Noble: Tobago’s evolving role in T&T’s politics, and why I’m as ‘Trinbagonian’ as Chambi Sey

EPL Infrafred Sauna

I thank Wired868 for providing a forum for sensible discussion. I appreciate the engagement and contribution of its reader, Chambi Sey, to my column

Thankfully, he understood my point that we needed to view the whole ‘name’ fiasco through a political lens. Therefore, in this context, I would comment on the use of ‘Trinbagonian’.

Photo: Two football fans support the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Senior Team as they prepare to face Guyana at the Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet on 12 April 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

When words appear in a language, how words evolve and change, and when words are discarded tell a broader social, political, economic, or cultural story. Let us understand the backstory to the names.

Dr Susan Craig-James (2008) informs us that the influential interest groups in both colonies, Trinidad and Tobago, viewed the 1886 proposal to annex Tobago to Trinidad with anxiety.

Sir William Robinson, then governor of Trinidad, had flippantly suggested: “Tobago should, in my opinion, be incorporated with Trinidad and thus become part and parcel of Trinidad… I would further suggest that (the Tobago people) should be invited to transfer themselves and their effects to Trinidad!” Gasp! 

Eventually, the decision was taken to annex. But the disrespect simply morphed. I cite the interminable Tobago Autonomy bill debate. It is fascinating to witness Watson Duke’s appeal to return to the relationship in 1884.

Photo: PDP political leader Watson Duke (centre) poses with supporters in Tobago.
(via PDP)

How do we move from Trinidadian to Trinbagonian? I am not sure. At this point, it appears that only LoopTT consistently uses the latter term: I do not see the leading newspapers doing so.

It probably will emerge with the renewed pride and efforts of the Tobagonian people. Nonetheless, I accept my brother’s point and will amend my ways.

In penning the original piece, I intended to speak to the people of both islands. The cited book by Professor Ann Marie Bissessar and Professor Emeritus John La Guerre (2013) was not particularised to us interested in Trinidadian(traditional use) or Trinbagonian (proposed use) politics. I interpreted the book to use the Guyana discussions as lessons we ought to use.

Tracing Tobago’s impact on the national electoral situation was an important observation. I pondered the Craig-James’ report about the early political stalwarts and their interaction with Dr Eric Williams. My conclusion? The Tobago electorate may sorely test Dr Keith Rowley’s political skills in that framework. 

Photo: PDP deputy political leader and new THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine.
(via PDP)

She (Tobago), who was rejected, is now the cornerstone. Having witnessed the role of the evolving Tobago political groups over the years, I was fascinated to read the book to get a perspective of race as a factor and the interplay between the two Tobago seats and the national outcome.

The question of leadership was teased out. This tale tells where Basdeo Panday’s genius and Mr ANR Robinson’s focus played out. Looking ahead, the question about the results of these seats and their future role will be a source of much interest. The book is helpful in that regard. 

The book deals with Guyana, but those lessons shed light for us in the twin islands. The brutal reign of Forbes Burnham possibly contributes to the fear of the present UNC leadership about possible authoritarian tendencies. The Guyanese political bloodshed has been avoided here but represents a chilling lesson for us who promote rank partisanship.

Do we have mature politicians to navigate the tension for the nation’s good?

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar SC at the funeral of former prime minister Patrick Manning.
(Copyright Power102fm)

It also records the desire of some politicians to have a separate ‘homeland’ for the East Indian community. In this regard, Lionel Seukeran’s autobiography (2006) is informative about the Malborough House Independence discussions and the influence of Jang Bahadoorsingh and HP Singh on Rudranath Capildeo.

Will we face this same situation where partisan agendas threaten national interests? Will we have patriots like Tajmool Hosein, Peter Farquhar and Lionel Seukeran to defend the people’s interests?

The book also reminds us of the recurring idea of creating a union between our country, Guyana, and Suriname. What do we make of this in the light of the expansionist posturing of the present Guyanese government?

As a reader, I understood the book at various levels: the separate countries and lessons from one that the other should have learnt. Their courses of development differed.

Photo: A British soldier (centre) walks the streets of Georgetown in 1953, as Britain overthrew the democratically elected government of then British Guiana.

The interfering hand of the colonial powers wrought immense grief in Guyana. In this regard, the excellent book Guyana: Democracy Betrayed (Narine Singh, 1996) traces the manipulative hand of the British and the USA, who worked in tandem to disrupt the unity for their ends.

Fortunately,  we were able to resist those attempts locally, as well as a vain attempt by the then Indian High Commissioner. But these efforts have not ceased, as evidenced by the unveiling of the Mahatma Gandhi statue in Cedros, among other developments.

The Opposition’s appeal to the US Embassy, during the Donald Trump presidency, is essentially a reprise from pre-Independence days.  

Words matter, but they derive their meaning through the lens of history. We have to be eternally aware of our history and stand firm.

Photo: Dancers for Massy Trinidad All Stars perform to “Curry Tabanca” during the 2015 International Conference and Panorama at the Grand Stands, Queen’s Park Savannah.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Change never comes easily. To advance as a nation, we have to stand shoulder to shoulder. In this effort, I thank and welcome Chambi Sey’s contribution. I stand with him in pursuing equality for all. 

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About Noble Philip

Noble Philip
Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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