Monday 30 January 2012

An Indentured Prince

This is a tale of two royal princes and how they made their way to the Land of the Hummingbird. It is a fictional, dramatised account of two true adventures, one of an Indian prince who came to Trinidad as an indentured labourer, and one of an African prince who was freed from a slave ship.

The history of Trinidad and Tobago is a story of immigrants. Coming to these islands from three continents, these themselves separated by thousands of miles, distinguished by cultures fundamentally different, the immigrants shared, however, the island's eclectic and dynamic 19th century culture. Sometimes, they had a unique background in common, like royalty.
Ishwarisingh, by the grace of God, was born into the royal house of Jaipur. He was the third son of Motilal Singh, uncle and one time guardian of the Maharaja of Jaipur, Surat Chandra Singh. Ishwarisingh grew up in the shadow of the great mandir dedicated to Shila Devi, who represents Mahishasuramardini, the 'slayer of the buffalo-demon'. He became a musician, poet and devotee, a dedicated priest to that shrine of Her benevolence.
Ishwarisingh was born in the 20th year of the reign of Queen Victoria of England, whose majesty had spread across the known world, even to India, where her agents and military had engulfed the Mungal kingdoms and threatened the independent princely Rajput states. Jaipur stood as an island, independent, as it had done for close upon a thousand years. defended by the wealth and the wisdom of her ruling house and walked in the ruins of long deserted temples.
Ishwarisingh, in the flower of his youth, decided upon a holy journey, a pilgrimage, so as to visit shrines and sites of his devotion. He traveled in the style not of a prince of the blood, but as a mendicant, a humble musician, a storyteller. He followed the dusty roads of India's vast hinterland, through huge forests and across gigantic mountainscapes. He bathed in holy Gangama, visiting ancient cities that had been built upon even more ancient ones. He thronged with millions of the poor and touched the feet of the holy, and visited in wonderment the great and majestic palaces of long dead kings.
His travels took him eventually to the magnificent city of Calcutta, built up the breast of the great river Ganges. One evening, the sun setting with Asiatic splendour, he found himself in a throng of travelers surging up on the great wharves of the city. In the distance, he could see the tall masts and elaborate rigging of a sailing ship. Soon he could see her vast hull, portholes, gunells, ballast, bails, barrels, boxes, trunks, cargoes. Lines of passengers with expectant, eager, fearful, excited expressions surrounded him. The gang plank leading to the vessel "Count of Lancaster" now named by the merchant Yusuf Haji Mohammed Sadeek of Bombay  the "Fath Al Karim", Victory of Allah the Generous, the Noble.
What karma placed the foot of Prince Ishwarisingh upon that path none but he could tell. What destiny drove him to leave his dharti mata, his land of birth, his kingdom, to take this journey that for some would be one of no return, no one would ever know. It is said that he was told by the immigration agent that he had been recruited under false grounds. His reply was that he had promised to go and so he must go.
The ship slipped away with the very early morning air on the hoogly on the 19th April 1871 with a cargo of 218 Indians. It sailed silently down the river for about 100 miles and reached Sangor Island at the mouth of the Ganges and would not drop anchor for another 60 days and 500 miles.
The journey to the South Atlantic island of St. Helena commenced with the Fath Al Karim sailing to the south west towards Africa's Cape of Good Hope, the Kali Pani. The towering waves in a monstrous running sea became even more terrifying for the passengers as the icy waters of the Antarctic met the warmer of the Atlantic. Raging storms sent the wind howling through the rigging. The ship's decks were awash from stem to stern. Creeping damp grew to clammy wet to a dripping cold, which affected the food, the minds and eventually the sanity of the travelers now bound together in the contracts of indentureship.
On a bleak afternoon, the exhausted sea reduced to rolling swells, the ship sailed warily into the great bay beneath the ancient volcano of an island that had known only one famous visitor some sixty-odd years before by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte. In the placid bay of St. Helena, the memory of the "Pagal Samundor", the mad sea slowly fading, the indentured were prepared for the final leg of the journey. This island, held by the British since 1673, had previously been used as a holding bay for slaves en route to the Americas, and from 1810 for the Chinese who were destined for indentureship to the New World. Now it was a stop to drop off the sick or dying, the "troublesome coolies"  and the rebellious European seamen.
The "jahagis" longed to be put ashore to touch the earth, to step upon its firmness. but no. Soon, she set sail again, taking the tradewinds north and westward over a rolling water for another 40 days and nights to yet another island, named by the Christian navigator for his triune God, Trinidad.
The journey had been gentle, and the jahagis had recuperated. The sea was calm and the winds allowed the "Victory of Allah the Generous, the Noble" to enter the Gulf of Paria through the Grand Boca, to drop anchor before the smiling town of Port of Spain.
Ishwarisingh now knew his fate. To which estate he was sent and what was his experience here is forgotten - there is no record. However, Sir Neville Lubbock, Chairman of the West Indian Committee from 1884 to 1909, in his evidence before the Sanderson Commission of 1910, makes reference to this strange adventure. The following extract is taken verbatim from the minutes of evidence of the said commission:
"I do not know whether you have had before you a rather interesting report by Mr. Mitchell of Trinidad. It appears that there was a Prince went out from India to Trinidad by mistake. He thought he was making a religious pilgrimage, but when he got to Calcutta, he found his mistake. The emigration agent there told him that he had been recruited under false grounds. Well, he said, he had promised to go and he meant to go. He went to Trinidad, served his five years, remained there the ten years, and when he was returning to India, he told Mr. Mitchell his story: how he was an Indian Prince and how he was very pleased with the way in which he had been treated in Trinidad and thanked them and returned back to India. I think that is about ten years ago. It is a rather interesting story."

Thursday 26 January 2012

Saving Trinidad's David Copperfields

130 years of St. Dominic's Children's Home

Port of Spain, particularly east Port of Spain, 130 years ago, was a crucible for destitute people who came from all over the island to the city seeking opportunities. Three decades after the abolition of slavery, the children of the ex-slaves had now had children themselves. Unemployment was high, wages were miserable, and many could not care for their offspring as they should have.
Abandonment and homelessness was the fate of many small infants and youngsters, who were the children of the poorest of the poor. They could be seen everywhere in the streets, begging, loitering, without any education or care, without love. Many were naked, and the more industrious ones took to stealing. In their abandonment, they shared the fate with thousands of children in Europe, children of parents whom the Industrial Revolution had left behind, who suffered from illness, bitter cold, hunger and thirst, and desperation in their loneliness. In some cases, their parents were imprisoned for debt, or were simply too sick or destitute to bother with their kids. Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield" is an example of what abandoned children in London had to endure, and Port of Spain knew many of those little David Copperfields, both boys and girls.
One man, the parish priest of Rosary Church, could not bear seeing the misery of the street children on a daily basis. His church was literally surrounded by this misery, and at any point in time, one could find two or three little ones huddled in the church's portals, holding out their tiny, dirty hands for alms. Father Mariano Forestier decided to found a home for those children, intent on not only saving their souls, but also their miserable little bodies from starvation. Mr. Leroy came to his assistance, and together with other friends, the priest bought a small property on the summit of the "Morne" in Belmont, overlooking Port of Spain.
As soon as the sale was finalised, three children were picked off the streets and given into the care of Father Forestier's children's home. Who knows who their parents were, and why they had to roam the streets of the city all by themselves? Maybe they were orphans, maybe they weren't. But those three out of many had at least found a home now, a home where kind ladies took care of them, begged for them, clothed, bathed, and fed them on a daily basis. Soon, they were joined by other children, and by the end of 1871, their number had risen to eleven.
Five years later, Father Forestier got the Dominican sisters, who had established themselves in Cocorite in 1868, to take on those little charges. Christmas of 1876 saw 66 pairs of big eyes glow expectantly - maybe this year Father Christmas would not forget them?
The old building was bursting at its seams with so many children. The Dominican Sisters recruited everybody to help with the extension to the home. In their annals, it is recorded that the boys and girls carried all the water, stones and cement up to the Morne for the builders to get to work! The little ones had little buckets, and the older ones took a brick or two, and all trundled back and forth to see their new living quarters grow.
"Wood, slates and bricks too had to be carried up," writes Olga Mavrogordato in her book "Voices in the Street". "Some had boxes and baskets, others had old pans, old plates and jugs, and they counted the number of their journeys during the morning."
The parish priest of Maraval, Padre Alvarez, also mobilised his parishioners. More than 250 people came to help! From 7 o'clock in the morning until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, women, children and men worked on the extension of the children's home. Of course, the work was not completed in one day, and many of the inhabitants of Belmont, as well as the Societies of St. Anthony and the Holy Trinity, all came and lent a helping hand, levelling, digging, carrying water and materials, or simply cooking food and distributing some lunches for everybody.
Three years later, the extension as well as the chapel and a house for the sisters was equally completed. At the end 1879, Father Forestier gave over the home to the Archbishop of Port of Spain, which was at that time Most Rev. L.J. Gonin O.P.
Over the years, more building work was done and the wooden buildings of the children's home gave way to concrete houses. Also, the number of children increased steadily. A government grant provided the financial backbone of the home, but it also depends ongoingly on the goodwill of charitable people.
One of the distinct features is the home's bakery. There, the older children learnt how to bake their own bread - and how much better it tastes if you make it yourself! It was important for these parentless children to learn a trade, so that later, when they become old enough to leave the home, they would be able to make a living. Not only baking, but also cabinet making and shoe making and tailoring was taught in the classes. The children's home also produced a very attained band, and oftentimes, members of this band are accepted by the Police and Regiment bands.
Father Mariano Forestier died in 1901. "The little cottage on the Morne which sheltered those first three little children whom Father Forestier received, became a large home, comprising ten buildings, where lived more than 400 children."
And for those who have never seen this historical and social monument, go and visit the St. Dominic's Home for Children in Belmont!

