It is the story of Juan Bono which stands between the Christian idealism of Spain and the cynical pragmatism of the West Indies. In the words of the cleric it goes as follows:
"On the island of Trinidad, which is much larger than Sicily and much more felicitious, close to the mainland at Paria, is where the Indians are the best to be found in the Indies, as to goodness and virtues. The Spanish tyrant, with sixty or seventy men, all rascals and experienced thieves, sent a messenger to proclaim that they had come to dwell on the island in peace with the Indians.
The people welcomed them as if they were kinsmen, as if they were their sons, and treated them with cheerful kindness, serving them, bringing them gifts and giving them their surplus food, as is the custom in the Indies, everywhere... they built a big house, large enough to accommodate all of them, according to the desire expressed by the Spaniards who said they wanted to live together, but in reality it was because of a plan they had, which they soon carried out.
When the double roof of straw was made, so that those within could not see outside, they had as many Indians as possible come into the house, with the pretence that they were needed to do some finishing work, then the Spaniards posted guards so that no one could leave... they forbade the Indians to make a move, and tied them up, and whenever one of the Indians tried to escape he was cut to pieces.
"Some of the Indians managed to escape, either wounded or unharmed, and they, with the villagers who had not entered the house, seized another house and with bows and arrows defended themselves against the Spaniards until the Christians set fire to the house, burning to death all the Indians inside it.
"Then, with their captives who numbered one hundred and eighty or two hundred, the Spaniards went down to their ships, hoisted sail and voyaged to San Juan, where half the number of Indians were sold as slaves after which they voyaged to Hispaniola where the remainder of the captives were sold. (Las Casas, Wagner & Parish)"
The Fragrance of Gold: Trinidad in the Age of Discovery. Johnson, Kim. CPPPL 1993 Ltd, San Juan, Trinidad and Tobago. 1997. p. 28
To the Christian mind the seven days symbolise the seven virtues, the seven supplications of the Pater Noster, the seven Beatitudes, the seven moments of the Passion, the seven deadly sins, the seven sacraments and the seven penitential psalms. The twelve months signify the apostles; the four seasons, the evangelists; the year, Christ.
In this New World, where a helmet fits badly on a well-groomed head, how do the Spanish translate this so that the Indians might comprehend?
Bartoleme de las Casas, then a young conquistador and slave owner, witnessed the method practised in Espanola and Cuba:
"And the Christians, with their horses and swords and pikes began to carry out massacres and strange cruelties against them. They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor the pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughterhouse.
"They laid bets who, with one stroke of the sword, coud spilt a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike. They took infants from their mothers' breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, 'Boil there, you offspring of the devil!'
"They made low wide gallows on which the hanged victims feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and burned them alive."
The Middle Passage - The Caribbean Revisited. Naipaul, V. S. Vintage Books, New York. 1962. p. ?
West Indians are frightened and ashamed of the past. They know about Christophe and L'Ouverture in Haiti and the Maroons in Jamaica; but they believe that elsewhere slavery was a settled condition, passively accepted through more than two centuries. It is not widely known that in the eighteenth century slave revolts in the Caribbean were as frequent and violent as hurricanes, and that many were defeated only by treachery of 'faithful' slaves.
In Trinidad almost nothing is known of the bush-Negroes of Surinam, though their story might promote a recovery of racial pride. Negro slaves had always been escaping into the bush in Surinam - in the smaller islands there was no such possibility - but the movement did not become general until 1667, in the interval between the British withdrawal and the Dutch occupation. The movement continued throughout the next hundred years, brutality leading to escape, massacres, reprisals, increased brutality.
'It is felt as a terror,' an English traveller wrote as late as 1807, 'to menace a Negro with selling him to a Ducthman', and Stedman's Narrative shows why. 'The colony of Surinam', Stedman wrote, 'is reeking and dyed with the blood of African negroes', and this was no figure of speech.
