The Cowshed Fable

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 30, 2012

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI want to congratulate my East Indian compatriots for the achievements they have made over the 167 years they have spent in Trinidad and Tobago and the enormous efforts they have made to carve out a space in these two beautiful islands in the West Indies. I also wish to congratulate Sat Maharaj for the herculean efforts he has made to improve the educational standards of his people and his determination to ensure that his people receive their rightful share of the national pie. When the history of the second half of the twentieth century is written I am certain he will take his place as one of the more outstanding Trinbagonians of the era.

I also wanted to thank Sat for inviting me to share in the Maha Sabha celebration of Indian Arrival Day and granting me the pleasure of meeting novelist Rambindranath Maharaj whom the Maha Sabha honored at their function for his literary achievements. Robin, a Robert Village Hindu School and Naparima College graduate, has made a name for himself in Canada. Sat compared his work to that of V. S. Naipaul but I am not in a position to critique that judgment since I have not read any of his novels. I intend to remedy that shortcoming in the very near future.

Many of the national luminaries of Indian descent, primarily government ministers, spoke with much enthusiasm about the sacrifices their forefathers and foremothers made to get them where they are today. They argued that those who went before carved the way for present achievers. Robin Maharaj took the position that their forebears completely disregarded their own sufferings confident that they were sacrificing themselves for the generations after them which raises the question: does any Indian generation ever live for itself?

As I listened to various speakers the whole theme of the evening revolved around the fabled nature of the cowshed; it being reported by all of the speakers that Dr. Eric Williams called the Hindu schools cowshed and look at what the cowsheds have produced? Sat Maharaj, the grandest luminary of all had to correct the younger ones by letting them know that when Dr. Williams called the Hindu schools cowshed, Badase Sagan Maraj, his father-in-law, declared: “It is better to educate a child in a cowshed than not to educate them at all.”

However, there is a problem with these apocryphal stories. In spite of their ethnic appeal they lose their real meaning as they are told from one generation to another. They are misconstrued and become uplifting fables which may have a moral but veer so far from the truth that anytime it is uttered it becomes yet another whip with which to beat the present generation of oppressors.

When Dr. Williams arrived on the scene in 1956 the conditions of the Hindu schools were quite deplorable as I presume the same was true of the non-Hindu schools. I went to Tacarigua E.C., a school that was built by enslaved Africans in 1838 and what in our days we called the “Cocoa House.” I went to that school from 1948 to 1954. It was just one open building with a large stage under which we placed the agricultural tools we used to till our school gardens that lay on the southern side of the Eastern Main Road near to the Vestry that was built in 1843.

In 1955 Badase was doing his best to build some schools for the Hindu children. Dr. Williams deplored the fact that the East Indian schools looked like cowsheds and vowed to do a better job of school building for all of the children, Hindu as well as Christian children, when he came into power. Although present Hindu lore has it that Dr. Williams called the Hindu schools cowsheds he did not intend to denigrate Hindu schools or Hindu children. He merely sought to deplore the condition in which the education of our school children took place.

None of the speakers at the Dinner could forego the temptation to hit out at the PNM administration—read Black people—for all of the evils that the Black people had done to them. The only problem with such a narrative is that it only tells us part of the story rather than the whole story. In fact, the only way to understand what happened to East Indians between 1955 and 2010 is to tell the whole story; contextualize the issue; and opt for racial healing rather than fanning the flames of racial hatred in a subliminal manner.

One only has to compare the progress East Indians made in the society from 1917, the year in which indentureship ended, to 1955, the year when PNM came on the scene, with the progress East Indians made from 1955 to 2010 to understand the apocryphal nature of the cowshed tale. Use any yardstick and one would see that the cowshed story is only a fanciful story that is told from generation to generation to fan the flames of racial hatred and continue to remind the present generation that they really have an enemy when none is there. And while they do not name the enemy, it is inferred.