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Most Selfish Generation

by Jean de Boissière
He wrote in the 1940-50s. A note on the de Boissieres.  They were Huguenot
not Catholic. Founder, Jean Velleton de Boisierre anglicized his name to Joun Boissiere
for-closed on Champs Elysées. His father was one of the 500 during the Directorate in France
They did not marry the other French families and worked very closely with the English. Eric Williams came from the black side of that family.

Some eighty years ago, the leading people of Trinidad the (plantation owners) were hard working industrious folk who exploited the masses shamefully in the interest of what they thought was a sound conception of society. 
Embodied in this conception was a firm belief in the family unit as the very basis of that society. this made one of their first principles the establishment and strengthening of large family groups. Another solid conviction was their faith in religion as a force essential to the past, the present and the future. It was not an empty conviction for they propagandised that faith among the thousands of illiterate who came under their influence.
To these people (the freed Negro slaves and the East Indian indentured labourers who were their workers) they extended a regard for their material as well as their spiritual welfare. In practice, this welfare was administered in a completely despotic but benevolent manner. A gardener got a dollar a week, and if he forgot himself and his place so far as to demand fifty cents more as his just wages, he would be chased from the estate. But if he asked for a spot of land to build his shack, or five dollars to christen a child, he was given it and more with a paternal graciousness that made him feel that he was as much part of  that family unit as its oldest son.
The elder Creoles of three generations back were in most instances conservatively constructive, paternal and kind. That they were unaware of an industrial revolution that was torturing Europe and which would eventually destroy their work and their world, that they accepted the status quo with the same faith that they did their God was not their fault. In their time and place they could not possibly have done otherwise.
If one could accuse them of crime, it could  be only for that of spawning the generation that followed them. No single excuse could be found for these. Their parents graciously cheated the masses in order to create a surplus to send these hopes-of-the-world for an education in a Europe that was perpetually seething with an under-current of industrial and political unrest. For all they saw of this they might as well been blindfolded before they left. But what they did see and learn was the unscrupulous selfishness of the bourgeois class, rampant in the jungle they had made out of European civilization.
When they returned, the adulation and regard with which they were greeted was completely misinterpreted. They looked upon it rather in the way a millionaire's son does on the salutes of the sailors from his father's yacht. The first practical application of the lessons they had learnt was in their treatment of these workers on their plantations.
No more benevolent despotism. The attitude was now that of the European bourgeois to their factory workers. Ruthless individualism replaced the former almost feudal arrangement. It was expressed in such phrases as these: "The gardener get his wages - and his standard of living doesn't justify his getting any more. So why should we give him free lands for a house, when we can get rents from those lands, everything must make a profit. If they don't want to use the estate barracks and want to live above their means - and they always were a lazy, spend-thrift lot anyway - let them rent the land."
To their industrious parents who had worked and cleared the estate of all encumbrances, meanwhile building whole villages for their workers, they would talk in this strain.
"Mother, I don't see why you keep on giving money to these people to christen their children, when you know very well that they are a vicious immoral lot and all of their children are bastards anyway - and the amount of  money you waste giving away rosaries and prayer books, they can well afford to buy themselves. This would make them appreciate them more than when they get them for nothing anyway."
In like manner to this, they undertook to inaugurate and establish the regime of unrestricted capitalism on the plantations of their fathers. Any resistance to them was met with cruel suppression. They did not stop at attacking the workers, they carried the battle for these new principles (or more correctly lack of principles) right into their own families. The survival of the fittest , the  crowning of cunning, and the law of the jungle had to be established here too. Where their parents had assisted members of the family in their moments of distress, they used such moments to take advantage of them Instead of the financially embarrassed member getting help, he would be forced to sell whatever he had left to the stronger relatives at a colossal sacrifice.
One would have thought that this would have brought some qualms of conscience. It did; but gave them little trouble as they had a bourgeois conscience; the most elastic produced yet. They insisted on a strict honesty that left them masters of the embarrassing situations created very dubiously for their opponents. The elastic of their conscience expanded with creating the situation and contracted visibly in handling it.
In morals they insisted on an ultra-puritanical code for their own wives and daughters, while those of their labourers were invariably supposed to submit to the advances made prior to any work or land being given on the estate. While the older generation had occasionally lapsed and produce children with women on the estate which they acknowledged and supported (in some instances even giving them a European education), the new one ignored and abandoned the innumerable bastards they begot as a preliminary to the day's work in the cocoa.
Not satisfied with turning the estate and its workers into a machine from which they could grind money for a self-centered empty life of pleasure, they sought official positions in the government, where their most arduous work was done in jockeying for the highest paid jobs. The first step was to reduce the work of the department to a minimum and then to arrange for the terrifically underpaid subordinates to carry on the work, while they spent their time on the galleries of their clubs, sipping drinks and slaying peoples reputation with an impressive dignity.
There is one classic case worth mentioning of a head of a department who, having arranged his official life in like manner to suit himself (to have told this man that he was a servant of the public and owed them a duty would have been to grossly insult him), he would turn up at his office everyday at 11 o/clock and leave at midday. For over 15 years, he drew about $ 400 per month of the public's money for sitting at a desk for five hours a week. He eventually retired a short while before it was absolutely necessary because as he boasted to his friends, his "conscience hurt him".
They attended church every Sunday with an eye to subtle publicity, for they went always to the biggest ones where they would be seen by the most people. But the simple Christina virtues of unheralded charity, kindness and love were completely absent from their makeup.
In their lifetime, they succeeded in deranging the social order created by their forbears so completely, that the former good relations that existed between the classes disappeared and the same social disorder and unrest that haunted Europe permeated the island.
Some of these supreme individualists still exist and linger in the estate houses, the position of government and the benches of the larger churches. They are few now and these ladies and gentlemen of the most incredibly selfish generation will pass away, but it will take more than a little time to heal the wounds they made on the body social that their forefathers brought forth."

