A reply to the Trinity Cross issue

The Issue of The Trinity, revisited By Linda E. Edwards

By Corey Gilkes
June 08, 2006

I have no doubt and am certain that Ms Edwards is correct in her assertions that certain elements within Trinidad’s Hindu and (perhaps less) the Muslim community are pushing a narrow agenda with regard to the re-naming of this nation’s highest award. This agenda, apparently, goes back quite a long time to the early days of the Federation when certain high-ranking elements in the Hindu community organised a petition to the colonial authorities in London in an attempt to delay the granting of the Federation fearing that their culture would be overwhelmed by a dominant Afri-Caribbean culture.

But let’s hold up a bit and ponder a few things; things that were (inadvertently?) pointed out by Ms Edwards herself.

She argues:

Trinidad and Tobago is a Christian country, in that Mosaic law, obtained from the Ten Commandments, is the basis of the laws of the land. All that pertain to man in the conduct of his affairs with his neighbour, except covetousness, is covered by Mosaic law. Covetousness as it leads to muggings, burglaries, adultery resulting in murder, are covered after the fact of outcome.”

“Mosaic law also dictates most of what Muslims do, but what was taught in the making of a Trinidadian, what the Golden Rule teaches, is based on Christian principles.”

“These were the principles, founded on four hundred and more years of Christianity on the island that we took into Independence.

Well, forgive me if I’m not impressed by this. In fact, for me, who no longer subscribes to or approves of any of the major religions, that is the real crux of the problem. The notion that Trinidad and Tobago is a ‘Christian’ country which, in reality (and fortunately), it is not. For me, a student and ‘teacher’ of the lessons of the history of this place, the fact that Trinidad and many other parts of the Caribbean is founded on Christian principles is no cause for romanticised reflections. That is why, for instance, I also didn’t think much of her flippant ‘Granted that under British and Spanish rule a whole lot of barbaric things were done in the name of God‘ It is as if these ‘barbaric things’ were little more than a hiccup or minor blot in the evolution of Trinidad and Caribbean societies.

Let’s get something very clear here; those ‘barbaric things’ are precisely what shaped and developed our political, social, intellectual and yes, religious outlook in the Caribbean. Those acts of barbarism gave us ‘doctor politics’, maximum leadership and our sense of almost unquestioned acceptance of expressions and abuses of power by politicians, priests, pastors, ordinary people in government and private businesses, the neighbour who plays loud music next door, etc. Slave societies and colonial states are ruled and kept in control by essentially one main thing, violence. Let’s get something else very clear; this country and the rest of the Americas were founded on Christian principles at the expense of all other principles using a sustained process of physical and psychological violence. The settlers, missionaries and soldiers who carved out an existence for themselves in this part of the world were guided by allegedly divine principles which saw the world, nature (especially nature) and people who did not belong to or share their religious views as the dangerously hostile Others. Contrary to what many like to delude themselves into believing, no religion, including Christianity, is devoid of their parent cultural context. Christianity deserves special mention and focus because from its very beginnings it has a signature of intolerance and bigotry towards other faiths, including alternative Christian ideas not in keeping with what became accepted doctrine in Rome (for political reasons and political reasons only). Roman-influenced Christianity has always defined itself in opposition to other faiths and treated them as mortal enemies or at the very least, with condescending accommodation largely because it no longer had the military clout to crush the ‘hostile’ Others.

It should be noted, by the way, that those ‘religious, Christian principles’ were themselves taken from more ancient pre-Christian principles of the African Nile Valley and the Indus and Tigris-Euphrates cultures. There irony here is that after having copied what they wanted the architects of early Christian doctrines and rituals turned on and suppressed these same ‘pagan’ faiths and structured scholarship to make it appear that these principles were Christian in their origin, emanated from the teachings of the Jesus Christ character of the New Testament when nothing like that at all took place. The very 10 Commandments Ms Edwards spoke about had ancient Egyptian roots over 4000 years before any Christianity or Mosaic Law existed.

