Sunday, August 30, 2015

Trinidad and Tobago

A familiar story here too; just as the Pacific Island tales seem to corroborate and repeat each other, so do the Caribbean; and I would like to say that they are all much of a muchness, but it is generally the lack of muchness that occupies the space. Trinidad and Tobago is an exception in that it has a great deal of muchness; of which more shortly. Before that, yes, the familiar tale: of Spanish discovery and colonisation replaced by British conquest in the 19th century; of Napoleonic Frenchman bringing their African slaves, and freed “coloureds” and “mulattos” working the sugar and the cocoa plantations until the British took them over; and when slavery was abolished, and the ungrateful former slaves demanded to be paid properly, indentured labourers brought from India because they worked for not much more than had been paid to the slaves.  

The two islands became a single independent entity in 1962, with a historian named Eric Williams, who had served as their first Prime Minister since 1956, becoming their first President, and remaining so in fairly genial and democratic manner until he died in 1981. By then Trinidad and Tobago had severed its final links with Britain, establishing a republic in place of the monarchy, and joining the Commonwealth. It was the existence of much muchness that gave it the political strength to do so, because oil and gas had been discovered in significant quantities, and lying that close to the United States it didn’t need to go hunting for a purchaser. 

There was, there still is, other muchness too; Trinidad and Tobago may lie close to the US, but it lies even closer to Venzuela and Colombia, both of whom need transit points for the shipment of cocaine, and Trinidad and Tobago has happily obliged. Drugs, of course, come in packages, and the package usually consists of bags of white powder, but to get the whole package, or to get it safely to its intended destination, also requires little groups of sub-humans wielding guns and unafraid to murder anyone who tries to stop them. These are known as gangs, and when not killing each other, or those police officers, judges and politicians who have declined their bribe-money, or worse, attempted to stop them, they have the unfortunate custom of terrifying tourists and law-abiding natives too. To combat this, the government re-introduced the death penalty in 1990, which is at one level ironic – “Kill All Murderers” – and at another level pointless, since the appeals process delays the execution until natural causes do the deed, and the information on informs us that none have been carried out since 1999.

Away from the politics, it may surprise you to learn that it was Trinidad and Tobago, long before Rio or even New Orleans, which brought the Mardi Gras to the New World, the great carnival that takes place on the eve of Ash Wednesday, and whose intention was always a final indulgence of the flesh (carne-vale in Latin = farewell to the flesh) before the asceticism of Lent. Even more much to add to the muchness.

Marks for: Much

Marks against: Much

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

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