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Monday 23 January 2012

Cycles of Revolt

Trinidad in the 1840s was going through a state of flux. The time of African slavery had officially ended. About 25,000 former slaves were actually on the move. Some left the country districts and walked for miles through  the bush to get to Port of Spain. Others travelled from one estate to another to get work in better or simply different environments. Some stayed where they were, working as domestics in the houses of Port of Spain.
Fr. Anthony de Verteuil in his chapter "The End of Slavery" from his publication "Seven Slaves and Slavery" gives and excellent perspective of the period before emancipation and following. He notes that in 1777, there were only 225 slaves in Trinidad, scattered around St. Joseph, Maraval and Diego Martin and on the islands in the Bocas. Some lived in the Naparimas, cultivating crops of mostly cotton and coffee.
With the French came the Otaheite sugar cane, and only 20 years later, in 1797, the slave population stood at 10,007. By 1813, it counted in Port of Spain alone 6,170 slaves. In the second decade of the 19th century, it was 23,227.
Estate life during slavery produced craftsmen such as carpenters, tanners, coopers, blacksmiths, boat builders, whalers to name a few.
After emancipation, most of the slaves left the estates and never returned. As such, the economy just about collapsed, and there was also no work for the skilled craftsmen. The French plantocracy was much affected; estates were abandoned; many families migrated to the southern United States.
By the 1840s, there were several experiments with the importation of labour. Some Chinese were tried and also Portuguese. The first influx of "small islanders" took place. The real turn-around came with the arrival of the Indians. José Bodu, social commentator, remarked:
"An event of immense importance in the history of the colony is the arrival of the first batch of East Indian immigrants on board the ship Fatel Razack."
1845 also saw the emergence of the Reform Movements, the repercussions of which are still felt 150 years later. Bodu remarks:
"In 1845, the question of reform began to occupy the minds of the people of Trinidad. Nearly 50 years had elapsed since the capitulation, and although Spanish institutions which then prevailed and which it had been covenanted to respect had been Anglicized, no modicum of direct representation such as obtained in other parts of the Empire had been afforded the colony."
Trinidadians had little, in fact no control over their fate, particularly their economic destiny. This lack of local representation was also the reason for the high maintenance cost of the colony, and was not approved of by all Englishmen. Already in 1822, a Mr. Hume moved to appoint a commission of enquiry to report on the state of Trinidad. Joseph Marryat, Esq., gave the following speech in the House of Commons on July 25th, 1822:
"The amount of the taxes annually raised in Grenada are about £30,000 currency. The amount of law expenses and fees of the Courts of Justice are estimated at £20,000. The annual expense of the Registry of Slaves is £ 200. The expenses attending the apprehension and restitution of a runaway negro seldom or ever exceed £4, and frequently do not amount to half that sum. In Trinidad, 44 runaway negroes were apprehended together about two years ago, [...] which amounted to no less a sum than £5,272; or nearly £120 each, which in many cases exceeded the value of the negroes.
"Large sums are also raised in Trinidad for objects of embellishment, utterly inconsistent with the means of the inhabitants. The Governor [Woodford] ordered the streets to be new paved, and assessed the proprietors of houses £4 6s. 8d. per foot on their frontage to defray the expense of the alteration. [...] Some of them have been actually obliged to mortgage, and others to sell their houses, to liquidate their assessments to the pavement.
"The inequality of the burdens imposed on the inhabitants of Grenada and Trinidad is easily accounted for; Grenada enjoys a British constitution - her laws are framed by representatives chosen from among the people, and who can impose no taxes to which they do not themselves contribute, in common with their fellow subjects. But Trinidad is under an arbitrary government, and her laws are made by a single individual, who has no common interest with those over whom he rules."
1846 saw the arrival of Lord Harris, an extremely able and most progressive administrator under whose aegis the difficult question of educating the population was first tackled. The first Portuguese shop was opened in that year by a Señor Esperanza. This marked the commencement of an institution that would continue for generations. Two deaths occurred in 1849 of men who, apart from leaving their mark, also left many descendants who are still with us. In April of that year, the venerable and much respected Mr. Paul Giuseppi passed away, aged 78 years, at his residence "Valsayn" (then an estate house, not a suburb). It was in that same house that the articles of capitulation had been signed almost 50 years ago. A native of the island of Corsica, Mr. Giuseppi held the office of Teniente Justica, Mayor of St. Joseph, during the governorships of both Sir Thomas Hislop and of Sir Ralph Woodford. Passing away that year was also the Hon. Francisco Llanos at the age of 71. Dr. Llanos was a native of Caracas and had come to this island in 1810. A lawyer by profession, he enjoyed a large practice at the bar. He held the office of Defender of the Absent and at various times filled the positions of Assessor to the Court, Intendent and Judge Criminal.
The year 1849 was remarkable for what is known as the 1st October riots. The cause of this lamentable occurrence was an Ordinance to compel civil prisoners in the Royal Gaol to have their heads shaved in the same manner as the criminals. It was sought to pass this Ordinance through the Legislative Council. The public feeling of all classes revolted at the proposed indignity, which would have mainly affected people of some respectability which had nevertheless incurred too many debts. On Saturday, 19th September, placards were visible all over the town, announcing the convening of a public meeting for the morning of Monday, the 1st October. The place selected was a house on Almond Walk (now Broadway), Port of Spain, which was soon found to be too small a location to accommodate the vast number of people who congregated on the occasion.
An adjournment was therefore made to the Eastern Market, where the butchers had struck work in sympathy with the objects of the meeting.
As an outcome of the meeting, a deputation composed of Messrs. Dessources, Radix, Scott, Jean Louis, Edward, Phillip Rostant and Hobos were appointed to wait on the Governor, which they did at the Governor's office in the building that was later known as the Red House.
They were followed by a large crowd that grew increasingly noisy. The Governor agreed to withdraw that part of the Ordinance which had reference to the shaving of the heads of prisoners for debt. Notwithstanding these assurances, the crowd, now numbering some three thousand and comprised of the lower orders, rioted, destroying property and threatening to overrun the Governor's office. Some young men even got into the Council Chamber. One was arrested. When the rioters outside discovered this, they hurled a shower of stones in the buildings. At this point, the military was sent for, comprising the 88th regiment and the 2nd West Indian Regiment. The riot act was read by the Attorney General Charles Warner under a hail of stones, and the order to fire was given. Several people fell. This did not stay the fury of the mob. They continued to attack the soldiers and the police with large stones torn up from the streets. Four six-pounder cannons were landed from H.M.S. Scorpion, and preparations were made to open fire on the unrelenting rioters.
In the meantime, several of the crowd lay dead or dying in the streets and in the square opposite to the government Buildings. It was some time before order could be restored and the ringleaders arrested. They were later brought to trial.
With this incident, the colony had experienced its first civil riot. This was to be followed some 30 years later by the Cannes Brulées riots, which in turn were followed by the Water Riots 24 years later, in 1903. These were followed by the general strike in 1937 and by the Black Power uprising in 1970 and by the Muslimeen insurgents in 1990.
For close to 150 years, six generations of people have taken their lives into their hands to revolt violently against authority in Abercromby Street, Woodford Square, both outside of and in the Red House: Trinidad's cycles of Revolt.

Friday 20 January 2012

Shouter Baptists

On March 30th, Trinidad and Tobago celebrates Shouter Baptist Day, and we look at the history of this religious group, drawing on information of Rt. Rev. Eudora Thomas book "A History of the Shouter Baptists in Trinidad and Tobago", published by Calaloux Productions, Ithaca, New York, 1987.

