By Dr Sharon Syriac
People only talking but they really don’t know
What’s the proper meaning for Trinidad and Tobago
Cipriani start the ball rolling
Now the Doctor doing the bowling
So we have Uncle Eric to perform a real hot trick.
Because this is your land, just as well as my land
This is your place and also is my place
So let we put our heads together
And live like one happy family
Democratically, educationally, We’ll live independently.
Lord Bryner, winner of Trinidad & Tobago Independence Calypso Contest, Our Nation’s Calypso, 1962.
On August 31, 2022, Tony Deyal, with his characteristic use of humour and Calypso challenged our notion of ‘independence’ by dividing the word into its two component parts “in – dependence” and then highlighted our dependence on the State, its policies, practices, and our national traditions as he questioned the worth of that independence.
He did so before the audience of the Holy Faith Sisters and Associates in collaboration with Faithline 1 during the Independence Day holiday in an address entitled ‘The Role of Race and Religion on Nation Building in Trinidad and Tobago’.
His colourful presentation, sprinkled with Calypso renditions from Lord Bryner, Sparrow and Sniper, established the context of our independence, followed by an examination of the challenges race has posed for some in this country and highlighted that religion has largely brought various races together to build our nation.
A silent gasp rippled through the audience when Tony Deyal uttered a radical conclusion, saying, “sixty years ago, we greeted independence as we do everything else, as a stage performance.”
The impetus for this “stage performance”, began with Deyal’s examination of political leadership during the tense pre-independence era when lack of Caribbean unity was demonstrated by Jamaica’s withdrawal from the Federation, leaving historian Dr Eric Williams to utter his famous statement, “One from ten, leaves nought.”
Deyal questioned the outcome of our Independence, first by reviewing Dr Eric Williams’ Independence speech which centred on the meaning of democracy for its citizens and then juxtaposing Dr Williams’ vision with Sparrow’s Calypso, A Model Nation (1962) which emphasised our leaders “always do their best”.
Tony Deyal drily stated, “They always do their best, but for what and for whom?” Sixty years later this question still reverberates throughout Caribbean politics.
Deyal’s peppered critique of Caribbean people was not restricted to politicians. He added his voice to the Mighty Sniper’s Portrait of Trinidad (1965), which, three years after independence, reiterated a growing patriotism in the chorus:
Trinidad is my land
And of it I am proud and glad
Deyal’s own pride in this nation springs from his memories of Carapichaima as “the most racially integrated community in the world”, where diversity was welcomed.
Although born among Hindus with a mother who wanted him to be Catholic, he attended Anglican elementary schools and like many Trinbagonians, he experienced the religious integration that infuses the lived experience of our people.
He further explained: “At 19, I taught in a Presbyterian secondary school, lived next to a Pentecostal church, went to the Shango rituals of my friends, and had Muslim friends whose mosque was right next to the Pentecostals. I never even chased away the Jehovah Witnesses from my gate.
“In fact, I welcomed the Trinidad and Tobago Council of Evangelical Churches when it was formed in 1979 because I believe that all religions are like rivers which flow into the same sea.”
Like many of us who are “Trini to the bone,” our lived experience of religious unity, allows us to celebrate and participate in each other’s religious festivals.
Despite this, Mighty Sniper remains bewildered in his Calypso, saying of this beloved nation, “But I can’t understand/Why some people does talk it bad.”
Deyal offers an explanation to Sniper. He hints that it is not religious disunity but racial inequality which has plagued our post-independence years and led to all the “bad-talk”.
Religion and Gender
Deyal suggested that although Caribbean unity failed to be sustained through the Federation, religion and not politics, succeeded in uniting people in the 1970s. Religious icons like Catholic Archbishop Anthony Pantin, Anglican Bishop Clive Abdulah and Rev Knolly Clarke, as well as the Presbyterian Reverend, Dr Idris Hamid, all joined together to form the Christian Council of Trinidad and Tobago.
That same year, the Inter-Religious Organization (IRO) was born, with the basis of membership for all religious bodies as, ‘Belief in the Fatherhood of God and the Universal Brotherhood of Man.’
Years later, the number of representatives in the IRO increased beyond Christian denominations to include several Hindu and Muslim bodies and although society’s changes later led to the muting of religious organisations, the IRO’s motto, which excludes motherhood and sisterhood as viable unifying principles has not changed.
What is the impact in a society when our language omits motherhood and sisterhood from the clarion call that values fatherhood and brotherhood? Does the notable absence of significant feminine representation in politics or religion eventually lead to disunity, chaos, and destruction?
The future of the present
“The present is the past condition of the future.” Deyal used climate change to explain this utterance, emphasising that what one does in the present, will determine the future.
Thus, in full possession of both capacity and choice, with an awareness of the impending consequences of our actions or inactions regarding our physical environment, we have a moral responsibility to care for that environment today, to preserve a sustainable future environment which we will pass on to future generations tomorrow.
Sixty years in dependence on ethical political leadership, of transparency, amidst a brittle, fragmented glass ceiling that has been so internalised, it keeps many stunted and dependent also on actions today that will ensure a better tomorrow – what was our independence worth?