By Raffique Shah
May 01, 2023
History is often a blend of recognizable names, established dates and accounts of actual events cleverly blended with outright lies, ego-boosting anecdotes born in the stupor of what Trinis call ‘rum shop talk’, and enhanced by time as even those who know the facts become victims of fiction manufactured in their fading memories, all of which end up published as ‘true stories’ that sometimes progress to documentaries and other cinematic productions.
There are times when they help create legends, and so heroes evolve where there should be villains and cowards. Permanent damage is done to true histories. Reflect, for instance, on how history had distorted the true savagery of the African slave trade that spanned several hundred years during which an estimated twelve million human beings were captured in their homelands in Africa, transported to the Americas in sub-human conditions to work as slaves on plantations primarily owned by wealthy Europeans, some of whom belonged to the royal families.
For a long time the slaves did not even exist as far as the world was concerned. They received nothing to reflect the value of their labour; instead, they were subjected to extreme exploitation, cruel punishment, and inevitably death. Then Harriet Beecher-Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the mid nineteenth century, an epic book that was utilized by a now-rapidly-expanding abolitionists’ movement.
Today, the history of slavery keeps unfolding as their descendants pursue reparations for the cruel conditions under which their fore-parents had to survive or die. And as happens with most histories, one has to carefully sift the truth from fiction.
The history of that era keeps unfolding some truths, some untruths, which is what we get from most histories.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago, one of the defining periods in our relatively short history is the Black Power uprising of 1970, in which I was a principal player. Almost every year I have written, talked and interviewed on its details. It is an important part of our history, which is why I cringe when I see others tell blatant lies or put figments of their imaginations into print or on audio-visual interviews.
I note, too, half-truths are creeping into what is being offered to school children as the true history of those events. In order to ensure that people who claim to know the truth but are peddling half-truths or lies, I thought I should reproduce a letter sent to me in 1980 by then retired Coast Guard second-in-command, Laurie Goldstaw [to those who claim to be educating our children in the history of the event I ask: let someone in the CG take you to the bridge that the CG ‘blew-up’ or the hill they ‘brought down’ to stop the regiment’s convoy from going into Port of Spain on April 21st 1970.
You won’t find any]. I submit below, the words of Commander Goldstraw to validate my version of the mutiny. His letter was as follows:
1B Don Manuel Ave
Santa Margarita Circular Road
St. Augustine via Curepe
May 5th 1980
Dear Mr. Shah,
I felt that I had to write to tell you how much I enjoyed reading your articles, both in the Bomb and the Target. I very much appreciated your sense of humour, and the description of Julian Spencer’s ‘frontier couch’ was great.
While we may not agree in every detail what did, or could have happened in 1970, I think that we have both stated the basic facts correctly. I must say also that I am not alone in admiring the way you have consistently stood by your beliefs and actions and kept your story of those days unaltered; which is a nice change from all the vacillations by people in high places and from all the lies that have been put out from time to time by people trying to make capital out of the events of 1970.
The latest set of untruths from- Karl [Hudson-Phillips] finally forced me to say something when I would much rather have stayed silent; which is why I was pleased when you also pointed out that a number of things he said were just not true. I think that somebody has been giving him a distorted version of events, in order to promote their own interests, and I think I know who that is!
As we both say, there is a lot to be brought out into the open, and much of it will prove unpalatable for a lot of people.
Signed, L Goldstraw.
Commander Goldstraw and I were not friends. He was my superior officer and second in seniority at the CG. I therefore appreciated when he sent me this letter back then and I kept it because I knew one day I might use it to validate my story on the mutiny, as ‘wannabe’ heroes and outright liars sought to bask in glory. Today, I stand validated. Thanks Commander.