Brotherhood that Transcends Race

By Raffique Shah
April 27, 2014

Raffique ShahAs we grapple with divisive elements in the society that seem to thrive on fomenting mistrust between our two main ethnic groups, I take comfort in the fact that for the vast majority of our people, especially the young, racialism and racism have little space in Trinidad and Tobago.

To clarify my interpretation of these two terms, I see racialism as an identifiable divide between people of different races that extends beyond their inherent cultural differences. It enters into the realm of politics, for example, whereby parties rely on the tribes for their support, which has long been a reality here.

Racialism can also lead to segregation, which is hardly the case in this country. Racism denotes a sense of superiority in which people of one race believe they are superior to another. It manifests itself in seemingly innocuous presumptions from colour of skin and religious beliefs to assumptions on education and entrepreneurial abilities.

Racism exists here, mainly among the elites in society, the whites, reds, high-browns and even blacks who are most uncomfortable in their skins. Thankfully, racists are in the extreme minority and do not pose a threat to our stability.

For the vast majority of us who see ourselves as Trinidadians and Tobagonians first, and Indians or Africans or Chinese afterwards, we live in hope that someday before we exit to the hereafter, our people would learn to live in harmony, that the words of our anthem, here every creed and race finds an equal place, are not hollow.

As I dream on, and yes, even old geezers are entitled to dream, I reflect on one group of patriots that has lived this dream for close to 50 years. They belong to a brotherhood that was born in one of the few institutions in which race means little or nothing, the military. In the army, what matters most about the soldier in whose hands you would willingly put your life, is that he is competent and trustworthy.

This group of men, all now in their sixties, went beyond that boundary when they were very young, around ages 20 to 24. In the interest of what they fervently believed was better for their people and country, they rebelled against authority and ineptitude. They put their lives on the line, quite literally, and showed a degree of courage that is uncommon in a country where it is easy to talk the talk.

Oh, they paid a heavy price for their boldness: jail, trials, careers cut down, ostracism and worse. But they never surrendered their beliefs, never regretted what they had done, never compromised the courage of their convictions. They always held their heads high, walked tall like dragons.

Today, as I write, these men are spending a weekend together in Mayaro at their twenty-fifth or so annual reunion camp, the longest running such activity for any brotherhood coming out of the local Regiment.

The perfect mix of races and cultures—Africans, Indians, Chinese and in-betweens—they greet each other with bear hugs, laugh loudly, engage in banter and do many of the things they did when they were young. Having embraced a few brothers who were not in the military but who, in 1970, stood in common cause, these men can teach the country a lesson in togetherness and racial harmony.

The designated cooks prepare meals that are neutral, catering for every religious persuasion, offending none. The men literally share meals, drinks, sleeping spaces, chores. It being the one time each year that they will be together for seventy-two hours, and given their advancing years, they discuss health issues, family concerns, and commit to render assistance to each other where necessary.

They never forget their brothers who have passed on, from the few who died very young to others who recently departed. Invariably, they remain in touch with the families. And as a mark of respect, they sound the Last Post at the appropriate hour in memory of the fallen.

Members of the brotherhood who live abroad or who reside locally but are unable to attend the camp, telephone to register their presence and keep that all-important link alive. Also, other soldiers who served at the time and who were in solidarity with the rebels, spend a night in camp. And interestingly, some of those who came afterwards, but who respect the brothers, visit on the “open day”, the Sunday.

Indeed, several officers and non-commissioned officers who held high rank lone after 1970 have also visited and fraternised.

While the reunion necessarily has a military flavour, it is the bonding and the blending of the races that intrigues the outsider. To see men who were bred and born in districts like Laventille in an era when Indian religions and cultures were not widely understood, share an enduring bond with their brethren from Caroni and Penal, and vice versa, is like looking at a dream painted on the canvas of Mayaro that typifies what Trinidad and Tobago should be.