That this country was founded on Christian principles simply means that the colonisers imposed their narrow middle-class and very prejudiced views of religion, class and non British peoples. Ms Edwards forgot to point out (or perhaps slipped that under the ‘barbaric acts’) that the British authorities spared no effort to make all colonised people conform to their ideas of government, schooling, family and family values and the principal institution that pushed these ideals was the Church. A perusal of historical documents by 18th and 19th century colonial administrators like Lord Harris and the many missionaries who infected here shows that they had no sympathy for or understanding of traditional African and Indian beliefs and neither did they want to. These were primitive, childlike superstitions from childlike people as far as they were concerned. There was no question of equality in religion; there was no automatic recognising of Hindu or Orisa beliefs, marriages, funerals and philosophies. Otherwise the spiritual leaders of both these faiths would have been permitted to conduct marriages and funerals long before.

The flip side of her argument that this country was founded, structured and shaped according to the Christian outlook is that to that end, any diverse views were routinely marginalised and not consulted in the framing of such things like national awards.

We must always keep this at the back of our minds when any discussion or question of religion or society in the Caribbean comes up.

It is this that most impacts on the minds of Sat and the rest of the Maha Sabha organisation as it also impacts on the minds of many other people like the Orisa faith and rightly so. Theirs is a history of being invisible and of being outcast and we can’t just sweep that away. It’s no use either to point out that we have been independent since 1962 and so the acts of the colonial administration are no longer relevant. Our own educated and political elite were almost to a man schooled and churched in Eurocentric institutions and in fact many studied in places like Oxford. Therefore, they could not help but see the world through the eyes of the coloniser as indeed, we do too. As such, they retained many of the laws, dress and prejudices “consciously and unconsciously” of the British and that is what this issue is really about.

When studying the debilitating effects of physical and psychological violence justified by race and class prejudice in the Caribbean, we have to move away from images of the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow and look at the contents of our secular laws and religious (read Christian) teachings. The physical and psychological violence of British rule instilled a profound state of fear, self-doubt and self-contempt and disempowerment which has been dealt with many time in other columns and writings so I find it real hard to fathom how is it people still believe that the same institutions that were constructed to enslave you can be used to realise your freedom. This issue of the renaming of the Trinity Cross and perhaps other national awards, is, or should be a golden opportunity for all of us to discuss the hidden wounds that have been allowed to fester and retard our growth as a nation. Let us use it well.

5 thoughts on “A reply to the Trinity Cross issue”

  1. Mr. Gilkes’ use or misuse of the term “Christian Principles” in his reply to my piece, misses an essential point of those principles. We are not a barbaric society- eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, because of them. There are other societies that claim to be Christian, which keep feuds going as running political battles for hundreds of years.(Northern Ireland for example, where even priests are partisan.) We have a forgive, forget, and “fire one” with they boys perception of the world that has been our blessing. I do not think this nature, among Afro-Trinis can be attributed to muslims or Hindus. It certainly does not apply in India, or in mainly muslim countries.

    Linda Edwards

    I have spoken enough on the evils of slavery, and its long term effects both on Africa, which was depleted, and on the African in the AMericas who was stripped of culture and left with a sense of anomie. To blame “doctor Politics” on Christianity in the west, is stretching it a bit thin, I think.After all, the model of Democracy really is Britain, which gave us Anglicanism, the Parliamentary system, and allowed a few of our luminaries. Williams, ANR Robinson, Hudson -Phillips in to get an education.-, and to whose Privy Council we appeal when we, as former slaves, do not accept the relings of judges who look like us, and when those same judges, because they look like us, are guilty of treating us with scant courtesy or downright error.

    Sometimes, a writer uses just a line or two from a long piece to wield his pen at many of the groups he wants to attack, covertly or overtly. Mr. Gilkes has done just this, and he might have sent many others to read the original article, and wonder why it was that that comment was the one he chose for hi lengthy commentary.

