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October 23, 2006 - Volume 1, No. 4

Style, Sensibility & Prejudice

The View
It is in the 1960s and Friday night around 9:04 PM. Some panists and steelband supporters are liming on the bridge on Duke and Piccadilly Streets. Suddenly, someone yells "Commandos coming!" and everyone starts to run to escape the police. It is now Saturday night after Panorama and you are liming on the corner in a heated conversation about which steelband truly won the Panorama. Suddenly, someone says: "Lawbreakers coming!" At that point, you knew it was time to run for your life because you fear getting hurt by one of the ‘badest’ gangs of the 60s. Other nights it could be "Applejackers coming!" or "Thunderbirds coming!" Now, it is Sunday morning around 4am and you left the fete and feeling hungry. All the restaurants are closed. But, you could bet your life that one place will be surely open. So, you head to Leo’s Grill on Observatory Street for a bread and shark (everyone else sold bake ‘n’ shark). A popular community joke was that when the City market had no shark Leo’s Grill had plenty. If all else fails then you head for George Street to Chico for a fry-egg sandwich and a coffee. Or, you could try your luck on Park Street to catch Suzy-Q with its famous hot-dog and Peanut Punch. Those scenes described the fun and fear that existed among the residents of East Dry River, Port of Spain in Trinidad.

The 1960s was also a time when the shows, styles, people, artisans, gangs, holidays, prejudices, games and movies depicted a simple life that many believed would exist forever until the 1970 black power revolt shocked our consciousnesses and brought the nation into a new reality that led to the present stage. Today, the steelband movement struggles to adapt to globalization and the internationalization of the steelpan instrument as more and more countries become attracted to pan I shall try and give panjumbies a brief look into a period when steelbands and panists, although not accepted by the general middle class (Africans, non-Africans and the Trinbago police force) enjoyed a certain kind of celebrity status in their own communities. As we struggled for a voice in the social dialogue of Trinidad we found time to enjoy our surroundings. Here are some of the things we enjoyed and did and how they affected us.

The Shows
"The glitter and the gloss we see
Is not always the truth or reality
But, if you look close enough
You can see it is nothing but a bluff
To fool the innocent and blind
And dazzle the community with sublime."

During the 1960s, the three most important shows for young people and adults were: Aunty Kay, Sunday Serenade and Teen Dance Party. The Auntie Kay show featured mostly talented young people from the low-income areas who came every Sunday to display their singing talents which were heard on the radio. Kathleen Warner, who everyone affectionately called Auntie Kay organized and ran the Auntie Kay show with Bob Gittens. Mr. Gittens was known as Uncle Bob and was a radio announcer at Radio Trinidad, one of the two radio stations at the time. In those days, the Auntie Kay Show was held at the Radio Trinidad broadcasting studio on Maraval Road. It was a half-hour show which began at two o’clock in the afternoon and ended at two thirty. But, that half-hour was enough time for those talented children to get their fifteen minutes of community fame to show their various talents. The children performed pop songs, calypso and sacred music. Children like Ann-Marie Innis, Errol Asche, Robert Narine, Cliff Lezama, and the now famous calypsonians Relator and the late Prowler performed as teenagers on the show. Later on, the show moved to the Town Hall on Frederick Street and later to the Deluxe Cinema.

The Sunday Serenade show was an adult show that featured singers, calypsonians, musicians, dancers like the Julia Edwards dance troupe and other performers. Sam Ghany, an announcer in charge of advertising at Radio Trinidad, ran the show. Famous musicians like Felix Roach, Ralph Davies, Clive Bradley, Andre Tanker, Monty Williams and Bert Bailey performed regularly on the show. There were also singers like Ed and Angela Johnson, Earl Harewood, Rudolph Boyce, Lennox Picou, Telly Maxim, Barbara Absalom and Ann Marie Innis. And, there were groups like Fabulous Strollers with their lead singer Johnny Douglas, Starlighters, Andre Tanker and the Flamingoes, Successions and the Lunatics who were all regular performers on the show. During the calypso season, calypsonians from the Original Young Brigade calypso tent, starring the Mighty Sparrow appeared on the show. This gave the tent an opportunity to showcase its calypsonians for the upcoming carnival season. It was free advertisement. Sometimes a steelband would make a guest appearance.

Teen Dance Party was held at Television house at Radio Trinidad. The show mirrored the popular show from abroad called ‘Shindig’. Every Wednesday evening at 6pm teenagers from all over Port of Spain and the country side gathered on Teen Dance Party to dance. The show was televised and brought to the public. Those who could not attend the show would sit around their television in the living room to watch other teenagers dance the latest dances. Sometimes there would be guest singers. One of the popular guest singers was Ann Marie Innis. The moderator of the show was Hazel Ward. The unrecognized producer of the show was Roland Guy. Two of the best dancers on the show were Janet Peters and Herman Cashie.

The adult place of entertainment was the famous Penthouse. The Penthouse was situated on the roof-top of the then tallest building in Trinidad, Salvatori’s Building that was at the corner of Frederick Street and Independence Square in Port of Spain. It was owned by Choy Aming who also led an orchestra. Every Sunday afternoon the Penthouse held ‘Rum Punch’ parties which were parties for young people and only served rum punches. The rum punch was a drink mixture of beverage and a little alcohol with a dash of bitters. There was also music by Clarence Curvan’s orchestra and sometimes there would be singers like Ann Marie Innis and a few calypsonians like Sparrow, Shorty, Explainer and Superior. Except for the Penthouse, most entertainment places were closed on a Sunday. The only parities that were held on a Sunday were christenings, birthday parties and weddings, since most people belonged to one of the Christian denominations. At that time, Christianity held sway on its believers who believed that Sunday was a day of rest from the entertainment activities of the week. So, public parties were unofficially forbidden. But, other activities like sports, talent shows, the movies and parties at ‘The Penthouse’ were permitted on a Sunday.

The 1970s brought a new kind of party and radio announcer. The party was now called ‘Soul Party’ and was kept at famous addresses as Darceuil Lane, Lastique Street, Gopaul Avenue, Casablanca Pan Theatre (Panyard) on Argyle Street and the Scarlet Ibis Club at St. Augustine. Those parties evolved from the Black Power movement with its emphasis on political entertainment as a form of community participation. A new music was introduced to the young African generation called ‘soul music’. It was a politically conscious music that sung of the struggles of African Americans with references to the racial inequalities that existed in America. Africans in Trinbago identified with the lyrics because they spoke to a common discrimination and inequality faced by Africans all around the world. It also ushered in the DJ era. The DJ played his music on turntables with large speakers blasting soul music. First among them was Big Man City who blazed the trail for other DJs like Che-Che, Sound City and others.

The new radio announcer was called a DJ. And, for the first time in Trinbago the entertainment format on the radio changed. No longer did the audiences receive a soft-spoken announcer appealing to their calmer nature. The new DJ was loud and in your face type. First among the DJs was Billy Reece. Billy Reece had the right style for the new music. He had lived in America for some time. Some even said that he was born in America. But, true or not he had an American accent which was not too heavy like the Southerner but somewhat like a New Yorker which captured the New York style of DJing. He came on the radio on Saturday morning at 9:00 am until noon. And, from the moment you heard him it was pure rap, smooth and silky soul. Billy was a master DJ. He knew how to work the Saturday morning liming crowd, especially those on the drag. Billy Reece personified the late popular New York DJ Frankie Crooker’s statement: "If Frankie Crooker isn’t on your radio then your radio just isn’t on." Billy became a Saturday morning icon. Later, he left radio and started DJing at parties and Soul Shows. He then fell victim to drugs and alcoholic and eventually died poor and destitute.

The 60s was one big party for teenage Trinbagonians. Every Saturday night, you would see young men dressed in their bell-bottom pants with their Afro hairstyles and wearing bright multi-colored shirts or beautiful dashikis heading to one of those soul parties. Also, there would be young African women dressed in their long African dresses with Afro hairstyles and silver bracelets wrapped around their wrists. The sisters had stopped pressing their hair and adopted the natural look. The 60s was the year of the YGB, (Young, Gifted and Black) in Trinbago. Of course, many young Indians participated too. And, there was marijuana and lots of it. But, the turf wars and marijuana dealers had not yet begun. Marijuana was still a recreational drug at that time. The few ‘ganga’ sellers were not yet drug lords who protected their turf with guns and violence. Most people got high to have a good time at parties. Many of us did not see the harm and the senseless deaths that it was to bring to our communities as it evolved into cocaine use and other hard drugs. Soon, drugs became a source of employment for many as jobs became scarce. As a result, turfs developed with armed gunmen to protect the turfs. And life lost its precious meaning as young men were killed by the gun in the drug wars.

As the Black Power movement brought new changes there was a new paradigm taking place that affected the social relationships that existed. Most of the residents who lived behind the bridge were young, innocent and ambitious. To them, life was simple, pleasurable and fruitful. All the children attended the neighboring schools. I attended Rosary Boys’ Roman Catholic School. Some of the children were fortunate and won scholarships to attend schools like Saint Mary’s College, Queens Royal Collage, Trinity College and Fatima College. Those were the top boys’ colleges in the nation.

