By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 24, 2013
No one, again with the exception of the extinct Carib people, and perhaps the Spanish people can claim to be ‘natives’ of the island. All peoples were newcomers to Trinidad, and all were immigrants. The immigrant nature of the society of Trinidad needs to be recognized for what it was and what it is. (537)
GeradTikasingh, Trinidad During the 19th Century
Gerad Tikasingh has written an interesting book, Trinidad During the 19th Century: The Indian Experience, an extension of his doctoral thesis, “The Establishment of Indians in Trinidad, 1870,” that he completed at UWI, St Augustine, Trinidad in 1973. Although his book is filled with facts, it is marred by an ideological orientation (one may say Indo-centric perspective) and a negative rendering of the African experience in the country. This book continues an argument made by other Indo-Caribbean scholars that suggests that the dominance of an Afro-centric ethos (which Tikasingh calls a “black bias”) has “tended to downplay, if not obscure the parallel Indo-Caribbean experience of indentureship and its contributions to Guyanese and Trinidadian culture in particular” (see Frank Birbalsingh, Indo Caribbean Resistance, 1993).
Trinidad During the 19th Century, a Trinidad version of this thesis, proposes that we see the development of Trinidad’s history in terms of waves of immigrants (he names four such periods, 1783-1797; 1797-1807; 1807-1845; 1845-1917) coming into the colony during the 19th century. Since the Indians enjoyed the longest period of immigration (1845 to 1917), he suggests that we stop characterizing Trinidad as a slave society and rename it an indentureship society. “Slavery,” he says, “was never a rooted institution in the history of Trinidad.” Tikasingh blandishes this statement throughout his text as if he is not aware that Dr. Eric Williams noted that Trinidad was not a plantation society in 1838. “Rather,” he says, “it was a society of small estates operated by a few slaves…The underdevelopment of Trinidad’s economy and the relative peaceful relations between slaves and masters was illustrated by the fact that there were three domestic slaves for every ten field slaves as compared with a ratio of under two to ten in Jamaica and one in ten in British Guiana” (History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago, 1962). So much for Tikasingh’s contention that historians have defined Trinidad as a slave society.
Tikasingh believes that slavery was much too short-lived (it did not last more than two generations) and too mild (as compared with Barbados and Jamaica) to have had a major influence on shaping Trinidad society. According to Tikasingh all we had in Trinidad were “‘sulky,’ and ‘unwilling’ and, at times, willfully disobedient [slaves], a behavior that would never have been tolerated in any other place during the 18th century.” And what is his evidence for such a characterization? The diaries of Frederick Urich (1830-32), a young German, who lived in Trinidad during the 1830s. All that transpired in the lives of Africans prior to 1830 was irrelevant.
Tikasingh is so intent on decentering the role of African people in the construction of the society that he argues there is no such thing as a native population (it’s an arbitrary concept he says), which allows him to deny them any primacy in the development of the society. Yet, he sees no contradiction in asserting that in 1838 there were “some 180 sugar estates in the island cultivating 21,170 acres” which represented “the foundation of Trinidad’s economy for much of the island’s economic history” which leads to the question, “Who, then, was responsible for creating such a foundation?” It is almost as if to suggest that estates managed themselves and the acreage the planters cultivated determined the evolution of Trinidad in those early years. People, in this equation, were incidental to this process.
And this is one of the central problems of the book. It is rich in facts, poor in analysis, and deficient in discerning the primary factor in the making of a society which, as E. P. Thomson (The Making of the English Working Class) or Walter Rodney (The Making of the Guyanese Working People) suggests, is the working people. In trying to argue for the hegemony of the Indians in making the society he feels honor bound to deny any such claims that have been made on behalf of Africans. Is it not important that from 1797 onwards more than half of Trinidad’s population were Africans and most of the colored population willingly defined themselves as “people of African descent?”