I feel proud to have been part of this brotherhood for what seems like forever, and honoured to have played a pivotal role in keeping it alive. I salute you, my friends.

14 thoughts on “Brotherhood that Transcends Race”

  1. Let me congratulate you and the brotherhood on your 25th anniversary. I am impressed by what I read about this group. I hope that the contents of your blog my will influence T&T society. You all can be catalyst for a better T&T.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Racism exist but not by any strong measure in Trinidad. I have friends of different ethnicities and we get along fine. Recently I attend two Guyanese funeral they were both Afro-Guyanese. There was not one Indian present at the funeral. The wedge created by Burnham and the wounds were so deep that even ordinary friendship amongst the two ethnicities in Guyana is strained. They don’t hate each other is just that the level of trust do not exist. And friendship is built on trust. Burnham took their lands and allowed gangs to enter their homes to rape, kill, steal and destroy. So traumatic was the experience that to this day the scars remain. I met a young Guyanese builder, he showed me the wounds in his hands when Burham mobs came and shot his mom and dad. His mom used her body to protect him, he grew up with his grandmother. He was not bitter, he said he felt sorry for those people.

    It is up to all of us to maintain the peace, camaraderie and social equilibrium. As Martin Luther King once said “judge not a man by the color of his skin but by the content of his character”. Gandhi and King teaching on none violence change the world and should be part of the school carriculum. Every year in January I sit and watch the Gandhi movie, it is a good reminder to me how to deal with the oppressors.

  3. “I take comfort in the fact that for the vast majority of our people, especially the young, racialism and racism have little space in Trinidad and Tobago” (RAFF)

    So true. This is truly a heart warming article.
    Sometimes our view of T&T is skewed by the negative blogs, but here we are reminded that as a nation we are doing quite well in terms of race relations.



    Speaking about Brotherhood, it’s been a rough few months ,for members of varying brotherhoods globally.Look what that American/Israeli supported ,military regime in Egypt , just did , in their quest put to put a final nail in the symbolic coffin, of the Muslim Brotherhood. I wish them luck, as we can quicker walk across from Toco ,to Crown Point , that they stop Islam from being a factor in that part of the world.
    We have our Trini Islamist Brothers ,still languishing in the late Chavez prisons, as terrorism investigation, and prospective trials , move along speedily.
    Just where is Brother Winston Dookeran, when it comes to our Muslim Brothers, some are asking?
    Well, a Zoo York birdie , did claim to see him nodding away , during some important UN, GA debate, on ,’me think ,’Palestine Statehood,and on his lap was a boorish , condescending book, called Among The Believers , by Euro-Chagurnas Nobelist , in Brother, Sir Naipaul. It figures.
    My heart sometimes bleed for my former Brothers , and Sisters in Blue & Grey though . Can’t really say I envy them however.
    Criminals, and even politicians,still keep treating them like inconsequential booboolees, and what a tragedy!
    First I heard criminals from the East /West corridor environs , where taking pot shot at them , with expensive Glocks, Smith and Wessons,Tech9,& Israeli made Uzis.In the meantime ,they cannot get their long awaited Flying Squad Unit clicking again, since some obvious, PNM stooge, went and leak it’s existence to an un patriotic ,ambitious Senator,thus making Jack Warner, AG Rammy, his PM , and COP Williams,all look like liars, in the process.
    Oh, by the way, thanks Brother Ramesh Lawrence , for coming to the aid , of our perennial acting Police Chief. The audacity, of an AG ,to tell the Police , what matters,to investigate , or not to. Don’t he Rammy -some wish to know -have extradition papers file,or is it briefs, to submit, so as to extradite Ish , and Steve , the UNC , financial ,high rollers, and Brother Basdeo close pals?
    Oh, what’s that Brother Mamnoo, the only extradition briefs, your AG Rammy was working on , was to get that crooked, Woman Police , who defrauded our Police Service of over $400 Thousand Grand, and she smelled the rat while in England, or maybe America,and decided to return home,voluntarily.
    Rumor has it , that she is squealing like a Tom cat in heat, or is it a canary, and the info might result in half the Police Finance Branch , including big fishes ,retiring , or going to jail.
    Is that more sweet news , for the eager ears, of the tribe , since it can translate to more state jobs, and less need for unexplained purges ?Great, so everyone wins, except this female police crook. I hate corrupt folks!
    Love me some T&T people, just like Uncle Shah, Mamboo,T Man, and most importantly, Dr Goopiesing.
    Just imagine , Privy Council or not, if we had say a Muhamad Zia -ul Haq, as President T&T, like they did in Islamist State Pakistan , back in the days.See how he disposed his benefactor Buttho. Well we saw how they got rid of him , Russians , CIA ,or angry Shia Islamist, we would never know.

