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Saturday 18 August 2018
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Commentary

A drive through history

GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN

ALL YOU have to do is walk around with your eyes open. Words said to me by Lloyd Best, one of the now-deceased founders of the 1970s Tapia House Movement for a politics that empowers everyday people, not political elites.

I was already following this path, but have lived by these words since. With your eyes open, you can understand much more about our geography and its history.

Take the road from Grande to Point Galeota, and take your children with you. First, your drive through Sangre Grande and Sangre Chiquito (Big Blood and Little Blood) marks the path of slaughter following the Arena uprising by indigenous people in 1699, and their subsequent massacre after killing the Spanish governor and priests.

Eighty-four were captured on the run, 61 were shot, and the rest were tortured after revealing that they were beaten by priests, forcing them to attend Catholic services and to labour in the encomienda system. Later, 22 were hanged and dismembered, and the women distributed as servants.

Just past the slope to Manzanilla, named by the Spanish who thought they saw “little apples” on the trees, Nariva Swamp begins to emerge on your right as the ocean flings itself onto the shore on your left. It’s in Nariva Swamp, on the sacred Manatee Island, that the surviving indigenous rebels were caught.

Full of biodiversity and village history, the swamp became a protected wetland in 1993 after marches and protests against the effects of illegal rice farming, organised and led by women such as Molly Gaskin and Judy Shepherd of the Wildfowl Trust. It’s hard to imagine such public protests to protect our ecology today.

You might buy watermelons at the side of the road, in front of the villages of Kernahan and Cascadoux, which began to be populated during the Second World War, when Trinidad was providing food through its “war gardens.” In 1999, I was a researcher documenting the lives and beliefs of those villages and, led by Andrew from Cacadoux Village, scaled the cliffsides of Point Radix, over the ocean, exhilarated and barefoot.

Andrew later fell while picking coconuts, leaving him disabled. Even while remaining positive, as I visited him while Ziya went up to the mud volcano bubbling behind his house, he talked about how the PNM government took away his food card when they came into power.

“It was so little money,” he said, “I don’t understand why.”

It’s a UNC constituency, so these things happen. The PNM also closed the Guayaguayare fishing depot, a glossy, windswept compound with storage facilities for fishermen which was opened by PM Persad-Bissessar in her day and with much ado.

“Why would they so completely lock the local people out?” I asked UWI historian Prof Brinsley Samaroo.

“Because that’s politics,” he said, reminding me just how little we effectively fight for our rights in the face of party leadership and their practices of punishment and reward.

Guayaguayare means the “clashing of waves” and Ziya, my seven-year-old, was keen to visit a place she’d heard about in an often-played, slow love song to the area by Trinidadian musician Drew Gonzales and his award-winning band, Kobotown. One day, going to Guyana, Zi may visit Georgetown’s famous sea wall, and recollect our own small-island version.

Still open are the old green and blue grocery shops of John Lee Lum who, at the turn of the century, helped found the Guayaguayare Oil Company. along with Randolph Rust, from whom Rustville gets its name.

Rust drilled the first successful oil well, but looking at the thick mangrove tentacles embracing Pilot River, you wouldn’t know that early drilling took place there.

To the left are rigs and tankers out at sea, and closer in is Point Galeota’s centre. Ziya stood contemplating two wells pumping out the compressed fossils below. As sohari leaves danced nearby, I wondered if the crude oil she saw in black pools around the pumps was a sign of our times, their presence soaking into our land. Perhaps, all — the fossils and the money — will be gone when she reaches my age.

If she keeps her eyes open to enough for long enough, she’ll connect those very pumps to Galeota’s tiny southeastern wealth, and sea level rise that will almost certainly claim Manzanilla’s coconut trees, the anaconda-like Mayaro road, and all this history. Then, she’ll be left to picture chip-chip gathering, and the spirituous silk-cotton tree at the mouth of the Ortoire River, in her mind’s eye and from childhood memory.

motheringworker@gmail.com

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