And this is why I appreciated the closing sentiments of Robin Maharaj’s response. He warned East Indians present that they must “be proud without being vain; celebratory without being jingoistic.” In this, I thought he hit the correct note. Although a historian may want to mark this present time in our history as the moment when the East Indians were fully inculcated and recognized in the society, it should not be used as an opportunity to emphasize their exclusivity but as a time to affirm their Trinbagonianness; a moment when the society opens its arms to welcome another strand of its many fabrics.

While we are at it, it may be wise to drop the cowshed fable. It only tends to divide rather than bring us together as a multi-ethnic society with all of the richness that such a society implies.

And yes, Happy East Indian Arrival Day!

28 Responses to “The Cowshed Fable”


  • If we are to drop the cowshed statement then we must also drop the anti-white and ant-colonial diatribes. The latter is also divisive. What about the “recalcitrant minority”? Is that a fable as well? Should we also cease to remind the PNM of this insulting and derogatory statement or must we abandon all our memory and become a clean slate. Shall we forget the alienation of Indian culture and the isolation of the Indians in the rural fringes without Government schools? Shall we forget exclusion from the protective services as well? Tell us Cudjoe what shall we remember and what to forget since you want to control and manipulate our memory. Why do you think that you have the audacity to tell us how to behave and you do not hold up the same standard of decorum? You tell us on thing and keep on doing the opposite.

    • Stephen Kangal, what was and continues to be divisive were accusations made on the BBC and on the CBC, both national radio broadcasting c orporations in England and in Canada, of ‘Black men raping Indian women’; an iniquitous ploy for some Indians to gain refugee status in these countries.

      As you might recall, these accusations were not only false but were also advanced by at least one member of the TnT Parliament.

      Have you heard of, or demanded from her and her perfidious cohorts, any apology?

      Do you think it encumbent on yourself to call for this?

      You act as if these issues, because they are not on the front burner, are not also still on the stove, simmering with furure possibilities of political ennui and national woe.

      Triumphalist amnesia, like chickens, eventually come home to roost.

      • Try and speak to my cousin Hulsie Bhaggan and let her relate her information on the accusation that she made. She was very much in touch with her constituents in Chaguanas and her position was based in hard information. There is no need to apologise as at that time I was aware of the forays made in penetrating the rural Indian communities by urban bandits even in bad-john notorious Caroni with the Poolool brothers still alive.

  • This was rediculous.To whom are you posturing Dr. Cudjoe? Indians are more than inculcated and recognized in society. They own the image of Trinidad and Tobago. They are society.
    Asians (Indian and Chinese) run Trinidad and Tobago. Africans are the amusing spectators lost on the sidelines. This is mainly the fault of the PNM.
    Trinidad and Tobago is a multi ethnic society, but on whose terms has been greatly redefined since 1955 and it started in 1917. It does not take a genius to see that. Who was educated in a cowshed? It’s hard to tell based on this article.

  • Hmmm….amusing spectators lost on the sidelines…way to fan the flames of racial divisiveness. Out of the heart the mouth speaketh. Great article Dr. Cudjoe. It’s really sad and such a dangerous thing when people twist history to serve their devious purposes. I’ve heard of the cowshed issue and understood that the late Dr Williams was in fact referencing the deplorable conditions of the schools. For people to make the statement into a weapon to fan racial hatred is pure evil. Thank goodness for the day we will all be called into account by a God who sees all and knows all.

    • You just can’t handle the truth. A foreigner traveling to Trinidad Today might think that Trinidad is or was a colony of India.
      Who runs the government? Who owns the Airport? Who owns the media? Who represents TNT to foreigners? Who controls the bulk of trade domestic and international?

      Who is looking for the next fete? Who is looking for the next opportunity to lime? Who is looking for a handout? Who is lagging behind in education? Who is made to look like comedians, criminals, and savages? Who seems powerless to stop it?
      There is no reason to deny it. Trinidad and Tobago is a colony of India.