In fact, the racial animus that subtends this text tends to distort Tikasingh’s thesis. Terms such as “black bias” abound (he uses this phrase eight times in the preface); he constantly makes reference to African slaves, and the word “Negro” comes tripping off his tongue. No one, it seems, ever told Tikasingh that Africans are people who were used as slaves, hence the term “enslaved Africans,” and that few scholars use the word “Negro” to define people of African descent. He even argues: “Many in the island became agitated, if not hysterical, about the island’s new face. The fear of racial dominance by Indians appeared early and would continue throughout most of the 20th century” (497). He does not bother to offer any evidence to support this assertion or tell us when this attitude began.
However, there are implications for such an approach to his analysis. Tikasingh does not flinch as he writes: “Each sphere of activity in its turn called for further activity: the people and their slaves would need housing” (my emphasis). Such a formulation prevents Tikasingh from seeing enslaved Africans as people and which leads him to conceive them as being “sulkier and emboldened, and in some instances bluntly refusing to obey their masters and then escaping into the high woods to avoid recapture.” This is all he can say about the activities of Africans: they refused to obey their masters.
Tikasingh takes quite a different approach when he speaks about Indians and their participation in the society. When the colonial government decides to bring in the first batch of Indians to Trinidad, he argues almost innocently, “There was no idea of using Indian immigrants to supplant other groups of immigrant laborers” (121).However, he seems not to have read Madhavi Kale, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, who argued that the Indians were brought to the Caribbean because they seemed “ideal” to the planters because they were “dependent and coercible, and because they were accessible-‘free’ to be used to discipline the black laboring population, nearly-emancipated from slavery” (Fragments of Empire, 1998).
Tikasingh is angered that Thomas Hinde, a member of the Port of Spain Town Council and a black man, objected to the colonial government paying over £100,000 to bring Indians into the island which he (Hinde) said was a plan by the planters “to reduce wages and to raise a loan, which itself would mean an increase in taxation to the inhabitants to pay for the new immigrants.” Upset by Hinde’s objections, Tikasingh asks rhetorically: “So what was so wrong, for Mr. Hinde and the Trinidad Standard, about the possibility of Indian immigration as the latest source for laborers? How can one escape the thought that the objection was based on race, that Indians represented a different ethnic group?” He continues: “When public funds were used to finance the immigration of Negro labourers from the nearby islands during the early period, no one had anything negative to say about the use of public funds…Why, then were different reactions to the use of public funds in financing two different groups of immigrants?”
What Tikasingh fails to tell his readers, in arguing against what he calls Hinde’s racist bias, is that as early as 1839 Hinde and his fellow blacks argued against the discrimination of “people of African descent” by the local government. In a letter to the Queen in July 1839, he wrote as follows:
We, your loyal and dutiful subjects of African descent compose of four-fifths of the population of the island of Trinidad, and we have virtually no influence over the legislature of our country, and no share in the making or the execution of the laws, by which we are governed. The principle of the government as regards ourselves, is that of a perfect oligarchy, from which we are excluded. The portion of the Legislative Council selected from the people is approved by the Governor alone, and of six only one is of African descent, recently chosen by the Governor General. Your loyal and dutiful subjects having long suffered under the political degradation and depression, until lately liberated by the generous British Government…
Among seven stipendiary magistrates, one is of African descent. Of our twenty eight municipal magistrates, one is of African descent, but, from being the only one of that description never officiates. In the illustrious Board of Cabildo, consisting of ten persons, four are of African descent; this municipal corporation of Port of Spain founded on the worst principle of the most corrupt British and Irish corporations, from its imbecility and inutility, has been deprived by the executive government of nearly all its privileges, thus throwing still more power and patronage into the possession of the Oligarchy.
One cannot help but ask if Hinde and his colleagues were being racist when they attacked the discriminatory practices of the local white government?
