Power versus powerlessness in T&T

Emancipation Day Special: Part 2

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
July 26, 2011

Dr. Kwame NantambuPart 2 of this Emancipation Day Special focuses on the power dynamics between Trinbagonians of Indian descent versus the powerlessness of Trinbagonians of African descent. And this overt ethnic imbalance is real despite the current United Nations-sponsored year-long celebration.

Indian-Trinbagonians account for 43.3% of the national population. And against this backdrop, coterminous with other powerful elements within their grasp, it is no small wonder that in June 2005, there was a vociferous, clarion call for the Indian Tassa drum to be publicly acclaimed as T&T’s “second national instrument… if only for the sake of equity and fairness in this multi-social, multi-ethnic society.”

This call was juxtaposed against the August 1993 public announcement by then Prime Minister Patrick Manning that promoted the Steelpan as T&T’s national instrument.

That was the power call by Indian-Trinbagonian leaders; but this power call didn’t stop there.

In April 2007, President George Maxwell Richards showered “high praise” for the establishment of the Indian-Caribbean Museum of T&T. In the President’s own words: “You have been able, over the short space of one year, to gather a whole range of artefacts covering themes as wide as arts, culture, engineering, kitchen tools … a whole range. I want to congratulate the committee.”

It should be noted that there is an East Indian Museum at Waterloo Road, Carapichaima.

Furthermore, in October 2008, President Richards “urged the National Council of Indian Culture (NCIC) to set up a documentation centre and library to maintain records of those who had contributed to Indian culture.”

Moreover, in September 2005, the then Indian High Commissioner to T&T, Jagit Singh Sapra, donated $15m toward the establishment of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Cultural Co-operation.”

And this potent cultural-ancestral co-operation/linkage is not only reflected in the holding of the annual Indian Expo in T&T but also in local television programs such as “Bollywood Music Therapy”, “Deke Bhai Deke”, “Inside India”, “Legends of Indian Dance”, “Indian Variety Show”, “Sai Baba Programming”, “Chunkay in Central”, “Om Namah Shivay”, “Mastana Bahar”, and “Swaha”, just to name a few,

These cultural programs are augmented by “Indian Vegetarian Gourmet” and “Indian cooking with Chef Sanjay”.

Of course, it would be the classic incident of “cognitive dissonance” if this writer didn’t point out the fact that when Indian artistes perform their songs on these television programs, they all sing in the tongue of their historical/cultural/ancestral Mother Land, India.

Conversely, when Trinbagonian artistes of African descent perform their songs, they all sing in the tongue of their former European colonizer /slave-master, except Ella Andell— power versus powerlessness/location versus dislocation in T&T today, period. All praise and glory to Priestess Ella Andell.

The fact of the matter is that the power of Trinbagonians of Indian descent came to the fore when in February 2005, Indian High Commissioner Virendra Gupta “suggested that knowledge of the Hindi language be expanded in T&T for a greater appreciation of local Indian culture.”

In July 2006, the “Kendra Vacation Course in Indian Culture for Children” began in Southern Main Road, Enterprise. The teaching staff included community leaders trained in T&T and India. In this course, students were exposed “to dance, games, singing, script writing, acting, films, dramatic reading, Ramayan studies, handicraft, Indian aesthetics, leadership skills, mediation, Sanskrit chanting and yoga”.

In addition, in May 2009, the National Institute of Fashion and Technology (NIFT) in India signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with UTT and in the words of then UTT’s Chairman Professor Kenneth Julien: “Trinidad and Tobago’s progress was due in large part to the influence of many countries, including India. Overall, the aim is to develop the fashion industry here so it can represent the richness and diversity of our culture”.

And not to be outdone, one finds that not too long down the road that then Foreign Affairs Minister, Paula Gopee-Scoon “pledged to do more to promote the teaching of Hindi throughout the nation’s primary schools.” The then minister didn’t mention the government’s intention to promote the teaching of Yoruba and Kswahili throughout the nation’s primary schools—- power versus powerlessness in T&T.

