in those years. In Trinidad, Indian girls had access to education, primarily through the efforts of Canadian Presbyterian missionary schools. Later, they would become teachers themselves, such as Anna Mahase snr., who was the first Indian woman to become a teacher in 1918, and Florabelle Harnarayn, who was the first woman to be appointed school supervisor in 1967.
Increasingly, Indian women entered into secondary and tertiary education. Dr. Stella Abidh was one of the several female medical doctors of Indian descent of the first half of the 20th century. She was the first woman to be appointed district medical officer for South Trinidad. Amongst her peers were Dr. Olga Rampersad, Dr. Pearl Ramkallop, Dr. Sylvia Ramcharan, Dr. Rosie Sheik, Dr. Indra Delipsingh and Dr. Rosie Ali.
With the introduction of the screening of Indian movies in Trinidad from the 1930s onwards, another arena opened up to the women of East Indian descent: public dancing and singing. As Shaheen Ali writes:
“Indian films kindled a new kind of pride in Indians for their heritage. Thus inspired, singers like Rhoda Asgarli, Myroon Mohammed and Zora Seesahai emerged together with the dancer Champa Devi who thrilled audiences throughout Trinidad during the 1940s and the 1950s.”
The awakening of the local performing arts, if one might call it thus, spanned in those years not only the Creole world in figures like Madame Chesola, who taught ladies how to dance, dancers Marie Basilon, Beryl McBurnie and Thora Dumbell, but also the women of the Indian community, who started to develop their very own Trinidadian expressions.
It seems that the 20th century was marked by an ongoing challenging of traditional roles by women, be it in the field of education, sports, entertainment, business, politics or religion. In the 1950s, Ruth Seukaran was the first woman of Indian descent to emerge on the political arena. Indira Rampersad was the first Hindu pandita in Trindad. Many have followed in their footsteps, making history, and often making the world just a little brighter for everyone.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

They start practising again - the Steelband

Take a rusty, discarded oil drum, a heavy cannon ball, a blazing fire, a hammer for the fine-tuning, plenty noise, a pair of strong arms and a pair of good ears, surrounded by a bunch of "youts" from the neighbourhood - and you get a sound that is so soft and tinkling that it could be the soundtrack to Peter Pan's flying fairy. Or, it could be a thundering sound, pounding in your ears like a horde of Mongols thundering with their horses over the steppes of Tadjikistan.
The steelband is, in the best sense, a child of the oil age, both as a musical and as a social phenomenon. It is a 20th century phenomenon, and as such has become a part of history. But let us go 8 decades back, to the 1930s.
It was a hard time in Trinidad, as it was elsewhere in the world. The great depression in the United States had also affected the British crown colony. The British Empire dragged on like a wounded elephant. England's economy was not buoyant, which meant that her raw-material producing colonies saw their markets dwindling.
In Trinidad, thousands of people had no work. Tens of thousands of others were employed at hunger wages by sugar companies or in the oil fields. It was hard for the local population to see the foreign managers live in relative wealth and distinctive comfort, whilst Trinidadians saw their children hungry, without shoes or not able to afford school books.
However, people were far from being apathetic. For about 50 years now, the local reform movement had been attracting brave hearts and bright minds, who tried to walk the fine line between illegal sedition and necessary speaking up for His Majesty's subjects. Inspired by the Russian Revolution and Marcus Garvey's black nationalism, the reform movement and the budding union movement was relevant for Trinidadians of all skin tones and many social backgrounds, who sought social justice for themselves and for their countrymen and women.
They called their demonstrations "Hunger Marches", bringing to a point what it was all about. Retrenchment, undignified and unsanitary housing conditions, a lack of education and future prospects were things that the majority of the people had to live with in those years (not only in Trinidad, it must be remembered, but in the western world all over). It was not only workers who took to the streets, bringing sugar production and oil production to a halt, but also members of the educated black and coloured middle classes, who had been the true Creole backbone of the colony for many generations.
People like Elma Francois, Captain A.A. Cipriani and Uriah Butler emerged in the political arena. Civic courage was contagious: the calling for local representation gave birth to a whole artistic movement, a first independent Trinidadian expression, in particular in the writing arena: C.L.R. James, Alfred Mendes, Ralph de Boissière to name just a few. A couple years later, also Albert Gomes, who excelled in both, the political and the writers vocation. Free-thinking newspapers came on the scene, first and foremost "The Beacon".
The emergence of the steelband towards the end of the 1930s can be seen as a noisy, rhythmical, carnevalesque interpretation of what was left for local people: scraps (in this case scrap metal). At the beginning, it was not more than percussion, getting together and making noise with brake pads, biscuit tins and other metal pieces. But quickly, the tins got “tuned”, and the bigger oil drums started to be used.
Steelband became yet another musical expression of the African diaspora, and as such a part of that 20th century musical phenomenon that influenced popular music like no other. In the Caribbean, African musical expressions mixed with the relevant European administrative culture, creating such distinct genres like merengue and rumba in the Spanish islands, bele and compas in the French Antilles, and reggae and calypso in the British West Indies. With the exception of reggae, it is interesting how localised those artforms remained: just listen to your radio in Trinidad and try to find Cuban mambo or Martiniquan zouk!
Steelband, however, is not a musical genre, and was able to “travel”, so much so that the whole Caribbean now identifies with it as a folk artform. It seems to have been just what the tourist industry and the media needed!
The emergence of the Steelband is closely linked with Carnival. Carnival, a Catholic custom, was brought to Trinidad by the French settlers in the 1780s. At first, the African slaves were not permitted to participate in the celebrations and masked balls of the French families. However, they were allowed to celebrate “canboulay”, when lit torches were carried through the street to mark the end of the sugar cane harvest - a custom which has been recently adopted in the popular “Crop Over” Festival of Barbados.
Before the abolition of slavery in 1834, the life of the African slaves did not take place in a cultural vacuum, however. The dominant culture of Trinidad was French, albeit the fact that the administration was British since 1797. Syncretic cultural expressions like Shango, Santeria and Voodoo (mixed of Catholicism and the African pantheon) are as much part of this syncretism as are Carnival, stickfight, bele dancing and other folklore that have their roots in the first decades of the 19th century. Steelband can be seen as a 20th century extension of that syncretism, albeit with other parameters: trash from the industrial society was used in a rebellious movement against a ruling ethnical minority.
With emancipation, Carnival changed dramatically. The former slaves and their offspring started to participate in it. The first “noisy” devices were added to revelries: kettles, salt boxes, chac-chacs etc. Carnival definitely lost its “polite” upper class touch immediately! The Europeans started to shun this kind of Carnival, which they called “Jamette Carnival”, the Carnival of those beyond the circle of polite society. Stick fighters, shantwells, drummers, prostitutes and bad johns! This was only to change towards the turn of the 20th century, when the “upper classes” once again took part in the festival.
With this, the Trini Carnival was quickly approaching a format that was to last for another century. Competitions were held in the various categories, and the raucousness of the street festival often clashed with the ideas of the British authorities as how His or Her Majesty’s subjects should behave!
Steelband started in 1937 or 1938, when “Alexander Ragtime Band” from Newtown, formerly the Calvary Tamboo Bamboo Band, came out to play. Their leader was “Lord Humbugger” Forde. The pans were made of paint tins, biscuit tins, linseed oil tins, carbide pans, zinc buckets and dustbin cover. Tuned into two notes, they were beat furiously and rhythmically together with the tamboo bamboo. What a novelty! What a spectacle! No wonder it caught!
A year later, the pan craze brought forth many more steelbands, all from depressed areas with great poverty. Inspired by the American cinema, the tradition of bombastic names was started: Destination Tokyo, Sun Valley, Hellyard, Cross of Lorraine, Red Army. It was the eve of World War II, which also was reflected in the steelband names.
From 1942 to 1945, Carnival was banned due to the war. It seems to have been a gestation period for the steelband. When in 1945 victory was celebrated by the allied forces and Trinidadians had a spontaneous Carnival in the middle of the year, steelbands joined in the street party with much refined instruments. The dudups of the pre-war days was joined by the first tenor pans made of oil drums, called “ping pong”.
From then on, there was no turning back for the development of this instrument. Socially, the steelband went the way of a lot of popular music of the second half of the 20th century. Much like ragtime, jazz, rock & roll, it all started with a couple rebellious youths from depressed urban areas, and ended up some 50 years later in dignified symphonic orchestra halls, carrying Trinidad’s indigenous musical genre (calypso) far beyond the island’s shores.