The girls, who were fortunate to pass the entrance examinations, attended the top girls’ colleges like Holy Name Convent, St. Rose’s, Providence Intermediate High School, St. Joseph’s Convent and Bishop’s Anstey Girl’s School. The students at those schools were mostly from areas like Woodbrook, Cascade, St. Anns, St. Clair and Belmont. But, St. Roses was the exception because it had a high African and Indian attendance from behind the bridge. Providence and Bishop’s Anstey also catered to the African middle class children. Most of the girls from local White, Chinese and Portuguese families attended Holy Name and St. Joseph Convents.

The Styles

"It isn’t that you know how beauty originated
But when you see it you understand
it can’t be imitated."

During the 1960s and early 1970s, every young person looked forward to the weekend. Young people lived for the weekends that started on a Friday afternoon. Every Friday after school at three o’clock they would gather on Frederick Street. At that time Frederick Street was the main fashion-street. There were numerous stores on Frederick Street or nearby like Glendenings, Woolworths, Stetchers, Singers, Stephens and Todd, Forgothys, Y. DeLimas Jewelers, WC Ross, Pierrera’s Camera Shop, Yufe Bros, Laurels, HP Singh, Aboud, Maraj Brothers Jewelers, Habibs, Hardware and Electric, Hadeeds, J.T. Johnsons, Narwanis, Singhs and London Fashions. There were also three famous restaurants on Frederick Street, Inn and Out, Frenchie’s and Luciano’s. There was the church known as Gray Friars Church that was situated between Queen and Knox Streets. Its members belonged to the white gentry from the surrounding arrears like St. Clair, Cascade, St. Anns, Woodbrook and Goodwood Park. I do not remember ever seeing any Africans or Indians attending services there.

From the top of Frederick Street at the corner of Park Street, stretching down to Independence Square, groups of young people would be seen on each corner making a fashion statement. On a Friday afternoon after work at four o’clock that gathering would begin the ritual for the weekend that lasted until around five or six o’clock in the afternoon. In those days all the stores closed at four o’clock. If you could afford it, you dressed your best on Friday afternoon if you were going to be on Frederick Street. If you were in school you did the same. It was unthinkable for a young person to be caught on Frederick Street on a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning without their best attire. If they did, then they were exposed to the ridicule and prejudices of youth. They would be teased and reduced to mere puppetry.

As a result, young people prepared well for the weekly ritual. Also, that was the time to seek out dates between young girls and boys for the weekend parties. So, attire was destiny. Many a famous courtship began on Frederick Street. Most married couples could attest to that first meeting on Frederick Street. On Frederick Street young men sought dates from the young ladies to accompany them to the weekend parties or movies. Most of the communities such as Nelson Street, Belmont, Woodbrook, St. James, San Juan, Barataria, Laventille, Gonzales, Cocorite, Deigo Martin, Petit Valley, Carenage, Morvant and Maraval were represented by their best and brightest young people.

The shopping started on Friday afternoon around four o’clock in the afternoon. The young people would spend Friday and Saturday purchasing their fabrics for shirts and pants and their shoes for the weekend party or movie. In those days most young people did not purchase their shirts and pants from the stores. As a matter of fact buying a shirt or a pair of pants from the store was seen as a put down. The pair of pants purchased from the store was known as ‘pants on the nail.’ To wear a ‘pants on the nail’ was a put down. No young person would dare wear one.

The liming ritual continued on Saturday morning around ten o’clock and lasted until two or three o’clock in the afternoon. In those days all the stores closed at noon on Saturday. The shops closed half day on Thursdays. Saturday afternoon was used for the final preparations for the Saturday night parties and movies. After the liming and shopping, the young people would return to their respective communities and continue to lime until into the evening.

Another weekend ritual was called window-shopping. Every Sunday evening around 8:00 PM young and old could be seen walking down Frederick Street looking into store windows at the various consumer goods in the stores. It was also a time for couples, married and unmarried, to exercise in frivolity and wishful thinking. Although most of the merchandise was expensive and unattainable to the onlookers, nevertheless, it was free to gaze upon those goods. For the young couples, it was a time for young men to promise their girl friends the moon and the stars. Sometimes you got your first kiss.

The liming and shopping filled a past time for the young people from all areas but more so for the residents of the East Dry River community. They believed that most outsiders were prejudiced against them because of their place of residency and that exposed them to bigotry from the rest of the country. The stigmatization produced one positive result. It gave them a high self-esteem and made them feel some comfort knowing that they excelled in fashions, music and sports.

I started my liming ritual first on Duke Street at the corner of Belgrade Street. Duke Street is one of the longest streets in Port of Spain. Duke Street ran from the corner of Belgrade Street down to Wrightson Road. Later, I also limed down Duke Street near the abandoned Quarry where most of the children played. In the Quarry there was a mechanic shop owned by Mr. Ralph who repaired cars, trucks and taxis. One of the benefits of that mechanic shop was the availability of ball bearings that was used in the scooters that we made as children. We would steal those ball bearings from Mr. Ralph Mechanic Shop. The genius in us flowed as we created those scooters.

There were other businesses on Duke Street: Ms. Mary store, Ellis shop at the corner of Pitchery lane, Tanty Tea Shop, John Coal’s Shop, Singh’s Shop and Ms. Sylvia’s Shop. Ms. Mary was African single woman. Ellis was a Chinese whose parents owned the shop. Although Ellis was Chinese he got along very well with Africans and the few Indians in the community. I remember talking to him a lot. He was very neat and would clean his car daily. Tanty was an African woman and single. Mr. John was from Haiti. Singh was married to a woman called Dewan and had a daughter named Savatri. Ms. Sylvia was an African woman and single. Duke Street was famous for its mixture of white, African and Indian families. There were two white families: the McVorens the Washingtons. All of the McVorens were adults and seniors. Among the Washingtons were teenagers like Ethylene, Gregory, Jeffery and another brother and sister.

In the early 1960s, the residents of East Dry River (behind the bridge) were a mixture of working and middle class people of mostly African descent and a few Chinese and East Indian. Most of the Indians and Chinese residents were shopkeepers. This led to much resentment from the Africans. Nevertheless, they still patronized those merchants. The East Indians were more amenable to mixing with the Africans than the Chinese. Maybe it was because of their black skin color. The Indians joined gangs and became members of the various steelbands and had many African friends.

The Chinese community was different. The Chinese were mostly shopkeepers and remained distant from the rest of the community. They had a Chinese Association on Charlotte Street near Observatory Street. That was the home of the famous ‘Mile a Minute’ who was a Chinese character who sold peanuts on the streets of Port of Spain. He was very short and dressed in a short khaki pants and wore sneakers (Jim Boots) with a hat. Most of the Chinese community only interacted with the other members of the community from behind their shop counters when they sold to them. Their children did not mix with either Indians or Africans. After school they would head to their homes until the next day when they journeyed to school again. Sometimes a few of the men would take African or Indian women as common law wives. But, that was the extent of the mixing.

The People
"To all who walk, talk, see and feel
The people shall be the first to reveal
What the community needs and wants
Or, it could happen that no one
The young, the old, the male, the female
The good, the bad, the thin, the fat all tell a good tale."

The liming areas around Belgrade and Duke Streets were neutral zones. Although there were many nearby gangs like Thunderbirds, Spike Jones, Lawbreakers and Silk Hats the young people from that area did not join gangs and the area was treated with neutrality in the midst of the gang warfare. I remember important community residents like Bookie Holder. Bookie was tall and slim and lived with a woman and their only son called Vernon. She drank a lot and was drunk many times. Bookie did not drink and they argued a lot. Their son Vernon worked in the civil service at the Red House.

Vernon loved calypso and sports. He was an avid cricketer. He was also a great sports organizer and was always the first to organize a cricket match on a Sunday morning. The local cricket team was made up of boys who resided in the community on Belgrade and Duke Streets and Laventille Road. The membership consisted of boys like Boyie Ramsamooj (Boyboy), Nester Thomas and his brother Steve, Denison ‘Jim’ Williams and his brother Lloyd, Denzil and his two brothers Gerald and Kenwyn (Curly), Dan Miller and his brothers Keith and Morris, Lloyd ‘Sam’ Santana, Panther, Boyie, whose grandmother was Nanny and owned a parlor on Belgrade Street, Perry and myself. Later on, they would form a soccer club. I suggested that we name the club Beldukes because most of the members lived on either Belgrade or Duke Streets and limed there. It seemed only fitting to name the group ‘Beldukes’. My idea was accepted and Beldukes was born. We played in Mervina’s Soccer League.