  • I see that the THA Secretary Orville London has voiced his displeasure today- this evening against treating with those who come from the cowshed in Trinidad. It is not a fable for London. Did he intend to refer to those who were educated via the cowshed system of primary education in Trinidad and is it an insult being directed to Kamla and her group in this modern age? Was he referring to the buildings or the cowshed mentality. How does Cudjoe’s fable thesis stand up against London’s repetition of the cow-shed?

  • Stephen Kangal, please tell us your version of how the cowshed statement came about. Dont just dispute Dr. Cudjoe’s fable; tell us the truth. This is historic. This topic is going to come up again at the next Indian Arrival Day and I want to be armed with the facts.

  • The cowshed statement was also coined with barrack mentality. The derogatory statements made about Indians in the past about their way of living, drinking dahl water etc. are historical statements which hold true and have generated East Indian scholars in todays generation. Should we discard the memory of Eric Williams statement (no need to work hard because of the forefathers sweat in constructing those buildings) pointing to Stollmeyer’s castle. Heritage is something to be treasured and valued by all. With respect to the raping of Indian women, do have a read of the book ‘The West on Trial’ by Cheddi Jagan and see what took place at Wismar in Guyana. These were opened discussions on BBC 2 in the 60s and early 70s. Ironically I was speaking to a former colleague at the Dentist’s office yesterday and the discussion became centred on Mano Benjamin. The question is have we learnt from the past to make a positive change for our childrens future?

  • The “cowshed” statement by Dr. Eric Williams was more of a symbolic encapsulation of the image hoisted upon Indians at that time in our history.
    The PNM and those who viewed themselves as progressive city dwellers regarded Indians as the “recalcitrant minority”, occupying the backward, rural areas of Chinidad.
    Indians were to be kept out of the channels of power and nurtured as the agricultural community. The PNM crowd, armed with forced Anglo names walked around with “jacket and tie”, looking down despairingly at “country bookies” who still ate roti. dhal and rice without “knife and fork”.

    • TMan, I hope you are not caught up in the “victim syndrome.” Who was the PNM crowd? I was looked down on desparingly as a ‘country bookie’ and I did not eat roti, dhal and rice without knife and form.

      “Indians were to be kept out of the channels of power and nutured as the agricultual community.” By whom? As a yong man leaving school, every boss I had for 20 years and 4 different jobs was “Indian” in this PNM Land. Do you think think that “Indians” were kept out or that they kept themselves out of the channels of power? How many “Indians” do you know then or now will have followed Eric Williams, like Jack Warner, Tobago Jack, Errol Mc Leod or Makandal Dagga is following our present PM?

      • There were many who followed Williams: Mahabirs, Sinanans, Mosheebs,Sampaths, Rampersads
        Most abandonned the PNM after the “recalcitrant” comment or when they realized that within the PNM they were always going to be second class.
        Kamaludin Mohammed learned a hard lesson when he was faced with the reality that the PNM crowd would never accept an Indian as their leader.

  • Much of the vitriol launched specificaly against Dr. Eric Williams (a scholar against whom is directed a massive hatred simply because he is also so much envied), and generally against ‘the PNM crowd’ comes from positions which are both misunderstood and misplaced by those who launch them.

    These positions of being misplaced have an historical arc to them. For example, anyone reading these blogs, without having even an elemental understanding of how the races now in TnT arrived (some forcibly; others accommodatingly), or who of necessity practise an historical amnesia would assume that Indians here were brought as indentures, not by White people, but by Black people.

    One could, with reason, also think that the epic struggles by Indians in such instances as the “Black Hole of Calcutta”; an occasion still commemorated annually by British Tommys, had to do with Black people colonizing Indians in India.

    There are other instances of historic injustices against Indians, for example, the 1807 Sepoy rebellion when Indian Muslims and Hindus, forced to change their headwear accused their oppressors of forcing Indians to become Christian since the headgear looked ‘Christian’.

    By comparison, Black people like Toussaint L’Ouverture (1804) were in rebellion, not merely against headwear, but for freedom from oppression, period!

    In short, given the fusillade of shots taken against him today, one can assume that Dr. Eric was responsible for the East India Company that so destroyed Indian industry and changed Indian culture, irrevocably!

