By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 25, 2012
Dr. Bhoe Tewarie is an academic; so am I. Dr. Tewarie is a Hindu; I am an Orisa, sometimes Anglican. Dr. Tewarie is Tapir/NAR/PP; I have always been a member of the PNM. Dr. Tewaire has been principal of UWI/ Arthur Lock Jack/ Minister of Planning and Economics; I am a professor, researcher and writer of books. Dr. Tewarie is busy planning our 50th anniversary celebrations; I am at the British National Archive researching the first fifty years of our nation’s history (1800-1850). As nationals, there cannot be a starker dichotomy of two lives.
A few months ago, Dr. Tewarie announced his plans for the celebrations. Several people, most of them Black and PNM, have complained that Dr. Williams’ presence is mostly absent in the celebration’s activities. At best, it is underplayed. For some months Jennifer Baptiste has been complaining about this omission.
When these complaints were brought to Dr. Tewarie’s attention he opined: “Government can’t build the country’s 50th anniversary celebration around the figure of Dr. Eric Williams, notwithstanding the fact that he is [the news report used the helping verb ‘was’] considered the father of the nation…he has his place; he has his role. The Hon. Prime Minister acknowledged him and others fully in her statement at Queen’s Hall.”
The first response to this statement is to get angry and shout racism. Dr. Tewarie counterpoints that it was PNM MPs who are divisive (and I suspect racist) when they did not attend the opening of the government’s celebration at Queen’s Hall which proves the PP government and its supporters are the patriots; PNM and black people are non-patriotic and anti-Trinidad and Tobago.
Part of the problem has to do with what I will call a trajectory of vision or a way of seeing. My first encounter with politics, took place in 1950 (I was only seven years old) when Mc Donald Stanley, a chief lieutenant of Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler, fought Badhase Sagan Maraj, the leader of the Maha Sabha and father in law of Sat Maharaj. Stanley lost and Maraj won.
I am not sure if Stanley ever became a member of the PNM (he probably remained a Butlerite) but by 1956 Constantine became the standard bearer of the newly-formed PNM in Tunapuna defeating Surupat Matura of the newly-formed People’s Democratic Party by 169 votes. My boyhood-friend Michael Kangalee and I took sides during that election: I supported the PNM; he supported the PDP. Some years later, he went off to Canada to study; I went to the United States to do the same thing.
In spite of Dr. Tewarie’s rhetoric, our political and ideological paths were set and certainly colored for the next fifty five years thereafter. In those early years, most of my education, academic and political, came from the minds of Eric Williams, C. L. R. James, Constantine, Winston Mahabir, Gerard Montano and other PNM luminaries. I cannot vouch for it, but I am almost positive Dr. Tewarie’s political and ideological education came from men such as Badase Maraj, Dr. Rudranath Capildeo, Simboonath Capildeo, Lionel Sekeuran and others.
I do not offer this dichotomy to suggest that one trajectory is necessarily better than the other but to affirm that they were different. Each shaped our ways of seeing and framing the reality of our world. To someone like me, and I am sure many other members of the PNM, Dr. Williams remains an absolute genius who freed the society from colonialism and led us into independence.
There were bit players, but Dr. Williams looms central in our imagination as the absolutely dominant figure in the transition from colonialism to independence and the singularly most important person responsible for keeping the ship of the nation aright during the last turbulent 50 years.
Again, I may be incorrect, but for Bhoe Tewarie and most of his PP members, pride of place during our first fifty years of independence go to Badase Maraj, Rudranath Capildeo and others who they saw as playing a restraining role on Dr. Williams’ dictatorial tendencies. After all, he even referred to the Indians as a “recalcitrant minority” and called their Hindu schools “cowsheds.” After fifty years, such assertions remain deeply embedded in their collective psyche leaving searing traces of regret and distaste.
When Dr. Tewarie and I view the same record over fifty years (after all, facts remain facts) we see different things. He sees a tyrant, perhaps a maniac, when I see a shining patriot to be honored and revered. However, it seems contradictory when he claims, in the same breath, that Dr. Williams “is the father of the nation” but an equal player like all others, who has his “place and his role” in our history. This formulation does not work for me.
In 1824, when Jean Baptiste Philippe, one of our earliest patriots, was pleading with the British Government to honor the place of the coloreds in our society (he called himself a “Free Mulatto’) he averred: “If lions could paint, in the rooms of those pictures which exhibit men vanquishing lions, we should see lions feeding upon men.”
Any reflective person of the nation’s politics (and yes Dr. Tewarie, it is always political) can see that the lions, metaphorically speaking, are now doing the painting and sure like hill they are re-arranging the nation’s mental furniture to suit their understanding and that, my friend, is reflective of a deeply ideological regime at work.
Rather than become angry at Dr. Tewarie and the PP for their deep ideological reformation of the society’s memories let us understand that the misnomers about the Ganges meeting the Nile and “all ah we is one” are just that: fictions that are meant to soothe our tribal suspicions.
In a way, it comes down to our different ways of seeing but our historians can help us in this regard. As Nicholas Draper affirms, the historian’s function is “to re-establish the relationship between past and present and in doing so to constrain memory within the discipline of history.”
I hope that our historians are equal to this charge.