Next, there was Mr. Barrington who lived with his wife. They had no children. Mr. Barrington worked on the docks. He was the first person I knew that was a member of the Rosicrucian Secret Society. During the second-world war he was a member of the West Indian Regiment. While in the regiment he traveled to Egypt. He would tell the young men about his experiences during the war. We learned a lot from him. Mr. Barrington and my grandfather were close fiends and at nights they would spend time in his store discussing political and world events. His contribution to the community was to foster an inquiring mind among the young people as he told his stories.

Then there was J.B. Moore who lived with his wife Ms. Una at the top of Duke Street at the corner of Belgrade. They adopted a son called Nathaniel. Mr. Moore was a construction worker and a gambler. He loved to play the horses. Mr. Moore was a very serious and never seemed to smile. Most of the children were scared of him. At times when they played cricket or soccer in the street and the ball would go into his yard they would have to plead to get it. There were only three of the kids that got his attention. They were Boyie, Nester and Dennison ‘Jim’ Williams. They could always get the ball without an argument or resistance from Mr. Moore.

Another elder was Mr. Mack who was a civil servant but was also the community’s barber. He lived with his brother on Belgrade Street then moved to Duke Street. Then there was Mr. Joey who was the community’s mattress maker, who lived by himself. There were people as Mr. Noel, the community’s shoemaker who lived on Constitution Hill and Harold Thompson, the community’s tailor who made my first pair of long pants. He lived on Leau Place around Picadilly Street. Some of the famous women in his community were Miss Mamito, a washer woman who lived on Shuler Street; Miss Constantine who owned a parlor and lived on Shuler Street, Miss Peatra who lived on Schuler Street, Miss Marshall who owned a parlor with her husband on La Coule Street, Nanny who owned a parlor and lived on Belgrade Street, Dewan who shared ownership of a shop with her husband and lived on Duke Street, Miss Rochester who owned a parlor on Basilon Street, Miss Sylvia who owned a parlor on Duke Street, Ena Charles who owned a parlor, Tanty who owned a Tea Shop on Duke Street, Miss Mary who owned a parlor on Duke Street and Miss Roslyn who owned a parlor on St. Rose Street. All those women had one thing in common. They were women who either own their own businesses or shared ownership with their husbands. And, most of them were married. They were also very assertive and business oriented and yet retained their femininity.

Some of the interesting characters around Port of Spain were John Craig, Ma Britain, Spit in the Sea, Clovis, Toes-up, Hinds and Doc. It was rumored that John Craig had the distinction of being a schoolmate of the late Prime Minister Dr. Eric Williams. Some say that he was very intelligent, brighter than Eric Williams who many considered to be the brightest individual in the then world. Ma Britain lived on Belgrade Street behind the bridge. She was infamous for her dirty mouth. Everyone she met she cussed out loudly and dared them to respond. Spit in the Sea lived in Belmont. He was famous for walking from Belmont to the Wharf each weekday and would spit in the sea and return to Belmont. That was his daily ritual. Clovis was policeman who many alleged to be a homosexual. Some people said that he tried to attract little boys using his policeman status to intimidate them. Toes-up was character who worked on Nelson Street in a mattress factory. His job was to beat the fiber that was used to make the mattresses. His toes were lifted up and that is how he got the name. School children teased him and he ran after them. Mr. Hinds was another homosexual who hanged out in Woodford Square, a public forum. Doc lived in Jackson Place behind the bridge. He would walk from Piccadilly Street up to Duke Street to the local Quarry and back singing the song ‘Please help me I am falling’. No matter what, he would not travel beyond the Quarry on Duke Street. As boys we would tease these characters on our way from school by calling them names and often running away when they took notice.

The Artisans
"They crafted, cut, bent, shaped and curved it
But it needed the final touch of personal fit
They never gave them less than their due
And delivered it personally to you."

During the 1960s, there were many artisans all over Trinidad. As such, 'behind the bridge' had a few. The artisan community was comprised of tailors, barbers, shoemakers (Cobblers), carpenters and masons. Only men did those jobs in those days. Throughout the community you could find tailor-shops, barbershops and shoemaker shops. On Prince Street at the corner of Nelson Street you had the famous Red Box Shoemaker Shop. On Fromager Street at the corner of Constitution Hill you had Noel Shoe Maker Shop. The famous barbershops were Hollywood on Queen Street, Zachary's on Charlotte Street, Shahadath Mohammed on George Street, Roosevelt and Corbie's on Duke Street and Francique's on Henry Street. Some of the famous tailors were: Bob on Frederick Street, Chase on Duke Street, Frankie on Nelson Street, Yet-Singh on Charlotte Street, Decca on Duke Street, Kenrick on Upper Duke Street, Frogo on Duke Street, Clarence ‘Box’ Gore on Duke Street, Audra on Nelson Street and Rupert ‘Horse’ Alexander on George Street and later on, Wilsibo Fashions on Fromager Street. The famous shoemakers were: Red Box on Prince Street at the corner of Nelson Street, Noel on Constitution Hill, and Mr. George on Schuller Street. The leather store that provided the equipment and tools for the shoemakers was the Nagib Elias Hardware Store on Charlotte Street. Those artisans catered to a fashion conscious community who loved to be groomed and well dressed on the weekends.

The artisans also provideding le to the young people in the community. It was customary for young boys to apprentice with an artisan. One day, your mother (It was usually the mother) would take you to the artisan and with these words: "George, I bring the boy to learn tailoring." With those words you became an apprentice. I never knew an artisan to refuse such a demand. For myself, I apprenticed with a tailor name Louis 'Gage' Wallen. Before that, I tried apprenticing with Harold Thomson but that did not last too long. Mr. Thompson was a taskmaster and did not offer me a lot about sewing except if I asked him a question. He was also an Elder in the City Syncopators Steel Orchestra.

Gage, everyone called him that, was a gentle person. He loved to teach his craft but was an alcoholic. Of course, no one referred to him as an alcoholic. Instead, he was called a drunkard. Gage worked as a journeyman (an artisan who worked for a large store) for John Hoadley Tailoring Store on Independence Square. In spite of his alcoholism, Gage was a serious artisan who practiced his craft with professionalism and pride. He would not drink when he worked but waited until he completed working and then started to drink. He was also very funny and got along well with the young people in the community. He never condescended to them but treated them with a certain respect.

John Hoadley Store was an English store that catered to the local English male community’s taste in clothing like shoes, ties, pants, suits and shirts at that time. So, instead of ordering those clothing from England they had John Hoadley provide them with a taste of English clothing away from home. But, they did not make the clothes on the premises. Instead, they gave the work to tailors around the city. On a Saturday morning, the tailors would take the work and return the next Saturday with the work complete. They were paid a weekly salary. One of the duties of the apprentice was to collect the work from the store. If you apprenticed for a shoemaker, then you collected his materials from another popular store, Najib Elias Hardware Store. So, apart from learning a trade, you also learned to run errands and be responsible.

Most of your time was needed on the weekends from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. You would come home from school and went to the tailor shop. That meant that your time was constrained from playing with your friends because your mentor needed your assistance for those days. But, since your mother placed you at the artisan you dared not stay away. And, it provided you with some monetary income. You were paid two or three dollars a week. In those days that was a lot of money for a fifteen-year old. Whatever the mentor needed while he worked you had to get it. If he were a tailor then whenever he ran out of materials like buttons, thread or zippers you would have to go the store to buy it for him. In my case, I had to also buy the alcohol for Gage because he loved to drink after he finished working. So, in the middle of watching Gage as he worked he would turn to me and say: "Go, get me a petit quart (small bottle of rum)." And, off I would run to the rum shop to buy the rum. My other unofficial duty was to see that Gage got home safely whenever he was drunk in the street. As he stumbled drunk on Duke or Belgrade streets he would always call or look for me. And, even though sometimes I tried to hide from him he would always find me.

I loved learning from Gage and he was a great teacher. He taught me a lot about life, especially about women. He always told me that when I started to sew I should avoid getting "paid in the hole." What he meant was that I should avoid exchanging my work for sex that was often the case with many tailors and other artisans. Within a couple of months I learned to measure a customer, do button holing, cut the cloth without patterns and sew the material. Soon, I was using the sewing machine helping Gage stitch the pants. He sewed only for men. On a good weekend Gage would pay me extra. We became close friends. He had no children of his own. Gage treated me like his son and introduced me art of tailoring. We were really close. The artisans played an important role in the community by keeping many young boys off the streets and out of trouble. They acted as extended fathers to the many apprentices who worked for them but whose fathers were not in the home. Also, they provided employment for young boys who left school at an early age.

The presence of so many elderly people in the community gave young people a choice of mentors from which to choose. One of the occasions that brought out the elders was a funeral. In those days funerals were special events with their own rituals. Two of the many rituals were the wake and the funeral procession. The wake lasted for nine days or rather nights and was called 'nine nights'. During the night after the person's death friends from the community would gather in the deceased home for nine nights. At that time they would drink alcohol and eat biscuits and drink coffee. Also, there would be long discussions about the deceased. People would talk about the deceased life and adventures. Also, such meetings would last until around midnight, after which people would leave to return the next night.