However, Indian-Trinbagonian cultural power demand didn’t stop there at the level of governance. One finds that at the convening of the Fifth Summit of the Americas in T&T in April 2009, Trinbagonians of Indian descent were visibly and loudly complaining that there was “not enough Indian culture for Summit.” Their brief was that “Indian culture continues to be placed on the back-burner of national culture,” period.

Indeed, the multi-faceted power of Trinbagonians of Indian descent was taken to the next level when in November 2006, UWI lecturer Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh called “for the inclusion of the Hosay festival and the 30 October 1884 massarce of East Indians in the CXC and CAPE syllabus.”

Indeed, the crucial historical, linkage significance of this public statement is that in terms of power dynamics, by purposeful inference, this Indian-Trinibagonian lecturer has totally deleted the massacre of hundreds of millions of Africans from the syllabus. And this begs the logical question: Isn’t the brutal massacre of Indians the same as that of Africans?– give me a break.

As a corollary, one finds that in January 2007, the Indian High Commissioner to T&T, Jagit Singh Sapra “called on local Hindus to continue propagating Hindi in T&T”— power versus powerlessness in T&T.

And to add insult to the powerless status of Trinbagonians of African descent, one finds that there is a Chair of Indian Studies at UWI. There is no ‘Chair of African Studies’ at UWI as of this writing, period. And there never will be in terms of the sad legacy of Euro-colonial power divisiveness between these two ethnic entities.

And not to be outdone, there was a new December 2010 Memorandum of Agreement for UWI to promote “Chinese (Mandarin) language and culture.”

This literal Indian cultural tsunami erupted on 24 July, 2011, when the general T&T public was notified by the Indian High Commissioner that “a new syllabus is being devised to teach Hindi in T&T.” The announcement further elaborated that “the High Commission of India conducts regular Hindi classes at seven centres all over the country where in excess of 200 students are learning Hindi.”

As of this writing, no similar public announcement has been forth-coming, albeit published, by any African Embassy in T&T to also conduct regular classes in Yoruba and/or Swahili at centres all over the country— power versus powerlessness in T&T today.

Conversely, one does need a special pair of HD binoculars to ascertain the paucity of courses in African history and languages offered at UWI today.

In the final analysis, the current public policy-making consensus and societal prevailing wisdom/attitude/mind-set are such that either by accident or design, African history should be posited within the context of Calypso, Steelband and the “Pan in the classroom programme.”

Shem Hotep (“I go in Peace”).

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies.

9 Responses to “Power versus powerlessness in T&T”


  • Drs. Nantambu and Cudjoe continue to shore up their careers by spewing their hatred reminiscent of Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan. Every article they have written for the last year has been full of vitriol about ‘race’.

    NAEP – if you want to empower yourself, please don’t listen to these two Doctors of gloom – better you listen to Drs Bill Cosby and Morgan Job! They speak the truth.

  • @ Ramjit Gopaul,

    I agree that there is a cultural imbalance in Trinidad and Tobago between the African and Indian diasporic groups. However, the political establishment is only responsible for some of the blame; the real problem is the “Afro-Saxonization” of the African-Trinbagonian community. Whatr makes this Afro-Saxonization comically tragic is that while in some aspects, many African-Trnbagonians have become westernized, there is still subconscious ancestral expressions through calypso, steelband and even in cultural practices such as the “sou-sou hand.” On the whole though, there is a congenital apathy to the promotion of African heritage in Trinidad and Tobago among the African-Trinbagonian community; none of the political leaders of African descent have really made a concerted effort to promote African heritage in Trinidad and Tobago. Many of the leaders from this group have themselves become Afro-Saxons within this cultural space and there is the added element of the soul-destroying hip hop music.