The Spiritual Baptists, called "Shouters" in Trinidad and Tobago, had been suppressed by both the colonial and the independent governments for many decades. Nevertheless, the group prevailed and, in spite of being a relatively small minority, has inspired a national holiday since the 1990s.
Like Santeria in Cuba and Brazil, Voudoun in Haiti, and Shango in the British Isles: the Spiritual Baptists are a syncretic African-Christian faith that goes back at least two centuries, to the days of slavery. Being a philosophical belief system, it did not come into being at a specific moment, but evolved over a long period of time. Due to this, and due to the fact that it evolved often "undercover" in the undocumented  slave population makes the exact roots of the Spiritual Baptist shrouded in the mists of history.
The Africans who settled in the Americas and in the Caribbean came from various parts of West and Central Africa, as the map shows. Up to today, we do not describe their origins with their "nationalities" (the present-day borders were drawn by the European colonisers at random, disregarding traditional tribal borders), but with their tribal ethnicity: Yoruba, Ibo, Dahomey, Mandingo, Congo, Rada, to name but a few.
The Yoruba were the largest group to come to the West Indies. It is to them that, according to Thomas, the forms of worship of the Spiritual Baptists are mostly attributed. In the slave society, where the Yoruba mixed with people of other tribal origins, Christian concepts of the dominant European culture were mixed with pan-African customs to create the syncretic forms of religious expression. Thus, the bell-ringing was borrowed from the Europeans, and the chanting from the Africans. Anointing can be found in both the Catholic and African religions.
"Handclapping and chanting, which are manifestations of the Shouters, are a substitute for the drums and shac-shacs of African custom," writes Thomas.
In the West Indies, the Spiritual Baptists were soon ousted by the Europeans. They aren't called Shouters for nothing: were simply too loud! All this chanting, shouting, bell-ringing and hand-clapping infringed on the more delicate European sense of propriety. It definitely smacked of some barbaric African cults. Laws were passed against those disturbances. The Catholic and Protestant churches too were worried about that their efforts to Christianise the African population would be undermined by the Shouters. Way into the 20th century, it was often the leaders of the established churches who opposed the revocation of the ordinances that forbid the Spiritual Baptists in the British West Indies, and not the colonial government.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the "Ordinance to Render Illegal, Indulgence in the Practice of the Body known as the Shouters", was passed on 27 November, 1917. The Anglican church was then between leaders, Bishop John Francis Welch served up to 1916, and Bishop Dr. Arthur Henry Anstey was consecrated in 1918. The Roman Catholic church was headed by Archbishop John Pius Dowling. The governor was Lieut. Col. Sir John Chancellor, after whose wife Lady Chancellor a street was named.
The bill was introduced by the attorney general, Sir Henry Gollam. He acted in accordance with the government's practices in St. Vincent, where the "Shakers" had been banned from worshipping in 1913.
"According to his statement, the Shouters' form of worship, which was introduced to the island from the neighbouring island of St. Vincent, was an 'unmitigated nuisance'," writes Thomas. "A Shouter meeting would make the neighbourhood where it took place unfit for residential occupation." She continues to give names of several leaders of the Shouters who had to suffer for their faith after 1917: Teacher Patrick of Sangre Grande served a three month prison term for conducting baptisms in a river; Leader Roach earned himself the name "Braveboy" for preaching at street corners in spite of rotten eggs being pelted at him; Leader Harold Lackeye was put into prison for six months for preaching but put on bond; Leader Smith of Roxborough was beaten and arrested for conducting a baptism; and Pastor Guiton of Tunapuna was raided several times and had to pay high fines.
On March 30th, 1951, the Ordinance that banned the Shouters was repealed. Pastors Griffith and Balfour were depicted on the front page of the local newspapers. Two months later, on May 22, the ban was also lifted in St. Vincent by the colonial administration. The spokesman in the Legislative Council for them there was Vincentian George McIntosh, whom Thomas quotes:
"In view of the fact that the poorer classes of this Colony are in deplorable, poverty-stricken condition because Government is unable to remedy conditions and ... religion being the only means whereby these depressed people can find comfort in their misery and as the Superintendent of Police and His Honour the Administrator have colluded to deprave these people of their right to religious freedom in the Colony."
During the years of slavery in the Caribbean, African slaves had a need to maintain their spiritual health in order to cope with the terrible conditions they lived in. In the new environment, Europeans tried to Christianise them; many of the Africans also brought their own, powerful belief structure into the equation.
"The religious propagation, with the stunning magical power of the African medicine man, so strongly influenced the African inhabitants that they started to borrow from their own myths and religious practices until they had established a variant form of the faith," writes Thomas.
If the importation of those myths and practices was very strong, they superseded the Christian forms, i.e. in Voudoun or Shango. But the same syncretic borrowing took place in the religious practice that eventually became the Shouters, or Shakers as they were called in St. Vincent, or Tie Heads as they were called in Barbados.
But why did the slaves not accept Christianity? Was it merely a manifestation of their inner opposition against the slave master, in spite of the outward adaptation to the system?
Thomas writes that Christianity was never really fully adopted by certain African tribes because of its monotheism (which, as anthropologists would tell you, was also the problem in ancient and middle-age Europe, hence the translation of various pre-Christian religious concepts and personalities into God's son, Mother of God, patron saints etc.). To those tribes, both Christianity and Islam would have forbidden a part of their world view in that was based on nature and ancestor worship. What happened in the case of the Spiritual Baptists was that they adopted the concept of baptism and the Holy Ghost from the Christian missionaries. Thomas adds: "mourning, talking in tongues, healing preaching, and teaching of the gospel according to the diverse gifts manifested by the Holy Ghost."
From their African ancestors, the Shouters inherited other practices, e.g. the incantation of traditional Christian hymns in a pattern that leads to shouting, or the hand-clapping and "shaking", which imply African participatory patterns. In comparison, physical manifestations during worship are very reduced in European Christian churches. The Vincentian Shakers were banned after an incident where the shaking and vibrations of a group had frightened the governor's horse so much that he fell off!
In Trinidad, the first recorded leaders of a syncretic African-Christian religious cult was Papa Nanee, who has been described earlier in the Digest as the founder of the Rada community in Belmont. He was also a healer, a role which is part and parcel of Black syncretic movements in the New World. The Shouters give their spiritual leaders the title "Teacher" or "Elder". Teacher Farnum was a leader in the late 19th century, who spread the Shouter Baptist faith from her little shack off the Tunapuna road. Other significant leaders were, according to Thomas, Pastor Bowman in Arouca, Pastor William Cox, his wife Irma and his son Douglas, who established a mission in 1904 in Tunapuna, and Pastor Theophilus Ottley, who was believed to have started a church in Laventille.
In 1987, Rev. Thomas wrote:
"The Shouter Baptists celebrate their Day of Emancipation for religious observances, and efforts should be made to commemorate this day during their lifetime."
This year, it will be the 50th anniversary of their Day of Emancipation, and Eudora Thomas' wish has been granted on a national basis.
Today, in world where car engines and blaring television sets seem to be the soundtrack of our lives, it seems strange that the Shouter Baptists had been banned for 34 years on grounds of the noise level they create during worship. When we put up our feet on Friday coming, let us think a minute about the reasons for their coming into existence as a church with distinct religious practices, and let us give acquiescence to the fact that their movement is, in fact, one that finds parallels everywhere in the New World.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Frank Messervy

The unrelenting hail of shot, shell and fire stopped with the dawn. The rain that had been falling for the previous six weeks continued coursing, a weird syncopation of dropping sounds, a drip-splash-drop-drop-drip symphony that managed oriental quarter-tones, a lunatic cacophony through which the drifting mist made not merely the landscape, but the immediate surroundings take on the quality of Chinese mist paintings of the type seen on screens in restaurants.
It was typical of the Japanese to fill the night with terror and death, only to fall silent with the dawn leaving the enemy exhausted, shell-shocked and desperate with the certain knowledge that the ring had grown tighter. The fourth army corpse lay entrapped in the maze of mountain gorges, precipices, spectacular but unseen waterfalls in probably the world's thickest primeval tropical jungle, where only dynamite may be brought in to blast away gigantic trees so as to clear the way for lieutenant General Frank Messervy to remove his entrapped army from the heartland of Burma during the devastating days of the last war. he did. And with the 7th Indian Division and the reconstructed 4th Army Corps, he drove the Japanese Army through the Burmese mountains to take Rangoon.
That itself is a tale worth telling. For the last three hours, the Japanese Imperial Commander for Malaya, Sumatra, Java, Borneo and the Dutch East Indies, General Seishiro Itagaki, had been standing at attention with his ceremonial sword held out at arm's length, with his entire officer corps lined up behind him. His army of 100,000 men were drawn up without arms in parade in the open field adjacent to the city of Rangoon, now reduced to ashes. General Frank Messervy entered the open field accompanied by the pipes and drums of the Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders (Princess Louise's), and the entire 4th Army Corps for the purpose of taking the surrender. Detachment after detachment formed up and with the entire corps at present arms, General Itagaki handed his sword to Frank Messervy. It was just over 550 years old and had been made by Kanemoto, the most famous sword smith of his day.
Years later, I went to visit Sir Frank Messervy in his thatch-covered, large cottage not too far from London. Tall and gangly, and an older man by now, Frank recalled:
"In all my life, I have never seen a man so overwhelmed by emotion as was Itagaki when he handed his sword to me. He went ashen gray, just like a corpse, and the pupils of his eyes dwindled until there were no pupils at all. I know, because I looked straight and hard into his eyes as he surrendered his sword. It was as though he was surrendering his soul to me, and I though he would drop dead at my feet."
The said sword had killed many people in its time. When the heir of the house came of age, he would go into the family village where the tenants were kneeling on either side of the path. To prove his manhood, he would take a right-hand swipe and a left and so on, severing heads on his way.
Why this story? General Sir Frank Messervy, K.C.S.I., K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O, was the son of Myra de Boissière who married an Englishman by the name of Walter Messervy, who had come out to Trinidad to work in the Colonial Bank, later Barclays Bank, eventually becoming its manager. Myra was the daughter of Poleska de Boissière, who then lived with her husband, Dr. de Boissière, in Champs Elysées, which is now the Country Club. Frank in fact might have been born at Bagshot House, which went to the Bank when his original owner, Valleton de Boissière, got into financial difficulties.
After Myra and Walter had had several other children, and Walter was posted to Jamaica to work in the bank, Frank had the good fortune of being "adopted" by wealthy, childless relatives of his father. They educated him at Eaton and made him their heir. From them, Frank inherited the Twining tea estates in Sri Lanka. He had an exceptionally brilliant military career. Graduating from Sandhurst in 1913, from where he was posted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Indian Army, joining the 9th Hodsonshorse in 1914. During the First World War he served in France, Palestine, Syria and Kurdistan. His experience in this war was, as for most of the soldiers, a horrible one. After the Treaty of Versailles, Frank came back to his home country for prolonged visits, staying with his beloved grandmother in Champs Elysées. His uncle Arneaud was Lieut.-Col., the  most senior officer serving on the western front in the war, spent much time with him as well.
Back to England, where Frank passed the staff college course at Chamberley in 1926, going on to become a brevet major in 1929 and a brevet lieutenant-colonel in 1933. During the Second World War, he first served in Eritrea and then in North Africa. Captured by the Germans, he escaped. He rose rapidly in rank, ending the war as  Lieutenant General. Appointed G.O.C. in C. and Governor of Malaysia. He later became C. in C. of the army of independent Pakistan, and served there at the time when India achieved her independence.
Messervy was deputy chief scout to Lord Rowallan.
In his military career, Messervy was known as the "spearhead general". He went into battle with his men, and did not stay behind to direct battle strategies over a map. In most pictures, he is dirty, unshaven, and probably missed his lunch. A deeply religious man, in the last years of his life, he went regularly to Lourdes, where he acted as stretcher-bearer for sick pilgrims. He died in 1974 - a Trinidadian at heart and in genes, decorated with the highest military honours of the British Empire, celebrated in many international publications, a brave hero who our soldiers can be proud of.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Electric City Part 3