The funeral procession was a test of endurance for the attendees. Regardless of the distance people would leave the funeral home and walk to the cemetery. Walking with the deceased to the cemetery was an old African custom. But, the walk was not binding on the bereaved family members, especially the old ones. They would drive in taxis. But, every one else walked. At the cemetery the grieving would begin. Women would be crying and fainting with some attempting to throw themselves in the open grave. It would be a spectacle seeing people trying to hold back wives, mothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and other family members from throwing themselves into the grave.

The funeral service would begin with the Priest or Minister reading a sermon extolling the virtues of the deceased. Then the gravediggers would open the grave and bury the deceased covering the body with the dirt dug from the hole. After the burial service was over and the dead buried, people would stay for a while at the grave talking and then leave for the home of the deceased to begin the wake. Lastly, some of the men would go the bars to drink a last toast for the deceased. I believe that it was only the Africans who practiced those rituals. The East Indians, who belonged to either the Hindu, Christian or Muslim faiths observed different rituals. The Hindus mostly burned their dead on the banks of the Caroni River. The Christian Indians buried their dead according to their denomination's rites. And, the Muslims buried their dead according to Islamic rites.

The Gangs

"You talk to my girlfriend
I bust your head in the end
Same shirt is same licks
We come out for kicks
You from up the Hill, I from the West
We will see who is the best
Your steelband win, mine lost
Let’s see how much it will cost.

Of all the teenage gangs that existed during the 1960s and early 1970s, the gang called Lawbreakers was the most interesting and fearful gang because of its size and composition. The lawbreakers were the younger members of the Renegades steelband. It was the largest teenage gang at that time. Also, it was feared and respected by most of the other gangs. And, it was the only teenage gang that had a girl’s section who equally engaged in fights with other gangs. Some of their known girl members were Anna Shine, whose two brothers were members of the Renegades steel orchestra, Zeeta, Punks, Jelita and Ann Hospedales. Another youth gang was the Thunderbirds from up Laventille. The Thunderbirds was a rival of lawbreakers and known for its infamous leader Elmos. Elmos was a tough character. He terrorized the poor people on the hill, especially the shopkeepers. During the night you could see large bands of young men traveling together looking to right some wrong. The Lawbreakers gang was the biggest and the bravest. They feared no one. Often, they would clash with the Thunderbirds causing fear and havoc in the community. Some famous Lawbreakers were: Tampico, Bambi, Polly, Whitey Kincaid, Castro, Nicos, Little Axe, Peter Blood, Mr. Lee, Osie McSween, Boldface, Steve, Muso, Farmer Brown, Snake Eye,TanTan, John Lopez, Cha Cha, Dr. Rat and his brother John and Clipper (calypsonian). The Lawbreakers’ theme song, which they played on the juke box whenever they were at Chubbys Snackette, was from the chorus of Sparrow’s calypso ‘Gunslingers’ which typified the attitude of the gang:

"We young and strong
we ain’t fraid a soul in town
Who think they bad
To meet them we more than glad
We got we gun
And pardner we ain’t making fun
If you smart clear the way
But, if you think you bad make your play"

During holiday festivals there were gang feuds between certain gangs. The gang members of Silk Hats fought with the Woodbrook gang Navarone. Navarone fought with the Belmont gangs. The gang AppleJackers from Down Nelson Street fought with lawbreakers and Thunderbirds for over a decade. And, Belmont gangs fought the gangs from Woodbrook. It was gang wars all over town. The holiday festivals that were held at the Queen’s Park Savannah became the days when most of the fighting took place, especially among Silk Hats and the gangs from Belmont and Woodbrook. Also, if you did not live around Piccadilly Street you did not attend the parties there unless you were brave or bad enough to do so. Most important, one could not visit a girl who lived there. Otherwise, you risked losing your life or being harmed seriously. Some famous Silk Hats: Curtis, Suzie, the Mills brothers, Ansil Bansfield, Cunning and Robbie Brown.

On a Sunday afternoon young people would gather in the Hollows that was an open space in the Queen’s Park Savannah opposite the Emperor Botanical Zoo. On a Sunday afternoon, young people would be serenaded in the Hollows by various steelbands like Ebonites, North Stars, Invaders, Starlift, Dixieland and City Symphony. As the evening sun went down there would be fights over girls from different areas. Sometimes those fights would spill over into the Carnival celebrations the next year as the steelbands continued their annual carnival battles.

One of the main attractions at those festivities was the wearing of similar clothing by the young teenage boys. Groups of young men dressed in similar shirts, shoes or jigger boots, pants and sometimes caps (Stingy Brims) to signify their oneness and that they belonged to a particular community or group. When the fights broke out, if you wore the similar clothing of the enemy gang you would be beaten, even though you were not involved in the fighting.

Also the young boys were very sensitive and protective with their girlfriends. In most communities there were street competitions for the girls’ favors. Sometimes, the girls from one area were forbidden to speak to boys from other areas without an argument arising resulting in a gang fight. If you came from one community and a young girl from another community struck your fancy you had to be discreet or hide to talk to her. However, there were girls who were brave or bold to ignore that rule and talked to boys from other areas. That led to most of the fights among the teenage gangs. Most of the young people from behind the bridge were poor but proud and ambitious. They were always well dressed and mannerly. They respected their elders. They knew the harshness of the society was focused on them. But, they also knew that the community would protect them at all cost. Some used education to escape their poverty. Others joined the various community steelbands while others learned a trade with the local artisans. But, it seemed that everychild was always occupied.

The Holidays

"If you could see the children
Playing in the Savannah or in the Park
Under the lamppost light till ten
Or dancing as they hold hands in the dark
From two to six to sometimes nine
Is it any wonder that they are doing fine."

During the 1960s, Trinbagonians enjoyed a list of holidays both religious and secular. The religious holidays: Easter Sunday and Monday, Corpus Christi and Christmas. The national secular unofficial and official holidays: Carnival Monday and Tuesday and Independence Day. Although Carnival Monday and Tuesday are not legal holidays most people do not work on those days, hence, their unofficial status as holidays. The Carnival and Christmas holidays brought a peculiar national festivity to the society. My favorite holiday was Christmas day. The Christmas holiday had many rituals. People saw it as a renewal of sorts. Every year people changed their furniture and curtains, painted and remodeled their homes. The Christmas season began at least two weeks before the 25th of December and lasted till New Years day. Around the beginning of December you would see people cleaning up their homes and yards and throwing away items that crowded their homes all the year and replacing the furniture and even beds. Children would participate in the rituals too by assisting their parents in the cleaning and remodeling. In my community people would be seen purchasing new linoleum from the neighborhood store, Samaroo Dry Goods Store that was situated on Observatory Street and buying paint from Nagib Elias Hardware Store on Charlotte Street. Alcohol, sodas and ham were bought at the neighborhood supermarket or United Groceries and Hilo supermarkets.

Fruits were very much on the agenda, especially apples and grapes that were some of the main fruits during the Christmas holidays. Although Trinidad did not grow those items, nevertheless, every year the stores would import them because they were a main staple of the Christmas holidays. The main store for apples and grapes was Ibrahim’s Poultry Store on Henry Street, next to the Telephone Company. I friend remembered that the Christmas season brought a certain smell with it. The smell consisted of the mixture of linoleum and paint. It was everywhere. To this day I remember that smell. Next were the smell of the different foods and drinks. Every home, no matter how poor, would be stocked with food and drinks. Alcohol played an important role for the Christmas holiday. Beer, wine and rum were the choices. Also, local drinks like Sorrel, Ginger Beer and Punche-Creme played their part. The Punche-Creme was made with rum, milk and spices mixed to form a creamy drink. It lasted for a long time. So too did the local cake specialties like black cake, fruit cake and sweet bread. For the black cake and the fruitcake the ritual started at the beginning of each year when mothers would soak fruits like currents and prunes mixed with some rum in large bottles. The soaking of those fruits gave them a savoring flavor that was later blended to create a tasty pastry called fruitcake.

Then came the foods of the season: Chicken, beef, ham, cake, sweet bread and baked bread. For the ham, people would add spices like clove to keep the flavor since many people in those days did not have Refrigerators to protect the food from rotting. Christmas day began early in the morning with children reviewing their new toys. People would visit neighbors and indulge in food and drink. All Christmas day people would visit one another singing and exchanging greetings. People who were not speaking to each other during the year would greet each other and express sorrow for the impasse. No one was turned away. On Christmas morning after everyone attended church services. After the church services, people would visit one another’s homes to have a drink, eat and chat. Each home would be sparklingly new. It was not uncommon to hear a neighbor invite someone, to whom they did not speak all year, for a drink saying: "Listen, this is Christmas let bygones be bygones. Come and take a drink" All hostility would be forgiven on Christmas day. The day after Christmas day is called Boxing Day. On Boxing Day during the 1960s, horseracing (races) was the event of the day. It was held at the Queen’s Park Savannah. People would travel to the Queen’s Park Savannah to bet on the horses and engage in the many games around. Most of the games were for the children. Some of the games were "Bowl," "Three Rings" and "Over and Under Lucky Seven." Many children lost their allowance playing those games. But it was fun and safe.