Spanish Times

Trinidad, 1701. A great verdant forest stretches without hindrance from coast to coast, from the cloudy mountaintops to the dark swamps, to the hidden places where rivers rush through gorges, where sunlight hardly shines. Bounded by seas, each bearing a different name, hardly populated. Now its original tribal people, decimated by deportation, disease, despair and the sheer interface with a culture so alien that its destruction could only be a matter of time. Existing in a surrealistic sense of perpetual impermanence, the Spanish colonists held the encroaching jungle at bay and rebuilt their ever-decaying, ongoingly biodegradable capital, set in the foothills of the island's northern fastness. A remnant colony, left behind one hundred years after the conquistadors had sailed away or had silently decomposed in their elaborate suits of armor in secret places in the island's interior, as yet undiscovered. Another generation of bureaucrats in Madrid watched the lack of progress in this almost forgotten province. The Spaniards of the island, still decorated with long, elaborate last names that describe parts of the Iberian countryside recently taken from the Moors, plead their case for fresh labour. Africans from the Guinea coast, to clear the forest, as slaves - if only to define their own roles as masters, for without underlings their status vanishes just as easily as one good rainy season demolishes their mud and thatch existence.
they availed themselves of a treaty which was entered into on the 27 August, 1701, at Madrid, between France and Spain, by which it was agreed to allow the Royal Company of Guinea, established by France, to supply the Spanish colonies with 48,000 slaves of both sexes and all ages during ten years, commencing on 1 May, 1702, at the rate of 4,800 per year.
As a result of this, the first African came here together with an inferior variety of sugar cane, which produced a low-grade sugar called "popalones". Hardly a dent in the wall of jungle was made. The handful of Spaniards - no one knows really how many - struggled to maintain a sense of Europeanness, keeping between the six or seven men a least one presentable suit of clothes, made up of many remnants in the event of visitors from abroad.
Within a generation, even their whiteness was threatened. Priests came, tonsured and overdressed, zealously going native, teaching medieval Latin to glassy-eyed Amerindians, who were in mourning for the passing of everything that they once knew. In mid 1716, reality crashed in the person of one of the most dangerous individuals in this part of the world. Edward Teach, known too as "Thatch", a.k.a. Drummond, alias Blackbeard, was more myth than man and sailed a large, 40-gun ship called the "Queen Anne's Revenge". He plundered a brig loaded with cocoa, bound for Cadiz, then set fire to her in sight of the little hovel that was known as a port of Spain. In so doing, he destroyed the wealth of the island. A Spanish frigate came into the Gulf, "cannonaded him at a distance". It is said that he sailed leisurely for the Grand Boca. There was no plunder on shore.
In 1725, the cocoa crop failed. They blamed it on the appearance of a comet. the Jesuit, Fr. Gamilla, told the Spanish planters that the crop failure was as a result of their not paying their tithes to the priests. Abbé Raynal wrote later that it was the north wind that had done it.
In any event, the colony was ruined, if that was possible. Nothing happened for the next five or six years. Then excitement: "A small vessel belonging to the island of Tenerife with six sailors was driven to this island by stress of weather," writes Joseph (1837). They said they had survived the days at sea driven by ferocious winds and by drinking wine. In 1730, Lieut. Governor Colonel Don Bartolome de Alduante y Rada was sworn in as Governor. He died in 1733, grave unknown. The command of the island of Trinidad devolved to Don Josef Orbaii and Don Pedro Ximenes, Alcaldes in Ordinary of the Cabildo. The Dutch staged an invasion, but there is hardly a record. There was no paper.
"The Crown of Spain thought Trinidad too good a port entirely to abandon, yet too little productive of revenue to care much about," writes E.L. Joseph in 1837. "She therefore kept at the mouth of the Caroni some twenty soldiers, and once in five or six ears the Viceroy sent a bishop to visit this neglected part of the diocese. A few families remained about the valleys, near San Josef, in grave, contented poverty." Many of their descendants are still with us. 