  2. In principle, justice Jamadar in quoting from Samaroo qualifies his judicial point. History infuses the likelihood of Christian values being used to justify a symbolic award which, by the way, cannot be sustained through narrow religious symbology whether Hindu, Christian, or whatever. A national award should reflect the maturity of universal appeal in the micro specifics. The sad thing is that it allows the Sat Maharajes of the land with their Brahmin/Aryan agenda to link this issue with a tissue revisionist and irredeemable accusation that does not clarify the quilt work of complexities that beset the Aryan agenda on one hand, the limited domestication Afro-intelligentsia in revamping its slave mentality and the responsibility of both to reconcile nation building approaches on the other – free from gamesmanship and chaotic disorder which they both breathe into the cynical cycle of national life.

  3. I laugh when I hear Trinihindus including Sat and V.S. Naipaul (who is not part of this debate but claims to be a Brahmin) include themselves as brahmins.

    The truth about that priestly caste is that it applied only to residents of India, residing in India. When once an Indian left India he ceased to be a brahmin. There is a new caste based on wealth that includes all former chamars who have worked their way up. India is a democracy.

    No brahmin would have surrendered himself into the voluntary slavery that indenture was. Just as no brahmin today would surrender himself to being a semi-slave working in a rich Middle Eastern country, where Indians are subjected to many daily indignities, including theft of wages by their owners, who keep their passports, and to whom they must apply for permission to leave the country; or to working on a cruise ship, where many Indians form the lowest caste of workers. Hindus on cruise ships handle beef, and Muslims handle pork sausages- the impact of poverty.

    A slave society does not create a brahminical caste just because some, like Bhadase and so on, illiterate and greedy, created a theftocracy for themselves. Next thing you know, Bas might be claiming to be a brahmin.

    This is a side issue, I know, but some Afro-Trinis must not believe the nonsense former indentures feed to themselves. Those originally from south India who came to work the plantations are the flat faced broad nosed people who are more African than Aryan. Many of them are douglas. Africans stopped off there on their way to Australia some twenty thousand years ago, and left their bloodline as proof. (Anyone wants to prove me wrong by using DNA? Feel free.

    Their racial attitude to Africans may well have to do with the denial of their obvious bloodlines, thus the untenable claim to be of Aryan stock, whose aquiline noses evolved due to cold weather. It’s never cold in south India.

    Geography and history (not revisionist history) are important in debunking self-created myths.

  4. concerning the trinity cross these people want to change history remember from christopher columbus discover this place he called la trinity because of the three hils most off these people who are from indian desent and complaining are born her why they want to change the things that we were taught and pass down to our childern they want there day but they want to change our own they have a history and legacy from their fore parents country we do not try to change that for that matterthey have two set of legacy here and their fore parents birth country the next thing tey will want us to do is to learn hindi and what every the muslim speak trinidad was aplace that every greed and race could find and equal place why they want to changethat make some kind off highest award for them and leave the trinity cross just that the trinitycross the country needs prayer and togetherness to fightthe crime rate not some stupid argument about the trinity cross MAY GOD HELP OUR COUNTRY and bring back the strenght we use to have .dont get me wrong my great great grand mother was from calcutta india my grand mother last name was maharaj be feore she married my grand father and became an adventist.

  5. We would do well to note that the cross is a universal symbol that pre-dates christianity. Many cultures have used cruciform symbols. The Egyptians’ cruciform symbol, the crux Anasta, represents eternity; the Greeks’ cruciform symbol, the Greek Cross, represents the elements. Many religions have cruciform symbols, including Bhuddism, Jainism, Hinduism, and Christianity. The modern form of Christianity’s cruciform symbol consists of the body of Jesus Christ nailed to the cross. The swastika with left arms bent, is the Hindu cruciform symbol representing night, magic and the goddess Kali. Nazi Germany had a cruciform symbol, the swastika (right arms bent), as its national emblem. The Trinity Cross was chosen as a symbol of exemplary selfless service to the nation of Trinidad and Tobago, and in iconic form represents the symbolic reward for this service.

    In all the debate about the Trinity Cross there is very little that is said about its replacement. It will be interesting to hear what Trinis think the politically correct; neutral, universally sensitive iconic symbol that represents exemplary selfless service to Trinidad and Tobago should be.

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