Academic oasis

By Raffique Shah
September 05, 2022

Raffique ShahI was scanning the local television channels last Tuesday for any Independence-related special programming they might feature on the eve of the 60th anniversary, when I realised CCN TV6 was about to run live coverage of the formal opening of the Dr Eric Williams Memorial Library and museum in Port of Spain.

As the cameras panned the guests arriving for what was likely to be one of the feature events of the anniversary, I experienced a wave of nostalgia, memories of what seemed to have been many years ago when Erica Williams, daughter of the late prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, first communicated with me about her project.

Now, persons my age or thereabouts, who are familiar with the history of the country, more so the Black Power revolution, and know of my involvement in the mutiny, may express shock upon reading that Erica and I actually spoke or otherwise communicated with or wrote each other. We should be enemies for life, they might think. Let me explain my position on such issues.

I cannot think of one person who I hate or hated in my life. There were a few I disliked intensely and might have done them bodily harm if ever the opportunity to so do arose. But hate Dr Williams and his daughter? Never. I am aware that Erica and likely her father, were convinced that some of the rebel soldiers of 1970 wanted them dead.

I never held such sentiments towards Dr Williams or his daughter or any other member of his family.

I stood against many of his political policies, and spoke and wrote openly on such matters. I should add that I am aware that Erica, and presumably other members of the family, were marked for death in 1970 (I heard her say as much in a documentary). That is reason for her to dislike, maybe even hate me. But I know of what she spoke. I commanded the mutineers, and I knew that while in the heat of battle soldiers might say stupid things, the command groups will never have allowed any such atrocity.

Hell, in the end, it turned out that while we could die for the revolution we so believed in, we could not kill for it. Nuff said on that.

I was happy that Erica finally got the Government to do its part to make the Dr Eric Williams Memorial Library a reality. I have not seen it and would hardly do so, given my infirmity.

Given that she worked for more than 20 years—at least that is as far back as when she first contacted me—it is only just that the facility remain sound, well-maintained, well-stocked and is available to the people to whom it was dedicated, located on his main stomping ground, Woodford Square, where many of his books, before they got into print, were revealed to both author and readers gathered in the People’s Parliament.

I can only hope that it will attract many younger nationals who seem to know so little of their history. Sadly, the education system Dr Williams instituted from back in the 1960s seems to have failed in so far as history as a subject is concerned.

I have read most of Williams’ books because I consider myself a student of history and he was one of the few who did careful research and spent much scholarly time publishing them, even as he held political office.

I do not, by any means, take everything he wrote as the biblical truth. But as a body of work they provide us with more than enough facts, dates and analyses for us to continue and to thirst for more knowledge.

Historians such as Michael Anthony, Brinsley Samaroo, Bridget Brereton, and works of fiction from writers such as Earl Lovelace and VS Naipaul have added to what is available for both academic and historical usage.

If the new library is structured and marketed in attracting teenage and adult readers, it may yet inform our people of their own histories. Ask the ave­rage Trini, age 20 to 40, who was Eric Williams? A blank stare. Maybe 50 per cent would know. Ask about Dr Rudranath Capildeo, even worse—chances are nobody under 25 knows. Lovelace, CLR, Jit Samaroo, Minshall—you guess. But ask, who is the latest dancehall artiste? Everyone under 40 answers correctly.

The new library’s management may consider hosting lectures and panel discussions on all aspects of information on our country and the wider Carib­bean and Latin America. That is where our future lies.

Erica and her small team of dedicated workers deserve plaudits for what they put into this project over so many years. The new library will shine when many more books by many more authors elevate it to an academic oasis in a wasteland of guns, knives and lives.

4 thoughts on “Academic oasis”

  1. “I was happy that Erica finally got the Government to do its part to make the Dr Eric Williams Memorial Library a reality. I have not seen it and would hardly do so, given my infirmity”
    Dr Williams prior to his passing said very clearly “no monuments”. Since then the PNM has used every opportunity to build monuments in his name.

    There is no doubt that Dr. Williams inspired the nation to pursue the field of academia. Williams was an enigma, calling Indians recalcitrant (he was right back then most Indians cared about their land and not much else, of course today that is different). The 50 schools that Bhadase built to educate rural child (one I attended, thankful for my early education), were built with money he obtained as a contractor for the American base in Trinidad. An arrogant Dr Williams called these schools, cowsheds not fit for children. However Bhadase response was it better to have a cowshed to educate children rather than having nothing at all.