As the end of the 19th century neared, the social fabric of Trinidad began to show a move towards modernity. This was demonstrated in several ways, for example, a notice was published in the newspapers on the 25th January, 1895, that "all transvestite dressing was prohibited". This was, of course, directed at masqueraders, but it also reflected what the "better-thinking people" had taken up arms about.
The city's streets had also been given a thorough face lift. Asphalt was used for the very first time in 1890. Mr. Tanner, the town superintendent, put a paving on Clarence Street (upper Frederick Street) and Oxford Street. He carefully made them convex for the rainwater to run off. This, however, upset a lot of people, especially people with horse-drawn buggies and caps. It would appear that the paving caused horses to slip and fall, and buggies to tip over? Sounds familiar for those who try to drive up Cascade main road after the recent paving exercise without sacrificing their car axles in foot-deep crevices on the either side of the road?
Be that as it may, Tobago had recently (1889) been joined to Trinidad in a somewhat arbitrary manner. In so doing, the colony of Trinidad and Tobago had come into being. Already, there was the telephone which was regarded as plain miraculous. The island's economy was sound - at least for those with access to it. The middle classes were buttressed to a degree, with an access to funds derived from small and medium cocoa estates. Repeatability was the order of the day, and in looking at old photographs, what strikes on first is that everybody is wearing a hat! All men wore suits and ladies' dresses were at ankle length. It was still a charcoal-burning society. Everybody cooked on coal pots, and although there was pipe-borne water for many, very few possessed indoor toilets called W.C., water closets.
Into this scene, the marvel of electricity was introduced by the young American entrepreneur, Edgar Tripp. In 1892, Tripp leased a parcel of land from the Port of Spain Borough Council. What he had in mind was the setting up of an electricity plant. The land he leased was the southernmost end of the old Ariapita Estate. The area was known as Shine's Pasture and already produced a type of energy and generated fuel: grass. As a grass market, it supplied fodder to the city's hundreds of horses. For $100 a year, paid to the Council, Edgar Tripp set about setting up his plant. The Council was in support of his plan to light the town, as an ordinance had been put into place since 1887 to facilitate this event. There was, however, one problem. It had to do with the removal of the city's rubbish dump. In typical style, which has not changed much over the years, there was much wrangling and elaborate bureaucracy. Tripp was made of other stuff and commenced planting poles in Port of Spain and stringing up wires over the existing telephone lines. The limited liability company he formed was called "The Electric Light and Power Company". He registered it at the Red House, which was not red yet, on 5th July, 1894. His board of directors were William Gordon Gordon, chairman, W.S. Robertson, Eugene Cipriani and Lucien Ambard. Tripp was the company's secretary.
The contract with the Borough Council was signed by George Grant, who was not a member of the board, but who was soon to go into business with William Gordon Gordon and form the firm Gordon Grant & Co. Ltd. The contract stipulated that by the end of August 1894, the town was to be lit up by electric power.
The officials of the telephone company began to be alarmed by the work being done by Tripp's workmen. They took objection to the electric wires being strung above their own. They felt that if the wires were to come into contact, a fire would be started which could damage their telephone exchange.
Council member Mzumbo Lazare felt that electric wires should be run underground, but his suggestion, a good one, had come too late in the day. The electric engines arrived at the docks, accompanied by Mr. Kuhn, an engineer. There also were dynamos. No one had ever seen a dynamo; it was a very modern term. Part of the installations was also a huge boiler with a tall smoke stack. To facilitate the stringing of the wires, the city's trees had to be trimmed. T
here were questions asked in the Legislative Council: "Is the government satisfied that all precautions have been taken against the risk of accident to life in the erection of overhead wires in the streets of Port of Spain?" This was raised by Conrad Stollmeyer, chairman of the Commercial Telephone Company. Walsh Wrtightson, the newly arrived director of Public Works, put everyone at ease by saying that overhead wires were not at all a problem, inasmuch as they existed all over the world.
Edgar Tripp had done his work remarkably well, and was, in fact, ahead of schedule by a week. Great excitement swept the town on Tuesday 25 February, 1895. As the sun set, instead of the dim kerosene lamps that had previously lit the town, the much brighter electric light appeared. "There was a great deal of enthusiasm shown by the crowds on the streets when the lights shone forth and great crowds collected under each lamp and discussed the characteristics of this new agency by which night is to be made more like day." 
Edgar Tripp had turned night into day. The wife of the governor, Lady Napier Broome, took a cricket team visiting from England on a tour of the town, especially kept alight on her bequest. Tripp rode through the town on his buggy, inspecting the new facilities wherever he went. He was received with much applause.
Government House was, of course, electrified and so too the Queen's Park hotel in which Edgar Tripp had a major interest. Times had really changed.
Well, next time you put on your computer to surf the internet, fully aware that you are part of the future, spare a thought for the young American who first put power into place to take you there.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Lessons in history