    Some of these changes unfortunately surfaced with a vengeance after Independence when Hindus and Moslems sought reasons to aim nuclear weapons at each other.

    Therefore, since it was Black people, and not Britishers who for centuries not only imposed oppressive conditions on India, including creating the deregotary term, co*lies, it stands to reason that the brunt of hatreds, vitriol, and accusations be directed against the present descendants of those Black people whose empire rose and set on India.

    What about being misunderstood? In the US, while the racial narratives of vitriol differ from those in TnT, there are some similarities about objectives.

    In the US, compared with TnT, the difference is that religious arguments are launched by what can be referred to as the yahoos, snake-handlers and inbreds to cover the political intent of Republicans.

    In TnT, the opposite is the case: political vitriol is spewed to cover what are religious intents, or religious expectations based on skin-colour virtues; a situation by which one to be virtuous, must come to these positions with prejudices intact.

    As a boy, I and others around could never determine what was meant when we were called, Rawan.

    We knew it was deregotary, but had no clue as to the enormous historic-religious resonances such terms carried, and by individuals from whom we knew we differed but were unaware of the vast gulf by which some on the other side saw themselves and us.

    Have Black Trinis come to grips with what and whom they are dealing? Probably not, since we tend to read the handwriting on the wall only when our backs are to the wall!

    Obviously, much of the opposing voices here have come to make peace with the Europeans who oppressed their ancestors, but who brought them to a place where having even a cowshed, compared to what they’d had before, was a veritable Taj Mahal … and memory of those humiliations through misplaced aggression are brought to the fore against those who, while not being blame-worthy, are nonetheless very blame-possible.

    Black Trinis, as Hebrews elsewhere, are paying an historic, and spiritual price for wilfully departing from the worship of the One True God: Yeshua.

    We have not yet seen sorrows upon sorrows for our idolatry; we flee when no one pursues; others come and inherit what we build, be it cultural, agricultural or else; neither have we as yet seen redemption, nor been able to celebrate the Year of Jubilee until we can say, “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Most High!

    Shalom.

  • Why can it not be said,yeah Dr. Williams did utter these two noun phrases:”recalcitrant minority” and “Cowsheds” But the both differ in understanding Indentured culture and Indian survival.That the prejudice communalist Sat Maharaj and company and even socalled bastion of Trinidad rationalist Hindu thought Stephen Kangal would use both in moral equivocation to argue race politics and fan flames of sllick but sick of race particularism is in deed quite shocking buy expected.
    In this forgive Kangal his foolheated folly and lack of englightenment for fanning the flames of the diversity he loves to preach and should continue to preach.
    He has lost his moral bearings as an elder to broader nation for greater good.Instead Indian victim hood.
    Note both Indians and Africans in the caribbean(in trinidad no less)have desribed been cryptically in many harsh terms.One is not going to dredge them up here.
    What for.
    Israel Khan has wrote splendid article in one of the dailies to demonstrate so most horrid terms used against Indians by Europeans and otherwise to view Indian indenyureship perpective.Naipaul calling India An Arean Of Darkness and all demonstrates a preavailing view of Indian and dare say Africa which shows harsh and negative terms at their pinnacle of language and vociferously used in context to slavery post cultutre and and post Indenture servitude.
    These are harsh facts.
    Lets take the “Cowshed”.How different is that from other anlysis of the first state of educational facilties of most Indian before the coming of canadian missionary christians to build schools and Williams educational policy to transfrom old darelict schools some of them and the build of some secondary and past primary buildings.Accompanied by christian school system build colleges and scholls of various ilk.
    Nay Some Hindu rationalist scholars would have non of it.
    You would see the bile that they and at times African Nationalist thinkers are willing to spew even now here as sanctimonious traces of race baiting.All of it quite sickening and so limited to larger question a nation of diverse peoples Indians Chineese Europeans,Amerindias and Africans can peacefully coexist.
    Cowshed is not a term that is understood in context but in post Indentured culture Indian students like other places in vilages of Trinidad and Tobago were housed in the most low quality buildings the cowshed type being true in some the worse cases.
    As a Teacher posted summary places I had glimpse of those.Harsh terminology but cruel facts.Indians scholars like Kangal used this as a ploy to settles scores of insecurities and political gesture by so doing endangering the larger issue of National peace.
    Forcing the narrative into false ethos not just for fun but it seems some other nefarious agenda and reasoning which one hopes is not Hindu nationalism to counter the other.
    As for the term realcitrant minority Indians were once minority and as if they were recalcitrant or not history will judge both they and Willams accordingly.Indians have called worse.NO excuse can be made Williams the anlysis.
    They prospered wonderfully under a socalled thirty African regime suffering no progrommes or bantustanization of anny the peculiar occurences that happened to oppressed cultues.
    African domination in both civil service and security service was bound to challenge as history unfolded.Petty descrimation suffered by Indians at the hand of politicians are facts tied racial particularims that ought to dissapear nut we see the same mokey pants not so.So polity must change right?Is it?
    One used to laugh to use of certain terms by Indians to claim refugee status in Canada and and elsewhere based on the natural degree of such false narratives .Similar to folish to deny indian influence in all aspect of Africanclture in Trinidad.All of it false narratives.
    Both if these terms are to now by used to rehash stuff from the dungheap of terms used to appraised indentured history and state Indians.Their pernicious use ought be cautioned and fully eighed in contex to history time and place.
    anything else will lead fanning communal flames that begins in reality engedered by a false narrative.