The Boissière's House

Driving around the Savannah in Port of Spain is a unique experience in the West Indies, for preserved are, to a degree, a parade of splendid residences that in many ways reflect the multi-cultural nature of our society. One writer, Patrick lee Fermor, wrote in his book "The Traveller's Tree":
"The buildings around the Savannah at Trinidad are some of the most remarkable buildings in the world. The essential skeleton is the high-garbled, acute-angled gingerbread house of the witch in 'Handles and Gretel'. Bristling with pinnacles and weathercocks, spiked and filled along the coping. Georgian bow windows, roofed like Chinese pagodas. Pillars and porticoes from the Parthenon or Ankor buttresses, the fabric and the mosaic of Byzantium and from the steep roofs grow the spines of Hohenschwangau."
Fermor is almost incomprehensible - the words tumble from him. In comparing the mansions to the witchhouse in 'Hansel and Gretel', using words describing architecture from around the world, he really describes what the magic of these buildings have done to him!
Of these buildings, No. 12 Queen's Park West, the home of the Boissière family for almost 100 years, is of special interest. It is the only residence around the Savannah that is still lived in by the family who built it. John Newel Lewis, architect, remarks that it is a classic, Trinidadian building, not in a Greek or roman sense, but in its own league and norm of excellence. Comparing it with the other houses, Newel Lewis says in his book "Ajoupa":
"This dwelling is not a mansion. It is on a smaller scale and it is a simpler building, heavily embellished."
Commonly called the "Gingerbread House" by Port of Spainers, the house's main element is its steeply pitched roof, covered by green slate. A large dormer gable is most beautifully decorated with fretwork. The gallery projections are incredibly beautiful and include a whole Chinese pavilion. With this house, one feels that the fretwork has reached its ultimate. the wood is heavily undercut and exaggerated, so that there is an impression of lace work, resembling a woman swirling in a lacy dress.
#12 Queen's Park West was built in 1904 by the architect Edward Bowed, a personal friend of the owner Charles Edward Hamilton Boissière. C.E.H. Boissière was the eldest son of Eugene Boissière, a merchant of Port of Spain and a cocoa planter, a descendant of the Boissière family of Champs Elysées. Charles had built this home for his wife Alice, née Elegon, a gift that was presented to her on their return from a visit to England.
The ceilings in the drawing and dining rooms are of gesso work, done by the Italian craftsmen who did the ceilings in the Stollmeyer's house and in the Council Chamber of the Red House. The stained glass windows with their meandering strawberry vines in the little study with its Chinese roof filter the morning sun and cast a soft light into this cheerful room. The floor tiles in the study as well as the gallery were imported from England and the large single slab marble steps at the entrance come from Italy.
The whole effect is magical and nostalgic, with mysterious colours and a melancholy air. This house is an example of Trinidad's visual heritage as its best.
The houses that ring the Savannah are well built and sensibly engineered. They have weathered well, considering that they were built almost a century ago. It is important that these valuable examples of our heritage be maintained, so that our children's children too may marvel at them.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

St. Benedict of Nursia

St. Benedict of Nursia, founder of Western Monasticism, was born in the year 480 of the Christian era. Sent to be educated a Rome, he however by the age of 14 had become convinced that the only way of escaping evil in the world was in seclusion and religious exercise.
He withdrew to a cave or grotto near to the town of Suiaco, where he lived for three years. The fame of his piety spread and this led to him being made an Abbot at a somewhat early age. Multitudes sought his guidance over the years and from the most devoted he formed 12 small monastic communities. He ultimately established a monastery on Monte Cassino near Naples. Later, this was to become one of the richest and most famous monasteries in Italy.
In the year 515, Benedict of Nursia is said to have composed his regular monachorum, which became the common rule for all monks. St. Benedict became the patron saint for all Europe in 1964. This was declared by Pope Paul VI.
Mount St. Benedict stands out against the green hillsides and overlooks the central plains of Trinidad from a height of some 800 ft. The Benedictine Abbey was founded on Trinidad's Northern Range at Tunapuna in 1912 by Benedictine monks who came from Brazil at a time when civil unrest compelled them to seek refuge in other lands.
In 1927, the Trinidad community of Benedictine monks accepted affiliation to the Belgian congregation. This was brought as communication with Brazil became almost impossible.
True to its original rule, the order has over the years devoted itself to imparting instruction to youths. Manual labour is as much part of the curriculum as is study in the monastery's library and the usual religious exercises.
The first local vocations for the monastery were Don Placid Ganteaume and Don Maurus Maingot in the early 1920s. Over the next 20 years or so, intense work was carried out and as a result, the monastery was raised to the dignity of an abbey in 1947. The first abbot, Don Adel Best Van Duin, was installed and blessed by Archbishop Count Finbar Ryan. Van Duin served the community for some 25 years.
From a tapia hut, constructed in 1912, the abbey has grown apace. Apart from  the apiary and the estate which yield produce for both domestic and local consumption, there emerged an extensive building programme under the guidance of Brother Gabriel, an architect and builder, in 1952. The new abbey church and a greater part of the living quarters of the monks were completed. The creation of guest rooms for visitors as well as a rest house for pilgrim were completed in 1954.
Extensions to the abbey of a school, a library and an auditorium were started and in 1964, work on the tower began. This was completed in 1976. A new road to the abbey was also built in period, as was the St. Bede's Technical. Over the years, the monks have taken a great interest in the development of the seminary. School, college seminary and church shine like a beacon of hope in the hearts of many near to Mount St. Benedict!

