Living As Dogs, Part 1

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 06, 2016

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI am glad Brian MacFarlane has agreed to withhold a section of his 2017 presentation, “Cazabon-The Art of Living.” MacFarlane has argued that the Cazabon era, which he identified as the 1880s and 1890s, “was the most beautiful time—art was fabulous, fashion was glorious, and the architecture was amazing and full of such intricate details.” Two questions arise: “A beautiful time for whom?” and, “What was happening to Indo-Trinidadians during the Cazabon period?”

Michel Jean Cazabon was born in 1813 and died in 1888. His most prolific period as an artist spanned the late 1840s—when William Burnley and John Lamont commissioned him to paint several Trinidad scenes—to about 1862 when he brought out his “Views of Trinidad.” He left Trinidad in 1862 and went to Martinique. After he returned to Trinidad in 1870, his career began to fade.

It is true his “East Indian Group” and “East Indian Women,” painted around 1860, were exhibited at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London in 1886. Cabazon died two years later, but his reign, for all practical purposes, had ended. I am not too sure what glory MacFarlane wishes to depict.

MacFarlane promises to include in his portrayal “elements of his country’s East Indian indentured labor force” (Express, October 24). Another question arises: What aspects of the East Indian labor force does MacFarlane intend to portray?

Part of my problem with the cursory, uninformed examination some of our artists and scholars offer about Indo-Trinidadians is that it fails to take into consideration the tremendous sufferings the latter underwent in this country. Much of their pain is erased, which leads many commentators to flatten their experience and make gratuitous generalizations about our historical and cultural past. This is true for Indo- as well as Afro-Trinbagonians.

To complicate the narrative about “the East Indian labor force” that MacFarlane hopes to present, I offer an aspect of the Indo-Trinidadian experience that occurred at the beginning of the Cazabon era. I hope MacFarlane includes it in his presentation.

The place is Point-a-Pierre; the plantation is Carolina Estate; the story is told by Choonee, the Sirdar; the interpreter is a black man. This story is taken verbatim from a report Choonee made at Union Hall Police Station on September 6, 1847. The report reproduced below is dated May 1, 1848. I use the “C” word to retain the authenticity of the story. Since the story is long, I use the more poignant excerpts to sensitize Trinbagonians of the pain our Indo- brothers and sisters suffered during that early period of their stay in this island:

“I am a Sirdar of a gang of 20 Coolies of the Carolina estate. A Coolie of my gang named Been, about fifteen days before his death, became affected with giggers in his right foot. For sometime after being so affected, he died at his work, during which he got no permission from his manager [to leave the estate.]

“From the day when the sore became so extensive as to prevent his going to work, the manager stopped issuing all allowances of food to him, and he received no more food from the manager to the day of his death which occurred about a month ago [August 1847].

“During the whole period of his illness, neither doctor nor manager came to see him. I have no doubt in my mind but that Been died from neglect and want.

“I made a report of his death to Mr. Lack, the overseer of the estate, the manager Mr. King being absent. Mr. Lack ordered a coffin to be prepared for Been and he was then buried by his brethren.

“Mr. Jackson came to inquire about the cause of his death. During the course of Been’s illness I saw him frequently crying and complaining [emphasis in the original] of want and neglect, and that no doctor or other English gentleman cared about him.

“That he was brought to this country to be put to death, and if the Indian Company knew of the Coolie’s suffering they would send them back to their own country. The deceased Been had no family. There must be money due to him for services previous to his falling sick, and discontinuing to labor which the manager must have in his possession as I am sure the deceased Been never received it.

“I am sure of it because…Been sent me frequently to Mr. Lack for the pay that was due him in order to buy nourishment and food [emphasis in the original] but I was always told to go away and I would get it some other time which other time never came, and his wages are still due to his family.”

To be continued on November 20.

2 Responses to “Living As Dogs, Part 1”


  • Indentureship was still a massa/slave relationship. Yes the coolie was brought to work the sugar and paddy fields as the British observe his tenacity in the fields of Kolkota.

    The inhumanity along with lice, giggers and other tropical disease was a common occurrence but hardly ever recorded or spoken about. The slave had the slave driver but the indentured labourers had a driver also who would dress up wearing a “tall boots” and delivered a kick whenever a worker slow down. It was a continuously hostile work environment design to extract maximum Labour. Weather conditions did not matter as the scorching hot sun bared down at over 34 degrees Celsius, one can see the sweltering heat rising like a oven baking bread. Along with all of that there were scorpions, snakes and caimans all a threat to the worker. No, there was no sick days but work from 5:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m.no doubt hands were blistered through the continuous action. But that did not matter.

    There in fields of TNT they ate their food, sang their songs and their blood stained the grounds. A forgotten and despised lot who survived the greatest tragedies….a story untold.