Without really understanding what it implies, people with sage expressions arranged on their faces say something like: "How can you known where you're going if you don't know where you've come from?" The listener, aware that he is being straightened out with the warm iron of good intention, also arranges his physiognomy in a manner compatible to the conversation, and awaits his turn to be profound.
Lessons in history should be, in truth, much more than platitudes. We make everything in our own image. What is different is often hard to understand and might even be dangerous. Only as we grow in maturity and understanding do we discover that differences can be used creatively and that they are exciting and enriching.
This is why Trinidad and Tobago, in fact the Caribbean on the whole, is so full of challenge, and so full of creative energy. There is a chance here and now to create a new kind of society. These islands can be to the world of today what the Aegean was to the world of Homer, Echnaton or St. Paul: a place where many ideas and cultures are fused together, a place where philosophy, science and the arts grow and flower, a world which knows that unity is not the same thing as uniformity.
West Indian history shows what happens to a society that promotes division and hatred, that puts a premium on prejudice and discrimination. Turn for a moment to the history of the French islands, and consider the manner in which history arranged itself with regard to the "mulattoes", people of colour with both European and African ancestors, of Martinique, Grenada and Haiti for example.
In these islands, there was at first no prejudice against European men living with Carib or African women. Indeed, this was a general practice. In theory, the children of those unions were free, but in fact the boys did not become free until they were 20, and the girls until they were 15. Many of the people of colour married French men and women. The crafts and trades were open to them, with the exception of the trade of goldsmith, and by the time of the French Revolution in 1789 thery were in that trade also. They could own property - as in Spanish Trinidad -, though in Martinique there were restrictions. Over the decades, free people of colour increased in number and grew prosperous.
The French government was alarmed at this. It feared that the growth of the free coloureds would endanger white supremacy. Institutionalised segregation was organised for the setting-up of divisions between Europeans, mixed people, and Africans on the basis of skin colour. Part of an official report read:
"These people are beginning to fill the colony and it is a scandal to see them increasing in number, mixing with the whites, overtaking them in opulence and riches, they give refuge to vagabonds and fugitives."
The work of division went from generation to generation. Some restrictions read like those which the Nazis imposed on the Jews in the 1930s. The colour of a man's grandmother became important. African blood kept some out of the judiciary, out of the militia, out of public service. A white man who had a coloured wife would be kept out of those professions.
In Haiti, d'Auberteuil, the Governor, rejected the princile that either the sons or the grandsons of emancipated slaves should be considered worthy of being free men. Special laws were passed to prevent the coloured mistresses of Europeans from inheriting property willed to them. There were regulations on clothes that might appear too luxurious, against using wheeled transport, and on holding dances.
In Haiti in 1792, the world exploded. Coloureds and the slaves rose against the French in a storm of violence. But the lessons of Haiti were not learnt in the British islands, because the same society that existed in French slave islands existed in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad: one where human rights were denied to a vast percentage of the population.
In Trinidad, a significant individual, a man of colour, Dr. Jean Baptiste Philippe, made a herculean effort to maintain the rights and privileges of his people. In Grenada, Fedon staged a bloody revolution. Toussaint L'Ouverture, the hero of the Haitian revolution, died in a French jail and the coloured creole Simon Bolivar liberated the South and Central Americas. We have travelled far since then, but in these days, when we face the challenge of maintaining our independence, we need to remember that these old prejudices die hard - they in fact tend to reverse themselves.
On Saturday night before Carnival, I found myself sitting opposite to a black woman at a dinner party, whose anti-white-Creole, anti-Indian views were the very same as expressed by white people I knew when I was a boy growing up. I was intrigued. Not knowing history very well, she was afraid of the future in much the same way as the whites were 200 years ago!
We can give a positive meaning to being independent as a people, if we can commit ourselves to the idea that all human beings are created equal. Already, as a nation, we have exploded the myth of racial superiority. Already, we are progressing to a higher level of human relationships that many countries do not know - in spite of some counterproductive leaders such as certain calypsonians or politicians. For many, the terms tolerance and acceptance don't even apply, as they imply that something or somebody needs to be tolerated or aceepted.
We have to understand that we are each a part of the whole, of each other. In the same way as two centuries ago, prejudices often arise out of economic insecurities. In this time of opportunity and challenge in our national life, let us learn the lessons of history, in that economic stability comes about when, and only when, the majority of us are neither afraid of the past, nor of the future. We have come too far not to have it our own way!

100 Years of Salvation Army in Trinidad and Tobago

Poverty is hell. Indifference to it is a crime against humanity. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, understood this. Born in Nottingham in 1829, Booth knew as well the Dickensian squalor of Britain's inner cities.
Triggered by the rapid growth of industrialisation, tens of thousands flocked to the factories, the mines and the tenements, overloading the already centuries old support systems that were hardly existent in any event. The rigid class system served only to condemn the poor even more irrevocably to their station where they lived in humiliation and degradation.
William Booth became a Christian in his youth and spent what little time he had from his job at a pawn shop helping the poor, the sick, the hopeless. He encouraged the destitute to look to God for solace in the churches. He was indeed convincing. The poor, however, soon rediscovered what they have always known: there was no real place for them amongst the sweet-smelling, elegantly dressed Sunday church goers. William founded the East London Christian Mission. It worked, but hardly. William, his son Bromwell and their friend George Railton, dedicated to their cause, were eventually inspired by the concept of "The Christian Mission is a Volunteer Army".
At the time, Victorian England, Imperial England, was defined by its armies that had carved out for her a huge and far-flung empire. This army was largely comprised of volunteers. This inspired William Booth and his small circle of helpers. It also drew some mockery - being called a "Volunteer Army" to help the poor! In a moment of inspiration, Booth crossed out the word "Volunteer" and wrote "Salvation" instead. Thus, the Salvation Army was born.
The rapid development of the first Salvationists was in truth aided by the adoption of a quasi-military structure. An army in the service of God, dedicated to help those in need, had declared war against poverty and hopelessness. Booth's work drew opposition and sometimes even brutal persecution. Those with vested interest in living off the misery of the poor - the barkeepers and the brothel masters for example - were angered when their former customers were converted to William Booth's army. A Methodist, he was eventually ordained a minister, with a difference: his was a open air church; he took his ministry to the streets of London and to the country roads. Space does not permit as to describe the now forgotten story of the hell seen by Booth, his wife and family, and their small circle of supporters. To say the least, it was bloody and terrifying. "The Army" produced in those days several martyrs. Notwithstanding, the idea of an army fighting sin caught on and spread across the Empire, in fact the world.
General William Booth dispatched Brigadier Thomas Gale to the colony of Trinidad and Tobago, where crime and poverty held a large section of the population in an awful grip. A veteran of the Jamaican wars against ignorance and indigence, Gale arrived in Trinidad in July 1901, ready to open fire. Realising that this would be an uphill battle, he called for reserves, these arriving under the command of Captain Luther Atkins. "By September of that year, the newly invaded island had several promising converts" writes Doreen Hobbs in her little Book "Jewels of the Caribbean". There was real resistance to the work.
One young volunteer, Lieutenant Lilian Bailey, was knocked down and had to be hospitalised!
The Port of Spain Central Corps became to be known as "Number 1". A member, Brother Whistle, was over 100 years old in 1917, and could remember the days of slavery. The first person to wear the Salvation Army's uniform was the wife of Corps Treasurer Abraham Busby. In 1903, the sailors' home on Queen Street was opened, and seamen, shore labourers and sailors enjoyed its hospitality. "In one year alone, 7,581 meals were supplied and 10,807 men slept at the home," writes Hobbs. In 1913, Trinidad's Governor, Sir George Le Hunte, visited the sailors' home, and must have been duly impressed: in a successive session of the Legislative Council, £520 were granted to the Salvation Army towards a new home for soldiers and sailors.
In the legendary escape from Devil's Island in French Guiana in 1930, 200 men were taken into the care of the Salvation Army and nursed back to strength. But it was not the end of their journey: they were just placed in groups on safer vessels, and with 10 days' rations on board were tugged back out into international waters and left to their own devices to find refuge somewhere else! One of the fugitives was René Belbenoît, who in his much-acclaimed books about Devil's Island "Dry Guillotine" and "Hell on Trial" wrote about his Salvation Army experience in Trinidad.
In 1908, a central hall was opened in Port of Spain by the then Governor, the Hon. Adam Smith. Number 3 in Belmont also got accommodations. Number 2 Corps was located in Tragarete Road. Colour Sergeant Goring distinguished himself as an enthusiastic leader of the open-air brigade in those early years. Other significant names of the first decade of the 20th century at Tragarete Road were Corps Secretary H.O. Thomas and Corps Treasurer Henry Lewis. It was only half a century later, in 1955, that Tragarete Road received a new hall and quarters.
Another long-standing local officer of "Number 1" was Corps Sergeant-Major Ralph Hoyte, who had come from Barbados. He got married to Martha Gibbs and raised five children in the Salvation Army ethos.
In 1907, the Tunapuna Corps was launched. General Frederick Coutts cut the ribbon personally 59 years later, in 1966, and Brigadier Edna Burgess opened the Army hall in Tunapuna.
The early years of the Salvation Army in Tobago were first recorded in 1909, but it is possible that a Corps was established there before that year. But it was not until 30 years later, in 1939, that the Tobago representative on the Legislative Council, the Hon. George de Nobriga, opened a brand new hall for the Corps in Scarborough. "Now, as the steamer from Trinidad drops anchor in Scarborough Bay, one of the first sights that meets the eye is a pleasing two-store y building right on the sea-front bearing the Salvation Army sign." (The War Cry, June 1939, as quoted by Hobbs). Serving in the Salvation Army in Tobago in the formative years were Brigadier Edward J. Bax, Lieut.-Colonel Gordon Simpson, Captain Shepherd, Captain Skeete and Lieutenant Davis, to name but a few.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