    Bill Cosby and Morgan Job certainly do speak the truth to power! I certainly agree that the African in the Diaspora is the author of his or her own demise. However, they only address symptoms. The lawlessness and culture of underachievement are symptomatic of a larger cultural disconnection. The cultural disconnection is the root of the disease and causes the symptoms of antisocial behavior among the African-Trinbagonian youth. The African-Trinbagonian is suffering from cultural amnesia and is, in essence one of the “mimic men” described in V.S. Naipaul’s novel.

    It is imperative that African-Trinbagonians be reconnected to their ancestral roots if there is to be peace and harmony in our country. It is not the responsibility of the Indian-Trinbagonian community to see to this. I am a living example of the importance of rediscovering one’s roots. I have traced my ancestry back to East Africa and the Middle East through a DNA analysis and even found out that my genetic signiture is Jewish. As a result, I have felt like a more complete person within the past year. Of course, it is not easy for all African-descended people to do as I have done, but they must try.

    Maybe you can sympathize with my sentiment; maybe you can’t. However, in my view, if the African-Trinbagonian learns to appreciate his contributution to world civilization and the richness of his cultural heritage, it is only then that he or she can truly appreciate the richness of the Indian-Trinbagonian cultural heritage.

  • While I do not see where the author is going with the article I must disagree with Mr. Gopaul. First this is not the US of A where a majority subjugates every other minority. The prison system is full of the stories.
    In T&T we have had successive (PNM) government since independence that would go under the banner “Afro, African, Black, African Caribbean, etc. etc. and we would like everyone to believe that the reason they are no longer in power is because someone is undermining the party. We do not believe that we should change our ideas and move away from the stagnation of that party and build a new tomorrow. With all the minds that are around we should stop complaining and put in place some coherent policy on building skill necessary for a modern society. Instead we sit around and complain that everyone is taking everything away from us or as soon as someone starts something we want one too. We in the African diaspora have lots of educated, intelligent, brilliant people which is all we need for the movement forward. The government does not have to give us anything. We have what is needed. Lets form our own groups and reeducate our children and adolescence to build and support our own communities. I believe that T&T is our community. But we can build small units and then with like concerns connect to building larger units. The two party/westminister style government is bankrupt and was never ours to begin with so lets abandon it. Lets form our own based on our situation.

  • Ramjit you need to disbuse yourslef of the slave master notion that you have a right to determine who black people should listen to. Kangal spent the entire era during the regime of the PNM writing about race. You are uncomfortable with what Doctor Cudjoe and other write because it hits close to home and exposes the dirty linen of your attitudes.

    This backward and ignorant mindset that you guys have that impel you to believe that black people can be deceived by you and ignore our chosen heroes is not strange to us. You might as well give it up because the Caribbean examples of the PP in T&T and the PPP in Guyana is opening the eyes of Africans across the region. The generations that will follow us will have experienced this leadership, and will be able to understand what their brothers and sisters in places like Fiji are going through. The cat is out of the bag.

  • There are no cultural imbalances in sweet T&T.Carnival, Calypso, pan, and limbo dominated the T&T landscape for the past 40 years. Nobody back then spoke about cultural imbalance when the PNM was doling out millions of dollars for these festivals while ignoring others. One lady who was transporting water for the pan men was awarded the Trinity cross (lol). I think the other groups are simply playing “catch up”.

    Why is Kwame and Cudjoe suddenly experts in culture???

  • “This literal Indian cultural tsunami erupted on 24 July, 2011, when the general T&T public was notified by the Indian High Commissioner that “a new syllabus is being devised to teach Hindi in T&T.” The announcement further elaborated that “the High Commission of India conducts regular Hindi classes at seven centres all over the country where in excess of 200 students are learning Hindi.”

    I learned Spanish in school and did not enjoyed it at first but later appreciated it. I wish I had learned Hindi also. It is not uncommon for people in developing nations such as India and Africa to know at least three or four languages. I know a man who can speak 8 languages. Most Indians in India are choosing to learn English because the chance for a better job or income is greater. Language opens doors of communication and opportunities for those who want to visit foreign countries.

