What does it mean to be independent? At the very least, you have to be free to choose your own underwear. The insistence of the British government that Jawaharlal Nehru and his colleagues wear cotton briefs made in Liverpool was a major cause of the nationalist uprising in India in the 1940s, with Gandhi effectively using the non-violent tactic of abandoning his boxer shorts for a dhoti, while in Africa Kwame Nkrumah insisted on the people's right to wear no underwear at all.
In the Caribbean, Dr Eric Williams took note of these burgeoning movements on the ancestral continents. In 1955, he resigned from the Caribbean Commission when his supervisor sent him a memo noting that officials were required to wear shorts with buttons instead of jockeys when taking a sea bath at Chaguaramas.
Williams was always more comfortable in jockeys, and had written a historical monograph titled "Arawak loincloths as a precursor to American long-johns 1492-1776." On June 21, he held a rally in Woodford Square at which he declared, "I am going to let down my drawers where I am, right here with you in the British West Indies", causing several women in the crowd to faint. Five years later, the new prime minister would lead a march to the American base in Chaguaramas to protest for the right of all Trinidadians to bathe in a costume of their preference.
On August 31st, 1962, Trinidad and Tobago became an independent nation, and everyone was happy and joyous until the rum wore off. Then the new citizens realised that they now had to take responsibility for their own underwear. What material? What cut? And, most important of all, what colour?
As subjects of the British Empire, they had always worn English underwear and were happy to do so. The drawers may not have suited a tropical climate, and only came in white, but they held everything in place. And, if they were a bit tight, that only helped a gentleman to keep a stiff upper lip.
Recognising that, as an independent nation, Trinidad and Tobago could no longer depend on the former Mother Country for a reliable supply of undergarments, Dr Williams exhorted local manufacturers to start making, not only jockeys, but unmentionables as well. In one of his most famous speeches on August 30, 1962, he told local haberdashers, "You hold the future of the nation in your shorts."
This outraged the local Catholic Church, who felt that the Williams regime was encouraging Communism and casual wear. "What next?" thundered Dom Basil Matthews from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and Really Spotless Pews. "Men coming to church in short pants? Women attending Mass without hats?" In a public debate between himself and Dom Matthews, Dr Williams noted that Aristotle had argued that, while people should cover themselves in public, underwear should be optional since it was needed only by individuals who, lacking nous, didn't sit properly. To this Matthews had replied, "O salutaris Hostia Quae coeli pandis ostiu", which, roughly translated from Catholicese, meant, "Whatever, dude."
However, Dr Williams' policy was supported by the majority of black Trinidadians, with one Afrocentric organisation claiming that underwear had first been invented in Africa so African men wouldn't trip over themselves while running down antelopes on the Serengeti. But opposition came from the East Indian community, who cited verses from the Vedas which said, "The man whose lingam is twice hidden is closer to the Godhead, and so saves on taxi-fare."
The Maha Sabha argued that locally manufactured underwear would favour African bottoms. "We see this as a plot to emasculate Indian men by making them wear loose drawers," declared Bhadase Sagan Maharaj, who promised that, unless the measurements were altered, Indians would be forced to carry guns to fill out their jockey shorts' waistband.
In response, Dr Williams created a mixed economy, shaken not stirred, so that local manufacturers made underwear for the mainly black populace, while the other races were allowed to import. Nonetheless, in 1970, it was black youth who took to the streets protesting the lack of sufficient underwear, which had forced them to wear hand-me-downs from their fathers and older brothers. Luckily, an oil boom three years later made foreign-used briefs affordable to everyone. But even this did not resolve all underwear issues, and 20 years later, Muslim insurgents would attempt a coup when they found out that many of their women were wearing burkas and nothing else.
Now, 50 years later, can T&T be said to be truly independent? Young black men now wear their boxers proudly for all to see, fulfilling Dr Williams' vision. So do women of all races and, unfortunately, shapes and sizes, who wear underwear that in previous times would have been used to tie parcels. But every creed and race can now object to panty lines. This is progress.