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Friday 24 May 2019
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A step into the past

motheringworker@gmail.com

Diary of a Mothering Worker

Entry 329

DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN

IT’S ONLY when you learn something new that you realise how little you know.

I was in Moruga, not sure if I’d been to Moruga before, but sure that I hadn’t been to any of its fledgling museums set up by His Royal Highness the Prince of Moruga.

The National Cocoa and Chocolate Museum of TT appears decrepit and sparse, but that’s only at first look. The prince, born Eric Lewis, manages to take buildings and equipment that appear rundown and represent them in all their once-living colour.

As you step in the door of a small barracks, you learn that he’s restoring this old cocoa and chocolate estate using wood from the 1930s as much as possible. That’s a humbling kind of thoughtfulness, for so many would instead advocate for the old wooden walls to be torn down and a new building erected in their memory, even while such action erased their original presence.

You can look at old ledgers where all the tasks completed, salaries paid, squirrels caught and names of workers are listed, in handwriting from the 1930s. You can see the cocoa houses where the roof can be drawn back in order to dry cocoa, and the huge barrels where it would be danced, in what was clearly a highly organised, monitored and mechanised process, over the last century. There’s much to see in the artefacts, but most compelling is the prince’s storytelling and, perhaps most fascinating, how his own family history is intertwined with these stories.

From him you learn that wealthy Venezuelans, most likely fleeing the Bolivarian Revolution, landed in Moruga with much coin to spend on purchasing thousands of acres of land. You learn about estate life, about the value of cocoa profits, and about the Moruga church, built in 1908 for a sum of £7,800 in the image of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, with such cocoa money.

The prince’s story seems to start with the first Spaniards to arrive in Trinidad and their descendants, who were part-Spanish and part-indigenous. It then brilliantly brings in his Indian foremothers, African ancestors and even some Scottish lineage – as is so common in the West Indies.

Once owned by the Herrera family, the estate employed 300 Indian indentured workers, and is one of many sites in Moruga where the indentureship experience remains in the landmarks. One of these is at La Rufin beach, where a building that housed such immigrants once stood, and is now just a skeleton of itself, highlighting the demise of this great port where African slave-trading ships once docked in an earlier time.

Beyond the chocolate museum are surrounding fields, themselves fascinating. In one small area, the prince will show you different spots where asphalt and then mud and then sulphur-rich water and then a natural stream all bubble up from the ground. The geological interest alone feels like a gold mine.

There’s something vastly educational about getting out of your regular routes, learning about unfamiliar parts of the country, and coming to feel at home in a wider geography than you did before.

There’s something important about getting out from behind a desk to where history was being made and is being remembered, and walking through those spaces feeling the magic of trying to picture yourself in the past.

There’s something about recognising how colonial dates which seem impersonal and abstract in fact highlight how others’ family histories contribute to understanding your own.

There’s a story for every part of TT. The more you hear, the more you realise how many there are to know.

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