    Suppose we had one of those mad men generals like Nigerias General Buhari, or Ibrahim Babandinga ,to contend with, think our Uncle Shah, and Brothers, would be here today to celebrate?
    No saree, we had Dr. Eric Williams, not Forbes Burnham. You see how he handled Dr Walter Rodney, didn’t you?
    Nope, we had a pro democracy leader, not General Pinochet , Papa Doc , or Baby Doc.
    Neyet, this Doc ain’t have a vindictive, revengeful bone in his entire body.
    That might be a Basdeo Panday maybe.The man cannot even forgive a dead man , who he firmly believe , slighted him decades ago.
    Think he forgave,’ Her Majesstrick Queen K,’ T-Man? She slighted him as well, did she not?
    Rumor has it , that the only way he can sit in rhe Presidential Palace , is if Mekala -Benizzia-Indeira -Buttho/Ghandhi, becomes PM of T&T .
    Translation-all roads , to the PM residence goes though Auntie K.
    What a beautiful country we have here ,where Brotherhood, and even Sisterhood prevail, as we speak!
    As for Postracialism? Well, we never really had a racial problem , the guys wisely stated , and I would agree, taking into consideration , our ever expanding Dougla , swing vote Population, hmmmmm?

    1. Within the past two/three years I have read some of your comments;and without malice may I sincerely propose; that you seriously compete for public office.

  5. @TMAN That you can write that with a straight face is testament to where you fit in his categorization. I doubt of Raffique Shah and his brothers would consider one them boasting that their ethnic group was doing better than another’s ethnic group as a tenet in their brotherhood relationship. It would appear that prejudice trait has become so imbedded in your psyche that you can see some relationship between the sombre and honest outpourings in this article, and your “awee pon tap” rantings in this blog.

    The minute I heard the comments of Don Sterling, the owner of the LA clippers whose comments are now the the talk of the media world, my mind immediately jumped to a couple of members of this blog. The comments and the earnest way in which he was making them, the skewed reality that allowed him him to believe what he was saying was ok, was not offensive because those he was referencing was less than people like him in terms of human value, mimicked the pattern followed by the two in question. Who knows, maybe there is some genetic connection between him and them.

    1. Pride in one’s ethnicity is not a crime or a negative trait. Pride in the successes of a group to which you belong is not racism. Working aggressively to improve one’s group is not negative but quite positive, especially when one considers the hardships experienced. Supporting one’s group and advocating for common causes to uplift one’s group is wholesome and productive.
      All of this can be accomplished without being prejudiced against others and without disadvantaging others.
      The sooner you learn these lessons the better off you will become.
      The problem with you , Rodwell is your failure to recognize your true enemies and adversaries. Does Don Sterling jolt your consciousness?

  6. petty,petty,PETTY!..Raffique Shah constantly reminds me of “that era” in T&T when people existed in a harmonious society.Children were very “respectful” of their peers as well as their “elders”. Regardless of ethnicity should a child “disrespect” an adult;that child’s parent/parents ensured that the posterior of their offspring;”was so hot that one can prepare on it a roti”

    “Gone are the days”….”where have all the flowers gone” sad,sad,SAD!