The Prejudices

"You can’t go here
You can’t go there
Don’t talk to me
Don’t talk to she
No work today
See you on carnival day."

During the 1960s and 1970s, Trinidad society was more open to class and race prejudices which were remnants from the European Colonialists, namely, France, England and Spain. Those nations ruled the island before political independence was achieved on August 31, 1962. Of course, most Trinidadians would deny that Trinidad is a race and class-conscious society. The myth told by most politicians is that every creed and race lives in harmony in a cosmopolitan society. But, the facts disprove the myth. Trinbago is a very class conscious society.

There are four main ethnic groups on the island, namely, Africans, Indians, Europeans and Chinese. Africans and Indians make up the majority of the population. Added to that mix is a multiethnic group called French Creole. There are also inter-prejudices among similar groups. Trinidadians practice a very unique form of prejudice, namely, shades discrimination. This discrimination is based on the different shades of the African and Indian population. Even though most Africans and Indians are black skinned, some of them have light complexions. The elite used the light complexion to encourage a caste system where those with skin color closest to white complexion received most of the privileges and opportunities whereas the ones closest to blackness received little or none at all.

The Indians inherited their prejudices from their religion, Hinduism, which organized Indian society according to colors into a caste system and the British who governed their ancestors in India. The Indians were brought to Trinidad as indentured servants to thwart African labor after emancipation. They were placed in the Eastern Districts of the country separate from the Africans who were placed in the North. The Africans inherited their prejudices from Christianity which taught that the Indians were pagans whose religion Hinduism was unchristian. As a result, Africans looked down on the Indians and felt that they were better off than the Indians. It was not uncommon to hear Africans talking about Indians in the same manner that white bigots talked about African Americans in the American South.

The Indians who converted to other religions such as Islam and Christianity were able to escape the severity of the caste prejudices of Hinduism and were less severe with their prejudices due to the universality of those religions. Most of the Indians behind the bridge were either Christian or Muslim. A few were Hindus. But, the mixing was easy for them to do since they were a minority behind the bridge. Most of the gangs had a few Indian members notably Mr. Lee and Clipper from Lawbreakers, Mikey from Joyland Synco situated on Laventille Road and Arthur Byer from Sunland Steelband that was situated in Belmont. The racial and class prejudices reached and affected most young people who lived behind the bridge. The stigma of living behind the bridge caused many parents to relocate at times to areas such as Barataria, San Juan, Belmont and even Morvant. There were many stories of employers on Frederick Street who turned away applicants who resided behind the bridge.

The schools behind the bridge suffered too. Primary schools like Rose Hill R.C. School on La Coule Street, Bethlehem on Besson Street, Nelson Street Roman Catholic School, Columbus Roman Catholic School on Nelson Street and Western Boys on Richmond Street, Eastern Boys and Girls on Nelson Street, St. Hilda’s on Quarry Street at the corner of Belgrade Street were all attended by African and Indian children. The local whites did not send their children to public schools. From kindergarten through elementary school they attended private schools and then attended one of the two male colleges St. Mary’s or Fatima and the female convents Holy Name and St. Joseph.

For the majority of Africans and Indians, due to the inequalities in the society, it was very important that they obtained a School Leaving Certificate. If their parents were not rich enough to send them to a private school, then their only prospects were a trade, the streets or low-income jobs. Some of the famous private schools were: Progressive Boys and Girls High School, Woodbrook High School, Minerva Girls High School, Gaines Normal High School, Fatima Institute High School, St. Thomas High School, Osmond Boys and Girls High School. All of those private high schools were owned and operated by African Principals. Most of the teachers were Africans and most of the students were also Africans and Indians. The only profession open to residents from behind the bridge was teaching and the civil service. The private sector discriminated against most of the residents from behind the bridge.

The Games

"Come inside boy
And bring your toy
Don’t dirty my pants
Or is licks like red ant
White man or bobo
It still hurting I know."

In spite of the social prejudices throughout Trinidad, life behind the bridge gave the young people much pleasure. I loved the local games like "pitching marbles", "flying kite", "spinning top", "busting carbide", "running jockey in the canal", "bounce and X", "hide and seek", "who in the fire" and "pan cup".

Let me explain how the games are played. First, let us look at the game of "pitching marbles". It was played with two or four players. Most of the players were boys. They would gather in some family member’s front or back yard. A circular ring would be drawn at one end of the yard where each player would put in the ring the number of marbles agreed upon by the players. Next, a line would be drawn at the other end of the yard. This would be the starting point for the game. The person to pitch first would be decided in the following manner. First, each player dropped his marble as close to the line as possible. The person whose marble dropped nearest to the line would pitch first and so on to the person furthest from the line. Each person would pitch their marble, which was called a "thor", in the manner that they placed at the line until the game was over. When all pitched their thors from the line you would either chose to hit the marbles in the ring with the objective of getting out as many as you could without your thor staying in the circle. If your thor stayed in the circle at any time during the game, you lost and had to leave the game until it was over. When your thor stayed in the circle it was called "farts". The other players would call out "Farts" and you left the game. To achieve the above objective you could place your marble as close to the circle as you chose or hit the other person’s marble with yours. That would give you the amount of marbles that each player placed in the circle. Or, you could hit a player’s marble and achieve the same objective.

Next, there was "Bounce and X" that was another game played with marbles. The players would line up against a wall and each player would bounce their marble against the wall to reach the other marbles already bounced. The goal was to get close to the other marble. If one your hands reached close enough to touch the other marble with your out-stretched hand then you won the game. You had to touch the marble with the tip of your thumb and the tip of your small finger. If the players failed to touch the other marbles then the game was started again until someone was able to reach close to win.

Another pitching game was called "Marble in Button". This game was played with pants buttons that would be placed in a circular ring. The goal was to hit all the buttons out of the ring. The person who hit most of the buttons out of the ring was declared the winner. This game was played in the daytime.

Then, there was "Kite flying" that was a major event on the weekends during the summer months. Most kite flyers made their own kites. The process started with the purchase of kite paper at one of the stores. The store that housed the best kite paper and was always in stock was Samaroo’s Retail Store on Observatory Street, at the corner of Siparia Hill. Kite paper came in all colors: green, pink, black, white, brown, peach, salmon, yellow, red, orange and cream. The making of the kite began with cutting the kite paper into squares. Next, you creased the paper down the middle. Then, you got three thin coconut branches. Most of the time the branches came from the cocoye brooms that were used to sweep the dirt yard. You needed three branches that measured about seven or eight inches long. Two were wrapped together with thread and bent to form a bow. The other branch was placed in the center to balance the kite. Also, you needed a tail for the kite. The tail was made from bed sheets that was cut very thin or ribbons from typewriters. The typewriter ribbons were sold at the Colthrust Book Store on Park Street. Few kite flyers used the ribbons from typewriters because they were expensive and most of the children could not afford to purchase the ribbons. But, the bed-sheets were another story. You would use your family bed-sheets. Of course, that would lead to a spanking. However, you took the risk because it was worth it. The last thing that was needed was 'mange' which was added to the thread. This added ingredient was used in the kite battles. When your kite thread touched another kite thread, the courser mange cut the other kite. Many kite flyers would boast about whose 'mange' was stronger.

Kite flying kite took some ingenuity. You needed lots of space. So, you looked to the open streets, a large back yard, Memorial Park or the Queen’s Park Savannah. After you secured your open space you needed a strong wind to blow the kite in the air. If the wind was strong then your job was easy. The challenge was to get the kite into the sky. Once the kite was in the sky, it was war, kite war. The kite flyers would challenge one another for a kite war that tested one’s skills.

The next game I remember was "spinning top" which was a remarkable test of skills and great balance. The top was made from wood. The wood was cut to five inches into a round top and a slim bottom with a long nail placed in the center of the top. Two inches of the nail remained outside of the top. Also, you had to know the variety of wood so that you could chose the right wood to make the top. Most of the time it was a sol act. One boy would be spinning the top by himself and he would attempt different tricks with the top. Other times, a few children would gather in an open yard to spin top, each showing off their skills. This was another game played in the daytime.

Another daytime game was the game of "Busting of Carbide". It was a dangerous game. First, you bore a small hole in the bottom of a tin jar. Next, you placed small pieces of carbide into the empty tin jar. Then, you put a little spit on the carbide and closed the tin. You placed the closed tin jar on the ground putting your foot on top of the tin to keep it steady and placed a match in the hole at the bottom of the tin. This caused a volcanic eruption and the carbide blew the tin cover off making a loud noise. This game was dangerous because sometimes a boy would be slow in moving his hand away from the tin jar as he lit the tin and the explosion would backfire and hurt the boy’s hand or fingers.