The Warners

Sir Thomas Warner, the progenitor of one of the Caribbean’s great colonial families, came out to the West Indies in the early years of the 17th century. He had been born in 1575 in Parham, Suffolk, England, and as a young man he had served as a captain in the bodyguard of King James I, which was a company of specially chosen soldiers, whose duty it was to guard the King’s life. Later he was made Lieutenant, or keeper of the Tower of London.
During that period, many young men in England were eager to follow the great sea dogs like Raleigh, Drake & Morgan to the Caribbean so as to make their fortunes, and when his friend, Captain Roger North, thought of making a settlement in Guiana, Warner decided to go with him. The settlement did not work out as expected, and Warner instead settled at St. Christopher in the Leeward Islands on the 28th January, 1624.
Despite much initial hostility from the native Caribs of the island and the battles between would-be French and Spanish settlers, Thomas Warner persisted in his ambition to create a British settlement. Sir Thomas became the first Lieutenant Governor of the Caribbean islands. He died in March 1649 and was buried in St. Kitts’ middle island.
Warner’s sons and grandsons established themselves in the British West Indies: Sir Thomas Warner of Barbados, Col. Philip Warner, Governor of Antigua, William Warner of Dominica, who was known as “Indian Warner” on account of his Carib blood, and Col. Edward Warner, who arrived in Trinidad in 1807 and purchased lands.
Charles Warner, born in 1805, was the only son of Col. Edward Warner. Charles decided to settle in Trinidad after a visit with his cousin Ashton Warner, who was Chief Justice of Trinidad during the governorship of Sir Ralph Woodford (1813 - 1828). Charles became one of the most prominent Attorney Generals in the early history of Trinidad, serving from 1844 to 1870.
He so influenced this period while in office, that “Warnerism” became a synonym for the policy of local government. He married twice, once to Isabella Carmichael, with whom he had six children, and to his second wife Ellen Rose Cadiz, with whom he had twelve. He endowed St. Margarite’s church Belmont. He possessed lands at Belmont, where in fact the land holdings there were described as “the lands of black Warner and white Warner”.
The black Warners of Belmont were the descendants of Ashton Warner, born in Savannah, U.S.A., in 1750. His grandson William, who lived in Dominica and died in 1793, was reputed to have had four sons with Mildred Johns, a woman of African discent. One of their sons, Ashton, came to Trinidad around the time that his namesake and relative Ashton Warner was Chief Justice, and he purchased lands at Belmont, closeby his cousin Charles Warner. Ashton married into the Zampty family of Belmont, who were descendants of Sergeant Zampty of the 3rd West India Regiment, which had been raised in Sierra Leone to do service in the Caribbean.
In 1873, Charles Warner built his home which he called "The Hall". The building was a beautiful, two-storied property, where his children grew up. Amongst them were Aucher Warner, who also became an Attorney-General of Trinidad, and Sir Pelham Warner, who would later achieve international fame as a cricketer. Streets in Belmont were named for them, as well as for other members of the Warner family. Charles Warner died in 1887, and his grave can still be visited in the Botanical Gardens on the grounds of President's House.
The Hall at Chancery Lane  comprised an entire city block. The house  was situated in a splendid garden, and included a swimming pool for the children to learn to swim and a pond where they could sail their toy boats and where the morocoys could bathe. The gardener had been brought from Germany! The Hall also had what was perhaps the first tennis court in Trinidad.
Warner lived in The Hall in an extravagant style, and one informant told me long ago that his family was "very united".
In 1886, Charles sold The Hall to Don Carlos Siegert. It became the home of the Siegert family for the next 34 years. Don Carlos kept race horses there and as many as 11 carriages of various sizes in his stables. At that time, the main entrance was from Chancery Lane. The ground floor of the house held a large hall, hung with portraits of the Siegert family, who had come to Trinidad from the town of Angostura in Venezuela (now Ciudad Bolivar), bringing with them the secret of their now famous bitters.
In 1920, The Hall was brought by Charles Conrad Stollmeyer for $40,000. He and others thought to convert the premises into a club. This was, however, not to be, for a fire gutted the house. They were forced to sell the property to the Anglican Church through Bishop Anstey. The main building of The Hall became a guesthouse that was run by Mrs. Florence Rust. The buildings which opened on Abercromby Street were converted into classrooms.
In the 1950s, Trinidad witnessed many social and political changes. As historian Olga Mavrogordato states in her book "Voices in the Street":
"In 1952, the entire property was taken over by the junior school of St. Hilary's until 1966, when it moved to Monte Christo, St. Ann's, to make room for the High School. Since that time, St. Hilary's has occupied the entire premises and though many improvements and changes have been made, the family atmosphere of old still remains and this is a happy school."