The Middle Passage - The Caribbean Revisited. Naipaul, V. S. Vintage Books, New York. 1962. p. 189-190
There is slavery in the food, in the saltfish still loved by the islanders. Salvery in the absence of family life, in the laughter in the cinema at films of German concentration camps, in the fondness for terms of racial abuse, in the physical brutality of strong to weak: nowhere in the world are children beaten as savagely as in the West Indies.
The Middle Passage - The Caribbean Revisited. Naipaul, V. S. Vintage Books, New York. 1962. p. 189
The missionary must first teach self-contempt. It is the basis of the faith of the heathen convert. And in these West Indian territories, where the spiritual problem is largely that of self-contempt, Christianity must be regarded as part of the colonial conditioning.
It was the religion of the slave-owners and at first an exclusive racial faith. It bestowed righteousness on its possessors. It enabled the Dutch in Guiana to divide the population into Christians and Negroes: the Berbice slave rebellion of 1762 was a war between Christians and rebels. The captured rebels were tried for 'Christian murder', and it is instructive to read of the death of Atta, the rebel chief:
'Five of them were afterwards burnt with small fire, or rather, roasted, and continually nipped with pincers; and another stood on the wood-heap and died at once.
After this the fire was slowly lighted around Atta so that his agonies should lsat longer; through which it happened then that notwithstanding they kindled the fire at eleven o clock; he still remained alive half-an-hour later.
It was a matter of surprise that they all let themselves be burnt, broken on the wheel, hanged, etc., without shrieking or moaning. The only thing that Atta said was to the Governor, frequently calling out in his negro language, "My God, what have I done? The Governor is right. I suffer what I have deserved. I thank him!"
This was the end of that renowned monster whose blood-thirstiness and cruelty brought about the death of so many Christians and the almost irreparable destruction of this Colony.'
Even while I was in Georgetown reading this account by Hartsinck of the Berbice slave-rebellion, Christians in British Guiana were protesting at the government's plan to take over control of aided schools. Christianity was in danger in British Guiana.
Although since emancipation Christianity has asserted itself and has in many ways rescued the colonial society from utter corruption, it has not lost its racial associations, its association with power and prestige and progress.
The ministers of God, like the senior administrators of the civil service, were expected to be white; it is only of late that the white collars of church and civil service have begun to set off a certain nigrescence. The striving towards the now accommodating faith of an unaccommodating race has inevitably created deep psychological disturbances.
It has confirmed the colonial in his role as imitator, the traveller who never arrives.
The Middle Passage - The Caribbean Revisited. Naipaul, V. S. Vintage Books, New York. 1962. p. 160-161
"All our study materials for the church came from the USA and much of our offering money went back tuh the USA. We was so poor, but yet dey tell we dat we must give everything tuh God. Ah guess the USA was God."
Sweet and Sour Trinidad and Tobago. Johnny Coomansingh. Xlibris Corp, USA. 2010
Very late that evening or very early next morning we were to load up with more emigrants at Grenada, the spice island. It was our last night on board and we had a little party in the bar. The barman had not prepared for us and we quickly exhausted his brandy and Spanish champagne. We roused purser and stewards but could get no more drink. While we were talking to a steward an emigrant from St. Kitts said he could help us, if we wanted brandy.
"Let the poor feller keep it," said Mr. Mackay, his soft mood persisting. "Is probably the first and last bottle of brandy he ever going to buy. When the cold start busting his skin in England he going to be damn glad of that brandy."
But the emigrant insisted. He was short, middle-aged and fat, with spectacles and a scratched skin.
Kripal Singh and I went down to the emigrant's cabin, going lower and lower, picking our way past babies, down polished, hot corridors, catching glimpses of choked little cabins, heads below sheets, one above the other, opened suitcases, hearing sounds of thick muted activity all round us, seeing men and women hurrying to and from lavatories.
The emigrant did not let us into his cabin. He half-opened his door - four bunks, each dotted with a head emerging out of sheets, and many suitcases - squeezed in, shut the door, and presently came out with a bottle whose label was all gone except for one corner with the word "brandy".
Kripal Singh, whom I regarded as an expert in these matters, looked satisfied. He gave the emigrant five dollars and the emigrant, retiring, shut the door of his cabin. We ran up with the bottle to the deck, where the fresh air revived us.