The same upside-down thinking occurs when Tikasingh speaks about squatting by Africans after apprenticeship. He accused Blacks of acting dishonorably and lawless for squatting on Crown Lands that the British had stolen from the Spanish who had stolen it from the Amerindians, but then that’s another argument. He argues that the departure of the freed people from the estates meant freedom to go wherever they wished even though it spelled havoc for the planters’ operations which suggests that the planters were the only persons worthy of consideration. Blacks were never important. He says: “Ex-apprentices simply withdrew their presence and their labor from the estates and seemed to want to have nothing to do with a type of work and in an environment that was repugnant to them because of their past association with slavery. Despite substantial changes in the reduction of the work week, the workday, or the increase in wages, nothing could induce ex-apprentices to continue to work and remain on the sugar estates for any length of time” (74). Reading this statement, one would have thought that the planters reduced the work week and the work day and raised wages to accommodate the ex-apprentices.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It was the other way around. The ex-slaves simply refused to work six days a week, withdrew their labor from the estates, started to bargain for wages, and opted to do “task work” rather than have the planters dictate what they should do. It was a clear case of the enslaved acting in their best self interest. As a result of their actions, the work week was shortened-they only worked three or four days during the week-the work day was reduced-their task work lasted a few hours a day (generally by noon they were finished working) and, as a result, the wage bill went up. Since the chapter in which this statement occurs is entitled “The Beginnings of Economic Development in Trinidad,” one would have thought that Tikasingh would have understood that the behavior of the Africans was in keeping with the economic laws of development. The Africans judiciously sold their labor power to the highest bidder for their services at the highest price they could get.
In the next chapter, “The Coming of the Indians,” Tikasingh makes a dubious distinction between the Indians and Africans’ response to their servitude. (I am aware that Tikasingh says that slavery and indentureship were not the same thing.) Using Charles Kingsley’s At Last (1869) as evidence, he describes the attitude of the Indians towards their indentureship:
The personal bearing of the people he saw was not suggestive of people being weighed down by some sense of doom. Nowhere does he observe the new arrivals with their heads hung low, with sad countenance, looking or behaving miserably, despondently, dejectedly, or disconsolately” [that is, after a journey of 5,000 miles into nowhere]… Where were the shuffling feet, heads hung low, and faces filled with dread of what was to come that one finds in description of African slaves?…
One just had to recall the persistent and tearful, grieving, groaning, dejected behavior and look of new slave arrivals, whether in Portugal or Barbados or anywhere else on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean, to note the wide chasm between new slave arrivals and new indenture arrivals to realize that indentured immigrants did not behave in a similar manner (195-96).
And where does he go for his evidence? He goes to Portugal in 1441. He opines:
In August 1444 [this is not a typo], one Portuguese contemporary, Gomes Eannes de Zurara, observed the new slave arrivals in Lagos, Portugal….Those African slaves [not enslaved Africans] hung their heads low,their faces in tears, groaning, and looking dejectedly on each other. By contrast, the description of newly arrived Indian immigrants on Nelson Island [Trinidad] in 1870 was very different, a world apart, not only in terms of geography and time, but also in terms of psychology (196).
I wonder if it ever occurred to Tikasingh how inappropriate this analogy is. After all, one is comparing the behavior of people of 1444 with those of people in 1869, some four hundred and twenty-seven years apart. Presumably, he sees nothing wrong with this comparison.
Tikasingh is effusive in his praises for John Morton and the Canadian Indian Mission. He condemns the local authorities for not being interested in educating Indian children until Morton arrived in the island in 1868. While he tells us a lot about the efforts of the latter body to educate the Indians, he does not tell his readers what the Hindus, the Muslims, and the Africans were doing to educate their children. Such a jaundiced view allows him to argue that in 1891, “less than one-third of the school-aged Indian population was attending school, compared with 83.3 % of school-aged Negro population who were in school.” It is difficult to accept the accuracy of this statement since free primary school education was not introduced into the island until 1900 which meant that up until then many school-aged Africans were unable to go to school because they did not have the money to educate their children as was the case of my grandmother, Moriah Bonas. It is true that the Canadian Mission did a good job in evangelizing and educating the Indians of the island. It does not mean that African parents were not doing the same thing for their children.
Perhaps the unkindest cut of all comes at the end of the book when Tikasingh observes: “With their savings, they [the Indians] purchased lands and they became landholders in their own right. Law abiding and honorable, they did not squat on Crown lands.” And here is the irony (or the racism) of such a statement. Africans are brought to the island against their will. Slavery ends. They occupy Crown lands which the British Crown took from the Spanish by force. Tikasingh argues that Africans acted “dishonorable” and broke the law because they took the only course open to them: to occupy land that lay in abundance. Nowhere in Tikasingh’s telling of the story does he mention that it was the withdrawal of the Africans from the estates, their squatting on Crown lands; and their demanding higher wages that set the stage for the coming of the Indians so much so that they could receive a wage; save up their monies, and then begin to purchase land.
