Friday, December 15, 2017

Prof Cudjoe’s myopia

Prof Selwyn Cudjoe argues in the Express (August 14) that Trinidad has 217 years of political history. Why that number? Because, says the distinguished professor, “I prefer to begin our history in 1797.”  

In other words, with the British conquest of the island. If myopia is the inability to see over long distances, the good professor seems to suffer from that ailment. Certainly, professor Cudjoe is entitled to his opinion, but just as certainly he is not entitled to a self-satisfying interpretation of the facts. I invite him to consider just one critical pre-British fact: major elements of the island’s culture were already in gestation before the 1797 conquest.

Consider the following: (1) The role and influence of an unusually tolerant Roman Catholic church was already established. It still is the single largest religion on the island. (2) The syntax and cadence of the way we speak—first in Spanish, then French, then Creole (patois) and only later English, was established. (3) Proportionally the largest group of propertied and educated “free coloured” was already established. They would become the bedrock of the local political culture.  (4) Trinidad, next to Venezuela, had the most advanced cultivation of cacao, crucial in the development of the island’s agriculture. (5) The French introduced the Carnival which counter-reformation Spain never had. How many cultural traits have spun off from this festival, including our sense of humour (picong and mamaguay).  

Finally, it was the presence of a self-conscious elite which stopped the British from doing what they had done everywhere else: founding an “established church.” We might want to consider that this was the origin of the religious tolerance which fortunately still characterises Trinidad’s society.

I know that Prof Cudjoe would be willing to consider some of these points as a way of correcting his deficient historical vision.

Dr Anthony P Maingot

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