    • Jo Mode Cudjoe is calling reality a fable to deceive and con us. He is telling us what to remember and what to forget- wanting to control our intellect and manage the way we should think.This is worst than colonial indoctrination and insulting to to our intelligence.
      Peace and harmony must be based on justice, respect, appreciation, dialogue, free speech, institutional memory and a value system that reinforces diversity in thinking and frames of reference. When my African brothers remember the past that is solidarity. When we do that is fanning the flames of divisiveness.

  • “What about the “recalcitrant minority”? ……. Should we also cease to remind the PNM of this insulting and derogatory statement”

    What, exactly, is insulting or derogatory about the phrase “recalcitrant minority”?
    That the East Indians were a minority at the time is an obvious fact. Were they, as a group recalcitrant? I do not know; but whether or not they were makes the phrase either a true statement or a falsehood. “Recalcitrant” to the best of my knowledge means “resistant to authority or control by the powers that be, obstinate”.
    I fail to see any deeply insulting or derogatory sentiments in the phrase “recalcitrant minority” which was 1st used to describe the East Indian community in Trinidad by a British colonial official.

    Me thinks Stephen Kangal protests too much!

    • Resistant to whose authority in what way? Was Dr. Williams being offensive, or was he describing the issue of assimilation to the norms of TNT as it was when the statement was made?
      Is it derogatory to be considered recalcitrant if you are not obedient to the ills of society? What about when society says that you must be educated to a certain level? To not excell in school would be recalcitrant to society would it not? If society dictates that you can not commit crime and you do so anyway everyday, wouldn’t you then be considered recalcitrant?
      Perhaps some people took being called recalcitrant by the leader of a nation who was not of the same tribe as being offensive. Perhaps through some sense of racist guilt that these members could in no way see themselves as wanting to assimilate to Dr. Williams norms. I mean,”on whose authority and to withwhose audacity was it for Dr. Williams to call Indians recalcitrant?
      I understand the offense in the minds of some and the fact that some would not understand that there has been a ofense comitted is also insensitive and offensive.
      With that being said, the people who where offennded clearly used this as not only a wake up call, but also fuel to propell them into power and domination.
      Those liming and watching the progression of others from a drunken stuper seem overwhelemed at the reality that they find themselves in. It is truly sobering.
      Dr. Williams was a reflection of the British system and all of that will be erased in TNT and replaced by a different system.
      It hasn’t been said, but judging by the actions of those in power, Africans are a recalcitrant minority. The difference is that it seems as if Africans in TNT don’t know it.

