Now that Cross Rhodes Freedom Project is at it again making the headlines calling for the dismantling of Columbus statue, I wish to add that they expand their demands to include all European institutions-church, judiciary, security, etc.- that aided and abetted in the exploitation and enslavement of colonial societies. Not surprisingly, these institutions do not work for the welfare of the people because their initial objective had been to protect the interest of the colonial elites.
The Church is one such institutions that played a pivotal role in colonial societies. When the Spaniards first arrived in the New World their objective were three fold: Gold, God and Glory. The Church was balm for the pains and suffering of the natives and later the slaves and indentured labourers.
Lopinot and Caura Valley were active Amerindian settlements that the colonial government disrupted to make way for the new French arrivals through a scheme called the Cedula of Population (1784). The displaced Amerindians were herded and confined to Arima, thus explaining its large Amerindian population.
Jomo Kenyatta, former Prime Minister, summed up the transgression of the Church in the following quote: “When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land, the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.
After their lands were confiscated and they had settled in Arima, the Church was given a free hand to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to save them from the mire of heathenism. The Arena Massacre (I prefer to call it a revolt) was a reaction of the indigenous people against the oppression that was unleashed against them.
Such an event has been termed a “massacre” by colonial historians but little is said about the several massacres committed by the Europeans against the indigenous peoples and other victims of colonialism. The preferential role of the Church continues unabated to this day and is best reflected in its central role in the allocation of resources to fight Covid 19.
The government announced a $30m package for the Church. Just how much of that reached non-Christians including Hindus and Muslims that form 40% of the population remains unknown. Two Hindu organizations- SWAHA and Pandit Doodnath Rampersad of Sangre Chiquito-were identified as recipients of State support only because of their affiliation with the PNM. I am yet to know of a single mandir that was provided assistance apart from those two.
Member of Parliament for Oropouche East, Dr. Roodal Moonilal, mentioned in Parliament the blatant discrimination in the distribution of hampers across the country. It is clear that perceived supporters of the UNC continue to be at a disadvantage while the State continues to go the extra mile to reach out to the supporters of the PNM.
If the people behind Cross Rhodes Freedom Projects are honest they need to include in their demands the revamping of the curriculum to include more indigenous cultures that would raise the pride of our people. Caribbean society did not begin with the arrival of Columbus or the African slaves. A large Amerindian civilization existed long before and must now be given its due place. It must also recognize that not only the European came from great civilizations but all groups that arrived in the New World including the African and Indian.
It is obvious that this anti-Columbus protest has little to do about the welfare of the First People. Ricardo Bharath, Chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, said that the removal of Columbus statue “will not do the First People any good unless it is accompanied by tangible measures to advance the indigenous people of Trinidad and Tobago. (Express: June 15, 2020).
Chief Ricardo Bharath contended that there were several issues of the First People which have not been addressed and made the observation that the decimation of the First People began 200 years after the arrival of Columbus. Chief Bharath also pointed out that despite efforts to acquire lands from the State, there has been no help forthcoming. I sincerely hope that Cross Rhodes Freedom Project can lobby on behalf of the First People to have their demands fulfilled.
The Shouter Baptist Church have fought a herculean struggle against the colonial state to prevail. Despite the wrath of the Christian hegemony the Shouters prevailed as an indigenous Church and not a satellite of the colonial era. African leaders must take heed the heroism of this group of people who did not roll over and die when their way of worship was outlawed in 1917.
The lifting of the ban on the Shouter Baptist on March 30, 1951 was a victory for indigenous faiths and cultures. It was a triumph of grit, determination and perseverance. It was now left for Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, a Hindu, to recognize the value of the struggle of the Shouters to preserve their religious and cultural identity.
I wish to underline that all the peoples of the Caribbean came from rich civilizations. The European are proud of their past and hence their perpetuation of the Church and its doctrines, languages and other institutions. It is only obvious that all other ethnic group -Indians, Europeans, Syrians, Africans, Chinese, First People- should be encouraged to preserve and propagate their way of life and not fall victims to proselytizers who are bent on destroying indigenous cultures.