U-boat Gold Shipment

As World War II groaned painfully to an end, there remained one aspect of the German armoured services that was still virtually intact. This was its submarine service, the dreaded U-Boats. At the command of Grand Admiral Doenitz, all U-Boats were ordered to surrender; many did. Some 156 sailed into allied ports, but a large percentage of the overall U-Boat command, 221 boats, chose another way out of the war. They blew themselves up. Throughout the Baltic Sea and across the North Atlantic, huge explosions ripped the steel hulls, sending the last of the "Wolfpacks" to their watery grave. But there were two, however, that did not meet their end in the frigid waters of the North Sea, for as the explosions shuddered through the deep, U-Boats U530 and U977 slipped away, heading south, acquiring the name that haunts war historians to this day, “The Ghost Convoys”.
The last days of Germany's Third Reich was a chaotic time. The Russians, pouring in from the east, swept into Berlin, defended now by mostly young lads and very old men. As their big guns pounded the once proud city, and as lines of communication and command faltered and finally collapsed, the men and women who had run this formidable war machine fled for safety. Many were mindful of their parts in the atrocities of this terrible war. Many were aware of what their fate would be if they were to fall into the hands of the Soviet Army.
Some escaped through sewers, others slipped through the fog, smoke and rain-soaked clouds in small planes, taking off from the cities exploding streets, others attempted it dressed as civilians, as women, as refugees or in the uniforms of men they had killed. Some headed west towards the British and American lines in the certain knowledge of a more humane reception on being caught. Others waited deep in the cellars of the city for the storm of war to pass, in the hope of living to fight another day.
There were others, who for various reasons had knowledge of where great treasures were hidden in this vast flaming rubble that once was one of Europe's great cities. Great caches of gold ingots, literally bags of precious stones, diamonds, rubies. The trick would be to get it and get through the lines of the  artillery and tens of thousand of soldiers.
It is written that U530 under the command of Otto Wehrmuth and U977 under Heinz Schaffer did not obey the surrender order neither did they explode  their boats. They decided instead to leave their Norwegian and North Atlantic ports and make their way to Argentina. Sailing separately, travelling at full speed, they undertook a tremendous undersea journey that took them down and across almost the entire length of the Atlantic Ocean. Lt. Commander Gaylord Kelshall in his authoritative "U-Boat war in the Caribbean" writes:
“It was a world record for submarines although it has never been recognized ...
Wehrmuth arrived in Mar del Plata in July 1945 while U977 arrived in August after a harrowing three month journey.”
The U-Boats were welcomed and crews accommodated by the Argentine Navy. It must be remembered that pro-German sentiment was very strong in the South Americas during this war, and that there was sympathy for the Fascists' form of government as existed in both Franco’s Spain and Hitler’s Germany. In addition, many Germans lived in Argentina and had done so for generations.
In any event the United Sates was all-powerful, and both the U-Boats and their crews were handed over to the U.S. Navy. Lt. Com. Kelshall relates:
“An Argentine daily ran a story to the effect that U530 and U977 had been part of a 'ghost convoy' which had brought Hitler, Eva Braun and Martin Bohrmann, plus Nazi treasure to Patagonia and put them ashore before surrendering the boats. The Russians were keeping very quiet about what they found in Berlin, with the result that the British and American intelligence took the story seriously.”
Both U-Boat captains were taken into custody. A few weeks later, they arrived in Trinidad under very heavy guard at Wallerfield. From there they were flown to the United States to be interrogated.
It is ironical: just a year before, both these men were cruising the coastline of this island in search of prey for their torpedoes. The story does not end there and then, however.
As it was at the beginning, so it was at the end. Trinidad's wartime adventure really commenced with the sinking of merchant vessels by a U-Boat right there, in Port of Spain harbour in the first years of World War II. Our wartime experience came to an end with the surrender of the last German U-Boats, again in the vicinity of our capital city. Lt. Com. Kelshall relates it thus:
“In the crisp morning of Tuesday, October 2nd, 1945, there was a considerable gathering of military personnel on the piers of the U.S. Naval Station in Chaguaramas. They represented air, land and sea elements and came from every command in the Caribbean theatre. Along with American, British and local military men, there were Brazilians, speaking Portuguese, Venezuelans and some from Central America, speaking Spanish, Free French representatives from the French territories, and Dutch personnel who fought in the Caribbean.
Near the end of the pier, a small group of important military people were gathered around their host, Commodore Courtlant Baughmann, commander of the U.S. Naval Station in Chaguaramas. This group clustered near the commodore came from three navies, and for the moment they were the centre of attention.
"Captain W. Christiansen was the official representative of the United States Navy. Standing near him were the Royal Navy team, made up of Captain J.H. Breal, with Chief Petty Officer L. King and Mr. C. Penwell from the Admiralty Board of Naval Constructors.
"English, French Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch were the normal languages of the Caribbean Theatre, but on this morning there was an addition. Standing in the group and occasionally exchanging comments in their native tongue were Captain Kadov and Captain Favarov of the Russian Navy. This multinational group were known as the Allied Tripartite Committee and they represented the tail end of wartime co-operation, which would soon degenerate into twentieth century Cold War. However, on this particular morning, they were together on the pier awaiting the arrival of the US Navy Task Group 21.4.
"The conflicts in both the Atlantic and the Pacific were over and the world was winding down from the high tension of a World War, but for the Caribbean this was a very special morning.
"Several Mariner flying boats from VP-213 were airborne, escorting Task Group 21.4 to Trinidad, while the remainder of the pilots from the squadron were on the pier. To the officers and men of the Caribbean Command, the arrival of the Task Group would be the culmination of their war and not many of them would have missed it.
"Precisely at five minutes to seven, the bows of the flagship of Task 21.4 appeared, thrusting through the Third Boca. She was the twelve hundred ton ocean going tug, USS Cheroke. She was especially equipped with salvage equipment and carried a crew of experienced technicians. The two hundred and ten foot long tug cleared the Boca and turned to starboard to allow her charges to take centre stage and a suppressed ripple of excitement greeted the bows of the second vessel of the Task Group 21.4, as it slid through the dark water. U530 had returned to the Caribbean, - for her third visit.
"The long gray forward casing crept into view, glistening with spray in the early morning sunshine. Overhead, the engines of the Mariner thundered, as its arch enemy became the second U Boat to enter the Gulf of Paria. Then the conning tower was visible, followed by the after casing, with white foaming at its stern. Her new American passage crew were on deck, as she turned towards the piers and the waiting crowd.
"But she had hardly cleared the Boca, before the bows of a second U Boat appeared. Following closely behind the Caribbean veteran U530 came the type VIIC U977. As this U Boat entered the gulf, a second Mariner flying boat swept over the ships of Task 21.4 and turned south. The Mariners had escorted the Task Group along Trinidad’s north coast and now their job was Complete.
The U Boats had come from Buenos Aires, where they had been handed over to the American crews by the Argentine Navy. The U Boats’ original crews were far away in a prison camp and the two former commanders, Otto Wehrmuth and Heinz Schaffer were still undergoing special interrogation with their allege involvement with the ghost convoy.”