Nor should it be forgotten that it was the policies of Arthur Gordon, governor in 1866, that made it possible for Indians to buy land after he began to sell smaller plots and at reasonable prices. What Tikasingh does not say is that immediately after apprenticeship lands were priced so high and available plots so large that Africans could not acquire land for housing or for agriculture. In fact, the local planters intended that the Africans should remain wage-earners and never owners of anything. I wonder if the Africans were law-abiding and honorable the planters would have reduced the cost of the land and the size of the plots for sale.
While we are at it we ought to discourage the kind of scholarship that ascribes conscious intentionality to the Indians-that they came to Trinidad, ready to build a society, save their monies, and leave a legacy to those who came after them. In 1836 when John Gladstone, a planter in Guyana and Jamaica wrote Gillanders and Arbuthnot about the possibility of bringing Indians to the Caribbean to replace the enslaved Africans, they carefully assured Gladstone that the “Hill tribes… known by the name of Dhangurs, are looked down upon by more cunning natives of the plains, and they are always spoken of as more akin to monkeys than the man” (Fragments of Empire). The first group of Indians who came to the island was certainly a motley crowd of untoward characters. Under the circumstances, it would be better to get away from ascribing all of these lofty motives to our Indian brothers and sisters who were the last group to the island and who literarlly, did not know if they were coming or going.
One could say much more about this distorted approach to the telling of our history. I have demonstrated some of the inconsistencies and wrong-headedness of this tortuous and unruly book. Although it throws much light on the lives of Indian people during the period, it does not really make a convincing case that Trinidad should be considered an indentureship society. There can be no doubt that the Indians made an important contribution to the economy of the colony and that their culture and religion re-shaped its identity. However, when one realizes that during the nineteenth century Indians never constituted more than one-third of the society (they achieved this numerical status in 1881) and were not present at the foundational moment of the society-the French, the Spanish, the Africans played a much more important role in shaping the society-it seems disingenuous to claim that Trinidad and Tobago should now be considered an indentureship society.
Trinidad During the 19th Century suffers from an ideological bias that does not help the author make a convincing case. Facts, of course, are important but as Aime Cesaire acknowledged “the most important [thing] in history is not the facts, but the connections that bring them together, the law that governs them, [and] the dialectic that stirs them up.” (Quoted in John Patrick, Free and French in the Caribbean, 2013). I am sure that this is the same law that J. J. Thomas referred to when he criticized James Anthony Froude’s work on the West Indies (See J. J. Thomas’s Froudacity, 1889). Tikasingh would have produced a much more readable and instructive book if he did not allow his Indo-centric biases to ruin his interpretation of the period. It is pity that this otherwise heroic effort is marred by so many unsustainable positions.
Professor Cudjoe is the Margaret E. Deffenbaugh and LeRoy T. Carlson Professor in Comparative Literature at Wellesley College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @ProfessorCudjoe.
13 thoughts on “The Indian Experience in Trinidad, or The Triumph of Ideology Over Scholarship”
Prof. Cudjoe has touched on the deep, irritating, central conflicts which have plagued the two ethnicities for generations. Perpetuation of these ethnic biases as described by Cudjoe and passed down by succeeding generations, on both sides of the divide, unconsciously and simplistically, has continued and even crept into modern day society.
The struggle for the “ownership” of the culture is being played out today by the politicians and their “base” followers as they divide themselves under political banners. There is hope on the horizon as the population not belonging to either ethnic group continues to grow.
‘Dr’ Tikasingh’s primary failing is at least, threefold.
First, it is his arbitrary bending of facts to serve the crass interests of ideology.
Next, his failing is that his efforts, as unbelievably gauche and amateurish as they are, diminish not only his already tainted credibility, but also that of the institution from which this effort earned him recognition of higher scholarship.
Finally, he seems unaware of any elemental understanding of the word, ‘honourable’. If he does, he vastly undervalues its efficacy in reinforcing, both what is best in human relations, and also in one’s sense of consequence for one’s actions.
