Saturday, August 31, 2013


People only talking but they really don’t know What’s the proper meaning for Trinidad and Tobago Cipriani start the ball rolling Now the Doctor doing the bowling So leh we help Uncle Eric to perform a real hat-trick. Because this is your land, just as well as my land This is your place and also it’s my place So leh we put our heads together And live like one happy family Democratically, educationally, we’ll live independently. 31st of August, the year 1962, Will go down in history for every one of you Forget racialism and nationalism Let discipline, production, and Tolerance guide us through Independence
Excerpt from calypso “Independence” performed by Kade “Lord Brynner” Simon for Trinidad and Tobago’s Independence August 31, 1962 (
The twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence from Britain on August 31, 1962. Dr. Eric Williams (revered as “Father of the Nation”) was the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago at the time and not only did he lead his country to independence but he was Prime Minister for 25 years as his party was re-elected into government during his lifetime. Williams was a brilliant historian as well as politician and his 1944 published book “Capitalism and Slavery” turned conventional wisdom and history of the time on its head. Before Williams’ book it was thought that slavery was abolished because a group of White people of “conscience” had finally persuaded their fellow citizens to “see the light” that the enslavement of Africans was an inhumane system. Williams’ work was a revolutionary thesis. The British story about abolition was “a band of humanitarians – The Saints, they had been nicknamed had got together to abolish slavery, and had after many years succeeded in arousing the conscience of the British people of man’s inhumanity to man. Britain had repented and given an earnest of her contribution by voting twenty million pounds sterling to the slave-owners for the redemption of their slaves.” In the same year that Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence the Prime Minister also published “History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Although the British were in power in Trinidad and Tobago at the time independence was granted they were not the first Europeans to occupy and colonize the two islands. They were not the first Europeans to transport and enslave Africans on those islands either. Columbus and his crew are documented in the history books as the first Europeans to sight the islands on their 3rd voyage on July 31, 1498. In typical European “explorer” fashion in spite of the fact that the island was already the home of indigenous people Columbus claimed the land for Spain. Research by Archaeology professor Dr. Basil Anthony Reid has unearthed material that indicates a group of indigenous people settled in Trinidad and Tobago 7000 years ago: “Migrating from South America the Ortoiroids arrived in Trinidad and Tobago 7000 years ago, and settled in the Lesser Antilles to as far as Puerto Rico until 200 BC These early natives are named after the Ortoire River on Trinidad's east coast.” Information from the National Library of Trinidad and Tobago: “Our historical records show that Amerindian Peoples have existed in Trinidad for as many as six thousand years before the arrival of Columbus and numbered at least forty thousand at the time of Spanish settlement in 1592.” Between 1530 and 1592 the Spanish made several unsuccessful attempts to colonize Trinidad which remained in Spanish hands until 1797. In “History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago” Williams wrote “After the discovery by Columbus in 1498, Trinidad remained almost completely neglected by Spain until in 1530 a Governor was appointed from Puerto Rico by the name of Antonio Sedeno. Trinidad remained in Spanish hands from July 31, 1498, until it was surrendered by the Spanish Governor to a British naval expedition on February 18, 1797.” Tobago was claimed by the British, French, Dutch and Courlanders but eventually became a British colony. In 1888 the two islands were incorporated into one crown colony which gained its independence in 1962 and became a republic in 1976. In his “History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago” Williams described the European settlement of Tobago: “It was a never-ending free-for-all in Tobago. Britain claimed the Island on the ground that it formed part of the acquisition of Sir Thomas Warner in 1626. France claimed it as part of the grant made by Cardinal Richelieu to the French West Indian Company some twenty years later. Holland, grant or no grant, asserted its own claim to the Island. Spain lived in constant apprehension of an attack from Tobago on Trinidad. The Duke of Courland, ruler of a principality in the area which is now Latvia, claimed it on the basis of a grant from the King of England in 1664. And even the buccaneers, operating on a commission issued by the Governor of Jamaica.”