Tuesday 22 November 2011


The islands in the Dragon’s Mouth can assume a magical character, both in magnificent sunsets, as gold goes to purple with Biblical splendour, and also in sublime morning light, when the horizon is lost in the seascape, and they appear to float upon a prehistoric mist.
The topes of mountains now lost, they are stepping stones to the South American continent to which Trinidad was once joined. Christopher Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, almost crashed his tiny fleet into them some 500 years ago. Escaping, he named the passage for the dragon of the alchemists.
Sir Walter Raleigh, dreaming of his virgin queen Elisabeth I, thought he saw gold glistening in their towering cliffs. Disappointed, he coined the phrase: “All that glitters is not gold.”
The Admiral Lord Nelson sailed a battle-ready fleet through the islands of the Dragon’s Mouth in search of a French Admiral and, missing him, reversed himself, crossed the Atlantic to find and defeat him at Trafalgar. In so doing, Nelson changed the course of history. France in losing her fleet, in effect lost the war at sea, and this enabled Great Britain to rule the waves. One cannot help but wonder that if Nelson had found the French in the Gulf of Paria, and had the French destroyed the British in the swirling currents of the remous, would we be like Martinique and Guadeloupe today, la Trinité?
But our tale concerns itself not with such bona fide travellers such as adventurers, discoverers and admirals, but with pirates. Robert Chase, an authority on pirates, remarks in his book “The Age of Piracy”:
“The tapestry of the record of piracy is old and worn. Many of the threads that were the lives of the men who made it are lost, others are brilliant, some parts gleam, showing in sharp relief the great figures of their times.”
Both Trinidad and Tobago were a part of the age of piracy. Edward Teach, a.k.a. “Blackbeard”, raided both the coasts and the shipping of these islands. Sir Henry Morgan sailed these waters, as did Anne Bonny and her friend Mary Read. Both were notorious lady pirates, as villainous and bloodthirsty as Captain Hook.
One island in the Dragon’s Mouth is remembered for its pirates’ history: Gaspar Grande, named for a French settler of the 1780s, Gaspar de Percin. A century before, Gaspar Grande was frequented by the pirates. Winn’s Bay on the south side of that island, named for Richard Winn, was previously called Corsair’s Bay. For the pirates, it was a haven.
“There was no chart yet that gave an accurate description of the area, no beacons or aids to navigation of any sort,” writes Robert Chase. “A man sailed carrying his knowledge of the Caribbean in his head. But the buccaneers took their “fri-botes” across it unerringly and in later days, towards the end of the 17th century, the 1670s, when they had accepted piracy as a way of life, they entered Spanish ports with superb skill.”
Perhaps a million years ago, when Gasparee was a part of the mainland, a great river may have coursed through it. Fr. Anthony de Verteuil records in his book “Scientific Sorties”:
“The remnant of an underground river exists at Point Baleine. The entrance is through a karst window at the head of Pt. Baleine inlet and stretches across almost the whole width of the island.
This channel splits off into three smaller ones, some leading, it is thought, to large sinkholes or caverns deep within the bowels of the island. A perfect place to hide a treasure!
“Sixteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho and a bottle or rum!” goes an old song. Was a treasure buried in one of those tunnels that led to an as yet undiscovered cave, leading off from Corsair’s (Winn’s) Bay? Dead men tell no tales. All sixteen of them that filled the hole on top of a great iron box of gold. Pirate stories are always fabulous!
Anne Bonney was a long-legged, red-haired beauty from County Cork in Ireland. She travelled out to South Carolina to meet her father, a retired doctor. It is said that she was always a little quick-tempered. While in her teens, s he is alleged to have stabbed her English maid to death. In any event, she left her family and fell in with a captain named Calico Jack Rockham, who was famous for his good looks and gorgeous physique, if not his bravery. He possessed wild stories of piratical adventures, and Anne set sail with him and his murderous band aboard his ship “The Duke”, combing the Caribbean in search of Spanish treasure ships.
They sailed south, skirting Trinidad’s eastern coastline, but did not put in for fear of cannibals. The Duke’s logbook for September 25 states that they crossed the tropic of Cancer. Rockham wrote:
“This day, according to custom, we ducked those that had never passed the tropic before.” They simply tied them with a line and tossed them into the shark-infested waters! They sailed to Cape Horn, the very tip of the southern hemisphere, in freezing weather, and then north up the coast of Peru to raid Spanish towns and shipping. They gathered a fortune in gold, and the following year returned to the “Horn”, the Duke’s decks awash, ploughing through monster waves.
As they beat their way into the South Atlantic, Anne discovered that she was pregnant. It was a long, rough journey up the Brazilian coast to the islands of the Caribbean. Anne had her baby in Cuba, where Rockham had friends. She lived there for a while, then left the young one with them and rejoined the crew of the Duke. She found another woman, Mary Read, aboard, and the two became great friends. Mary was more on the burly side than Anne. She had concealed her sex and served as a soldier in an infantry regiment. both women wore loose cotton jumpers and bell-bottomed sailor trousers, carried a cutlass and a brace of pistols.
They sailed south and careened the Duke in Pirates’ Bay, a cave in Man-o-War Bay in Tobago. There they were surprised by H.M.S. Randolph. Captain Rockham and some of his crew tried to flee in a sloop as the Randolph's landing party came ashore, muskets blazing. Anne Bonney and Mary Read fought side by side without help until they were overpowered. This was remembered when they arrived in Jamaica in chains. Both women escaped hanging because they were pregnant!
Anne was allowed to see Rockham hanged. She said: “Had he fought like a man, he need not be hanged like a dog.” Anne ended her days a wealthy woman in St. Iago de la Vega. Mary sailed the Caribbean as a pirate queen for some years, settling eventually in Scarborough, Tobago.
The “Jolly Roger”, the skull and crossbones, that is well known as the pirate’s flag, was once the battle flag for the Knights Templar in the 12th century. Trinidadians still have to find the treasure that is buried in an undiscovered cave on Gasparee island - if there is any at all!


