“[…] No forced-labour camp in Trinidad and Tobago or anywhere in the world should celebrate enslavers while ridiculing their victims. What prevailed at Lopinot was not just inconsistent with basic human decency and the espoused values of our republic but also with the truth that the historical evidence supports …”
The following Letter to the Editor about the removal of the sign at the House of Compte de Lopinot was submitted to Wired868 by Shabaka Khabon of the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project:
The shamefully misleading, unhistorical and psychologically damaging signpost, which had for decades engendered reverence for Count de Lopinot and his wife has been removed. The sign described the enslavers as ‘illustrious’ while demeaning the persons whom they trafficked and worked to death as ‘loyal slaves’.
The Cross Rhodes Freedom Project (CRFP), which launched the campaign #NoLoyalSlaves in 2017, had argued that both of these descriptions were based on racist/white-supremacist presumptions consistent with late 19th-century pseudo-science and earlier pro-slavery propaganda concocted to blunt the attack of abolitionist demands for amelioration.
The organisation had continuously lamented the incalculable damage done by this false narrative, as the plantation complex at Lopinot remains a popular destination for schools on educational field trips, as well as local and foreign visitors seeking to learn more about this country’s history.
No forced-labour camp in Trinidad and Tobago or anywhere in the world should celebrate enslavers while ridiculing their victims. What prevailed at Lopinot was not just inconsistent with basic human decency and the espoused values of our republic but also with the truth that the historical evidence supports.
The internationally renowned Trinidadian scholar C.L.R. James paints a hellish picture of the life of the enslaved population in Saint Domingue (Haiti today), where Lopinot first established his unholy enterprise. He said they ‘received the whip with more certainty and regularity than food’.
There is no evidence that anything changed upon Lopinot’s arrival in Trinidad. On the contrary, UWI Professor Emerita Bridget Brereton informs us in her book History of Modern Trinidad 1783 to 1962 that Governor Picton allowed French enslavers, including Lopinot whom she singled out, to introduce into Trinidad all their ‘savage customs and rituals’. She highlighted ‘gross overwork, malnutrition, primitive conditions, diseases, the absence of any medical care’, along with ‘tortures, mutilations and barbaric executions’.
This is the second major success for the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project, following a successful campaign to have the name of the self-professed racist and imperialist Alfred Milner removed from the oldest hall of residence at the University of the West Indies’ St Augustine Campus in 2018. But it is not the end of the initiative.
Executive member of the Lopinot Community Council and Tourism Association Donna Mora is grateful that the offending sign is gone, ‘thanks to the noble efforts of Dr Claudius Fergus and Mr Shabaka Kambon’. She now wants the relevant government entities to engage both the CRFP and the community to develop the site ‘in a more inclusive and honest way’.
The CRFP has already accomplished a lot of research on the site, starting with the indigenous people who first inhabited the area. The organisation has identified enslavers who took over the plantation after Lopinot and found the names of those African people who were enslaved there and Indians who were indentured there after arriving aboard the Fatal Razak.
Along with a proposal for new signage, some of this information has already been turned over to the relevant stakeholders in the Ministry of Agriculture Lands and Fisheries through the Forestry and National Parks Division.
As Lopinot Estate is the last surviving plantation complex in Trinidad, a great deal is at stake. No effort should be spared to ensure that things are done right.
Whether we are talking about the genocide of indigenous Americans, the enslavement of Africans, the indentureship of Indians and others, or the version of apartheid that persisted in this country until independence, telling the truth about the crimes of our colonial past is not just the right thing to do, but essential to realising a deeper commitment to equality and justice in our society.
With the success of #RenameMilnerHall and changes underway at Lopinot, the CRFP can now turn its attention back to the removal of the reverential statuary of Christopher Columbus.
On 18 June 2020, having been presented with a petition signed by 10,000 people, the city corporation of Port of Spain voted to move the statue to the national museum—a fact still not widely known.
Mayor Joseph Martinez used his veto power to block the move and then transferred authority over the statue to the national government. This drew the ire of former Mayor Louis Lee Sing, who attributed Martinez’ vacillation to him not being ‘steeped and grounded in the history of the country’.
The Cross Rhodes Freedom Project has since written the prime minister and petitioned parliament to establish a national committee to develop ‘a comprehensive plan to identify, destroy, repurpose or reconstitute any monuments, memorials, emblems, signs, symbols or the like that celebrate, commemorate and glorify racism and white supremacy’.
This petition was read and approved in the House of Representatives on1 July 2020. On 10 July, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley promised to hold consultations on the matter after the general elections to facilitate change in a ‘civil way … on the basis of knowledge’. Any development is yet to occur.