Life, work of Adrian Cola Rienzi celebrated

MP Rudy Indarsingh and trade unionist Sam Maharaj await their turn to have their copy of Adrian Cola Rienzi – The Life and Times of an Indo-Caribbean Progressive autographed by author Prof Brinsley Samaroo at Naparima College, on May 14. - YVONNE WEBB
MP Rudy Indarsingh and trade unionist Sam Maharaj await their turn to have their copy of Adrian Cola Rienzi – The Life and Times of an Indo-Caribbean Progressive autographed by author Prof Brinsley Samaroo at Naparima College, on May 14. - YVONNE WEBB

THE life and work of patriot Adrian Cola Rienzi were celebrated at the auditorium of Naparima College on May 14.

A gathering of academics, politicians, trade unionists, the clergy, lawyers and others, similar to the “Tuesday meetings” he and Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler held to change the course of history back in the 1930s, was convened that Sunday in San Fernando.

Rienzi was born Krishna Deonarine in 1905 in Palmyra on the outskirts of San Fernando, but died as Desh Bandu in 1972. His story is told in a book by historian and former politician Prof Brinsley Samaroo – Adrian Cola Rienzi, The Life and Times of an Indo-Caribbean Progressive.

It was launched at the school Rienzi had to leave after three years because his father had abandoned his family. These were three formative years, nevertheless, Samaroo writes, which Rienzi credited with shaping him and giving him competence in English and maths and an ambition to make his way in the world.

From high school dropout, Rienzi became a law clerk, went to England to become a full-fledged lawyer, and got involved in trade unionism, alongside Butler, playing a critical role in forming both the oil and sugar workers' unions. He bridged the divide between the two dominant ethnicities, and moved into the political realm locally and internationally.

Activist Kafra Kambon engages Prof Brinsley Samaroo about his book Adrian Cola Rienzi – The Life and Times of an Indo-Caribbean Progressive. - YVONNE WEBB

He served three terms as mayor of San Fernando and represented County Victoria on the Legislative Council.

His time in England led to his involvement in anti-imperial groups in Ireland while fighting for the liberation of his ancestral home of India and for Caribbean integration.

All these accomplishments and his battle with the British Empire for universal adult suffrage; women’s rights, long before the second wave of feminism; and arguments in favour of inter-racial relationships, are documented in the 152 pages of the book.

Was Rienzi a politician and trade unionist ahead of his time? San Fernando mayor Junia Regrello asked this as he lamented what he said was the lack to date of a properly documented history of the city. Samaroo has been commissioned to write its history from 1900-2020.

Regrello submitted that for someone who in the very turbulent 1930s recognised the value of the two critical ethnic groups to bring them together to achieve a very necessary objective, spoke to good politics and a lesson the current crop of politicians need to understand and action.

“Love knows not race, nor birth, nor creed, for if two individuals of different races are attracted to each other, fall in love, no one could be justified in suggesting such relationships have demoralising effect,” the books quotes Rienzi as saying.

“That was in 1928. Krishna Deonarine had the courage to state that publicly,” said Justice Peter Jamadar, who was invited to give an overview of the publication. He was reading the response Rienzi gave to concerns expressed by a family member of the Naipaul clan about inter-racial relationships.

"That was the character of the man, who also defended the Naipaul attack on women who cut their hair ('bobbists')."

Jamadar commended the author and recommended the wider public to read Samaroo's account of the cultural and political activism in which Rienzi engaged to challenge the status quo.

Justice Peter Jamadar and former speaker Nizam Mohammed at the launch of Adrian Cola Rienzi – The Life and Times of an Indo-Caribbean Progressive written by Prof Brinsley Samaroo. - YVONNE WEBB

“Prof Samaroo has most expertly woven these multiple threads in the life of Adrian Cola Rienzi to create a tapestry of facts, stories, emotion, hopes, disappointment, loves and struggles.”

Describing the book as a story of love, Jamadar used Rienzi’s description of his wife as the most beautiful woman in all of England to explain. “To love is to give yourself fully and totally to another.”

He stressed there is also love for a cause, a purpose, or a vocation.

“The work and life of Adrian Cola Rienzi, for the people of TT and the Caribbean, I want to suggest, was a life and work of love.”

It was sacrificial love, he said, because Rienzi's aspiration to become a judge at the end of an illustrious career was struck down by the colonial rulers, who felt his adopted name – an amalgamation of his English mentor, magistrate Adrian Clarke and the 14th-century Italian revolutionist Cola di Rienzo – suggested socialism and Fabianism.

Underscoring that context is everything, Jamadar was baffled, as many still are, as to how Rienzi conjured up that name, but accepted it was purpose-driven, and he was destined from birth, as the descendant of a warrior who fought in the great revolt in India.

His family was subsequently chased out of India and his father settled in Palmyra, where he was born.

“This is not a work of history, it is a story of a living legacy,” said Jamadar, adding that the book touched him personally, as the work of his forefathers is woven into it.

In 1951, his father-in-law benefited from a medical scholarship initiated by Rienzi for TT and Caribbean people who could not afford to study in the UK, US or Canada.

“So, vicariously, I am also a beneficiary of this initiative.”

Jamadar spoke of Rienzi’s exceptional belief in the relevance of research and learned argument, suggesting, “For those who are politicians amongst us – some present, some past, some still aspiring – I think this is something today we can benefit from.

“Rienzi succeeded not because of his charisma or connections, but because of reliance on research-based argumentation.”

Attorney and former speaker Nizam Mohammed, who chaired the proceedings along with activist Josanne Leonard, was overwhelmed and his voice trembled when he declared that Rienzi would ever be recognised, and, what is more, immortalised.

“We live in a society where there is supposed to be justice in every direction, yet as we continue to collapse, there is so much injustice.”

MP and former trade unionist Rudradanath Indarsingh also lauded him: “Adrian Cola Rienzi, who registered the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) and the All Trinidad Sugar Estate and Factory Workers Trade Union, and was the architect who laid the platform for the modern-day trade-union movement.

“The right to strike, the right to engage in collective bargaining, the pension plan, group health plan and so on – all these things workers enjoy in the 21st century today are as a result of the work done by Adrian Cola Rienzi.”


"Life, work of Adrian Cola Rienzi celebrated"

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