Colonial to their garments

By Raffique Shah
September 22, 2013

Raffique ShahRepublic Day in 1976—Friday, September 24th—remains etched in my memory, a vignette in my colourful life during which I often collided with history. On that day, age 30, I entered Parliament as a frontline member of the ULF, having been elected to represent the Siparia constituency. I had never been in that chamber before. In fact, I do not recall ever entering the Red House before, but when I did, I made as bold an anti-colonial statement as anyone could.

I wore a khaki shirt-jac suit, short sleeves complete with epaulettes, and on my feet I wore my old army combat boots, highly polished, I should add. I was not the only MP dressed in this unconventional way. All eight of my male ULF colleagues, among them Basdeo Panday, Errol McLeod and Nizam Mohammed, as well as Senators George Weekes, Joe Young, George Sammy, Allan Alexander and Lennox Pierre, were similarly attired (except for the boots).

You see, since many of us had been architects of or participants in the 1970 revolution, we had decided to do something to de-colonise Parliament by not conforming with the norms that saw a be-wigged and be-robed Speaker preside over be-suited members. We had gone to break down the walls of Westminster, from the garments to its substance.

I, more than the others, could not accept that 14 years after independence, six years after the events of 1970, and in a supposedly new era of republicanism, we who represented the masses would continue, slavishly, to copy what Massa left us.

When you are young and brash, you could be very foolish, eh.

Although inside the Parliament and most state institutions whites still wore woollen suits (tropical suiting textiles were available by the 1960s), outside, in the hot and often humid environment, they had long worn short pants and short-sleeve shirts on the plantations and oilfields. For me, growing up as a child on the Brechin Castle sugar estate, my recollection of the white man remains what I described here, except with tall socks and a cork hat, sitting astride a horse.

For many descendants of slaves and indentured immigrants, the cork hat came to symbolise colonialism. So how then could Sir Solomon Hochoy, post-independence Governor-General, sit astride a horse dressed in full colonial regalia, topped off by a colourful cork hat, plumes et al?

He did, too, and he seemed to revel in those garments. He wore them on every ceremonial occasion, including the Independence Day parade. It was only when Sir Ellis Clarke assumed that office, and maybe because he confessed that he “did not ride a horse” that we saw an end to that relic of colonialism.

I could not make sense of how and why Trinidadians (and other colonised people) willingly, even eagerly, accepted and adopted a mode of dress that was designed for temperate and colder climes. I bought my first tie and long-sleeved shirt in early 1963 when, after passing exams, I went job-hunting. And from the first day I found those garments unbearably hot and uncomfortable. Fortunately for me, the principal of the school where I eventually taught for just over a year, did not demand that I wear a tie, a common practice at the time.

When I attended Sandhurst, I lived in uniforms and suits, understandably and necessarily so, what with the cold conditions and the pedigree of that institution. But upon returning home, I reverted to what I thought were comfortable garments.

At Teteron, an early clash between the junior officers and our seniors was over the dress code. They demanded that we wear ties in the dining room. We resisted, refused, and that was that: we had our way.

Let me quote from a book (Lengthening Shadows, 1982) written by the only white English officer who remained in the Regiment after 1964. Major Stewart Hylton Edwards wrote, “…It was quite incredible to me how little intelligent thought was given in those days by the Afro-Saxons (he forgot the Indo-Saxons and French Creoles) to inherited habits and practices.

“…Suits being worn for cocktail parties and dinners (in a temperature of 90 degrees F!) and ties and long-sleeved shirts essential for most office jobs….”

Major Edwards was British to the bone. But he was also a very practical man (off-duty, he wore short-sleeved shirts and slacks), and saw the folly of natives of this country adopting garments and practices that were completely out of synch with our climate and culture. Wearing a suit in the sun is like being in a mobile sauna!

It was in that context that I thought I would rock the status quo on Republic Day. How wrong I was. And how very stupid. Not only did PNM members stay with suits through the decades, but shortly after we broke ranks, Panday and others reverted to jacket-and-tie. Many of my one-time comrades from the revolutionary 1970s have followed suit.

