Memories of another era

By Raffique Shah
July 14, 2012

Raffique ShahLAST week, memories of another day, another time, another Trinidad and Tobago swirled through my mind. It happened over several days as many of us who grew up in the villages that make up what I call “Greater Freeport” gathered to pay our final respects to an elder, Boyd “Baykay” Roberts. Baykay was a contemporary of my long-deceased father Haniff, and a close friend of my deceased uncles, all of them sugar workers, ordinary people, barely literate, but wise in the ways of the world.

These men and their wives (who usually kept low profiles, but played equally sterling roles) struggled to provide for their families. Besides their dusk-to-dawn labour on the sugar estates or in the factories, they cultivated agricultural produce or reared livestock, activities that involved even their children, in order to enhance their means. In most cases, they succeeded in bringing up families they would later be proud of.

They were no saints, I should add. I am not about to airbrush their images. As boys, when we saw my father or Uncle Amber or Baykay or Sulaiman Nanah or any of the other stern-faced male adults approach, we would pause at whatever we were doing (except chores), greet them respectfully, and hope they would not “call” us for infringements of the unwritten codes of conduct they had drafted to govern their communities.

Back then, villagers’ houses and bare-earth yards were common ground for play or work or listening to tall tales told by the elders as we children sat enraptured by the characters they would re-create. There was no television, and radio sets were few. The oral tradition was alive and robust—and did these men and women excel in their storytelling! In the course of our upbringing, they inculcated values that made us better human beings.

We too were no saints. Indeed, some of us were high-order sinners (guilty, sah!), and many of us were notorious pranksters, with the odd deviant going beyond the defined boundary. In extreme cases the police from the nearby station would be summoned to intervene. There were times I wondered what the police did except charge harmless men like Sakrullah Meah for riding a bicycle at dusk without lights. Idle cops.

As those elders worked hard to put food in our mouths, we boys and girls studied equally hard, whether we were the lucky or gifted few who did well in academics, or among those whose hands were adept at craft, or others who would later master skills that made them successful in life. All of us who benefitted from those communal initiatives are thankful to those who harnessed us, pushed us, drove us to be what we are today.

But these men were more than semi-literate motivators. They were also thinkers. In their simplistic minds, they would come up with ideas, thoughts and words of wisdom far beyond their stations in life. Baykay, for example, was a grassroots philosopher. He was also revolutionary in his own way, as his son Edmund (Hique) and I concluded during discussions after his passing. His pearls of wisdom were Confucius-like, expressed in street language and a tone that was, well, “Baykay-esque”. So uncanny was he, back in 1974 when I was surfing the ULF wave, idealism etched in my being, but he, sensing that while the struggle in sugar and oil seemed right, all was not well, said to me, “Raffique, I like what you all are doing, but I don’t trust this fella ‘Banday’ (Panday).” Prophetic words.

That much of Freeport, especially “old Freeport”, which meant people of all races, gathered to pay respects to this elder, also spoke of another old-school wisdom that we did not need politicians of any hue or party to preach to us. Harmony among the different ethnic groups that made up “Greater Freeport”—Indians, Africans, Douglas, Chinese…we even had a Scot, Norman McLeod—came instinctively. As children playing or attending school, we did not see race in any face. I’m sure there were persons who harboured racial prejudices. But they were so overwhelmed by the “Freeportian” culture, they had to suppress their attitudes, except perhaps when they were drunk.

I have written elsewhere that I was fortunate to have spent my formative years in Freeport, a district I described as a cosmopolitan cradle. There were three primary schools—Presbyterian, Hindu (from the 1950s) and Catholic. Up to independence in 1962, there were several Christian churches and places of worship for Hindus and Muslims, although there were no formal mosques or mandirs. One could hardly grow up in a village like that, with such a mix of races, religions and cultures, and not emerge appreciative of the universality of humankind.

Baykay’s passing gave living testimony to the harmony we enjoyed in an era that now seems to be a distant memory. Men and women of different ethnicities, now living far from Freeport, turned up at the wake, the funeral service, or at the family house days later to pay their respects. As I watch this passing parade—my mother, who grew up in Freeport like Baykay, passed on last March, and Miss Baiju (really Mrs Rambaran), went before her at age ninety-something—I wonder about the changed environs they were leaving behind.

A few months ago, some heartless, mindless bandit-cum-murderer attacked Mr Gangabissoon and his wife, both of them Freeport elders of that era. As we, the succeeding generation, gathered and talked at Baykay’s wake and funeral, the changing face of Freeport came up for discussion. The consensus was that the cradle of our civilisation had changed, and not for better. Still, we have a duty to persevere, to promote, against whatever odds, the values, the harmony, the love these elders hammered into us. It’s the best tribute we can pay to them.

