VILLAGE VETERAN: Petalenia Long, a surviving relative of the Mandingoes.



By Louis B Homer South Bureau

Last week Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner went to Mandingo Road, Princes Town, to launch a road rehabilitation project in the rural village.

The place has a rich history and a link to Emancipation which will be celebrated on August 1.

Emancipation in 1838 meant the freeing of slaves after the Emancipation Act was passed in the British Parliament, making the barbaric practice illegal.

Before and after emancipation, there were several people who had come to rescue the slaves from the harsh treatment meted out to them in many parts of the West Indies.

"As a model British colony, the Trinidad experience of slavery was not the same as in other countries in the Caribbean, Trinidad had 17,439 slaves when slavery was abolished in 1838," stated Dr Eric Williams in his History of The People of Trinidad and Tobago.

After emancipation, there were several attempts to have August 1 celebrated as a special day in the history of Trinidad.

The first attempt was by an African attorney, Muzumbo Lazare, who asked the then-governor to officially declare August 1, 1888, a public holiday to be called "Jubilee Emancipation Day".

He failed in his bid.

It was not until 1985, through the persistence of Emancipation heroes like Lancelot Layne and John Cupid, that a holiday was granted by the then government to commemorate the event.

Before the declaration of emancipation in 1838, attempts were made to free a number of Mandingo slaves living at Santa Cruz, and it is believed that some went to Princes Town, historians have said.

While those at Santa Cruz were engaged in the construction of Fort George, those at Princes Town were engaged in agriculture.

Their leader, a Muslim priest named Jonas Mohammed Bath Sultan of Yalliallhad (1783-1838), was a former slave who earned his freedom by buying another slave to replace him, the history books record.

After gaining his freedom, he established a society for buying the freedom of other Mandingo slaves.

Before emancipation, he had already freed 140 of them.

Unfortunately he died before the date of emancipation.

Mohammed Bath arrived in Trinidad around 1815 and was sent to work at Fort George as a headman.

Because of his position as a priest, he was able to influence other Muslims working on the project.

After gaining his freedom, he purchased a small estate in the Santa Cruz Valley, and called it Mizra Estate.

During his attempts to free the Mandingoes, he petitioned the governor to repatriate them to their homeland but failed.

The Mandingoes or Mandinka came from West Africa.

Some settled in the Santa Cruz Valley and others in Princes Town at Mandingo Road.

Those who settled at Mandingo Road were Muslims who later became Spiritual Baptists.

Petalenia Long, 79, of Mandingo Road, Princes Town is a descendant of the Mandingoes.

She recalled that her grandfather, Milton Stephen, came to live in the area after emancipation and worked on the cocoa and coffee estates.

Other families from the Mandingo tribe included the Teasdale, Johnson, and the Stephens clan.

Long said Teasdale came from Ghana.

Opposite her home on Mandingo Road was the centre for social and religious activities for the Mandingoes.

Pointing to an open lot of land, she said: "Right in that spot they used to dance together."

She also identified another place at Galba Home Road where the Mandingoes assembled.

Long said the Mandingoes were owners of land at Mandingo Road but lost the properties after they failed to pay the mortgages.

"The Mandingo families were influential enough to have a road named after them," Long said.

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