Selwyn Cudjoe’s Commentary or The Black Bias Responds
On November 24th, one Selwyn Cudjoe wrote a commentary on my book, and it is evident that he not only adheres to the Black Bias in Trinidad’s experience, but, characteristic of people who hold such a view, he refuses to consider any other viewpoint with an open mind. And that is one of the troubling issues in our understanding of the history of Trinidad.
In paragraphs 1 and 4 of his commentary, he mentions the waves of immigration into the island, but he seemed to have completely missed the point there that the book was making. The Black Bias regards the African-descended people in Trinidad as “natives” of the island and Indians as interlopers into their domain and, hence, unacceptable. This view is still current in the country today. I believe it was Basdeo Panday who reportedly said that Blacks go out of their way to make Indians feel unwelcome, and when Indians behave as if they were unwelcomed, then Blacks react in a way to say that they are offended by Indian behaviour. Well, the historical record shows that Blacks were not natives and that they preceded the Indians merely by decades, two generations at the most; that an incoming enslaved, and later ex-apprenticed, African would have seen Indians arriving in the island. In 1844, the year before the first Indians arrived, 94% of the island’s population was immigrant in origin. Think about that: the overwhelming majority of the population of the island was immigrant. So, who were the natives of the island? This is an historical fact, plain and simple. Again, I repeat my book: Trinidad was immigrant in origin, and this should be a source of its strength, and efforts of one group of immigrants to deny and refuse to acknowledge another group of immigrants is simply shameful, and should be rejected by all decent peoples.
Cudjoe seems to be somewhat confused by the terms “slave society” and “plantation society,” and he seems to have in mind the common, popular misperception of a plantation society as being very large in size: plantations vary in size. I deliberately used the term “slave society” for that was the nature of the society to which Trinidad transitioned, beginning with the French and continuing with the British: a society whose economy, along with its ensuing social relations, is based on slavery. Trinidad’s experience as a slave society was recent, not entrenched, and brief, and I compared it with both Barbados and Jamaica to make the point clear, in terms of numbers, years of that experience, and dates (time). Slavery was never a rooted institution in Trinidad. Again, the facts are there: they cannot be altered, not even by Black Bias.
I wrote about the need to re-evaluate the respective roles of slavery and indentureship in the economic development of Trinidad, which Cudjoe interprets as the book’s “decentering the role of African people in the construction of society.” Again, the book was looking at the economic development of the island. Look at the facts: Trinidad had more years of indentureship than years of slavery; the sugar industry, during its life-span in Trinidad, used more indentured labour than slave labour; and those time-expired indentured immigrants played a substantial role in the extension, settlement, occupation, and cultivation of the island. Algernon Burkett himself had made this point in his book, but few of his group have followed in his acknowledgement of the role of Indians to the island’s development. With regard to the issue of the economic development of the island, Cudjoe, interestingly, in one place, calls it the “underdevelopment of Trinidad’s economy” –- completely ignoring such variables as the acreage of land being alienated, of land being cultivated, of sugar being exported, etc., etc., disregarding such statistics and referring to the island as being underdeveloped, another instance of the Black Bias at work.
In paragraph 4 of his commentary, Cudjoe states that I have overlooked the contribution of slaves to the economic development of the island, and concluded that I contradicted myself in the process. Nothing could be further from the truth. The book was abundantly clear in documenting the role of slaves in the initial foundation of the island’s economy. His misrepresentation of that detailed narration of the initial foundation of Trinidad’s economy raised a recurring thought throughout his commentary. Did Cudjoe read the chapter in its entirety, or did he read here and there, skipping pages in the process and so ending with a misunderstanding of what was written in the book? But let it also be known that after the initial establishment of a sugar-based economy in Trinidad, between 1783 and 1838, ex-apprentices withdrew their labour, and planters embarked on a search for another source of labour. After all, had ex-apprentices continued working on the estates, there would have been no need to look elsewhere for labour.