One of the community's other daytime favorite games was "Running Jockey". It was the poor boy’s game played by those who could not afford to go to the Queen’s Park Savannah to see the horse races. This was a game of imagination. The boy would imagine that he was a jockey ridding a horse. Sometimes ten or twelve boys would be running jockey in the canal. The first thing you needed to run jockey was a small piece of wood to make the horse. They used two types of wood. One was made from the hard bark stripped from a tree. The other was made from a Popsicle stick. The boys would trim the bark off the trees and shape their little pieces of the imaginary horses. Then they would grease the wood with candle grease.

During the 1960s there was a Popsicle factory called the Jellit factory, which was situated on Observatory Street opposite Argyle Street. The young boys would gather some of the softwood sticks from the factory by searching the factory’s garbage and retrieving the sticks. After the horses were made, the boys would gather at the top of the canal in the street. Then they would place all the horses together into the canal water and the race would begin. Each boy would run at the side of the canal coaching his horse to the winning gate. You were not allowed to touch the horse but you could yell, shout and make other sounds with your hands as you ran to the winning gate

"Hide and Seek" was a simple game. It was played mostly at night. One person would be the Catcher. The rest of the players would hide as the Catcher covered his eyes. Then, the Catcher sought them out and caught the first player. The first person to be caught would then have to be the Catcher.

Another night game was "Who in the fire" which was another dangerous game. It involved some soft violence. The game was played with a belt. The belt would be hidden and each player would try to find it. When a person found the belt he would beat the rest of the players with the belt.

"Pan cup" was hide and seek played with a tin cup. It was also played at night. One person would watch the tin cup and the others would hide. The person watching the tin cup had to stand or sit some distance from the tin cup. If he saw or knew where a person was hiding then he would knock the tin cup three times and call out the name of the person hiding. If he was correct then that person had to sit out the game until it was over. The others who were hiding would each try to kick the tin cup away. If they were successful then the person who was captured would escape. But if all the others were caught then the game would be over and it would star all over again.

All those game expressed the creativity of young people who sought to find expression for their ingenuity and to understand their existence on an island far from the metropolises of London, Paris and New York.

The Movies

"Opening a view to the outside world
We stared at the screen to see gol
I could do that one would say
But I can’t now, maybe another day."

To most of the young people behind the bridge, the cinema was their outlook to the world. The country got TV in 1962 so that my generation did not grow up with the nagging influences of television. We attended the nearby cinemas as Royal at the corner of Observatory and Charlotte Streets, Pyramid on Charlotte Street, Odeon at the corner of Besson and Piccadilly Streets and Olympic at the corner of Pelham Street and Earthig Road in Belmont. Those cinemas did not show first run movies. Their main focus was westerns, detectives, comedy and serial action films with names as ‘The Shadow", "Masked Marvel", "G-Men versus the Black Dragon" "Red Circle" "Drums of Fu Manchu" and "Spy Smasher".

The cinemas always showed a double feature except when they were showing serial movies. The serial movies were very long and lasted for over two hours. They were shown every Saturday morning at nine-thirty. They were called nine-thirty movies. The times for the other movies were divided into twelve-thirty in the afternoon, four-thirty in the afternoon and eight-thirty at night. The price of admission was divided according to the seating arrangements. There were four areas of seating, namely, Pit, House, Balcony and Box. The prices were: Pit, sixteen cents, House, twenty-seven cents, Balcony, fifty-five cents and Box, one dollar and ten cents. The four tier seating arrangements at the cinemas reflected the four tier economic and social divisions in the society, namely, low-income, middle-income, upper-income and the ruling class. The low-income sat in Pit, the middle-income sat in House, the upper-income sat in Balcony and the ruling class sat in Box. All the cinemas were built with those separations to distinguish the different classes in the society.

The twelve-thirty movies were held from Monday through Saturday. On Sunday the cinemas only showed movies at four thirty in the afternoon and eight thirty at night. The shows were simply known as "twelve-thirty", "four-thirty" and "eight-thirty" shows. Most of the children did not attend twelve thirty movies during the week because of school. And, if you were caught at the movies during school time, then you faced either expulsion from school or a spanking from your parents.

Whenever I remember the stories of my youth I always remember my happy and innocent childhood. The children of the 1960s and early 1970s were products of African and Indian nationalism. Both groups struggled to regain their personhood that the colonialist tried to purge from them. I believe that no greater aspect of that loss of personhood could be seen than in the educational system. In the 1960s and early 1970s all school children wore uniforms. In those days all school children wore short khaki pants with their colored shirts. So it was easy to identify a child in the cinema during school time. At times some children would be creative and hide extra clothing and change before going to the movies during school time. The movies provided a camaradrie among young people, especially the Saturday and Sunday movies. We went to the movies in groups. Sometimes you would see about ten or fifteen young boys, it was always boys, heading to the different cinemas. We would be prepared with chewing gum, nuts, sodas and candy. For those who could attend the night shows there was a ritual. First, you bought a roti and soda at one of the popular Roti Shops. Then you headed for the movies and had dinner while the movie was going on. Mine was Parker on Park Street. A word or two about the Parker roti. It was the smallest roti to be made in Trinbago. A common threat was "I would wrap you up like a parker roti." And, the Roti shop was next to Simpson’s funeral home. What a combination. Yet, it was delicious.

All the cinemas had a doorman who kept order in the cinemas. At Pyramid cinema there was Flash and Royal cinema had Big Boy. During the twelve thirty shows they would search the cinema looking for truant school children. Stories were told of school children that were caught at the movies during school time. One such story related how a schoolboy was given bitter castor oil to drink when he was caught at the movies during school time. After he drank the castor oil the doorman sent him inside to watch the remainder of the movie. Also, some truant children were spanked by the doormen and sent home. During the 1960s adults were able to do that and not fear being reprimanded or harmed by parents.

The movies exercised a warped sense of personhood on the masses. Some of them really believed the cinema history that was being perpetuated on them by Hollywood, especially the propaganda about the American Indians being the ‘bad guys’. Hollywood taught us about Africa, India and Asia by falsifying their history. Through the movies we saw African, Indians and Asians as inferior, barbaric without any history or civilization.

The Parties

"Dressed in gun mouth pants
With pretty shirts and pointy tip shoes
We traveled with our girlfriends
To record sessions far and wide
Sometime we went 2 to 6
Even though it could mean licks.
A pair of shoe from Strassers or Habib
A shirt made by Decca or Kenny
A pants length from Hadeed or Sabga
And made by Frogo or Rupert."

During the 1960s the young people of Trinidad enjoyed a comfort level that was expressed in their partying. There were numerous places that held parties. But, the following places were the most popular party places to attend, especially during the carnival celebrations. Most famous were: St. Paul Street Community Center, Legion Hall, Seaman and Waterfront Trade Union Hall, Perseverance Hall, St. Cecelia’s Friendly Society Hall, Hilland Hall, Lion’s Civic Center, Saint John’s, Port Services Club, Portuguese Club, Guardian Sports Club, Harvard Sports Club, Maple Sports Club, West India Club, Himalaya Club, Paragon Sports Club, PSA Club and Shell Sports Club.

Every Saturday night young people from all over the country would attend those clubs. All the top orchestras, namely, Joey Lewis, Fitz Vaughn Bryan, Johnny Gomez, Sel Duncan, Cito Fermin, Boyie Mitchel, Dutchy Brothers, Ray Sylvester, Boyie Lewis, Norman ‘Tex’ Williams, Clarence Curvan, Joe ‘Chet‘Sampson and Bonaparte Brothers would play at those places. All these party places, except West India Club, Casuals Sports Club, Queens Park Cricket Club and Shell Sports Club, were infamous for the fights that occurred there every Saturday night. Those exceptions were clubs that belonged to and were attended by the white local gentry. The West India Club on Maraval Road and Shell Sports Club, Casuals Sports Club and Queens Park Cricket Club at Queen’s Park Savannah were private clubs that were known for their discrimination against people of color and the poor, namely, Africans and Indians. These clubs were not open to nonmembers, who were all nonwhite, except during the Carnival celebrations when their doors were opened to people of color and the poor. This exception occurred because at Carnival they rented their clubs to local groups who held their Carnival parties there. These groups opened their doors to everyone if they were able to pay the expensive price of the tickets. But, during other times only members were permitted to attend these clubs. However, the other clubs allowed Africans and Indians to attend their functions. But, this benign racism would go unchallenged until the 1970 revolt.

The Revolt
"Black is beautiful
Say it aloud
Black is beautiful
I am black and proud."


"Everybody wore red
To show the seriousness of the event
We celebrated in every parish and vicinage
We marched in the thousands
From behind the bridge to Caroni
Africans and Indians in solidarity
Against injustice, racism and poverty."

By the end of 1968 a new era began to take form. This was the beginning of the now historical 1960s. The young people, especially students from all around the world were challenging the status quo of their respective countries. The international student revolt did not hit Trinidad until late 1969. It started as a protest against the visit of then Canadian Governor-General Roland Michener. The Governor-General wanted to visit UWI as part of his State visit. The students at UWI decided to protest that visit in solidarity with the students who were struggling against the administration at Sir George Williams University in Montreal, Canada. They physically barred the motorcade from driving across the UWI campus. That was the beginning of the Black Power Revolution. Later on, it was decided to boycott all foreign goods and produce during the Christmas of 1969.

