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Lacking a sense of history

I am always fascinated by the lack of a sense of history in Trinidadian society, even among educated elites. Americans are familiar with the ideas of Madison and Jefferson, of Franklin. Granted, they are less awareness of the nationalists and intellectuals who came before them, but Trinidadians seem utterly cut off from their past. History, it would seem, began in 1937 with Butler. Sure, some people recognise Cipriani. But who else can a Trinidadian name from before that time? Mzumbo Lazare is a name – nothing more. Who knows about the intellectual development of late 19th century Trinidad? The builders of the Magnificent Seven are names I have heard of courtesy the Carib calendar, but even they are early 20th century.  Robert Goddard* wrote:

According to French Creole newspaper editor in 1890’s Trinidad, Philip Rostant, his compatriot Charles Warner was not a true creole because of his support for the conservative program of the sugar interests, while Robert Guppy, English-born but part of the anti-sugar lobby had been “creolized by 45 years residence in the colony”.

Anti-sugar lobby? While the names, Rostant, Guppy and Warner are not unfamiliar familiar to me, I know nothing of the politics that surrounded them. They are as removed from me as India. I blame some of the opacity on Williams – he could not erase all of history, but he needed people to believe that history began with him. It didn’t – he could drive Albert Gomes into exile, but he couldn’t make people forget he existed. He could drive people like Fargo James and TUB Butler into the margins, making them John to his Jesus, but people still remembered them.

What have we lost in our inability to remember the past? Would Trinidad be different if the French Creoles were seen as the people who had built creole identity? The tragedy of modern Trinidad is that the French Creoles are either seen as foreigners or they are seen as the slave masters. While they were slave owners, they were largely displaced by British capitalists. While they were plantation owners, they saw themselves as Trinidadians. And they played a crucial role in the development of an identity that could be seen as Trinidadian.

* Goddard, Robert. 2005. Sugar as Stranger: Sugar Monoculture and the Coming of Creole Consciousness in the Caribbean.  Ph.D. dissertation, Emory University.


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