    • Do you want to impose limits on how I feel and how much I protest? Am I to be someone fabricated and forged in the mind of someone or some people who do not understand or who will not take the time to empathise?

      • If those feigned feelings are about cloaking yourself in a false victimhood the better to justify some preferential position, then yes indeed! Your transgression of the limits of intellectual honesty has to be exposed and your unwarranted protests cannot be tolerated any more than if you were burning tyres in some public thoroughfare in pursuit of some selfish agenda.

  • “Africans are a recalcitrant minority”
    I would have thought that nothing is further from the truth. The Trouble with Afro-Trinidadians is that they are TOO pliant. They seem to lack the “cultural backbone” to resist assimilating the practises and customs of others, eg. foods and food names, place names. They have consistently failed to give their own ethnic names to the spaces that they occupy, and fail to resist any surplanting of their cultural practices.

    • I don’t disagree with the points that you have just made. I would say that in regard to being compliant and not recalcitrant when it comes to crime, education, and community growth/ development that Africans have been and are now the recalcitrant minority. The cultural submission and willingness to do so is the icing on the cake.
      Case in point, you have Trinidadians of African decent representing New York. Why? I can’t understand why they are so eagar to be something and someone other than who they are.
      Back to my point, the fact that Africans are recalcitrant to the norms of nation building is why they are on the sidelines while the Asians do business and grow their communities in TNT.
      Trinidad and Tobago as a country now acts as a colony of India. Power has been consolodated in the the three major forms of measurable power. Who has Political power?Who has social power numerically speaking? Who has economic power? Who has all three as a group of people in Trinidad and Tobago? Not those whom consider themselves African, Black, and or Afro.
      It’s no secret who controls the fete….well from an entertainment point of view.
      Many even voted for the UNC (Under New Control) take over and now what?
      Dr. Williams used spoke as if he where somehow superior by calling Indians a recalcitrant minority.

  • Several nations in various religious text were said to be recalcitrant that to to say stubborn and stiff necked.Several citation from various Vedas and Upnishads can be cited but why go this far.
    “Israel” of Chrisntian/Hebrew context claimed by Africans as their major religious indentification is said to be recalcitrant or stiff necked people,that is to say given to certain recalcitrant behaviour.
    Muslims are warmed in certain Suras which will not be named not be stubborn and disobedient.
    Dr Williams was just mouthing a colonial view in the mansions
    though Ghandi used recallcitrant behaviour in passive resistance as an art of protest.
    I can go on and on the point being its retrograde to used
    colonial phrases whether perpetuated by Naipaul,Williams or even these revisionist Hindu scholars to dredge up the virulent cesspool of history.To apply a pesher; an interpretation,or even an insult or harsh word as the preserve of how Africans “crucified” or oppressed Indians.
    That too is damn dangerous Lie perpetuated by scondrels.

  • For a very long time the authorities in T&T had an uphill fight trying to persuade the members of the Indo-Trinidad community to 1) register the birth of their children, 2) Register their marriages, 3) Comply with the health regulations re compulsory innoculation against small pox.
    These were just some of the instances of recalcitrance exhibited by the, then, mainly rural indo community who displayed a healthy distust for and antagonism to all public administrators.
    This attitude was in marked contrast to that of the more urban based Afro-Trinidad population.

    • Because all the health facilities were located near to them in the urban centres and the Indians were rurally isolated and neglected in the backyards only having clinics provided by Caroni Ltd and no health workers from Government even today.Where are the social workers assigned? Who is looking after the reduction/ abatement of sedentary life style diseases of the Indians causing deterioration of the human resource potential of T&T?
      IVOR! TALK NAH!

  • Another vexatious bone of contention was screening for leprosy.

  • If Curtis believes that East Indians control Trinidad’s private sector, he is blissfully unaware of the continuing role of the White/Syrian 1% of the population. Check out Chamber of Commerce, then cool off in Country Club, Curtis.

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