Cudjoe’s misrepresentation and / or misunderstanding of the book is a bit troubling as it recurs throughout his commentary. Take, for example, the fear of racial dominance that existed in the island as the 19th century came to an end. This fear was explicitly stated in the newspapers of the day (Port of Spain Gazette), as well as by governors themselves (Jerningham). Cudjoe stated that no evidence was offered. Did he not see the appropriate citations? I also seemed to have offended his sense of political correctness by the use of the word “Negro.” That word, until recently when political correctness came into vogue, was once an acceptable and respectable term of identity; it carried no negative connotations in the past. To speak of “Afro-Trinidadians,” or any other similarly politically correct term of identification, in a historical work dealing with the 19th century would be strange, if not weird.
Cudjoe questions the accuracy when I wrote that planters, at the beginning of indentured immigration, had no thought of supplanting one group with another, and he refers to another writer, M. Kale, as if that writer were saying something contradictory. This just demonstrates that Cudjoe seems anxious to object rather than to understand. In the beginning, planters had no long-term notions about the continued use of Indians as labourers – they simply did not know what would happen and how Indians would work out as labourers. How could they know? One just has to read the historical record to understand this, and, again, I believe I provided the appropriate citations. In the end, planters did become wedded to Indians as labourers; there is no contradiction in this.
In paragraph 9, Cudjoe seems offended when I suggested that Thomas Hinde’s objected to Indian immigration on racist grounds. At the time, people from the nearby islands were immigrating into Trinidad on a daily basis and, furthermore, the island paid the full expense for many of them. No one raised any objection to this immigration – it was all perfectly and fully acceptable. Yet, Hinde objected to this first attempt at Indian immigration. Cudjoe is offended by my pointing this out and he referred to the white government as being racist. Since when does racism in the first instance excuse racism in the second? If racism against one group is wrong, then, is it not wrong when practiced against another group? Incidentally, and just for the record, the book contains one chapter that is devoted to a description and analysis of the society and which pointed out the underlying racism in the society.
In his comments on the book’s reference to the issue of squatting, Cudjoe states that, well, the British “stole” the land from the Spanish, who in turn had “stolen” it from the Amerindians. I am not sure what is the point he is making here, nor about the use of the word “stolen.” It seems like a blind reactive statement. Cudjoe goes on to refers to this as “upside-down thinking.” This seems nonsensical. Does he mean to suggest that squatting by the ex-apprentices was acceptable because, in his frame of reference, one country “stole” the land from another country? If so, then Indians who worked on the sugar estates should not have saved up their earnings and legally purchased land, and, according to Cudjoe’s mode of thinking, they should have behaved as ex-apprentices did, and simply go squat on Crown land or other people’s lands.
Cudjoe then goes on to misrepresent me and put out that I said “blacks were never important” when I referred to the fact that Blacks exercised their newfound freedom and moved away from the estate. This is a blatant misrepresentation. Nowhere in the book did I say such a thing. Quite the contrary. I pointed out how Blacks used or defined their freedom, and that this was perfectly understandable. However, while Blacks acted out their version of freedom, the flip side of that coin was its impact on the sugar estates – but that was the planter’s problem, not the problem of Blacks. Emancipation and the end of apprenticeship impacted both parties differently, and each party reacted according to their respective interests. What is difficult to understand about that?
His misrepresentations saturate his commentary. Take for example: “Nowhere in Tikasingh’s telling of the story does he mention that it was the withdrawal of the Africans from the estates, their squatting on Crown lands; and their demanding higher wages that set the stage for the coming of the Indians so much so that they could receive a wage; save up their monies, and then begin to purchase land.” Did I not lay out this story? It seems that Cudjoe is beside himself: willing to object to anything without taking the time to understand.
Or take another example: “What Tikasingh does not say is that immediately after apprenticeship lands were priced so high and available plots so large that Africans could not acquire land for housing or for agriculture.” Really? Did I not discuss the restrictive land policy of the pre-Gordon years?