The boycott included foreign Christmas items as greeting cards, fruits as apples and grapes, alcohol and other foreign influences in the Christmas celebrations. This was the beginning of a social, political and economic revolution in Trinidad. The Africans and a few Indians were saying that Trinidadians should purchase and use local fruits and drink to celebrate Christmas. The organizers knew that it was hard to get the masses to boycott Christmas so they used the next best thing, a boycott against foreign goods and produce. My friend said that the argument went like this. "Why can’t Trinidadians use local fruits such as mango, plum, peewah, sugar cane, chataigne, gauva, ginger beer, mauby and sorell as drinks to celebrate Christmas? After all, the argument continued, "those fruits were just as good and cheaper too than the foreign items." Even the local rum was to be preferred to the foreign whisky. The protestors felt that with the use of such items local vendors and producers would gain employment and financial gain. The feeling was that, in the end, the community would benefit. The African consciousness was upon Trinidad. The echoes of the American Black Power Movement had reached the youth of Trinidad.

The Christmas boycott led to much confrontation between the police and the demonstrators. The storeowners called upon the police to stop the demonstrations because it was disrupting business. The police would set upon the demonstrators who gathered on Frederick Street to protest against foreign produce. Orders were given to remove all demonstrators from Frederick Street. The police ordered the demonstrators to move and when they refused the police would beat the demonstrators and arrest those who were too slow to escape.

The mass demonstrations developed and soon spread throughout the city and later throughout the country. A call for political and social change was in the air. The people came from all areas to join the call for change. There were many Africans that joined the movement because they felt the blunt of the racial and class prejudices from the society. But, a few Indians joined too. An attempt was made by NJAC to have the Indians join the movement. And, there were some Indians who heeded the call. But, most Indians stayed away feeling that the call for "Black Power" did not address their problem. After all, they did not considered themselves to be black. They saw black in the context of being African. And they were right.

The Trinidad Black Power Movement that was born under the auspices of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), a student organization founded at the University of the West Indies (UWI) at St. Augustine and continued under the leadership of Geddes Granger, from behind the bridge. Geddes Granger later changed his name to Makandal Daaga. Geddes Granger belonged to a middle class family who lived on Laventille Road. His father owned a shop. His sister taught at Cavalry Boys and Girls Roman Catholic Primary School. But, Geddes loved the people and did not share his family’s opinion of the lower classes. He would participate in the community games, especially the game of cricket. He was a great bowler and batsman. His tall height gave him an edge over the other players. He loved the game of cricket. But, he was not always a good sportsman. Once while playing cricket he was bowled out early in the game. Geddes took his stumps and left the game. The game stopped .A selfish act indeed.

During the 1970 Carnival celebrations, a group of young people from behind the bridge called PineToppers led by Lennox Toussaint and his brother Clyde decided to play "White Devils" as their theme for the Carnival 1970 Jouvert Mas celebrations. The band portrayed white world leaders as devils. On Carnival day you could see the large posters with the portraits of European leaders from England, Rhodesia, Canada, South Africa and America dressed as devils. Meanwhile, students at the secondary schools were calling for change in the school curriculum to reflect local conditions that would make life more relevant to local conditions. The old PNM government had no answer but promised, as a delay tactic, to address the issue. The students took their protest to the streets to protest that inaction.

Most of the membership and leadership in NJAC belonged to East Dry River. The membership consisted of teachers, civil servants, lawyers and working class members. East Dry River community is made up mostly of Africans and a few Indians. Dr. J. D. Elder, the anthropologist from Tobago believes that most of the Africans who settled there came from the Yoruba and Ibo nations of Africa. The Africans were brought to Trinidad by the European Colonialists and made slaves to work on the sugar plantations. The people in the community called the area as ‘behind the bridge". Trinidad’s Spanish Governor Don Maria Chacon, the last Spanish Governor, commissioned the bridge to be built. It begins at the top of Observatory Street (next to Sonny’s parlor) at Belmont Circular Road and runs down to Queens Street at the corner of Piccadilly Street near the Queen’s Street Mosque.

The community supported the old PNM political party. Their support was almost tribal and fanatical and started in 1955 when the old PNM came on the political scene under the leadership of Dr. Eric Williams. And so, when they decided to revolt against the PNM the leader Dr. Eric Williams took the revolt as a personal affront to his leadership and stewardship of the PNM. He also saw the students as ingrates, who, after receiving access to the institutions of higher learning like the Queens Royal College, St. Mary’s College, Holy Name Convent. St. Joseph’s Convent, Mount St. Benedict College and Fatima College, turned against him. One would have to admit that those schools did practice discrimination against African students. Before Independence most dark skin African students were not permitted to enter those colleges and convents. Some exception was made for the lighter skinned Africans.

In 1956, the PNM came to political power and they promised that they would open the doors that were shut for centuries. Areas like education, employment, financial and cultural would no longer be closed to the people. Well, the old PNM did open those doors but the power behind those doors remained the same after Independence, especially the social and economic doors. They remained completely shut to Africans and some Indians.

In 1962, when England granted the nation political Independence there were promises made by the PNM to the Africans and Indians that they would be able to attend the top colleges and get the best jobs. From 1962 to 1970 more African and Indian children were attending the best colleges and institutions of higher learning. But there was suffering at the bottom. The African working class did not benefit too much. The Indian working class also did not benefit but they owned land. And land was collateral. The fact that African students from the University of the West Indies were in the forefront of the 1970 revolt was indicative of the discontent that many Africans felt against the government. Many of them were the first generation to attend the best schools and colleges. Yet, they felt powerless. And, they were not enough jobs for them. Also, they knew that the real power was in other hands and they resented that. They knew that the banks, stores and other financial institutions were in the hands of the local Whites, Syrians and Chinese. Even though the Banks hired a few Africans, most of those jobs were low level paying jobs with no real power or managerial authority. The few who received managerial positions did not identify with the mass of Africans and did nothing to advance their cause.

In 1970, Trinbago erupted into what came to be called the Black Power revolt. The call was for political, social and economic reform. There was a national call for an end to the inequalities in the society. That call came primarily from Africans who felt that since they were the majority of the population and had political power it should have been inevitable that they should have economic power and social status in the society given their political clout. They were wrong. After the Christmas boycott there were meetings held every night throughout the country, especially behind the bridge. There were meetings in Belmont, Carenage, Deigo Martin, Petit Valley, Laventille, Morvant, St. James, San Fernando and the other cities where Africans lived. The various speakers would outline the injustices and inequality that affected the poor in the society. Since most of the poor were among the Africans and Indians the speeches were directed to them. The leadership in the Black Power movement was primarily African and there were a few Indians. But, the African students from UWI were at the vanguard of the Black Power movement. They organized marches throughout the country calling for changes in the socio-economic structure of the society.

But, the movement was not without its internal contradictions. Most of the men still viewed women from the male perspective, namely, not fully equal. Of course, they preached equality but the reality was that the men controlled the movement and the women had to follow. And, there was lots of sexual exploitation. It was open season on young impressionable women who were vulnerable to the Black Power rhetoric. Some African leaders preached about the social and economic benefits of having more than one wife. They argued that prostitution was avoidable when women could share one man. Indeed a specious argument. But, at that time many young men and women bought it.

The speakers in the movement called for programs to alleviate poverty. They called for reform of the educational system and demanded that the educational system respond to the local needs of its students, namely, by placing greater emphasis on agriculture, local trades and local history. No longer should there be only emphasis on the foreign achievements and history of the former colonial countries. They wanted students in all the schools to be taught the history of the Trinidad Labor Movement and its founding heroes like Uriah Buzz Butler, Arthur Andrew Cipriani and Reinzi Cola from a local perspective. They wanted more financial support for the steelband and jobs for the panists. They wanted teachers to teach about the many revolts made against the British during the days of colonialism. They wanted history to show Trinbagonians as subjects, not objects. They even coined a new name for the political leaders who they perceived as collaborators with imperialism. They called them Afro-Saxon.

It was a call for total change in the way that the nation’s business was to be conducted. Lastly, they demanded that the government support the Trinidad students abroad who were facing expulsion from the various colleges for their participation in the Black Power Movement. Most notably was the demand for the government to pay the fines for the Trinidad students at St. George’s University in Canada who were facing fines and deportation for their alleged role in the destruction of the main computer on St. George’s University campus.

The students were freed and returned to Trinidad. Immediately, they joined the demonstrations that had grown to thousands. On April 21, 1970 the PNM government called a State of Emergency. Using emergency powers the Government inherited from the British colonials, they arrested people without warrant. All civil liberties were suspended. The people’s protest was aborted but not without costs. The State of Emergency lasted for six months. It was the first time in post-colonial Trinidad that a State of emergency was called. Previously, the British colonialist used a State of emergency to quell the local population from protesting for their human and civil rights. That act of the Williams PNM was a day that would live in infamy. The demise of the Williams PNM was on its way. Eric Williams died in 1983. George Chambers was appointed Prime Minister.