Philip said, "This is rum. Even Spanish brandy isn't that colour. This is a thing they call sugarcane brandy."
We all three went down again to the hot, airless lower decks. We knocked. The emigrant opened. He was in vest and pants, without his spectacles. He gave us our money back and took his bottle, without a word.
"You see what I mean, Miss Tull," Mr. Mackay said. "You see how these beasts treat their own people? And he ain't even get to England. When a few white fellers jump on him and mash his arse he will start bawling about colour prejudice."
The Middle Passage - The Caribbean Revisited. Naipaul, V. S. Vintage Books, New York. 1962. p. 28-29
Trinidad considers itself, and is considered by the other West Indian territories to be, modern. It has night clubs, restaurants, air-conditioned bars, supermarkets, soda fountains, drive-in cinemas, and a drive-in bank. But modernity in Trinidad means a little more. It means a constant alertness, a willingness to change, a readiness to accept anything which films, magazines and comic strips appear to indicate as American.
To be modern is to ignore local products and to use those advertised in American magazines. The excellent coffee which is grown in Trinidad is used only by the very poor and a few middle-class English expatriates. Everyone else drinks Nescafe or Maxwell House or Chase or Sanborn, which is more expensive but is advertised in the magazines and therefore acceptable.
The elegant and comfortable morris chairs, made from local wood by local craftsmen, are not modern and have disappeared except from the housees of the poor. Imported tubular steel furniture, plastic-straw chairs from Hong Kong and spindly cast-iron chairs have taken their place.
It is an old West Indian problem. Trollope complained about it in Jamaica in 1859:
'But it is to be remarked all through the island that the people are fond of English dishes, and that they despise, their own productions. They will give you ox-tail soup when turtle would be much cheaper. Roast beef and beefsteaks are found at almost every meal. An immense deal of beer is consumed.
'When yams, avocado pears, the mountain cabbage, plantains, and twenty other delicious vegetables may be had for the gathering, people will insist on eating bad English potatoes; and the desire for English pickles in quite a passion.'
Charles Kingsley, who ten years later spent a winter in Trinidad, tells the story in 'At Last' of a German who, because Trinidad produced sugar, vanilla and cocoa, decided to make chocolate in Trinidad. He did, and his price was a quarter that of the imported. "But the fair creoles would not buy it. It could not be good; it could not be the real article, unless it had crossed the Atlantic twice to and from that centre of fashion, Paris."
One of the complaints of tourists in Jamaica is that they cannot get Jamaican food. And once in a small intellectuals' club in Port of Spain I asked for gauva jelly; they only had greengage jam.
Modernity in Trinidad, then, turns out to be the extreme susceptibility of people who are unsure of themselves and, having no taste or style of their own, are eager for instruction.
The Middle Passage - The Caribbean Revisited. Naipaul, V. S. Vintage Books, New York. 1962. p. 39-41
In the society page of the Trinidad Guardian I read that yet another American had bought a piece of the island of Tobago, following those who had bought pieces of Barbados, Antigua, Dominica, Montserrat (the Montserrat Government had been running a campaign to attract American buyers).
The islands were small, poor and overpopulated. Once, because of their wealth, a people had been enslaved; now, because of their beauty, a people were being dispossessed. Land values had risen steeply; in some islands peasant farmers could no longer afford to buy land; and emigration to the unwelcoming slums of London, Birmingham and half a dozen other English cities was increasing.
Every poor country accepts tourism as an unavoidable degradation. None has gone as far as some of these West Indian islands, which, in the name of tourism, are selling themselves into a new slavery.
The elite of the islands, whose pleasures, revealingly, are tourist's pleasures, ask no more than to be permitted to mix with the white tourists, and the governments make feeble stipulations about the colour bar.
'And so she went down to the ladies' room,' a taxi-driver in one of these islands told me. 'And - you know these people - they thought she was just another black 'oman. And they tell she no, sorry, no black 'oman could use the ladies' room.' The taxi driver cackled. 'They didn't know she was the minister wife, man. They had to apologize like hell. We don't stand for that sort of thing here.' For the taxi-driver, it was a personal triumph that the minister's wife, if no one else, was permitted to 'mix' with the tourists.
