MERE weeks before Trinidad and Tobago became an independent nation, a government publication reminded the population about the importance of tolerance in a multi-racial society developed by immigrants from different countries.
"We are descendants of peoples from all parts of the earth: Europeans, Indians, Africans, Chinese and Syrians. All these influences have been at work for centuries, blending and fusing to create something new and distinctive, something peculiar to Trinidad and Tobago," the report stated.
Then, on the eve of Independence, the then-prime minister Dr Eric Williams also reminded the nation about the importance of the ethnic minorities in Trinidad and Tobago, stating, "These minorities have all messed from the same pot, all are victims of the same insubordination, all have been tarred with the same brush of political inferiority. All have been maligned for centuries. The Amerindian as subhuman, the Africans as closer to the ape, the Indians as savages without a history of their own, the European reformers as disreputable persons courting Negro suffrages, and the Chinese as a passive people who did not perform as they were expected."
He noted that, "One of the difficulties that faced the Chinese immigrants was that Chinese women did not accompany the workers, and the free women of colour in Trinidad considered themselves superior to the Chinese, who, although free in name, were performing the work of slaves."
The first Chinese immigrants who arrived on October 12, 1806, had difficulties in meeting their social needs. They were subject to a proclamation by Governor Thomas Hislop dated November 1806, two months after Chinese immigrants arrived in Trinidad, which stated in part, "Her Majesty, for reasons connected with the safety, and prosperity of his West Indian possessions, has thought it expedient to introduce a race of free cultivators, who, from habits and feelings, will keep themselves distinct from the Negroes, and who from interest will be inseparably attached to the European proprietors."
This proclamation effectively started the reversal of improving race relations in Trinidad.
However, some believe that five Chinese sailors had arrived in Trinidad as early as 1796, and one had introduced the system of seine fishing, while the others left.
The 1806 arrival of Chinese labourers in Trinidad was a decision by Lord Hobart of Britain, who, after examining other options, decided the Chinese were the most suitable immigrants.
A suggestion was advanced to recruit Amerindians from the mainland of South America. Another was to bring convict labour to work on the estates.
The planters, however, had opposed both suggestions, and it was finally agreed to recruit Chinese labour.
In 1806, the East India ship Fortitude docked in Trinidad with 192 Chinese settlers and a cargo of East Indian goods, some of which was intended for re-export.
The Chinese immigrants were welcomed with open arms, but unfortunately the ship and cargo were seized by Lieutenant Briarly, the commander of the Royal Navy in Trinidad.
The seizure of the ship and cargo was for the contravention of Navigation Laws prohibiting direct trading between the colonies.
The Chinese were highly rated in England for their perceived superiority over enslaved Africans. High hopes were placed on them.
One lobbyist went so far as to estimate that two Chinese labourers with a light plough and a buffalo would do as much work as 40 stout Negroes.
From the original 192 immigrants who had arrived on October 12, 1806, after one year 17 had died. Sixty-one departed in 1807 and by 1810 there were only 22 remaining.
Following this, there was a second wave of migrants, then a third that began after the Chinese revolution of 1949. The fourth wave began in 1970.
Although many returned later to their homeland, those who remained as free labourers went into business of their own.
In describing the Chinese immigrants, WH Gamble, a minister of religion, wrote, "They were not satisfactory as labourers; but, upon the termination of their contracts they became shopkeepers. Not being British subjects, they were expected to reside in Trinidad for 12 years before given resident status."
Gamble described them as being very shrewd, industrious people, and a valuable addition to the community. "Not only do they rise in the scale of society, but they marry Creole women and settle down permanently in the country. They assume the European dress, adopted European manners, and live in a very respectable way."
Kenneth Grant, the pioneer Presbyterian minister, while ministering in San Fernando, had appointed Jacob W Corbie, a Chinese, to be a member on a church board at the Susamachar Presbyterian Church in the latter part of the 19th century.
Corbie came from Taiping, China, during a rebellion in that country. He came with his mother during a perilous journey, and settled in San Fernando and later became a faithful elder in the Susamachar Presbyterian Church.
For his service in the town, a street was named after him.
Corbie was among many Chinese who went into their own business as shopkeepers. They were called Hakkas, a tribe in China who descended from the Han. They were noted for their unique cultural characteristics in language, food, beliefs and customs. In early China, they were considered as outsiders who were forced to move from North China to South China, where they had to settle on the less fertile lands.
Many came to Trinidad. They were identified by their surnames such as Chan, Chang, Chai, Chen, Cheung and Chin. Most of the Hakkas who migrated between the 1930s and 1960s originated from Kwangtung, a province bordering Hong Kong.
During the oil boom in the south west peninsula, many Hakkas went to Point Fortin and La Brea to open retail shops.
La Brea at one time had as many as 40 Chinese shops. When the number became too large to be accommodated in La Brea, they moved to another area close to the village which became known as Chiney Village.
At present there is no known Chinese living in Chiney village.
The Black Power events of 1970 drove them away from the village and many migrated to North America.
In 2006, the community celebrated the bicentennial of its arrival with social, cultural and historical events.