"In the end it does not matter
As long as your voice was heard
If things change for the better
You smile and move on
If not, then you still smile
And wait for the next time."

In 1986, the PNM lost the election to a new political party, the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) under A.N.R. Robinson, a former deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in the old PNM government. The electorate welcomed the new government. They saw the new party and government as a new beginning. It was the first lost for the PNM and they lost badly, thirty out of a total of 36 seats. The people had finally spoken. The era of the PNM was changed forever. After twenty-five years the people finally knew ‘who to put’. The new government was a coalition government and promised "One Love" and a new beginning. But, soon they began to corrode and spent all their time attacking the former regime. One of the leaders Basdeo Panday would soon break away and form his own political party, the United National Congress (UNC). The people who now felt empowered by their act of voting out the PNM wanted change and solutions not rhetoric. So, in 1990 they voted them out and returned the PNM. It was the first lost for the PNM and they lost badly, thirty-three seats. The people had finally spoken. The new government promised "One Love" and a new beginning. But, soon they began to corrode and spent all their time attacking the former regime. The people were not going to permit another stalemate again and in 1990 they voted them out and returned the PNM.

In 1995, PNM called an early election due to his slim majority of 21 seats that was reduced to 19 seats after Ralph Maraj resigned his seat in San Fernando West and the Point-a-Pierre seat was lost in a by-election. In the October 1995 elections the UNC won seventeen seats, the PNM won seventeen and the NAR won two seats out of a total the thirty-six seats. The NAR two winners joined UNC and Mr. Panday formed the new government. The former Trade Union leader Basdeo Panday became the new Prime Minister. It was the first time in Trinbago a Trinidadian of Indian ancestry became Prime Minister. It was a milestone in Trinbago’s politics.

I welcomed the change because for too long the Indian community played second fiddle to the Africans in the political arena. After all, Indians are Trinidadians, and make up fifty percent of the population. As long as the people wanted their leadership they deserved the opportunity to run the country. I never felt that Africans had a political destiny to rule Trinidad. I would always argue with my African friends that the country belonged to all Trinbagonians and no one group should feel that it was their destiny to rule. But, that was not a popular feeling among most Africans during the 1960s when Africans proclaimed "PNM Forever!" and "PNM or Die". After the Black Power revolt in 1970 that feeling started to change. A new climate hit the country. The hold that the PNM had on the nation was loosened. Trinbago entered a new politics relationship with their political representatives, which was this. No more twenty-five years for any party.

In 2000, the people re-elected the UNC to power with a slim majority of two seats. The PNM won 16 seats and the NAR won one seat. But, the new opposition party, the PNM, challenged two of their candidates and filed a lawsuit in the courts. The UNC lost the challenge and appealed to the Privy Council in England that is the present High Court. Meanwhile, the UNC tried to introduce seven Senators that had lost the election. President ANR Robinson refused to accept the seven candidates that were nominated by Prime Minister Basdeo Panday as cabinet members. Mr. Robinson claimed that the seven members lost at the polls and should not be allowed to enter Parliament through the back door. The nominees could be seated without the President’s approval. Two months later, the President gave his consent and the seven members were seated. Of course, the opposition party PNM went to court to challenge the seating and lost.

In 2001, while the decision of the two Minister were pending in the Privy Council, three ministers from the UNC attempted to topple Mr. Panday from the party as political leader. They requested a call of no confidence from Parliament. Mr. Panday seized the opportunity and fired two of the ministers. The third one resigned. Those acts saved Mr. Panday from the possibility of losing a vote of no confidence. Immediately, Mr. Panday desolved Parliament and called for new elections that occurred on October 10, 2001. The result was a milestone in Trinbago’s political history. It was a tie where both parties won 18 seats with no winner.

In 2002, after some rambling, the President of the nation appointed the opposition leader Patrick Manning to be Prime Minister. Mr. Panday vowed to block any appointment of a Speaker of Parliament that was necessary to form Parliament. Parliament had to meet within six months to appoint a Speaker of the House of Representatives. On April 5, 2002 the ministers met to appoint a Speaker. It failed. The word is that there would be elections sometime in July 2002. Today, the country is at an impasse with no sign of a government being formed by either party.

"It's the same khaki pants."

From 1956 through 1986 the PNM ruled the political scene unbroken. As a result, there was some resentment from some of the Indians. They felt that their interests and agendas played second fiddle to the interests of the African elite. While I cannot dispute those feelings I believe that there are four major differences between the PNM and the UNC: 1. There were more ministers of Indian descent in the Williams/PNM than there are in the UNC. 2. The leadership of the UNC started in the labor movement. 3. The PNM party and cabinet were more representative of the country than the UNC. 4. The PNM took a more pro-active role in the steelband movement and local culture than the UNC. But, when the UNC came into power, most of the Africans were willing to give the UNC the benefit of any doubts that they had. They adopted a wait and see attitude. Within a few months the UNC leadership started to make some blunders. First, the Prime Minister, Mr. Panday started attacking the media claiming that there was a conspiracy against him and his government. Every day he would accuse some journalist of not writing the truth about his cabinet. Finally, Mr. Panday created an enemy list of persons whom he believed were behind the conspiracy. As a result, he started to lose some of the support of people, especially Africans, who were willing to give his government a chance.

Trinidad has made many changes since I last visited the island. The most important change was the election of a Prime Minister of East Indian descent for the first time in its history. Another change was the loss of the 1986 elections by the PNM. It was the first time that PNM lost an election. Out of 36 parliamentary seats they lost 33. In the 1980s, the country received an abundance of wealth from its oil reserves. Unlike other developing countries, Trinidad has many other natural resources besides oil like liquid and natural gases and pitch. Trinbagonians have developed a new sophistication. The technological revolution brought Trinbagonians immediate access to the international community. No longer do people depend on Trinbagonians living abroad to inform them about international events. They now receive their news about the world instantly from news services like CNN.

But, in spite of those changes and new wealth the gap between the rich and the poor has widened tremendously. For example, 'behind the bridge' did not enjoy any of the new wealth. There was no real structural development during the oil boom. Today, there are many new stores and Malls being built but internal development is still to come. Important things like water, health, housing and other basic necessities like clothes and food are very expensive. There are communities that still lack indoor water and sewage. A phone is a luxury that many cannot afford. And, if you are lucky to have a phone the service is poor. The arts are seriously underdeveloped. There is no real vision for its development. The Carnival has outgrown the Queens Park Savannah. The national instrument, the steelpan still lacks a concert hall. There is no Performing Arts and Cultural Center. Lastly, the country is facing a crime wave unseen in its history. There is a proliferation of guns and an influx of illegal drugs like cocaine, crack and heroin. In some communities, the drug lords have taken over. There is no real Police protection and Police corruption is rampart as was disclosed by a Scotland Yard Commission report. There seems to be a hatred for women and children. Everyday there are news reports about murders of women and children by men.

Today, the island is on the periphery of its existence. The nation has not delivered (in the areas like housing, health, cheap goods and employment) to its most vulnerable citizens although it has rich resources like oil, gas and petroleum. No real structural development has taken place. Whatever new buildings that are built are not pretty or blends with the island’s beautiful landscape. It’s just concrete. Areas behind the bridge (East Moorings), Morvant, Gonzales and Carenage, are still lacking in employment, housing, proper roads, sewage and water. Today, those communities are under siege from crime and drugs. It is as if the government has written them off. There are no programs for the young, no jobs or industry in the community and very little police protection, if any. The fact that Africans were willing to elect a Prime Minister of East Indian descent said a lot about the political maturity of the country. But, it also said that enough Africans were disillusioned to the point that they were willing to make a change. There was a time in Trinidad when Africans were reluctant to challenge the PNM government for fear of 'the Indians will take over' mentality. They would cry: "Who we go put?" It is not that they did not know of the corruption of the PNM. But, they rationalized that a known corrupt government was better than an unknown one, especially since they believed that the East Indians would not look out for their own interests and help other Indians.

Today, Trinbago is bordering on a revolution. Crime, kidnappings and the murder rate are rising daily. While the government builds new spaces and businesses are reaping unimaginable profits, drugs, murders, homelessness and the AIDS pandemic have become part of the social milieu. Parentless children roam the streets. Yet, the government seems to have no solution. Every month or so the ministry of national security announces it has a new plan. There are allegations of wide spread corruption and drug sales among the police service. Some even accuse some of the politicians of corrupt practices and involvement with the drug lords. Unemployment is high despite the riches from the oil boom. The widening gap between rich and poor is widening daily. Time will tell if the masses will sit still pacified by the carnival and other festivities that mask the inequalities that exist.

See you at the rendezvous of victory

P.S. For any carnival, steelband or local terms used here, please go to the Port of Pan ABC, or you may contact this writer. Thanks for reading.

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