    I would say this writer is making much ado about nothing, 200 students learning to speak Hindi is not the end of the world. After all more that a 100,000 Trinis can speak or understand Spanish. I think Portuguese should also be taught in schools, it will make for a better connection to Brazil, that fastest growing economy in South America. Now over to the educators. Haku na mattata…to you Kwame.

  • I agree with the Triniamerican, there is a disconnect between the present and the past in the minds of AfoTrinis. This lack of knowledge of self has led to insecurity and a lack of confidence among this population and consequently underachievement in some aspects of life. Added to this was the political dependence that this sector of the population embraced for its economic survival and psychological well-being. Let me hasten to say that this general statement in no way ignores the salient contributions of AfroTrini businessmen at the top echelons like C L Duprey founder of Colonial Life or like William Bernard my grandfather who owned a viable small business in the construction sector and admonished me never to work for anyone if I wanted to be a real man. The fact is though, that most Afro Trinis have not divorced themselves from the political dependency which at one time may have been expedient and beneficial and should have been used as a base for their economic development and financial independence, are now apparently left in the economic freezer by a PP government who won their votes but disregard their needs. So what can be done? Certainly not mire in victim-hood as advoated by Dr Nantambu or hate Indo Trinis for their achievements as promoted by others. Afro Trinis should look and learn from our fellow Indo Trinis. They set themselves objectives that they worked towards through discipline at home and an emphasis on education. They advocated their positions and moved towards their objectives through religious and other groups. However, they could not have done this in a vacuum, instead they kept in touch with their beautiful history and religion while moving towards and embracing a more Trinidadian identity. I salute my Indo Trini brethren on their achievements but I caution them not to be to proud or boastful and to always remember that all Trinis have an equal place in this small but great country.
    Similarly, as I have said before, Afro Trinis must discover their past history and wisdom and embrace it not necessarily by adopting African names or wearing African clothes but by DNA analysis, I know this is out of the reach of most people, and by the studying of African history and the continent’s contributions to civilizations around the world. Not through slavery but from ancient to modern times. This rediscovery of history should be from Afrocentric writers and not from European propaganda. Afro Trinbagonians should be advocating ceaselessly for these type of studies to be placed on the schools’ curriculum. It is time for the true Africa to emerge from the dark propaganda which has shrouded her magnificence. In addition Afro Trinis need to get back to the basics of good parenting and an emphasis on education. We must also become more self sufficient and entrepreneurial. I remember my grandmother making farine from casavas she grew, pone, nuts, postum and other products she made and sold to generate income for her family of fourteen children all of whom received good educations. My grandfather made his own bricks for his construction business, owned at one point three trucks, a family car and did not owe the bank for his house and seventeen acres of land. Where has that spirit gone Mr African. Check yuh self. Nuff Said

  • Derick is one of the few here without blinkers! I don’t think Drs Nantambu, Cudjoe and the Yoruba Isrealite(sp) would agree with you else they’ll lose their ignorant followers – who they are trying to rile up into some kind of action (it’s been 20 years since the last Jamaat one). Rafeek Shah would agree with you but he’s too caught up trying to prove he’s not racist. Thanks Derick- glad you are heeding the advice of your father who was around to teach you – all in the same vein as Cosby and Morgan Job. At least you are more polite than Job. I don’t think Cudjoe’s admirers would listen to you – it means that they’ll have to work hard like you (and me).
    Here’s what I stated earlier:
    Drs. Nantambu and Cudjoe continue to shore up their careers by spewing their hatred reminiscent of Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan. Every article they have written for the last year has been full of vitriol about ‘race’.

    NAEP – if you want to empower yourself, please don’t listen to these two Doctors of gloom, doom and hatred – better you listen to Drs Bill Cosby and Morgan Job! They speak the truth.

    Happy Emancipation Day everyone!

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