7 thoughts on “Memories of another era”

  1. thanks so much Raffique it is such a pleasure to go down memory road sometimes.Most people in their forties and over can relate to these facts, how wonderfful it was back then.Although some people choose to go down that “race” line they were far and few often times nobody would pay them any attention, so as meh mother would say ‘if ya cyah beat them ya better join them”.Look, i refuse to believe t&t is as divided as the powers that be try to make the public believe,i see them all still feteing ,winning and liming,cooking togather.What i find ironic is, it dont have one ,not one, or maybe be very few families in t&t not mix so how d hell they could divide deyself? i for one is very happy and please with the both sides of my family and friends, no time for all dat stupidness, life to short.My beautiful people of t&t,please stop all that killing and crime,take a little time to reach out and touch sombody with kindness, form groups in your neighboorhood, encourage the young parents to bring out their children to play cricket on a sunday evening, little concerts and things like that.Get to know these young children,show them respect,teach them how to resolve issues with out killing each other ,children learn what they see.Please doh wait for ‘d govement’.The life you save today might be your very own ..get involve ,we may not be able to go back to the good old days but if we try we could come pretty close…. BM boston trini ….

    Changes we can believe in huh? Tell me this is a sick old joke folks? First there was some curfew ,that targeted one segment of the population, now / opaque ,false promises ,to allegedly protect ,another special minority section. What next, uncle jack, SOS to European/ American , Tourist , to entice them to come to Tobago, de Labre Pitch lake , and Caroni Bird Sanctuary, since Carnival tourism ,is obviously non sustainable?
    In de mean time , who would protect folks from ‘Kinky head Nation,’ and ‘their land of de Ganges / Taj Mahal,’ cousins – majority ,of which have daily felt the brunt of Trini rising criminality?,163383.html

    Some say the economically depraved/socially neglected, politically inconsequential, lower caste ‘chickens, are finally coming home to roost,’ yes? Let’s say no to pandering in T&T, hummm? We wish all our people well, irrespective of their place of origins!

  3. You See Raffique..Whenever somebody try to Reminisce with the past, some Johnny come lately would always interrupt with their sarcastic undertones.
    Why? is because they never knew about the “Old Time Days” some of them were Computer generated, made as Robots! Yes! Whenever someone is talking about the Old Time Ways, Mr, Nuisance and the Deprave would intervene.
    Bailing for fish, Climbing Coconut Trees, Picking Chennette, Guava Jam, Pitching Marble, Spinning Top, Hop Scotch, Morals, Touch and Don’t Tell. Some Folks never knew about these days!
    I guess they are not Trini’s to the Bone? You see! Many people came here, never knowing these times.
    I remember walking the streets, If you came across an Elder without paying Him, or Her respect, You Parents got the message just like Text Messaging, now, when You reach home is Worries, because Pa Pa and Ma Ma, already know what you did.
    You see, outside influence and them modern movies destroyed a lot of things- Morals, Spiritual values, Respect, and Brotherly Love. Yep! these Alien Hardcore Atheist and Satanist ain’t give a dam about who you are, or what is your values. I remember the days without Electricity, Pipe Born water, and TV.
    Some folks would say ” with the introduction of the TV, Conversation, and family relation became stalled and destroyed. Tv was used to bring on foreign values and ideologies right in you living room, it destroyed everything :sacred and respectful.
    Fulling water by the Pipe, Cutting Sugarcane, Flying Kite, Planting the Garden, Skipping with a rope, Lee Paying the dirt house, Molding Corn and Peas.
    Cooking by the Fireside, Chulhar, Dry wood, Making Broom from coconut branches.Mending the Fish Net. How many today know about these times? Book Sense, but Common Sense Dottish…

  4. Hi Raff, as a Trini from Point Fortin, I can relate to those good old days. Of those days, we can say “it takes a village to raise a child” Today everything turn ole mas.Honesty, respect, courtesy, etc, are strange words to the younger generation.
    God help T&T

  5. Hello Raffique, as usual, a great story. Like you I remember those days very well. The familial oneness communities such as ours of yesteryear is without a doubt need to be remembered and cherish because, it made many of us successful men and women of today. As for me I can still hear the tall tales, smell the smoke from the fireside, churning the ice cream pail with the hope that you will get the first large cup, or tasting the simple but healthy food that was cooked over an open flame all of which serves to make us strong and values the contribution of all of our elders.

  6. I well remember the Freeport you came from! I spent many happy hours at my mother’s family–the Mulchansinghs of Freeport Mission road.In my youth I frequently saw Norman McLeod walking up and down the road in short pants and barefoot. It was a strange sight to see a white man in those days dressed worst than we poor folk.He visited my Grandfather , Eziekel often, and gave my Aunt Laura a coral and pearl stickpin when she was leaving to study law in England. It’s still in the family!

    I really appreciate your rememberances of your time in Freeport. Sincerely,Heather.

  7. Rafique, ‘Just heard from Trini site virtualmuseum oftrinidadandtobago that the Mcleod house in Chase Village was demolished. Please write a piece on this. Angelo Bissessarsingh who runs the site has wonderful photos, and there has been an outpouring of response to this houses passing on his webpage. Check it out! Thanks, Heather Laltoo Ferguson.

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