Cultural & Environmental Violence

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 20, 2019

“I bear a grudge that we in Trinidad do not pay enough attention to our heroes. They are the people that will give Trinidad life.”

—Beryl McBurnie quoted in Judy Raymond, Beryl McBurnie

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeThere has been much coverage about the horrible murder of the prime minister’s boyhood friend John Miles and his wife Eulyn at the hands of a monstrously deranged person. This dastardly act led the PM to bemoan: “What have we become? What are we producing as ‘the next generation’? John and I grew up together in poverty, with pride, but violence and criminality were never part of our life” (Express, May 4).

While I hear the PM’s revulsion about what violence does to people, we never consider how it also damages our environment and tears up our communities. Hence, the question: How/why, in the name of progress, do we create conditions where cultural and environmental violence are allowed to stalk the land without understanding how it disfigures our people?

Apart from occasional forays abroad, I have lived in Tacarigua all of my life. In 1984, I wrote Tacarigua, A Village in Trinidad. In 1985, I brought a television crew from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, that produced a documentary on my village. While were we were filming, a County Council crew was busy cutting down the second-to-last samaan tree that graced the Holy Ground Savannah. I included that violent act in my documentary.

Some years prior to doing my documentary the villagers (we call ourselves districkers) put on a strenuous fight to prevent Kirpalani and Hi-Low from building a supermarket on the Holy Ground Savannah. In other words, we saved that portion of our savannah through the activism of Tacarigua districkers.

In 2013 under the leadership of Carol James and Ulric “Buggy” Haynes we waged a major campaign that saved the Orange Grove Savannah, now called the Eddie Hart Savannah, from the claws of Anil Roberts and the UNC who proposed to build a sports center, a swimming pool, a car park for 350 vehicles, and a concrete road on those savannah greens.

Our actions also saved the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens. In Preserving the Tacarigua Savannah: Respecting Our Heritage, I wrote: “The area of which we speak is the natural water table for the residents of the area. It is the most significant aquifer in northeast Trinidad providing the water supply for a significant part of north, east and center Trinidad. There are twelve WASA pumps around the savannah that provide drinking water for the hundreds of thousands of people in north east Trinidad.”

When we hear that our southern compatriots are experiencing a shortage of water, we can better understand how the heroic efforts of the people of Tacarigua and surrounding areas preserved the lives of so many of our fellow citizens. Had we not made such a valiant effort then, the people of the northeast may have been facing similar water challenges today.

Today, we are faced with a struggle of a different but related kind: that is, the possible destruction of one of Tacarigua’s most historic buildings without any thought being given to the harm (or perhaps dismemberment) that such a demolition may mean to the harmony and well-being of district life.

I refer to the house of the late Joshua Stanley at the corner of Beckles Street and Eastern Main Road, Tacarigua, a splendid Victorian building that has stood guard over the Holy Ground Savannah from the early twentieth century. We learn it has been sold and may be demolished. That must not happen.

Many historic buildings in Tacarigua have been demolished over the years. The Tacarigua E. C. School (built in 1837), the major buildings of the St. Mary’s Children’s Home (established in 1857) and the Murray mansion built at the end of the 19th century have been demolished. Only St Mary’s Rectory (built in 1842) still stands.

Sometimes we act as though only human life matters. But there is life in nature, in the trees, the stones and the buildings we inhabit. I learned this truth from Wilson Harris who spent years in the Guyana jungle as a surveyor and who made me aware of the close communion between people and nature.

Martin Heidegger conveyed this sentiment when he wrote: “To dwell, to be set at peace, means to remain at peace with the free, the preserve, the free sphere that safeguards each thing in its nature. The fundamental character of dwelling is the sparing and preserving. It pervades dwelling in its whole range. That range reveals itself to us as soon as we reflect that human beings consist in dwelling and, indeed, dwelling in the sense of the stay of mortals on the earth.”

Buildings are part of our human community. They breathe life into the community and give meaning to what we do. This is why we must do everything to ensure the iconic Stanley house in Tacarigua be saved from destruction. It should be converted into a community museum. It should not suffer the fate of C. L. R. James’s house in Tunapuna, George Padmore and Sylvester Williams’ dwelling in Arouca, and Beryl McBurnie’s “Folk House” in Woodbrook.

Violence is not only what we do against sentient beings. It is also reflected in how we treat non-sentient beings and other forms of life around us. The violence that we do to those forms of life will come back to haunt us. This might explain the restlessness and dysfunctionality that pervade our nation today.

Next week I will talk about Stanley’s life.

3 thoughts on “Cultural & Environmental Violence”

  1. While this article purports to be a local Tacarigua concern, it nevertheless constitutes what we consider heritage ‘National Norms’. New Yorkers and members of the world community consider ‘The Statue of Liberty’ in New York a national heritage monument in remembrance of how the country was populated with immigrants from Europe and elsewhere. The Ifill Tower in France is just as important to the French and world visitors to Paris. The famous London Bridge, Westminster Abbey and No. ten Downing Street carries the same significance as the Ifill Tower and the statue of Liberty. These are important monuments and landmarks because they carry historical and meaningful significance to the development of the country. What makes something or someplace important, is the value to which we place on its identity and purpose, accounts of events may significantly enhance the value placed on the site and this gives representative value to is heritage. In Trinidad and Tobago the word ‘rationale’ can be dubious when it comes to identifying sites which can be identified as ‘heritage’ in nature because heritage might mean different things to different groups in the community. Take for example the word ‘calypso’. A significant portion of the population see calypso as representative of our culture and pastime. But to some it identifies as a means of telling a story that does not include them.

    There are many sites, buildings and monuments that are without a doubt ‘heritage’ in nature such as The Red House, Woodford Square, Stollmeyer Castle, Queens Park Savannah, Harris Promenade and other important sites. What we need is a national consensus to consider, name and maintain these sites under a different ordinance that will treat them as national treasures. The same might be said for similar sites in communities around the country that might inspire and carry meaningful significance to the communities in which they stand.

    The Ministry of Community Development should include a department to maintain and name historical sites for educational, cultural and historical reasons. Education is a major factor in keeping the public’s interest. When we are informed about our history our culture is kept intact. Denial of our past only encourages ignorance and confusion about our future.

  2. It is really a stretch to suggest that there is a definite link between the violence we do to our heritage sites and buildings and the violence , restlessness and dysfunctionality which is pervading our society.

  3. The current murder rate hit 200 today and is projected to reach 588 by the end of this year.

    With high rates of unemployed, unemployable young men and a demand for hitmen and drug runners in the underworld Trinidad is racing to the abyss.

    Over the years the Mexican mafia has made inroads into the distribution network for drugs moving to Europe. This trend will continue as they have the capacity to buy police, judges, and politicians. The Syrians already have established networks. Drugs reach one of the islands then arrive in Westmoorings where under gated communities it is processed for foreign markets.

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