This misrepresentation and /or failure to understand and / or willingness to object without understanding just goes on and on. One is tempted to say that Cudjoe’s commentary is a reflection of the Black Bias at work. Much of his commentary appears to be a blind and wild reaction to unassailable evidence, something that happens when an unreasonable attitude comes face to face with the facts. It calls to mind Hinde’s reaction to the local government’s decision to bring in Indians. There is a readiness to criticize without understanding, and a determined unwillingness to consider another point of view. But the historical record is there, and one has to go back and look at the historical sources to free our minds from unsupportable mental constructs. Once that is done, the path may be opened towards making progress in the social relations between our population groups.
It is always black bias when anyone challenges Indians whose perspective of blacks is ahaped from a cultural and religious inheritance based on the inherent supremacy and inferiority of people, and supplemented by the Eurocentric myths about Africans which they gleefully embrace. What black bias.
In the first place, I will argue that the evidence of bias among each group cannot ignore the cultural legacies of beliefs each group brings to the relationship. Indians come from a centuries old cultural belief system that assigns status based on color. Africans on the other hand, have a history of opening their doors to all and sundry.
Any examination of the attitudes of these two groups, regardless of the geography in which they are situated, will demonstrate that Indians bring prejudices, learned or interpreted to the relationship, and blacks react to that. The problem is that Indians like the author somehow walk around with the notion that they have a right to be prejudiced against blacks, and any rejection or reaction from blacks against this is then termed bias and racist. Well, the white slave master also had the same attitude, so what does that tell you
Inspite of all that has been said, intellectual, professional, proverbial or casual there is a struggle for (ethnic) dominance in this little island called Trinidad (not Tobago). Most of the written history about Trinidad today appear to be concerted in a way that would deny or obfuscate culture, norms, traditions, behavior, understandings, perceptions and liveliness to cast doubt on what we knew and lived prior to today. There are two areas where this behavior is most evident – politics and literature. The effort appears to be corroborative with a view to casting a shadow on what we think we already know or an explanation on why it is not the way we ought to believe it is. The most obvious being politics has by itself is moved so fast in the last five years that the emigrant who left our shores and come back to re-visit would find it difficult to continue (where the left off) and be part of the society that describes itself as Trinidadian. Change is important but it must be natural (meaning its a reflection of the people’s behavior). The social and cultural scenes is today VIBRANT with behavior that is not consistent with our history. The most ministries and state enterprises are staffed in a way that would not necessarily reflect the true diversity of the island known as Trinidad. On the part of literature there is an effort by some writers in Trinidad not to recognize slavery as the main driving force behind the ‘immigration’ of peoples to this shore. In fact ‘immigration’ should not be a word associated with slavery at all, because the very use of the word tend to associate it with ‘free will’. The slaves were uprooted and forced to relocate their existence in far away places, so why, may I ask that the descendants of slaves not think of themselves as ‘natives’. They were forced to acknowledge their previous existence, they were forced to communicate there love for each other, they were forced to change their culture they way they practiced before arriving in their new places of abode. Its like going going before a shrink that obliterates your knowledge of self and transforms you into something new or pretensive. Therefore, the writer associating the African’s presence in the new world as that of an ‘immigrant’ is technically and morally wrong in his concepts.
“They were forced to acknowledge their previous existence, they were forced to communicate there love for each other, they were forced to change their culture they way they practiced before arriving in their new places of abode.” It should read as follows:
“They were forced NOT to acknowledge their previous existence, they were forced NOTto communicate there love for each other, they were forced to change their culture they way they practiced before arriving in their new places of abode.” In fact it was a crime to actually practice their culture of their homeland.
People whose history did not experience this wanton dis-regard for another’s past, should not try to pass it over as though every one had the same opportunities. We are the product of our experience and when one takes it upon himself to write (or re-write) history, he or she should be careful not to obliterate the real facts of the very history they are trying to ‘correct’.
That is why Kian, I believe that we will never see any kind solution for the problems in T&T and Guyana. Because unless black people in those two nations accept the status many of these Indian revisionists are demanding, and we certainly will not, this conflict will continue.
These Indian revisionist seek to place black people on guilt trips so that they would accept the prejudices of Indians as some kind of group privilege, and rejection of it as evidence of bias and racism. It is an insidious strategy that gains ground because of the rather tepid response to it by black intellectuals, and the clear reluctance to bear this visceral racial prejudice in the den where it hibernates and from where it surfaces to feed and fatten itself.