The Caribs fear the Horses

In the year of our Lord 1533, the Spanish establishment on the island, named for the Trinity, discovered by the Grand Admiral forty-five years ago, was comprised of just one pueblo at a place described by the naturals as Mucurapo.
It was a fortified camp and consisted of thirty-one houses with kitchens, stables, smithy and storehouses.
Before the attack in September of that year, it was protected by a singly stockade, but now a double wall was constructed of heavy balks of timber, filled between with earth. This wall was 180 paces each way, pierced with loop holes and flanked by bastions mounted with cannons from the ships. The strength of the last Indian attack had clearly left and indelible impression upon the Spaniards. Antonio de Herrera in his 'Historia General de Las Indias 1730' cited a report by Antonio Sedeño to His Most Catholic Majesty's Audencia at Madrid:
"Thus we waited on watch until four o'clock in the early morning of September 13th, 1533, as dawn was breaking upon the pueblo and before the guards were relieved or the rounds made, a great number of Indians, all clothed, swept down upon us, with loud cries contrary to their usual mode of attack.
They at once surrounded the pueblo on all sides and launched the attack with great courage and persistence as though they had been Turks, and in half-an-hour about 15—20 of our men had been wounded.
So many were the arrows that they covered the ground. As the horses were stabled in the middle of the pueblo, the Indians were not able to get at them through the defenses, but by shooting arrows high up they managed to wound five out of the eight before steps were taken to cover them. These horses were the principal reserve and would be urgently required later, as we felt certain that without them we should all be killed. We all agreed that if these horses were lost, that day or soon after, it would be necessary to abandon the Island with the loss of everything.
We then sent out the horses to resist and break up this furious attack. As soon as the first horseman was seen, the Indians began to shout loudly, 'Horses, Horses, Horses,' and to turn and fly. As the other horsemen followed and wounded and killed the Indians, they broke completely and fled to the hills, leaving on the battlefield many bows, arrows, shields and war clubs.  We killed about 30 Indians and captured three alive, from whom we learnt that many tribes had united to make this assault. They had agreed to take arms to kill the Spaniards and drive them out of the Island. If this attempt were not successful they had agreed to return again in eight days in still greater numbers to make the Island free of us.
This was sure to happen sooner or later and our men were depressed at this news, for the punishment inflicted by the horsemen was not sufficiently great. We searched the battlefield and collected our wounded, about 20 or more. Amongst these was the Teniente of Paria who had been one of the horsemen; his horse had been killed by two arrows tipped with poison, so that it died raving mad."
The tribal people generally referred to as Caribs were terrified of horses. The Spaniards with iron helmets and breast plates were recognisable as men, but horses, it would appear, touched some nerve, some primal fear. The second battle of Mucurapo lasted about an hour and  half, involved some 3,000 Caribs. It commenced in the pre-dawn hours. The warriors had moved silently across the Savannah and through the high forest of giant silk cotton trees. This attack was in response to one launched upon an Indian village by the Spaniards some months before when at the one in the morning they had fallen upon a sleeping village. The Indians had engaged in a desperate defense and refused to yield. The Spaniards set fire to the huts so as to bring out the men, the women and the children, and by the fierce light of their blazing homes, this bitter and unequal fight continued to the end.
Event he women and children submitted voluntarily to the flames rather than surrender. Many warriors died, a handful fled into the northern mountains. Of the Spaniards, ten had died "raving in madness' from the wounds of poisoned arrows. The Caribs took the fort by surprise and penetrated the stockade of the Spanish camp and were engaged in hand to hand fighting (K.S. Wise). It was only the timely action by the horsemen which saved the day for Spain.
It was now evident that the Carib people had gathered in strength and were not afraid to die for their Iere. Antonio Sedeño knew that the margin by which he and his men had survived was very narrow. Fourteen Spaniards had been killed, and only 30 men remained. All the horses had been wounded. There was great dissent in the camp at Mucurapo. Antonio de Herrera declared that this conquest of Trinidad was doomed to failure and that he intended to leave for the main land.
That night, the rations almost done, they received food from the cacique Maruana, leader of the south of the island. the Caribs, as well received fresh reinforcements and a large quantity of poisonous arrows. From the fort, their encampments could be seen dotting the forested areas of what is now Woodbrook and St. James. The campfires in the fort were piled high with logs and blazed brightly as the sun settled into the Dragon's Mouth, turning gold to red with the intensity of primeval volcanoes. Starving sentinels scanned the forest for a sign that could signal attack from the Caribs. The night grew inordinately still.
Sedeño had received news that no assistance nor supplies could be expected in Trinidad. Many men had deserted, preferring to risk the crossing to the main in rotting and unsafe pirogues than to face the poisoned arrows of the Caribs. Dissatisfaction and discouragement enhanced by the absence of adequate supplies of food had grown since March 1534 the rest of his men mutinied against Sedeño and demanded to be led away from Trinidad where only death and destruction awaited them. That night, he was arrested by his own men and removed to the mainland. The second battle of Mucurapo had been won by the Caribs.

(from "Chronicles of the Carib Wars", K.S. Wise)

Monday 9 January 2012

The Witch of Rose Hall

Sparrow and I were in Jamaica doing a recording at Byron Lee's studio in Kingston, when I first heard about Anne Palmer, the famous "white witch of Rose Hall".
It must have been after 2 in the morning, when in the company of Herman Hadeed and two Jamaican musicians we sat down under the stars outside of the studio to unwind from the day's and the night's work with the best that Jah Kingdom has to offer.
One of the musicians, a bass player, whose name I cannot bring to mind, felt compelled to tell a story -  the story of Rose Hall Estate. He said it was about ten or twelve miles east of Montego Bay. As you drove along the north coast road, you would pass through miles of sugar cane until you come to a point when the road branches off to the right and passes some poor people's houses and a Chinese shop. You could follow a dirt road to a little hilltop and there find the ruined halls of the most terrible haunted house in Jamaica, if not the Caribbean.
"If only those walls coulda talk, man," he said, his lion-like mane darkly silhouetted against a starlit night sky, "they would tell you that to this day people 'round there fear this place."

Here is the gist of his story.

