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Editor's Note

Free to lead

By Dr Sheila Rampersad

It is 60 years since the repeal of the 1917 Prohibition Ordinance which banned the Spiritual/Shouter Baptist faith. During 1917 to 1951 when the legislation was repealed, the Baptist faith was forced to retreat from public view. Its members were forbidden from erecting or maintaining any so-called Shouter House in which to gather and worship; estate managers and owners were mandated to report any meetings to the police and the police in turn were authorised by the Prohibition Ordinance to enter any building where a meeting was being held, without a warrant.

In the enforcement of the Prohibition, Baptists were arrested, beaten and jailed.

Yet the faith and its members persevered.

Shouter/Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day (March 30) is the designation given to Trinidad and Tobago's national holiday that commemorates the Repeal of the 1917 Prohibition Ordinance which is dated March 30, 1951. As the Baptists were forced from public space for 34 years, so they have re-emerged on the national stage - strengthened and undaunted.

Among the prominent images of the Baptist faith is the large number of women members and elders. Indeed, Spiritual Mothers are an enduring representation of the faith; the designation "Spiritual Mother" referring to those senior women who care for other members of the church and who have spiritual children. There are a couple Spiritual Baptist churches run exclusively by women. For this reason, we dedicate our cover this week to the women of the Baptist faith, in recognition of their defiance and triumph.

The centrality of women in the religion was what First Lady Dr Jean Ramjohn-Richards referenced in her speech last Wednesday while addressing a gathering at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya. Ramjohn-Richards celebrated the achievement of the Baptists but issued an unusual caution against "an over zealous feminist thrust" in the religion.

We consider it important, as part of our commemoration of Spiritual/Shouter Baptist Liberation Day to subject the First Lady's reflection to closer scrutiny. We publish the full text of her speech on page four and add perspectives from Baptist women elders on page five under the intriguing headline "Who's Afraid of a Spiritual Mother?" We hope the pieces stimulate reflection and discussion.

Adding to this week's fare, we also carry stories of women making strides in many other areas: Sarah-Jane Gopaul — the only female rally car driver in the country; Asha and Ayanna Diaz — young designers experimenting with the "conservatively fashionable"; and we dedicate our centre spread to author Shani Mootoo speaking on the contradictions that define Trinidad and Tobago.

Happy reading!

Dr Sheila Rampersad

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