Despite the rain which swept across Trinidad yesterday morning, hundreds came to Siparia for the Feast of La Divina Pastora, or Soparee Mai, an annual Good Friday celebration involving both Roman Catholics and Hindus.
To the Roman Catholics, La Divina Pastora is the manifestation of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. And to the Hindus she is the embodiment of the goddess Kali or Mother Durga.
Making the journey from all over Trinidad and Tobago and as far as Canada, pilgrims said they came seeking blessings for good health, wealth and marital prosperity. Some young women came to seek blessing in finding a suitable husband and some barren women asked to be bestowed with fertility.
The aura that surrounded the statue was claimed by some to be overwhelming.
“I felt free and happy to be in the presence of the divine mother. Words cannot describe how I feel,” said Christine, a 36-year-old visitor from Canada.
Many who came offered money, rice, oil, candles, clothing and jewelry to the Black Virgin, as she is also known, and gave charity to the homeless and destitute who also gathered at the La Divina Pastora RC Church. Surrounding the church was a street bazaar, with vendors selling novelty items, food, drinks, clothing, toys and other tokens.
At the Siparia Boys’ RC School, located next to the church, the homeless, there since Thursday, waited for the offerings from patrons.
The streets were also lined with market vendors selling produce. Barbers also did brisk business as Hindus believe that it is a good time to cut the hair of young boys for the first time as it will help them to become strong and successful.
There was a heavy police presence, but fewer celebrants than last year as a result of the rain. Vendors reported the worst sales in many years.
There are different stories regarding the origin of La Divina Pastora. The Catholic version goes back to the 18th century. It is said that a Spanish priest brought the statue to Siparia from Venezuela. He claimed that the statue saved him and he wished to have her importance cemented in Trinidad and Tobago. The other version is that early Indentured Hindu settlers said that Soparee Mai appeared at dawn as a child on the land on which the church is built and by nightfall she grew into an old woman disappearing as the sun set. She is said to have aided the suffering of those during indentureship.
Fr Martin Sirju, parish priest for the La Divina Pastora RC Church, said the statue came in the 1750’s around the time the church was founded.
Church member Chris Lum Kin aided pilgrims as they offered oil into barrels the church provided. He said that his blessing from the Black Virgin is a good job and a good family.
Barber Sukhu Bridgemohan, 60, has been cutting hair for over 30 years at the Good Friday celebration. He said many come with their children to have their hair cut for the first time. He has been coming with his father and now has brought his sons to continue the tradition.
Before cutting the hair Bridgemohan says a prayer for good health and prosperity to be given to the child. He said, “Soparee Mai is still here, her spirit is still alive. Once people believe in her she will bless them.”
Parbatee Kissoon, of Debe, said that it is tradition to bring children from early in the day.
She said: “Long ago people came with sick children and there would be dancers dancing on their orhini (head cloth) for them to get better.” She also said that people offered so many coins that the church members used shovels to scoop them all up but now “everything has become commercialised”.