By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 22, 2010
The steeple of St. Mary’s Anglican Church is the first landmark that greets anyone who enters the village of Tacarigua from its western side. Although the present building was constructed in 1901, this architectural splendor has been a part of the village landscape since 1843. On August 22, 1901, the Mirror reported that “the old parish Church of St. Mary’s is now leveled to the ground with the exception of the western wall, which it is believed will form part of the new St. Mary’s.” Directly across the Eastern Main Road is the St. Mary’s Children Home. Its first building was constructed in 1857 to accommodate East Indian children whose parents were lost during the long crossing from India to Trinidad.
My great grandfather, Jonathan Cudjoe and his wife, Amelia (my great grandmother) were born in 1833 and 1837 respectively and lived in Tacarigua. Although they remained devotees of the Yoruba religion (whose Supreme Deity is called Olorun) colonialism demanded that they attach themselves to the Christian faith, the religion of the colonizer, to advance themselves in the society. They became Anglicans and St. Mary’s Anglican Church became one of their religious homes.
Many of Jonathan’s children went to the St. Mary’s Anglican School that was constructed by enslaved Africans prior to the abolition of slavery. The Tacarigua Presbyterian School opened in 1884. When Amy Blackadder became the principal of the latter school in 1887 my father and uncle became pupil-teachers there. Jonathan’s offsprings attended the Anglican as well as the Presbyterian school. The attendance of my brother, sister and I at the Anglican school had a lot to do with my mother’s insistence that we go to school there. My first cousins, the children of my father’s younger brother, all attended the Tacarigua Presbyterian School. I was a pupil teacher at the St. Mary’s before I went to the United States to further my education.
On Sunday I attended services at St. Mary’s Anglican Church, my home church. Father Anderson Maxwell, a chemistry professor at the University of the West Indies and Assistant Curate, took a verse from Isaiah as the theme of his sermon: “If you do not stand firm in your faith; you will not stand at all.” In some quarters this verse is translated to read: “If you don’t take your stand in faith you would not have a leg to stand on.”
It may have been the drowsiness of the morning-our services begin at seven o’clock- but I am sure I heard the pastor say: “If you don’t stand firm in faith; you will not stand at all.” Listening to Father Maxwell’s inspirational sermon, I took his theme as a fit metaphor for our nation: that is to say, if we do not stand firm, in faith, together as a nation, then we will not have a leg to stand upon. Already, the nation stands upon too many legs.
Father Maxwell’s message may have been coincidental but it possesses great weight. As we approach Christmas Isaiah’s message seems appropriate for where we stand as a nation. Given the commingling of our various peoples, it is a message that we ought to contemplate as we enter into the New Year.
In his sermon, Father Maxwell suggested that standing firm in one’s faith is an important prerequisite for one’s salvation. It is the necessary condition to achieve the promise that is offered to Christians through their belief in the birth, the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Implicit in this reassurance is the indispensable element of belief in the words and promise of the prophets.
Faith can be defined as a belief with strong conviction; firm belief in something for which there may be no tangible proof; or complete trust in an idea.
I believe the result of May 24 elections opened up a new dimension in our evolution as a society that allows for different conceptions of defining our Trinidianness and Tobagonianness. One’s national identity never comes in one fell swoon nor for that matter is it something that came into being with the arrival of our forefathers and our foremothers from different shores. It is something we acquire gradually as we live in this environment and which, with each new generation, is constantly changing. The Trinidadianness that Jonathan Cudjoe felt in 1867 was quite different from what I, his descendant, feel and experience as a twentieth century Trinidadian. Similarly, the Trinidadianness Sat Maharaj’s father felt was quite different from that which Sat feels today.
What it means to be a Trinidadian or Tobagonian is an always-changing concept as is the seminal question: what differentiates us, as Trinidadians and Tobagonians, from citizens of other nations? In other words, are we still in the process of determining what makes us Trinidadadians and Tobagonians?
However one responds to this question presumes a belief with strong conviction that these islands, Trinidad and Tobago, is home. Although one cannot put one’s finger on exactly what that means one must have complete trust that the entity called Trinidadian and/or Tobagonian is something that is worthy of sacrificing one’s best self to achieve. It also includes a commitment to work arduously to achieve a society in which every creed and race find an equal place.
As the last of the immigrants to our society, the year two thousand and ten opens up new possibilities for East Indians – and I am being general here – to recalibrate their engagement with a host society they now call their home. It also allows them to position the society in a new direction. Necessarily, such shifting emphases demand that Africans refocus their social lens and psychological apparatuses to accept the changing orientation that inheres in “Indian Time Ah Come.”
Many psychological adjustments will have to be made as we develop our nationness (and this is a word). However we define our national identity we will have to demonstrate greater faith in the possibilities of our nation which remain inchoate and unknowable. At this moment of transition, I can think of no fitter admonition than an adaptation of Isaiah’s words: “If we don’t stand firm in our nation’s faith; then our nation will not stand at all.”
There can be no higher national purpose than trusting in ourselves and a willingness to sacrifice for the nation’s well being. As we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ allow me to say Merry Christmas to all.