Rose Hall began as a happy house to which in the 1750s a sugar planter, George Fanning, brought his pretty, vivacious bride Rose. Rose had had four previous husbands - now don't hold that against her, mortality was high in the colonies back then! They lived a good life, and when she died, her husband John had a medallion with her profile carved and set into the wall of the nearby parish church.
For several years, the great house was shut up. Tall weeds grew right up to the massive doors, while the huge iron gates hung rusting on their hinges.
In 1820, Fanning's grand nephew, John Palmer, inherited the estate and brought his young bride Anne to live at Rose Hall. Sugar had by that time started to decline. The slave trade had been abolished in 1807; there was talk of emancipation.
In oral history, there are many tales about Annie's background. Was she an Englishwoman, who was instructed in Voudoun black magic by a Haitian priestess? Did she only remember the sadistic elements of her teaching and forgot about the healing properties of that cult? Whatever it was, the young and pretty Annie managed to engulf her surroundings and those who shared her home in terror.
Around the great house at Rose Hall there grew an atmosphere not of joyous anticipation, but increasingly one of fear. It was said amongst the slaves - amongst those of them who knew of such things - that Anne was a witch. Her beauty drew men to her. Her powers of witchcraft kept her slaves subdued despite of the dreadful punishments she inflicted on them. In beatings, she herself wielded the whip. She put with her own thin hands the spiked iron collar around their necks. She had their feet burnt until their toebones dropped out.
John Palmer died in 1826 a haggard man. His widow Anne now ruled the mansion and was in control of the wealth. At nights, the house was brilliantly lit. Seen reflected in the huge silver tureens and mahogany floors polished to a shine were terrible sequences of events. In their golden frames, the long-dead Palmers gazed down on scenes that would have turned their Protestant bowels to liquid. The house-slaves knew of the men, overseers, book-keepers and the like, who, entrapped by her, died there in that house, their bodies no one knew where.
Legend has it that there were bloodstains on the floor of one of the bedrooms upstairs that could not wash away, where a man had died of a dagger wound, the blood pouring across the highly polished floor.  In one stain was the print of a heel, in the other the mark of the ball of a woman's foot. It was said that it was in these upper rooms that Anne Palmer killed lover after lover, including slaves. Sometimes they were strangled by her slaves as she watched on.
There was a young man who lived at Rose Hall, a relative of her late husband John. His name was Andrew Phillips. His account was saved by one Rose Stopford who wrote of a young Englishman coming to Rose Hall:
"Just at that moment came a stranger's voice calling my name - 'Is Andrew Phillips here?' I turned and saw a tall, handsome youth. He did not look older than myself, but gay and  ... and talked with ease. He told me he was my employer's son, Ned Palmer, and that he had come aboard to welcome me and to take me back with him to the estate. I gave Ned Palmer all the news from home, then poured out my questions - an endless stream. Good-humouredly, he answered all I asked. Then our eyes met - we knew we should be friends. A sudden shadow passed across his face, his eyes left mine, and gazing out to sea he muttered: 'Why did you come? Go back. there is still time. The boat is here until Saturday. It's a hard life and you are very young.'"
Young Andrew stayed on an took up the job of overseer at Rose Hall. One day, he had occasion to rescue a lovely young slave girl from a cruel beating and went up to the great house to protest. It was getting on to twilight. A splendid sunset lit up the sky, the many windows of that stately house glowed red as blood, the mansion seemed on fire, through the double doors he entered a long room. A silvery voice said: "Here he is at last. I hoped that I should meet our overseer."
A slender woman rose in welcome. Here eyes were bright and tender. She smiled the sweetest smile that he had ever seen. He stammered out an answer awkwardly. Then he remembered why he had come.
"This is no friendly call. I come to say I found a slave receiving punishment. They told me you had ordered her the lash."
For a second, a shadow crossed her face and then she smiled.
"Come, sit down. I see I must explain. That wretched girl had spoiled a whole day's work. The sugar boiled today must be drawn off - ruined because of one rat-eaten cane."
"But I think the punishment extreme. We should exempt women from the lash."
She dropped her eyes. He, following her downward gaze, saw the beauty with which she was made, framed in burgundy velvet. The new overseer fell under Anne Palmer's spell, until one terrible afternoon when he came face to face with her wickedness in one of the dry ravines behind the estate.
He had been dozing in the upstairs verandah of his cottage when he heard a voice:
"Take him to the gully, take him to the gully, bring back the frock and board, carry him along." He knew the ravine well; it was where they threw the dead slaves for the birds of prey, thus saving the money for the undertaker.
"Take him to the gully," she shouted.
"Oh massa, me no deadee yet."
He could not bear the house, but got his horse and cantered up a lonely mountain track, going anywhere to be alone. At length, the pathway slowly widened out, the mare stood still. He could not urge her on.
Great mossy rocks were scattered on the grass and gray with lichen were the twisted trees. Dismounting, he walked forward to explore. Something was creaking in the gentle wind. A sickly odour was wafting in the breeze. the flapping of big black wings startled him, the flock flew skyward. There before him an iron frame was hanging from a tree, and in the frame a woman's body hung. He knew at once it was the girl. Even so, with this horror in his mind, Anne Palmer's spell on him was strong. He made up his mind to leave, but felt compelled to go to the great house to bid her good-bye - this in spite of the pleading of the slaves. One old woman who had grown to love him for the care he took in all that came under his charge fell on her knees before him.
"Oh massa, do not do dey," she pleaded. "Massa McNeil, he go and not come back. Ask Miss Palmer where McNeil is now."
It was then he learnt the real truth.
"When the mistress tire of the man she love, she make them two black slaves go throttle them, den drag dem dong dat passage to the sea and throw them to the sharks - them tell no tales."
Little wonder is then that Anne Palmer was hated by her slaves and yet they dared not touch her, because they believed her to be possessed by magic powers. However, in the slave uprising of 1831, they set fire to the sugar cane, and then the time came when one of her lovers, sensing that he was falling out of favour, strangled her before she could have him murdered. This might have been in 1833. There is also a version of the story that a group of slaves came to kill her in her bed, surprising her in her slumber.
None of her own slaves would bury her body. Planters brought their coachmen from neighbouring estates and buried Anne Palmer in the centre of the garden by the east wing of the great house, setting a pile of large stones to mark the spot where the white witch of Rose Hall lay to rot.

(from De Lisser "White Witch of Rose Hall", Dr. Phillip Sherlock's papers and the bass player in Byron Lee's Band in 1975)

Alfredo Antonio Codallo

Folklore Artist (1913 - 1971)

After a text by artist Holly Gayadeen, friend and fervent supporter of the work of Alfred Codallo, published by the author in 1983.

Holly Gayadeen's first vocation was to become a teacher, and underwent training for this profession in Trinidad and in England. But his true calling was to be an artist. Throughout his long career, Gayadeen always combined the two, expressing himself in various media such as painting and ceramics, and at the same time teaching visual arts, crafts and design. His special interest in art education as well as local folklore manifests itself strongly in his book "Alfredo Codallo - Artist and Folklorist", which Gayadeen published in 1983.
Codallo's folklore drawings are special in several ways. Firstly, they were done for the world of communications in an era when advertising agencies didn't even exist yet. Hand Arnold and Fernandes Distillers were the two companies who commissioned Codallo's pictures for their advertising campaigns in local newspapers. Illustrating the usage of flour and rum, Codallo managed to capture life in the streets, back yards, shops and homes of Trinidad.
"Honesty, acceptance and a penetrating vision of one who lived a full life with the people and for the people" - this is how Gayadeen characterises Codallo's work. Much like somebody with a benevolent camera, Codallo managed to capture everyday life of the 'simple people', their chores, their surroundings, even their hopes and their fears.
His work is contemporaneous with other artists, who, as Gayadeen puts it, "struggled relentlessly in their artistic pursuits to record for posterity the people, places, folklore and festivals of Trinidad and Tobago": M.P. Alladin, Sybil Atteck, Leo Basso, Dominic Isaac and, in the performing arts, Beryl McBurnie and Thora Dumbell to name but a few. "Even at that period, there was no particular trend or school of painting. Each artist developed his own personalised style and pursued a particular direction. Despite this, as it is even so today, the Caribbean idiom and images are easily recognisable in the art productions of our artists whose works have found themselves in collections locally and abroad," writes Gayadeen.
In 1962, Alfred Codallo wrote about himself: "Through art, I wish to speak in a language that all should understand. A language of beauty - unspoilt by confounding 'isms', yet rich with common understanding and native pride. In my self-imposed job of preserving the folklore way of life, dances, land, river and sea scapes of my country, I am trying to establish a link with our past in the most comprehensive way I know."
Codallo grew up in a generation that felt oppressed by what would be the last decades of colonial government. After the First World War, the mentality of Trinidadians changed: having shared the common experience of the trenches with "white" soldiers, the stereotypes of race and class started to soften up. However, the economy didn't flourish, and poverty amongst black people was as dire as ever in the 1930s, when Codallo would have been in his prime.
"He was a simple man who always seemed to have preferred the informality and unpretentious atmosphere of genuine camaraderie. It was easy to converse with him and his views were generally pointed, serious and sometimes colourfully expressed," writes Gayadeen. Like Gayadeen himself, Codallo was an art teacher, who never had any qualms about imparting his knowledge and skills to those who came to him.
Self-educated, Codallo had little interest in the artistic approaches of impressionism, Fauvism, Dadaism or expressionism. "Codallo's works reflect that quality of superb realism," writes Gayadeen. "He gave visible forms to his concepts of the several folkloric themes, traditional cultural patterns and the environment."
Codallo's subjects were drawn from the Afro-Creole segment of Trinidad's society. His own ethnic background was not from this matrix per se: his father was from Venezuela, his mother was of East Indian descent. Having been born in Arima and grown up in Port of Spain, Codallo grew up as a good 'mixer' full of joie-de-vivre, as Gayadeen describes him.
"Codallo was keenly aware of the fact that West Indian folklore has a rich heritage and that legends surrounding the mythical characters of La Diablesse - the female devil, Soucouyants, Douens etc., never fail to stir the imagination. It was Alf himself who gave the name of Paul Carr Landeau (Poluycar) as a man who delighted in telling stories in the open air of Tamarind Square in Port of Spain, wherever he happened to be away from his occupation of a shipwright."
The Trinidad Publishing Company noticed Codallo's talents and employed him as commercial artist, photographer, photo-engraver and lithographic artist. Codallo drew for advertising: the "Spirit of Trinidad" festival and folklore series was created for Fernandes Vat 19 and the village life series to advertise flour.
In many cases, Cadallo's drawings of these two series are the only visual representations of what many Trinidadians feel to be the 'good old days'. Especially the older generation seems to have known characters who looked 'just like that' - the Portuguese shopkeeper, the impoverished French Creole man who uses the back door, the ancient cello player in a parang band. Codallo managed to capture the essence of the role in the character, which has, many decades later, become a blueprint for our communal memory.
"He had been an introspective artist of visionary ideas," writes Gayadeen. "His creations have a metaphysical and mythological concept, each one showing a genuine power of characterisation."
Alfred Codallo passed away at the young age of 58 years, leaving us with many images of life long ago, and the memory of himself as an artist of distinction.

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