We stopped for a few minutes at St. Lucia. The landing field was next to the sea and the airport buildings were like those of a railway halt. 'Reminds me of dear old Tobago,one bermuda-shorted tourist said. And my depression was complete.'
The Middle Passage - The Caribbean Revisited. Naipaul, V. S. Vintage Books, New York. 1962. p. 198-199
For seven months I had been travelling through territories which, unimportant except to themselves, and faced with every sort of problem, were exhausting their energies in petty power squabbles and the maintaining of the petty prejudices of petty societies.
I had seen how deep in nearly every West Indian, high and low, were the prejudices of race; how often these prejudices were rooted in self-contempt; and how much important action they prompted.
Everyone spoke of nation and nationalism but no one was willing to surrender the priveleges or even the separateness of his group. Nowhere, except perhaps in British Guiana, was there any binding philosophy: there were only competing sectional interests.
With an absence of a feeling of community, there was an absence of pride, and there was even cynicism. There was, for instance, little concern about West Indian emigration to Britain. It was a lower-class thing; it was a black thing; it was a Jamaican thing.
At another level, it was regarded with malicious pleasure, a form of revenge; and in this pleasure there was no thought for the emigrants or the dignity of the nation about which so much was being said and which on every side was said to be'emergent'. And the population was soaring - in thirty years Trinidad has more than doubled its population - and the race conflicts of every territory were growing sharper.
The Middle Passage - The Caribbean Revisited. Naipaul, V. S. Vintage Books, New York. 1962. p. 241
From the gunmen all over that television station that Friday night, there was almost a running commentary, a grapevine, on events at the Red House downtown where the Prime Minister and other Members of Parliament were being held under the gun. And indeed on whatever else was going on in the country in general.
The gunmen were saying that the police, recovering from the shock of the surprise assault on their headquarters, had regrouped and were reacting with bloody revenge in mind.
They were reportedly shooting randomly into the Red House in spite of the fact that Prime Minister Robinson and an up-to-then-unknown number of Members of Parliament were being held hostage.
Robinson himself, with a gun to his head by the besieged gunmen to call off the attacking security forces over a radiophone, had shouted instead: "Murderers! Torturers! Attack with full force!"
For this extraordinary act of courage, he was shot in the leg by a gunman.
Days of Wrath- The 1990 Coup in Trinidad and Tobago. Pantin, Raoul A. iUniverse, Nebraska. 2007. p. 22-23
"We have had change with no change. If there has been any change, it has been a change toward regression. We have seen the material provisions multiplied, but the spirit of the country is being killed.
We have also seen the political forms abused by those who run the country. Nobody has confidence in Parliament or in justice or in the police or in any of the institutions, financial or social that are administered by this corrupt regime."
Vernet Ramlogan. In On Wings of Change: Self-Portrait of a Developing Caribbean Country, Trinidad-Tobago. Clement B. G. London. Cataloux Publications, USA. 1991, p. 123
"The presence of Americans in the British Caribbean especially was followed by a cultural penetration that has brainwashed our children to the extent that our indigenous culture traits are foreign to many of our own children.
I sang a calypso a few years ago saying that Trinidad is already gone in fact; the Caribbean has gone Uncle Sam. We have been taught to copy Uncle Sam. I think perhaps this deception is because the radio stations bathe our children with this American culture. When the children grow up, they don't understand that our culture has meaning.
Realtor sang a calypso about our radio stations and called on the American names that play the songs; he says these are the people who own our radio stations. And our people who operate the radio stations don't realize the harm they are doing, don't realize that all the monies are going back into the hands of the Americans. Every time you play an American tune of the radio, money is going back to the American people. The psychological harm done to people is not seen by the government or radio stations."
Hasley Lincoln. In On Wings of Change: Self-Portrait of a Developing Caribbean Country, Trinidad-Tobago. Clement B. G. London. Cataloux Publications, USA. 1991, p. 139