Red, white and black paraphernalia and festoons still hang within and outside buildings, weathered and fluttering since Independence Day on the 31st of August. But why?
Today, Trinidad and Tobago celebrates 42 years as a Republic nation, one month after celebrating our independence from the British monarchy. On the 1st of August 1976, Trinidad and Tobago became a Republic. However, the public holiday was established on the 24th of September and celebrated on that day each year, since that was the date the first Parliament met under the new Republic constitution.
But what does it mean to be a Republic?
Republicanism further extols our independence. Power lies within our hands through exercising our democratic right to vote and elect leaders who have the ability to bring change within our land. Thus, the voices, concerns and despairs of the populace can be heard and presented before the respective authorities and elected representatives whose duty is to serve the people. The ultimate authority to determine our path rests with us rather than the British monarchy which was replaced when a President was installed as head of state.
As Trinbagonians, we tend to overlook the sacred significance of this day, not fully comprehending how truly independent we are after severing ties with much of our scarring colonial heritage. Though we have progressed in many faculties, there is much yet to be done. Let us continue to unite, bridging gaps of social integration and moving forward as a unit, as one people, as a Republic.
RMC celebrates this legacy by breaking down language barriers and promoting the understanding of cultures that have the potential to divide us, through the services we provide.
We wish the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago a Happy Republic Day.
“Every creed and race finds an equal place…”
Iere was the original name of Trinidad, meaning land of the hummingbird, a deified creature of the Amerindian belief system, where the subgroup of the Arawaks resided. After Columbus’ landfall in 1498, Iere was renamed Trinidad after the Christian ‘Holy Trinity’, with Columbus having first sighted the Trinity Hills of the island’s south eastern range. The docking of his fleet, opened the way for the Spanish conquest of Trinidad.
Over the years with the exploitation of the Amerindians, establishment of tobacco and sugar plantations, the introduction of African enslaved labour and indentureship of East Indians and Chinese and the immigration of Syrians, Trinidad changed hands from the Spanish to the British monarchy where it was made a crown colony in the Caribbean. All of this created an ethnic fusion of a plurality of cultures and races restructuring the dynamic of colonial society.
Tavaco/Tobago, referring to the pipe in which the Amerindians smoked tobacco, was the original name of the island. It is purported that there were other Amerindian names for this island. However, the word ‘Tobago’ is synonymous with the word “tobaco”, being the Spanish word for tobacco, used by both Spanish and French settlers. At the time, Tobago was considered separate from Trinidad and was first mainly inhabited by Caribs and later experienced a similar socio-political history to that of Trinidad.
Tobago was a prosperous colony with a booming sugar industry, but as a result of riots, the abolition of the slave trade and emancipation, as well as other events, Tobago’s economy was unstable and the British saw it wise to amalgamate both colonies of Trinidad and Tobago in 1888.
With the rise in labour movements after the 1920s, there was a push for more political expression and democracy within the twin island state. Under Dr. Eric Williams of the People’s National Movement party, talks were held with the United Kingdom for more self-governance and independence. After several dialogues and the growing support won by Dr. Eric Williams from nationals, Trinidad and Tobago gained independence at midnight on the 30th of August, 1962 where the Union Jack was lowered and the red, white and black was hoisted for the first time. The 31st of August was declared our day of independence.
Today, we, as a twin island state, celebrate 56 years of independence, moving forward despite issues of national concern, basking in the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors and celebrating all the joys and triumphs of our diversified culture among our Trinbagonian people.
“God bless our nation
Of many varied races
May we possess that common love
That binds and makes us One.
Let it be known around the World
That we can boast of Unity
And take a pride in Our Liberty.”
More than 200 years ago, the ominous enslavement and trade of Africans was booming. Ships, under the control of metropolitan powers, docked at African seaports to load their cramped ship holds with chattel to be brought to the Caribbean and Europe, forming the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
It all began with the re-discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus on his mission to find a shorter route to India. Docking on Caribbean shores, he thought he had reached India due to the presence of Amerindian tribes, calling her the West Indies. His last voyages to the West Indies were geared at establishing Spanish colonies, where Amerindians were enslaved and forced to cultivate the land; however due to the punishment and diseases brought by the Spaniards, arduous labour, suicide and infanticide, the Amerindian population was decimated.
After the British captured Trinidad in 1797, the metropole turned to Africa for a cheap, viable source of labour to work on tobacco and later sugarcane fields. They were seen as savages, heathens, a lesser people, but physically equipped to withstand the harshness of the environment. Warring tribes and the capture of African villages made the sale of chattel much more cost-efficient to the Europeans.
Loaded onto ships, hailing from several villages, new cultures were crossing the sea to merge into one heritage on these Caribbean isles. Though several did not survive the voyage, chained and laying in the filthiest of conditions with little to no sunlight, the majority did. Upon arrival and baptised with a new name, practices were lost, families forcefully separated, chained and oiled to be sold off in the sweltering sun, a new people, a new culture was about to be born.
Whipped, beaten, tortured, chained, lynched, raped and murdered; the spirit of Mother Africa remained ever present. Their spirituality was hidden behind Catholic devotion and done in the dead of the night. Their languages were silenced and English forced-fed to them; their songs, dances and drumming outlawed; they faced acculturation, yet aspects of their original heritage were preserved and became ‘creole’. Though broken in the body, they remained resilient in spirit, joining forces from plantation to plantation, island to island, and rebelled, fighting for what was rightfully theirs- freedom.
In 1834, after many years of abolitionists and humanitarians lobbying parliament and influencing the public, they finally succeeded in bringing an end to the tyranny of slavery. On 1 August 1834, now freed, Africans and their descendants danced the streets with drumming and singing, mocking the planters for they were enslaved no longer.
Their spiritualities of Ifa Orisha and by extension Rastafarianism still survive in Trinidad. Manifestations and the offering of libations in honour of the ancestors and Orisa are still observed; together with the beating of bongos and djembes, birthed tamboo bamboo instruments and today, we have the steel pan. Ole mas’ carnival celebrates the practices of the ancestors and their mysticism brought to Trinidad such as stick fighting or Canboulay derived from the words ‘cannes brulées’ meaning burnt sugarcanes and ‘moko jumbies’ or the spirit of judgement, represented by masqueraders dancing on stilts. Our folklore embodies African mysticism highlighting the spirit of the water ‘Maman de L’eau’ and Bo Anansi of our childhood stories.
Wakes and post funerary customs of a reception/ banquet after interment are also reminiscent of African practices. Tasty coo coo made from cornmeal and callaloo made from cooked spinach and other vegetables are a treat. Chilli bibi consisting of parched corn, sugar and cinnamon, along with accra- cooked saltfish in fried dough tantalise the taste buds. The soothing and entertaining songs of calypso and kaiso invoke the memory of the story-tellers or chantuelles of the enslaved African societies in Trinidad who guarded their history and heritage. Not forgetting the spread of Yoruba, Swahili and other languages, the propagation of clothing and ancestral jewellery are all on the rise once again.
Though we stand upon the blood, sweat and tears of our African ancestors, we are proud to fly their banners of freedom upon this land.
Happy Emancipation Day!