One of the truly unique institutions in T&T today is the Queens Park Oval. A mere 10 acres and sixteen perches, it has served as a centre piece, a Mecca, in the hearts and minds of tens, who knows, hundreds of thousands over the 105 years of its existence.
The Q.P.O. occupies the southern extremes of what was once called the St. Clair Government Farm. St. Clair was once a prosperous sugar estate, belonging to the Grey family of Scottish origin. Being Scotts, they may have named their estate for the St. Clair or Sinclair family of Scotland, whose origins are lost in mists of history, but who are best remembered as princes of the Orkney islands. To this day, when the bowling is from the north, the bowler would be delivering “from the farm end”.
St. Clair today is dotted with gigantic samaan trees. These enhance the beautiful homes built there over the years. Originally though, they were imported from India and planted there so as to provide shade for the colonies milk-producing herds of cattle. There are still a few samaans growing around the Oval.
No one seems to know for certain when cricket was first played in Trinidad or Tobago. The game would have come to these isles with the British in 1797 and would have been unknown to the Spaniards, they being more occupied with the bulls, and the French who would have been taken up with balls. Be that as it may, what we do know is that in 1896 there was a Cricket Club by the name of the “Sovereign Cricket Club”, whose pavilion stood in just about the middle of the Grand Savannah, now the Queens Park Savannah.
In those times, the Savannah entertained a wider variety of sports than it does today. There was polo, golf, as well as football, hockey, tennis and cricket. There was also horse racing. Great parks distinguish cities as do cathedrals and splendid concert halls. But cities are particularly distinguished when they are equestrian cities, when splendid thoroughbreds may be seen cantering through the morning mist. Port of Spain was made the meaner when horse racing was removed from her.
Notwithstanding, we still have cricket at the Queens Park Oval. Phillip Thompson, Esq., tells us that it was under the guidance and with the considerable energy of the Secretary Treasurer, Mr. W. C. Nock, that the first pavilion was built. This pavilion, with its famous clock, stood there until 1952. There was a band stand, where the Constabulary Band would play “numbers” from their Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire.
Cricket is a very particular game and as such requires special seating arrangements. For example, there was a School Boys Stand, a Bachelor Stand, a Public Stand and a Members Ladies Stand. It was clearly understood that this was a serious affair and that the members who owned the entire facility did not care to be distracted by school boys, bachelors, ladies or the public at large while they sat under the clock. The "Hoy Poloi" who hardly mattered in those days took to the surrounding samaan trees and other vantage points.
The main entrance in those halcyon days was at the north eastern corner of the ground, and the more affluent members arrived by horse and carriage through an avenue of palms and travelled around the ground to the pavilion. Phillip Thompson says: “Contrary to what the oldest member may tell you, the pavilion clock has never been hit by a cricket ball.” Phil knew these things. He continues in his 'ramblings': "I once however, many years ago, in Toronto of all places, heard a Canadian describe to an Englishman how once, when visiting Trinidad, he had seen Patsy Hendren, by dropping on his left knee (as he put it) drive Learie Constantine 'clean over the pavilion and on to Tragarete Road'. Rum was cheap in those days and the visitor to our Oval must have had a prolonged day at the bar when this sensational hit occurred.”
There is a general assumption that everybody knows everything about cricket. This is not so. As a matter of interest, the origins of cricket are obscure and unrecorded. The 'Guinness Book of Cricket Facts and Feats' suggest the word may derive from old English, Anglo Saxon word "cricce", crooked staff, and went on to wonder whether shepherds may have played it.
Perhaps Edward of England at the age of 16 in the year 1300 may have played it with a Gascon youth named Piers Gaveston.
The first certain reference to cricket according to the above mentioned book was in 1478 in France, and the earliest in England in 1598. The first match was played at Coxheath in Kent 1646.
As you can see for yourself, it has been played for a very long time. Phil Thompson’s little book has all sorts of  interesting anecdotes about cricket at the Oval and goings-on at this hallowed shrine of the sport. For example, he recounts: “A boy in short pants was fielding sub for a Shannon player and he ran swiftly around the pull boundary and took a fine catch to dismiss Arch Wiles. Learie Constantine had taken the first of many great catches he was to take at the Oval.”
Cricket, having its roots in Empire, is ultimately about visiting other dominions and colonies, and today, long after the sun has finally set on the largest Empire the world has ever known, cricket continues to be played.
It all started with England vs. Australia, although the purists would tell you that the first overseas match took place in Canada in 1859, with an English team visiting that dominion. But it was really the visit to Australia, in response to a visit from Down Under in 1868, that started the ball a-bowling. There is a great rivalry about some “Ashes”. No one seems to know for sure what was burnt or where it is now. Another great institution is, of course, the M.C.C. It would appear that the Marylbone Cricket Club came into existence in the 1790s for reasons unknown. It appears that law-making powers were assumed and were conceded, defining the game and setting the tone, if you know what I mean. By 1903, the M.C.C. became responsible for selection and administration of all overseas tours. International cricket may have had its genesis with England vs. Australia test matches, but during the 1870s and 1880s, the West Indies emerged as probably the team they both wished to beat. Horace Harragin wrote:
“While the England-West Indies series have been the most durable competition for the Caribbean cricketers, the idea of meeting and indeed beating the Australians became something of an obsession for the West Indians.” He goes on to say that it took all of 35 years to defeat Australia, whereas it took a mere 20 to beat England. By now, you would have gathered that cricket enthusiasts have long memories...
But back to Phil Thomspon’s ramlings:
“In 1965, Bobbie Simpson’s Australian team came to Trinidad, and about 2 o’clock on a hot afternoon during the test, Sobers and Butcher were doing as they liked with the Australian bowling. There was then a grassy mound under the samaan tree in the north-eastern corner of the ground. Suddenly, the packed crown erupted and a goodly section fled into the playing area in a frenzy of alarm. I was sitting in the pavilion with the English writer Denzil Batchelor, when Jack Fingleton, the former Australian test cricketer and then cricket correspondent for the Sunday times of London, came up and asked what had caused the disturbance.
I told him that I would find out, and on inquiring discovered that a jackspaniards nest had fallen from the tree into the crowd. As I put it to him without much thought: ‘They were attacked by a bunch of jackspaniards’ - what of course I should have told my Australian friend was that the crowd had been attacked by a bunch of wasps or better still hornets.
He thanked me and moved on. Later on, I saw a copy of the Sunday Times with Fingleton’s article on that day’s play. To my amazement and amusement, I read that about two in the afternoon, part of the crowd had rushed into the field in alarm, they had been attacked by a bunch of Black Spaniards!”
See what you get when you have an Australian writing for the London Times, covering a test match at the Oval in Trinidad!
What else is there to say, except “Well done, Oval Boys?” The lease has another 94 years to run. They tell me that there is a club within the Queen’s Park Oval, called “The Live Forever Club”. I am not at all surprised - are you?

Centennial Impulses

 The emergence of a national society evolved in cycles of centuries.