Eminence in the society, 50 years after independence, is defined by suit, not substance.

4 Responses to “Colonial to their garments”


  • Funny Business !!! Yep you can’t go wrong on this article: The effect of the Jacket and Tie Affair, imagine going to Church with a plain Shirt and Pants. People looking at you as an out cast.
    Some say you cannot go on the Pulpit without a Jacket and Tie. What about those Millions of People in African Countries, Chinese, Indian Continent, other Cultures that don’t know about this dress code?
    Now they telling People in America’s and the Caribbean-” You have to get your Jacket and Tie if you want to meet God and go to Heaven.This tradition has eaten up the US, moving around with another dress code has all eyes on you.!
    But let us not forget who’s Culture is this Jacket and Tie affair is.Indo Trini’s, Afro Trini’s has been duped into this tradition as Fashion.
    In Indian Arrival day and Emancipation Day people come out with their Indigenous dress. But when these Holidays gone is back to Colonial Culture.
    Not only Fashion that have taken over, but this Western Diet, it killing people left right and center. When you looking like you are in the Fast Lane, You have to also Eat in the Fast Lane…Live Fast, Eat Fast and Die Young…we moving on!!!

  • We kept and made regular usage and ignorance of the masters’ languages, popular world wide so why not their garments as well.

  • You see, this is so vain in Comprehension…This same reasoning saying they are the one’s who give us God. but a good look at society at large, one would see that that this same Colonialism FAIL the WORLD in Morals and Spiritual Values.
    Violence and Props controls the Day.
    Moral less, Spiritual less, are the Colonialist. Materialist and Materialism, same as Atheist and Communism…boy we need Help…!!!

  • “Lead attorney for the Barbados government Roger Forde QC, suggested that the ruling now gave Caricom nationals the power to, “just walk into each other’s country, like in the European Community.”

    http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,184557.html

    On a more serious issue , ain’t it nice, that our CCJ can stand up against the Bajan upstarts , and show them what Caribbean integration really entails? Just maybe the much maligned CCJ , can get some LOVE , from Queen KAMLA , and her PP bunch . For the record, it ain’t only drug pedaling, low end prostitute Jamaican/ Yardees , that are trying to make Little England / Barbados ,their home. It our T&T cousins living in Guyana. The Bajan have been watching them with keen interest,as they claim that they want nada of the socio – political foolishness, that pass for daily life in T&T /Guyana , to finally dominate their national psyche . e wish them well.
    Sorry Uncle Shah, but if the CCJ ,and not the anachronistic Privy Council was in play, you and cuz Rex Lassal , would be dead ,and buried in some no named grave , via execution with a bullet in the back of the head , for you allzs political malfeasance back in the 70’s , si? Just when would Trinis give African folks the credit they deserve.
    They are not , as claimed by a conniving , ungrateful few, simply a bundle of uncaring , self serving ,neo tribal , uncouth savages , for by saving Uncle Shah from a hangman noose , or lethal injection- as would have certainly taken place in 99.9 % of the countries across the glob- we got to benefit from Uncle Shah.First off , I adopted a full Vegan lifestyle , because of Rex Lassale’s radio program back in the day.
    Secondly, de last time I checked,the Kamla led ,UNC dominant ,PP government ,that we know today, would never have evolved into a powerful force , if he did not get into bed with Basdeo, to help bolster the interest of Sugar /Rice paddy workers, which eventually turned into the ULF, and de rest as we say is history, ennnt?
    However , I digress . These Bajans drive me sick,and how about you? First they stole our Tobago Flying fish. Then tried to push bogus ploys to international courts , to steal our natural resources, now they are trying to dictate who they want to live in their country from the Black /and Brown sectors of the globe. In de interim , every child molesting Nazi from Germany to Bristol England , or Queenslands Australia , can call Barbados their home.For the record , since 1962 , more Bajans are living in my T&T , than all of Barbados – Go figure!

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