HISTORIC SPOT: Albert Joseph shows one of the pillars on which he built his home which was left from a building constructed in the 18th century by the Capuchin monks at Mission, Toco.

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Toco's Mission Village

A legacy of Spanish monks...

By Louis B Homer South Bureau

During the Spanish occupation of Trinidad, a number of Catholic missions were established in different parts of the island, all designed to educate the native Amerindians about the customs and beliefs of the Catholic faith.

Over time these missions disappeared after the takeover of the island by the British.

Yet there are vignettes of the past, small in number but enough to retrace and research the part played by the early Capuchin monks of Spain.

The first mission in Trinidad was established around 1687 in Savana Grande near Princes Town. Between 1756 and 1758, Spanish Capuchin monks from the Santa Maria province of Aragon, Spain, arrived in Trinidad to set up missions in Aricagua (San Juan), Tacarigua, Arauca (Arouca), Naparima, Savanna Grande, Savonetta, Montserrat, Arima, Cumana and Toco.

The Catalonian Capuchins installed themselves as ruling elite over the Christianised Indians.

Fr John Harricharan, in The Catholic Church in Trinidad, stated, "The mission towns became a state within a state. Each mission contained a group of Indians ranging from five hundred to just over one thousand. The common crops cultivated were cassava, maize and bananas. The Indians were expected to devote two days a week to cacao cultivation and four days to market gardening. On Sundays and public holidays, they received religious instructions."

Initially the missions were very successful entities of the Catholic Church, but they later lost their usefulness when new and different approaches to the teaching of Christianity emerged.

After the closure of the missions, two villages retained the name "mission" Those were in Princes Town and Toco.

The mission at Princes Town was renamed Princes Town, following a visit in January 1880 by two English princes, Albert and George.

The mission at Toco, however, retained the name "Mission Village." And it has remained so ever since.

Early efforts by the monks resulted in building a church in 1837. The site of the church is breathtaking. It stands like a sentinel on a promontory at Mission overlooking Toco Bay. That church was dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption.

Mission is a seaside village rich in flora, fauna, a white sandy beach and rugged mountains. It is approximately one mile from the village centre of Toco.

In its early years, parts of Mission Village were used as dumping grounds for waste material, but that no longer occurs. Its early history is engraved largely from the ruins left after the closure of the mission.

After 176 years in existence, the church building at Mission has remained the most outstanding public building in the village. There are also ruins that clearly tell the story of the existence of the Capuchin monks who lived there during the 18th century. Opposite the church is Mission Road, an access etched earlier by the monks to establish the Stations of the Cross and access to their living facilities.

In 1981, Albert Joseph, a resident of Toco, was given permission by the church to erect a three-bedroom house. The house sits upon the old pillars of the former presbytery. The other ruins are a large water tank called a cistern, and the concrete steps leading to the presbytery.

Joseph's son, Ramdeo Boodoo, said he was proud to live in a house located on a spot that bears many historical landmarks relating to the history of Mission Village.

"I was born in this peaceful surrounding overlooking the village and have no intention of leaving," said Boodoo.

Although the older residents of Mission are aware of its early history, the younger people are more interested in finding ways to move the village to greater heights. Mission Village is essentially a holiday resort with many vacation homes scattered along the seafront or on the hillsides overlooking the bay.

Fishing provides livelihoods for many residents. There is a well-established fishing port tucked away around a steep hill on the Paria Main Road.

Fresh fish is available from the port, as well as sea crabs, sea conchs, lobsters and sea moss. Sea moss, a natural herb, is regarded by many as an aphrodisiac. It is removed from the sea bed and sold by vendors who ply their trade along the main road.

Life in the village is centred around the churches and a playground overlooking the sea. The playground, named Mervyn Dillon Recreation Ground, was a gift from villager John Bishop, who used it in the past for growing small crops.

"He sacrificed this piece of land and gave it to the village for a recreation centre,"said Mr McClatchie, a resident who has been working in the community for many years to promote healthy lifestyles through sports and culture.

McClatchie said, "With no community centre in the village, we have used our own resources to develop a place where the youths, as well as other villagers, could meet as one big family."

He said Bishop was the grandfather of former West Indies cricketer Ian Bishop, and it was on this humble playground Ian started his cricketing career."

McClatchie recalled that Keshorn Walcott, Olympic gold medallist of 2012, who lived not far from the playground, also developed his sporting career at the playground at Mission.

"We are proud of all the sporting personalities that came from Mission," said McClatchie.

The playground occupies two acres of land from the seafront to Paria Main Road. In its early years, the villagers were the ones who maintained the ground by using cutlasses to cut the grass. Maintenance of the ground has been taken over by the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation.

For the last 20 years, the ground has been the centre of sporting and cultural activities. Every year a grand family day affair is held on the Boxing Day and New Year's holidays. According to McClatchie, "On those two days, the villagers assemble here as one family. We have sporting activities between those living over the bride and those under the bridge, and prizes are distributed for those taking part in the competitions."

The promotion of good family living is the mission of the village, but in a natural sense Mission Village is a showcase of white sands that form a sheath along the beachfront, making it a pleasant venue for picnicking but there are also the mountain rocks overlooking the sea.

In geological terms these rocks have matured over time. The forces that shaped the land thousands of years ago have since tempered the assault of the rocks. In doing this it has left a heritage of rich soil that is used by the villagers for growing things.

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