Saving our heritage
The Mandinka Research Foundation comprises groups and individuals who share the similar desire to see the preservation and development of what has become known as the Hondo River Settlement in the Quare region of Valencia in East Trinidad.
This site was the location where a Muslim veteran group of the West India regiments settled after the British-American Wars of 1812-1815. Many in Trinidad know of the story of the Merikins or the company villages who were Baptists, however, little is known in the wider society about their Muslim counterparts who settled on the banks of the Hondo River in the Quare region of Valencia.
Professor Brinsley Samaroo of the University of the West Indies has done research on the site and has also co-written a paper that was published as part of the proceedings of the 21st Congress of the International Association for Caribbean Archaeology (IACA) which was held in Trinidad and Tobago from July 25th to 30th, 2005. The paper is entitled “HONDO RIVER SITE:AN EARLY ISLAMIC SETTLEMENT IN TRINIDAD” and gives a succinct but rich description of the site and its settlers. According to Professor Samaroo between 1819 and 1825 under the then Governor Woodford, 797 men, women and children settled on the site, arriving in three different groups. They were given land, agricultural tools and seeds to start their new life on the fertile river banks.
In 1999 the Department of History of the University of the West Indies conducted a “brief study and excavation” of the site that yielded significant finds but also highlighted the need for further dedicated documentation and research.
Since that time however, formal recognition from the state for the site to be declared a heritage site has not occurred, despite efforts of numerous stakeholders such as The Caribbean Institute of Nasrul Ilm who held a series of lectures and activities in 2006 to raise awareness of the site. On that occasion the eminent, award-winning historian and author, Dr Sylviane Anna Diouf, curator at the Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Culture of The New York Public Library, was invited and came to Trinidad to deliver a lecture on the topic.
In 2011, the year dedicated to Peoples of African Descent, the Trinidad and Tobago Organisation of Peoples of African Descent (TTOPAD) also made representation through the submission of a comprehensive proposal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the issue of the preservation of the site.
Earlier this year, another group IMPACT (Independent Muslim Professionals Acting Together), also wrote to the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago on the issue of the Hondo River site lobbying for it to be placed on the official list of National Heritage sites. This letter was verbally acknowledged but to date no formal acknowledgement or action has been forthcoming on the part of the Trust.
Presently, as confirmed by a site visit to the Quare region on August 24, and due to the ongoing and extensive quarrying activities in and around the area by the National Quarries Company Ltd, the actual acreage of the site is a mere shadow of what it was when it was first discovered. Preservationists are relieved though that one of the more important features of the site, a graveyard, has remained intact, though overgrown.
The nation is however now faced with the imminent, total destruction of the Hondo River site and as such is calling on the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to 1) Use its power to immediately a stop all legal and illegal quarrying operations in and around the site 2) To declare the site, that is of significant importance to the Muslim community, as a National Heritage site and thus protect it from further encroachment 3) Through its relevant arms, repair the existing lands that have already been excavated by grading and replanting lumber and fruit trees 4) Work in collaboration with the Mandinka Research Foundation in the development of a master plan for the site that would include input from the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration, the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism, the Ministry of Community Development and the relevant local government body, and other interested parties. 5) Support the continuation of future archaeological explorations of the Hondo River site and other sites of Islamic heritage in Trinidad and Tobago.
The campaign seeks to raise awareness of the existence of the site and its historical significance not only to Muslims but in a wider national heritage context as well. The group is also seeking assistance in urgently getting the site officially demarcated to prevent further encroachment and possible destruction by the quarrying activities taking place in the area.
The Mandinka Research Foundation calls on all Muslims in Trinidad and Tobago as well as all citizens concerned with the protection of our heritage to join with them in lobbying for the authorities to take the necessary measures to protect the site before it is too late. For more information or to pledge your support, please email us at email@example.com, or visit our member group I.M.P.AC.T. on facebook, keyword Impact, or call 729-5644 or 775-2172.