Even though the “discovery” of the Americas was a boon for Europe it was anything but that for the indigenous people of this new land and for the Africans who were kidnapped, dragged away from Africa into the holds of “slave ships” and forced to labour to enrich White people. In “History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago” Williams wrote about the changes for the Europeans and the indigenous people: “The discovery of the West Indian islands by Christopher Columbus, acting as agent of the Spanish monarchy, in 1492 and subsequent years was the culmination of a series of dramatic events and changes in the European society in the 15th century. The arrival of the Spaniards in Trinidad entailed the same clash of cultures that had been induced by their arrival in Hispaniola and the other islands of the Greater Antilles. The Spanish conquest of Trinidad represented the victory of armour over roucou paint, of the sword and lance over the bow and poisoned arrow, of horsemen over foot soldiers who had never seen a horse, of a society whose diet was wheat over a society whose diet was cassava.” Williams wrote this about the Africans: “Who were these Africans? They were dragged by the millions from their native land in Africa to the Western Hemisphere. What began as a mere trickle in 1441, with twelve African slaves captured by the Portuguese and taken to Portugal, became a roaring torrent in the 18th and 19th centuries, and one estimate, almost certainly on the conservative side, is that the slave trade cost Africa at least 50,000,000 souls. Africans became important elements in the population in all the Caribbean countries, in Brazil, and in the United States of America. They constituted also an important element in the population of Trinidad and Tobago, and were automatically resorted to, as in other parts of the Spanish dominions, as soon as the decimation of the Amerindians by the Spanish conquest was recognised. It would therefore be in any case important to identify this new addition to the population of Trinidad and Tobago. It is all the more important today because of the historical lie of African inferiority.”
When the enslavement of Africans ended on August 1, 1834 the European enslaver (because of the apprenticeship system) had four years to keep African workers labouring on their plantations. The experience in Port-of Spain on August 1, 1834 as described by Williams made the Europeans aware that they would most likely need a new supply of labour after full emancipation: “August 1, 1834, faced the colony of Trinidad with its greatest social crisis until June 19, 1937. The half-emancipated slaves marched into Port-of -Spain from all parts of the island, wending their way to Government House to inform the Governor that they had resolved to strike. The Governor sought to remonstrate with them. They abused him, laughed at him, hooted him, and behaved in what the Gazette recorded as a most outrageous manner. Many of them were arrested, and seventeen of the most prominent ringleaders were condemned to stripes and hard labour.”
Prime Minister and historian Williams wrote of the arrival in Trinidad and Tobago of a new supply of labour following the abolition of slavery in the twin island nation: “Some came in from Portugal in 1834 and 1839, others came in from France in 1839, and some additional European immigrants in 1840.” This new supply of labourers was indentured labourers who signed up to sell their labour for 5 years with the option of returning to their homeland or remaining in Trinidad and Tobago where they had the option of settling on crown land. In the 1986 published “The Book of Trinidad” White British professor Bridget Brereton wrote: “From 1869 it became possible for ex-indentured workers to obtain land, either through free grants from the Crown, in lieu of a return passage to India, or through purchase of lots of Crown land, or through buying land in the private market.” The largest group of indentured labourers settling in Trinidad and Tobago first arrived there on May 30, 1845 from the Indian subcontinent on a ship that left Calcutta on February 16, 1845.
At the time of independence when he wrote “History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago” the Prime Minister’s documented his vision of a united Trinidad and Tobago, enshrined on the nation’s coat of arms (Together we aspire, Together we achieve): “A nation, like an individual, can have only one Mother. The only Mother we recognise is Mother Trinidad and Tobago, and Mother cannot discriminate between her children. All must be equal in her eyes. And no possible interference can be tolerated by any country outside in our family relations and domestic quarrels, no matter what it has contributed and when to the population that is today the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”

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