  7. Issues dealing with race and prejudice in Trinidad is always touchy and to some extent very subjective. I one is to read Mamoo’s blog about racial prejudice in Guyana, it is easy to come home with the feeling that in Guyana it was only practiced by Burnham. On the other hand there is not a shred of evidence that it has been abated since Jagan and consequential Indian administrations. TMan takes pride in lauding the conquests of Indian entrepreneurs, scholars and professionals but when he takes an opportunity to post a link about black or Africans it is always something negative or dis reputable. The fact that there is not yet catastrophic disturbances is not due to any great Indian initiatives or African initiatives, it is just that the people of Trinidad know that using race as the bogeyman for the sake of unrest will cause destruction to both races. When the victim is Indian, the relatives might be African too, similarly when the victim is African it might also involve Indian relatives. It is not a straight case of violence against two distinctly different ethnicities. The people have learned how to survive and talk to each other for most of the two centuries past. The problem is the politicians who continuously use it as wedge issues because those who do cannot count on their character to bring them through. So, it is necessary to tout their own horns so that they can gain their support at election time. To those who mentioned Don Sterling, he might continue to be a rich man who might be able to have all the girlfriends he wants but I’m sure he will never be a happy man. As for Raffique Shah, he may not quite remember me now but I do know him very well as young military men and most soldiers never dealt with him as the ‘Indian officer’, he always deported himself as an army officer and his subordinates treated him that way hence he can afford to write without contradiction that he enjoyed ‘brotherhood’ as a young man and continues to do so till this age. Well done Raff.

  8. Well said Kian.Race analysis can be touchy in T&T, for as we can all agree with Nelo Kiasonian , Lord Nelson,”All ah we , ah one family!”
    What’s that , I should in the words of my late, ,extremely Wise, Tobago Granny,’ hold my horses, ‘since that depiction, is only applicable to neglected Tobago?
    Point taken.
    Yes siree,Racism is an alien concept here , especially , since 2010, when the PP regime, burst on the scene, ennt Dr Goopiesing? No more talks of “ethnic cleansing,” hmmm?
    Hey , for the record, this is the ever so subtle , Bro Kian ,I came to appreciate, over time. Speaking of which,I just hope our Uncle Shah, recognize, that you were being-as we say in de streets – ‘facetious,’ with your over the top high praises, in that last paragraph, for you of all folks know , and I reiterate – his survival ,to this advance stage in life , was solely due to the actions of one man, and not old white, conniving, Privy Council law lords, or such foolishness.
    Tell you what, the Last time I checked,there were 195 official Countries ,in our UN Brotherhood of nations.
    Trust me when I say ,that both him , and Comrade Rex Lassale , were very fortunate, to be born in T&T, and not any of the others, as the script could have been different indeed.
    Ummmmm,10 bullets each in the back of the head , from a executioners rifles,and off to a no name grave , thank you very much, Mama Britannia, and your Sandhurst Coup School.
    As a matter of fact, I would say the same , for the former /Football Goalkeeper/Horse Police, turn Canadian trained Islamist,Lennox Phillip ,aka Yasin Abu Bakr.
    Can you imagine, if he ,or his goons , had pulled the stunt they did in 1990,and the then PM was not ,’Ah we bouy Robbie,’ but say ,a Trinidad born, Basdeo Panday, Patrick Manning , or heavens forbid, our dear Auntie K?
    Think this criminal ,would have been able to make 15 more kids , with his 4 other wives , because the Privy Council, gave him a pass?
    Don’t answer, for as we say in the streets-a rhetorical question.

    Hey Kian , I wonder if some of the anti crime folks ,with limited understanding of what real security entails ,know that Gangs , as so common today in T&T,are just another way, that some people-especially, poor, disenfranchised youths, are striving, to establish their own bonding units, and empowerment order, in much the same way to social clubs, such as military , or educational fraternities , do?