  • Unlike you Mamboo, When I was in high School, Literature, was my favorite subject, so much so that I wanted to be a writer, just like our Doc here.
    “Me think ,” it was Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, that had me hooked .
    In particular ,The Cock and the Fox , in which – had it not been for quick thinking-the vain Rooster, Chanticleer, almost lost his life, to a sly fox ,who used flattery ,to lure the self absorbed , naive creature , into nearly becoming his meal.
    Well, one bad Poetry grade in a College elective class for me, ended that fantasy, as I decided to switch my major ,to two other inseparable loves ,namely , Political Science/ Sociology.
    Prior to College , I knew nada about Art, but again, a required Class elective , a passionate, and extremely knowledgeable Professor , and I became hooked. Enter stage right, Diego Valazquez, a much adored, 17th Century Spanish Painter , working in the Royal Court of King Phillip 1V.
    He gained some influence , and connection via marriage , and so painted the elites of the time , who recommended him to the King , and the latter , became so enamored by his work, that he decided, Diego , will be his lifetime artist , which meant , no more begging for pittance, due to this powerful benefactor.
    I know this conversation , is way over the head , of our Mamboo, since he unlike us both, only visited primary school, during the August holidays , when the gates were firmly locked, but you get where I am going with this Doc.

    http://www.diegovelazquez.org/

    Now speaking of flattery , ummmmmm, ‘MAMAGUY’-as we like to say on de streets-vs that keen sense of savvy advocacy , a la empathy , por la unfortunate , maligned , and insignificant,you often talk about Doc,this is what I loved about Valazquez.

    Not only did he paint a series of portraits ,that featured members of the royal family on horseback,amongst other features , that displayed them , in flattering light, but likewise , devoted time to painting the dwarves who served in King Philip’s court, taking care to depict them as complex, intelligent beings. Yep , he respectfully poked fun at the naive , ugly bastards , that made up the Royal Court, but treated the psychologically traumatized , disrespected Dwarves, with dignity.
    It is in this context one must view our local artistic hero, Michel Jean Cazabon Doc. The man had to put food on his table. If that meant saying , and showing his then benefactors , ‘everything Indian is beautiful’…. well you get my drift.
    Then again , the revisionism , that you lament , may be that of Brian Mc Farlen, and the La Trinity ,Fat cat benefactors , that enabled him, in his Masquerading, neo artistic escapades? No se.
    Remember Doc , in another context , when White folks went into Africa, and saw the naked bodies,especially of our Afro females, not only wasn’t he the same sexually, but yet , still in his own twisted way ,publicly look with derision at such , and refer to dem as savages.
    Fast forward to 2016, and you can visit , if dat is your thing , thousands of predominantly white, nudist colonies ,all across the globe, but sadly today, the always covered, and occasional naked female body, brings out the animal in males- be in Mumbai India,Islamabad Pakistan, Congo Africa, South Africa, London, Paris,Los Bajos Trinidad, or Arizona America- hence the escalation in rapes, si?
    Stay with me Doc, for as you know , there was a time , when the African slave woman , was considered beautiful, huh? Yep , when the White savage bastards , could repeatedly rape Kunta Kinte’s Wife , daughters, mother , aunts, nieces , and grand daughters willy nilly.

    http://www.blackcommentator.com/150/150_jeffersons_crime.html

    The day said female, became free, and these White mongrels , no longer had free opportunities , to do as pleased with their person, same became ugly.
    Sadly, the African Male ,brought into that false narrative, and instead view all females that looked like Hillary Clinton, and Obama’s Mama, as beautiful- irrespective, of how truly ugly ,… well, again, you get my drift.
    As for our ‘BROWN- sometimes BLACK ‘-Indo cousins? He has his own reasons ,as to why he view all his Bollywood Wannabe / heavily made up , non dark skin females, as beautiful. However, another story , for another occasion.
    Hey Doc, maybe Mamboo is correct- Indentureship, was just as destructive, as White Barbarian Slavery ,ehhhh? The scars are the same . What does Eric Williams, Norman Manley, Grantley Adams, Barrack Obama Snr, V.S Naipaul, and we can throw in Chedi Jagan , all have in common- even though their ancestors experiences , were different? Yep , a fascination for de White woman.
    Ok , I’ll eliminate the Jagan reference, since closet CIA Janet , and her ‘tribe ,’ only became White-in Dominant American eyes- … when again Doc?
    Where is our boy ,Yoruba Israelite when we need him folks?
    Well , he has to get time to vote in Queens Zoo York , for either The Donald, or Chitown , by way of Arkansas ,Carpetbagger in Chief Hillary- Tammy – Wynnete.
    Must admit Doc , you have been hitting dem balls ,out of the Park, Chicago Cubs style . Quite thought provoking pieces. Looking forward to part 2.
    Stay Vigilant people!

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