EAST Indian influence in education, politics, law, culture, cuisine, architecture, fashion and so much more on the Trinidad and Tobago landscape, is quite visible.
In this month when Indian heritage is celebrated, leading up to the commemoration of Indian Arrival Day on May 30, platforms have been created to showcase and celebrate the diversity marked by their presence.
One of the exhibitors at the Divali Nagar site where celebrations are being held by the National Council of Indian Culture (NCIC), is a man considered one of the few remaining authentic Indian ornamental jewellery makers in Trinidad and Tobago.
Meet fourth generation East Indian descendant Stephen Mitchum Frank Weaver. Jewel artisan par excellence who is continuing the rich legacy started by his great grandfather, Dandan. Dandan was among the first set of some 150,000 indentured Indians brought to Trinidad and Tobago to work on the sugar and cocoa plantations when slavery ended.
Owner of Mitch Exclusive Jewellery at Gopaul Lands, Marabella, Weaver has been crafting traditional and authentic pieces of his ancestors for the past 44 years. And he is only 47.
“Yes, I have been exposed to the art of jewellery making since I was three years old in my father’s workshop. That is where the real skills are taught, and tradition passed on – in the workshops, not in classrooms.”
In an interview, Weaver spoke about his passion for the original art form.
“Jewellery making is in my DNA. It is in my blood. I wanted to be just like my father, Mitchum Frank Weaver who owned the original Mitch Exclusive Jewellery at Westmoorings, now The Falls.
“He was the best in his class. My dad, who lived at Columbus Circle, Westmoorings went out to sea a few years ago and they never found his body or his boat. He disappeared from the face of the earth.”
His disappearance is another motivating factor for Weaver wanting to equalise and surpass the success and competence of his father while continuing his legacy.
“When my ancestors came here or were fooled into coming here for the promise of a better life, they came with their own trade like so many others who were skilled in pottery making, weaving, ancient cultural work.
“My great-grandfather was one of the first master artisan goldsmiths to come to Trinidad from the northeastern part of India. This legacy of goldsmithing was passed on to my father and then to me. My father worked as an artisan jeweller at Y De Lima before he began producing his own jewellery in the kitchen of our home in Arima.
“At the age of three, he would put me to sit on his desk and talk about the history and art involved in the creation of the jewellery pieces he worked on at the time.”
These sessions as well as exposure from various local master artisans such as “Sam” and “Toolsie,” sparked a desire to diligently aspire to follow in his footsteps and perfect the art.
Blending the modern and ancient techniques, Mitch, over the years, still uses some of the original tools and others which have been modernised, to maintain the aesthetics.
Now the owner of two workshops and a storefront at Marabella, which carries the original name of his father’s store, commercial pieces as well as authentic pieces are sold.
As a businessman, financial success is paramount, so while the rare and unique pieces do not have a fast turnover, Weaver must rely on the commercial and cheaper pieces to keep the business afloat.
Even so, he said, he is very selective with the mass-produced pieces to maintain his reputation.
“Of course, everything revolves around money, but running down money rather than the trade is not my forte. I am very conscious about my reputation; I just don’t sell a piece to make money. Every customer must have a proper fit, just like when you put on a shoe or item of clothing. I sell a customer something to make that customer look good.
“It is about making an impact on a person’s life.”
His pieces, many customised, are built with love for special occasions such as weddings, anniversaries, births, and birthdays.
“They sometimes bring tears to the eyes of the beholder,” he said with pride.
“My pieces are built for generations to come. Take for instance a baby ID band, I build it longer and stronger, so the child can use it for more than three months. While people may gravitate to the cheaper pieces because it has a shelf life, my designs can be kept and passed on to pass that child’s children and grandchildren.”
For his exhibition at the Divali Nagar, which began last weekend, May 20 and 21 and ends on May 30, Weaver has designed approximately 60 authentic pieces.