Towering 33 ft tall Tadjah

In an effort to preserve endangered, local, traditional art forms, the Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad & Tobago (A.C.T.T.), has embarked on establishing a Guild of Masters. With President of the group, Mr. Rubadiri Victor, at the helm of the project, the first inductee into this Guild of Master Artisans/Craftsmen, Mr. Reish Baboolal, artist, cultural activist, teacher and historian, designed and constructed a “tadjah” or “ta’ziyeh” which is 33 feet, 4 inches tall, with base dimensions of 15 feet square.

Mr. Baboolal is considered one of the youngest experts in the construction of tadjahs for the annual Hosay commemoration, in Trinidad. He has also conducted extensive field research, to record and collate data associated with the observance, which is of Islamic origin. This pilot project of the Guild of Masters, involved the training of apprentices, including Mr. Byron Joseph, who would hopefully aid in the perpetuation of the Hosay craft.

The tradition was first introduced to Trinidad, with the introduction of East Indian indentured labourers, who first arrived on the shores of the island in 1845. They were brought to work on the sugar cane plantations, but continued exercising their cultural and religious beliefs despite emigration to a foreign land. The observance has largely departed from being purely Muslim, in that citizens of all different religious and cultural backgrounds participate in all aspects of Hosay. Sadly, many Master Craftsmen have passed away and related performance traditions, including dancing, have died with them.

The mission of the A.C.T.T. is clear, in that they have identified over 140 such traditions, which they aspire to revive, through education and by documenting the teaching process via film. With this goal as motivation and the commitment of corporate sponsors, including the First Citizens Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, among others, to see this vision materialize, the towering mausoleum displayed here, was built.

The project has coincided with the Golden Jubilee celebrations underway in Trinidad & Tobago, which has reached a milestone 50th Anniversary of Independence from British rule, on the 31st of August, this year (2012). In an intimate unveiling ceremony, at the construction site, located within the nation’s capital city of Port-of-Spain, the magnificent artifact was revealed for the first time on Wednesday 7th November, 2012. In attendance was the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, His Excellency, Professor George Maxwell Richards, who in his feature address, echoed the plea of the A.C.T.T., for conservation of local artistic and cultural traditions, for the sake of our future generations.

In honour of the Golden Jubilee of our Independence, the “tadjah” was presented as a Gift to the Nation. The motifs and other aspects of its design, all incorporated symbols of national pride. It is the tallest of its kind to have been constructed in perhaps, the last century, not only in the Caribbean, but the Western Hemisphere. For this reason, it is hoped that after the structure is adjudicated by the Guinness World Record Committee, it will be determined to have set a record in a completely new category. Early tadjahs in Trinidad, reached whopping heights of as much as 50 feet. However, with the advent of electricity and planned roadways, these heights became impossible to parade during the yearly passion play, re-enacting the battle at Karbala and the slaying of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussein.

The Caribbean’s tallest “tadjah” will be on display throughout the twin-island Republic, to promote awareness of the craft. This inaugural event has already begun the realisation of its dream, in that it has generated greater interest in Hosay-related artistic traditions. In future endeavours, festivals such as Carnival, will also be highlighted.

Kavita Gosine-Baboolal
(Apprentice, Guild of Master Artisans, Trinidad & Tobago)

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