    If there is someone deserving of an education library or at least a section named after him would be Bhadase Sagan Maraj purely from an academic point of view. (Sometimes religion cloud people view). Williams if he was alive today would have been in tears, given that over 50% of the children in the nation failed or obtain a score not worthy of mention. The brutalization of the education system under the Rowley regime where the current PM called children “duncy heads” and deliberately denied them a common tool in our world today called a “laptop top”. It is unforgivable. I remember one of the top SEA student from south saying she had to use her father cellphone to study.

    The party that Dr.Williams nurtured is suppose to be a grown mature child, yet it appears that this child is suffering from some kind of mental delirium. I am sorry I know I am being harsh, less we forget to whom much is given much is required. The standards have dropped considerably and so children are going to school but the idea of learning is so politicized that at this 60th year there need to be a rethink of the education system.

    Naming a library after a former Prime Minister who stated the future of the nation lay in the book bags of our children. Kamla took it further and said it lay in the laptops of our children. Keith took it further and called the poor children “duncy heads”, “hyenas”.

    The future can be better if the current PNM sit down and really reflect on the long shadow of Dr. Williams. And in the process address the issues that plague the nation schools. Unbiased in their world view, instead of condemning the next generation to be duncy head children whose future is wrapped in front the barrel of a gun… please madame minister of education visit the schools understand the problems and make your time as education minister count. The nation needs you, you certainly can do it. Budget and all.

  2. Yes. Dr Williams did build an OASIS. As usual, (Uncle) would rather have a different say. To be honest, Dr Williams have not been given his flowers, as a true Caribbean Son, He never wanted to be known as a Trinidadian, but a Caribbean Man happened to be born on the Island of Trinidad. Williams was in the forefront of DeColonisation, his writings in the mid-40’s made him an Enemy of the Empire. He faced Racism in England, One of His greatest works, Capitalism and Slavery was not allowed to be published. Having been snowballed in RACIST England, he moved across the pond to the US of A. A radical Intellectual was Dr Williams. At Howard University as a Professor of History, the CIA and the FBI had files on Dr Williams, and was marked as an Enemy of the state. When the FILES was de-classified in the late 90′ the marked for DEATH was within. In retrospect, returning to Trinidad and forming the PNM, gave him a new lease of life, which was political. Bro Shah, Dr William did save your life in the 1970 uprising, had he given the right of way to the American Marines based in the vicinity of Trinidad waters, You Bro Shah would have been EXECUTED or sent to prison. Some of us have had to go out of the PLANTATION to seek and know who and what ERIC WILLIAM’S was all about. And as you rightfully named it the OASIS, the watering spring of what Trinidad should be . After 80+ yrs his great book, “Capitalism and Slavery is about to be published by a noted British publisher. Like a Phoenix, “TRUTH CRUSH to EARTH will RISE again”. He is right up there with Tussaint, Marcus Garvey and a host of GREAT Caribbean Men and Women, who started the ground work for self-determination. Long Live, Long Live Eric Williams. When Capitalism and Slavery becomes part of our Children’s teachings, the DARK rooms if IGNORANCE we call CLASSES, will surely be ENLIGHTENED.

    1. “You Bro Shah would have been EXECUTED or sent to prison”
      Eric did not have Shah executed because he did not want to do anything to upset the Muslims in the country. Kamal must have advised him against the idea. The PNM needed the support of Muslims and Presbyterians to stay power. Muslims view the DLP as a Hindu party and so these divisions with Eric coming from a country where he could have been killed stirred a bit of compassion in him for the young lieutenant.

      Lieutenant Shah has always been beholding to the PNM since he was spared the certainty of a court martial and treasonous death. But such is the nature of politics in a world where the players see the opportunity and value of an individual, similarly to Abu being spared the noose.

  3. No one can deny that Eric Williams was one of the politicians who made representation for the independence of Trinidad and Tobago. But what has resulted from this Independence? Eric and his PNM party has not improved the people and economy of TT despite being in power of over 50 Years despite of having collect nearly $1Trillion dollars. There is runaway crime, gang walfare, robberies, home invasions, one of the highest murder rates in the world. We are poor nation now with bad infrastructure, potholed roads, no water in large areas of the country. Is this success of the ruling party? Naming building etc after one leader is not how free countries move forward. Listening to the PM inhis news conference this morning one concludes that we are financially bad shape as an oil righ nation. My mother always say that the PNM is a shut down party- shutdown the railway, sugar industry, Point-a-Pierre refinery and others. We should all reflect on these achievements on the 60th anniversay of independence.

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