  9. Tell you what Neal, when I speak I do so with some knowledge of history behind my words. I happen to live through that history personally. At Independence time, the powers that be made many foolish decisions. Among the decisions made were the pre-determination of a time-table for the expatriates to leave these shores based on a certain date or dates that did not necessarily coincide with accomplishments. It was a kind of “is we time now” that people were rushed to put in holes that they did not necessarily fit. They were filling the spots of career people ( even though we thought that they overstayed their time). While it is cliche to criticize our colonial masters for the way they treated us, we also did not do our home work in terms attaining the reins of government with the same commitment and thoroughness that the colonial exercised when he was in charge. I remember that every street in Port Of Spain were cleaned every single day. In the furthest part of the country district every drain was cleaned and sprayed in order to avoid disease and blockage. From the moment we “gained” independence, that stopped immediately. From the military standpoint, we had a pack of misfit uniformed officers in command positions taking over from well-trained colonial officers and changed the course of the military that layed the groundwork for the 1970 uprising. That was as much military and it was social in origin. Officers who did not have a clue because their eyes and ears were not on the ground. It is what also layer the ground work for the pack of clowns who now occupy the highest office of the lands and see themselves as the “Rajahs” in command, why? because those who came before them “did it too”. So today, they are “doing it” because “is we time now”. That is how that that mentality evolved, only this time it has destroyed every functioning arm of government and we are left wondering “what did we do?” We see ‘history’ as an academic subject that we study in school, get grades for it then forgot what it was meant for. The next government in waiting better look at our history, study it well and they will find that there are a multitude of lessons that are to be learned and will fare us well in understanding it if we are to be successful going forward.

  10. Mr. Shah has written an interesting article here, with some poignant points to ponder.

    Mr. Shah’s reference to the “divisive elements” striving to maintain an atmosphere of racial discord and division in our small, twin island republic is indeed a thought-provoking one. There are certainly political opportunists for whom keeping the ethnic masses in a state of rancourous opposition is expedient to their unsavoury agendas.

    With that said, there is a change in the normal ebb and flow of the ethnic tide, as Jack Warner’s victory in the Chaguanas West election last July demonstrated. It was gratifying to see the nonplussed and bewildered countenances of political pundits and PP officials as they struggled to digest the reality that, for once, the predominantly Indo-Trini electorate did not vote solely based on race. Now, whether this electorate made a wise choice putting in an official of FIFA scandal fame is another story altogether and another topic for a different day.

    The one encouraging sign for me, especiallly behind enemy lines here in the good ole’ USA, is that the Chaguanas West result, depending on one’s assessment of Mr. Warner, proved to the PP and UNC hierarchy is that it can no longer take its traditional strongholds for granted. This for me is a step in the right direction.

    As for the camaraderie experienced amongst Raffique Shah and his comrades, I am not surprised, as I have always observed this trait in Trinidadians and Tobagonians and would hope that they spurn the machinations of the disruptive forces within the Trinidadian and Tobagonian political hierarchy.

  11. Hey Triniamerican , the frigid Chicago , or Ohio weather , must be affecting your sense of logic, if you think ,it was such a big leap ,for Chagurnas to vote for Jack Warner, when he singlehandedly, made the UNC relevant, both with his dollars , and eventually ,getting a female Hindustani leader ,the top job as PM.
    Yeah, let’s all chant Kumbaya , until the results of the next General elections , are tallied .
    I hope the looser , aren’t sore,enough to cry ethnic cleansing , gerrymandering, and whatever nonsense, they can conjure up again, as their fans / supporters , suddenly evolve into , persecuted refugees.
    Sometimes I wonder, how we can ever progress as a nation, when one ‘significant -unmentionable-segment of our society,’repeatedly, choose to fall in love with their country,but only when things go in their favor?

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