“The turn of the century” is a phrase pregnant with a sense of the auspicious, the momentous. For Trinidad and Tobago, the turn of the 18th century and the turn of the 19th century did in fact mark turning points in the overall development of the two islands.
In the case of Trinidad, the end of the 1790s, 1797 to be exact, marked the close of 300 years of Spain’s dominion over this island. 300 years of studied neglect, in fact. Various points of view have been put forward as to why Trinidad ‘de Barlovento’, “to the windward”, was not developed by Spain. Some sources say that it was because the original inhabitants, the Caribs, were man-eaters. This is true, as it was commonly put about by the Caribs themselves that Spaniards tasted much better than the English or the Dutch. Other sources say that these warrior tribes were in the process of conquering the island at the same time when the first Europeans arrived. One of the results of this conquest of Trinidad by the Caribs was their eating of the Aruac men and the marrying of the Aruac women. The equally conquering Spaniards, however, didn’t plan to either eat nor marry any Amerindians, but to enslave the whole lot. Different strokes for different folks!
Another reason for Spain’s neglect of Trinidad may have been the island’s proximity to the Orinoco delta. This river system, one of the world’s largest, could take ships right into the upper reaches of the South American continent, to the Guyanas, to Venezuela, Columbia, almost to the Andes themselves. If Trinidad had been developed, with a busy port, infrastructure for ships, provisions and labour, the island might have become a stepping stone, a base camp, from which all sorts of expeditions up the Orinoco could have been launched. The Spanish Crown had good interest in avoiding that. History had taught them that the rumour of a “Golden Civilisation” on the level of Peru and Mexico existed upstream of the Orinoco. It had already brought English conquistadors like Sir Walter Raleigh in the 1590s to Trinidad. In search of the fabled El Dorado, he had burnt the port of Trinidad, which is where Port of Spain is today, taken the island’s capital, San Jose de Oruna, released the governor’s prisoners, the island’s principle caciques, taken the governor captive and sailed up the Orinoco in search of the gold of El Dorado. And all that Raleigh was acting on was a rumour! The fact that he ‘lost his head’ (literally) a couple of years later perhaps makes the point about acting on rumours...
For whatever reason, the island of Trinidad remained uncultivated and basically uncolonised. It was not, however, entirely neglected. Early on, it was discovered that rich beds of pearl-bearing oysters lay just offshore all along the Western coast, from the Naparimas in the south to Chaguaramas in the north. This was, in fact, our first “industry’ - pearl fishing. So many tribal people died in this work of diving for pearls that the Gulf of Paria was called by the Spaniards the Gulf of Tears. Capuchin missionaries came from Aragon in Spain to convert the natives who had not died as the result of European contact, or who had not been captured and sold into slavery. These, the remainder, they “pacified” by robbing them of their culture.
Tobago during this period was having a very different sort of experience. Quite contrary to Trinidad, Tobago was being settled and also hotly contested. The United Provinces, now the Netherlands, was seeking to break away from Spanish rule. One of their ways of doing this was to establish for themselves a viable economy. Tobago became an object of opportunity for the Dutch. By the early 1600s, they were on the island, cutting the forest, importing slaves from Africa, and building windmills - cutting edge economical reasoning and technology at the time!
But the Dutch were not alone. The Courlanders, one of Europe’s mini states, not much bigger than Tobago, had been given the Caribbean island by James of England. (Not that it was his to give in the first place.) The Courlanders were settling around Courland Bay, and the Dutch on the other side of the island, around what is now Scarborough. For a while, they were unaware of each other’s presence, but upon discovery, they promptly had it out.
Tobago was much fought over by European leading nations of the day during the centuries that followed. The Dutch, the French, the English delivered an appearing never-ending round of conquest and settlement.
Tobago acquired institutions that were out of the ordinary in other colonies of the time. A House of Assembly, for example, occupied by the white planter interest, was already in existence in Tobago, while Port of Spain had nothing much going on.
Tobago was laid out in parishes. By the mid-1780s, towns were planned and a forest reserve created. For a tropical island in that period that was quite advanced. It is interesting to note that just as Trinidad was coming out of its long 300-year Spanish slumber with the conquest of the island by the British in 1797, Tobago was just about to enter a twilight that was to last almost a century and a half.
With Trinidad, the 1780s on through the 1800s saw the most rapid development that could be imagined. This was the result of the French colonisation of this Spanish island. History has asked the question why after some 300 years of virtual abandonment did Spain suddenly allow a French creole from Grenada by the name of de St. Laurent create a population here? It has been put forward that because the Kings of Spain were now of French descent, they were more keen on the development of their territories. It has also been said that the Spanish government needed to develop the island because the British or some other European power might seize it and in so doing gain a foothold on the continent.
Be that as it may. The facts are that the French came to Trinidad in 1783, brought thousands of slaves and opened up the island and created an agricultural economy which was to last until independence. But more than that, they established a cultural frontier. The French “colons”, both of European extraction and the more locally assembled variety, set the tone for how Trinidad’s dominant cultural forms in music, festivals and song (calypso) were to take form.
The century from the 1800s to the 1900s was a French century in Trinidad, despite the fact that the island was a British colony. Perhaps with exception of the Indian immigrants of the second half of the 19th century, Frenchness touched everyone's life, black and white alike. After 1845, the coming of the East Indians, however, was of great significance. By virtue of their separate rural and agricultural lifestyle, they retained their religious, cultural and social moiré, without impacting on the overall body politic for perhaps the first century of their immigration. The Indianness of Trinidad can only be compared in the Caribbean with that of Guyana.
Without doubt, the century between 1800 and 1900 saw the foundation for Trinidadianness put into place, comprising several ethnicities and economies. Sugar, cocoa and oil have helped to make this place so unique amongst emerging nations.
From 1900 to 2000, Trinidad has developed significantly, building on and benefitting tremendously from the institutions that were established by the British colonial system: the judiciary, the police service, educational, health and infrastructural amenities.
In keeping with the various economies, Trinidad has undergone a remarkable degree of industrialisation. Similar to other emerging industrial nations in the first decades of the 20th century, local labour had to struggle hard to maintain its dignity vis-à-vis the colonial power. The same accounts for voter franchise and the distinctive freedom of speech, expression and behaviour that is so much our own.
Looking back over the close to 220 years since the Cedula of Population presents the student of history with an amazing landscape. Class, race, skin colour, caste, gender: all were combined to produce immensely complex and fascinating patterns of human relationships. Notwithstanding the relatively healthy state of the country’s economy at any point in time, its success was really only ever due to its people and the evolution of a national society.

Monday 21 November 2011

Creole Proverbs

Collected by Otto Massiah

Patois is a very very funny language, especially when you understand French! It is devoid of pretensions, and allows itself to be funny and delve in picong. What seems almost incomprehensible written down in English phonetics, becomes hilariously clear when read aloud, compared with the English translation and with its roots in "high" French.

Bush doo kah ashtay shuval ah crayde.
Sweet mouth buys horses on credit.
Bouche douce achète cheval au crédit.

Kan ou vueh barb camarad ou puis, defay wousay cella ou.
When you see your friend’s beard on fire, sprinkle yours.
Quand tu vois la barbe de ton camarad au feu, il devoit arroser celle de toi.

Malair pah kah charjay con laplee.
Accidents don’t threaten like rain.
Malheur ne peut [charger] comme la pluie.
[This might be an Anglicism having crept into the French from Engl. 'to charge', the correct French word would be 'menacer']

Ravett pah jammay tinne raison duvan poule.
The cockroach never has any right to the eyes of a fowl.
Cafard n'a jamais aucune raison devant une poule.

Say souleah sel ke connet se shoson tinni too.
The shoe alone knows if the socks have holes.
C'est la [souleah] seule ce qui connaît que les [chaussons] tenaient trous.
[Again these might be creolised words; the French word for shoe is 'chaussure', and for socks 'chaussette', however, 'chaussons' is a bedsock or footlet.]

Say coute ke connoit sah ke nan bouden jermu.
Only the knife knows what is in the inside of the pumpkin.
Seule le couteau connaît ce qu'est dans [bouden jermu].
[The French word for pumpkin is 'citrouill'.]

Say mezeh qui fair macaque manger piman.
Trouble made the monkey eat pepper.
C'est la misére qui fait [macaque] manger piment.

Sa zeah pah kah vueh, cheh kah teh mal.
What the eye does not see the yeart does not grieve at.
Ce que les yeux ne peuvent pas voir, le coeur ne tient mal.

Se crab pah mashay le pah grah, le mashay trap le tombay dan showdeah.
If the crab doesn’t walk he don’t get fat. If he walks to much he falls in the pot.
Si le crabe ne marche pas il ne devient gras; s'il marche trop il tombe dans le chaudeur.

Se zandolee tay bon vian le passay kah dreevay.
If lizards were eatable they would not be so common about.
Si [zandolee] etais la bonne viande, ...

Si crapaud di ou caiman tini mal zieu queh le.
If the frog tells you that the crocodile has sore eyes believe him.
Si crapaud dit que le caiman tient mals yeux, crois-le.

You dwett pah sah pwan peice.
One finger can’t catch fleas.
Un doîgt ne peut pas prendre puces.

Tampay kah ashtay maleh, gaude passah paveh.
A penny will buy trouble which pounds cannot buy.
Stampee [old currency] va acheter malheur, ...

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