When Golden Ray Apollon who was supposed to study medicine, he ended up as a wrestler much to the dismay of his father, did he not get an opened door from indisn movie makers? Where is the guilt trip when he starred with Dara Singh? Did Hollywood offer him any such opportunity at that time? Come on guys I remeber the times when some of my indian friends were disallowed to partake in athletic activities and was often referred to as weak, submissive, subdued, dahl water drinkers and roti eaters. Enjoy the mix culture T&T has to offer just as how carnival has made an impact in Notting Hill, Brooklyn and Toronto. Wke up and smell the roses of change and positive impact and get out of that prison of parochial mindedness.
Another brazen attempt to rewrite the history. I recently heard the narrator of a programme dealing with indentureship ascribing to Dr. Rudranath Capildeo the dubious title of ‘Father of our Independence”.
When Rudranath Capildeo and Eric Williams were negotiating independence at Marlborough House in 1961/2 they were both referred to as honourable statesmen for their country by the English. When Capildeo died in 1970, did Andrew Rose,ambassador of T&T in the UK offered his condolence on behalf of T&T or was he present during the requiem memorial service that was held in Chalk farm for Capildeo? It was absolutely stunning the accolades this man (who was referred often as Cap)received from statesmen and academics all over the world. ‘A prophet is never recognized in his own kingdom’. There is something very interesting about intellectual minds at work. How did Eric Williams referred to his hanger-on colleagues during his failing health?……………parasites!
Racial Prejudice, when it is ingrown, is a bitch. So much so that those who exhibit and within whom it has solidified, can insult a group with one sweep of the pen and then claim that they are in support of developing social relationships between groups Their version of this, especially the Indian Revisionist, is for black people to allow themselves to but into the Indian Victimhood mantra, designed to excuse their racism and rationalize it as a reaction to black bias.
Indians came into T&T with a cultural bias against groups they perceived as being inferior to them, and this has developed over the years into a whining and deceitful hollering that they face hardships. That what they accomplished was a product of their special talents, but what blacks accomplished was given to them by the PNM. It is the most racist exhibition of hubris seen in this hemisphere, and we soundly reject it. There can never be progress in social relationship when it entails blacks obsequiously accepting the devil emblem people who have been weaned on the notion that blacks are inferior to them, and should thus modify their attitudes to accommodate that paradigm. The best things for blacks to do is to stop wasting their time trying to reason with those who are obdurately prejudiced, and concentrate on uniting with themselves. In time everything will fsll in to place.
No ‘White Bias?’ No ‘Indian Bias?’
One would assume from your examples, conclusions and silences that it is Black people who deliberately and systemically forced the arrivals of Indians into Trinidad.
Ironically, it was the heroic resistance of the Black descendants against re-enslavement that forced the hand of the British to seek for replacements less restive and more pliable.
It was useful, too, to find replacements already tainted with a Hindu racial interpretation of religion that ran along a spectrum in which ‘white and black’ represented virtue and vice.
Indians fell accomodatingly below the whites, but thankfully above the Blacks.
In fact, even today, given the brazenly open racial biases in Bollywood–the pre-eminent manifestation of Indian clutural hopes and goals–this racial bias is so ubiquitous that the best- selling cream in India, according to AlJazeera, is the skin-whitening Clean and Dry.
History is never really written about the past. It is always about the present opening into a future in which the writer serves the interests of justice, or of recalcitrance.
Re Tikasingh(near Ph.D) and Book.
Cudjoe’s book review and criticism of racial bias by the author is both valid(meaning true) and a waste of time. It has become tiresome to read and hear one more time that this Afro–Indo schism is alive and well.
Racism in its broadest sense is a trait deriving from the evolutionary of Humans. To not be a racist, which is possible, requires no less training, programming and frequent changes of diapers, for the infant to learn not to piss on the broadloom. Ditto for where can and cannot piss in adulthood.
So the issue comes down to teaching, training and learning.
Many accomplish this transformation. Most don’t. In the case for Trinidad, it is unimaginable that Indos and Afros can do better and especially as is floridly apparent during elections.
The two groups are right up there with Oil and Water.
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