MSJ: Put history of Baptist struggle on school curriculum

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Movement for Social Justice political leader David Abdulah. – File photo

SAYING the struggles of the Spiritual Baptists in gaining freedom to worship is central to the history of Trinidad and Tobago, the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) is suggesting this becomes part of the school curriculum.

“This history must be taught in our schools. To do otherwise is to capitulate to the colonial strategy of destroying our real identity,” political leader of the MSJ David Abdulah said in a statement in recognition of the Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day holiday on March 30.

“The struggle to reform our education system and of the curriculum is one that is yet to be won, but is one that is absolutely necessary if we are to truly ‘emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.’”

Thinking the observance may be overshadowed as it is wedged between Good Friday and Easter Monday, Abdulah warned against the commemoration being viewed as “just another public holiday…

“To downplay the significance of Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day is to devalue, firstly the heroic struggle for freedom which members of the Spiritual Baptist faith waged, and secondly, their contributions to the building of TT.”

Chronicling the movement’s history, Abdulah noted, “The British colonial power and the economic and political elites in Britain and in the colonies sought to repress and suppress any effort by the enslaved Africans to retain their identity.

“This strategy was continued after Emancipation in 1838. The banning of the drums and other ‘noisy instruments,’ the attack on the Canboulay celebrations of the former enslaved were manifestations of the strategy to deny Africans their identity.

“The Prohibition Ordinances banning the Spiritual Baptist faith from being practised must be understood in this context, beginning in St Vincent in 1912 and TT in 1917 and lastly in Grenada in 1927.”

He pointed out that the publication last week of historian Dr Claudius Fergus’s Against Toleration: Britain’s Persecution of the Spiritual Baptists had revealed the colonial state violated its own laws and constitution by prohibiting the Spiritual Baptist faith, as the British Parliament had, in the mid 1850s, passed legislation for religious tolerance.

In the southern Caribbean, the British state, in full knowledge that what it was doing was ultra vires its own laws and constitution, prohibited the Spiritual Baptists from practising their religion, in furtherance of the strategy of destroying African identity.

Abdulah argued that the struggle to end prohibition was therefore a struggle against the British state and all its institutions – the established church, the education system, the legal system and more.

He observed Baptists did not cower, nor was their struggle deterred as they challenged the power structure and fought for their freedom.

“The struggle to end prohibition by the Spiritual Baptists was therefore truly a struggle for human rights and freedom: freedom of worship and of religion, freedom of association, freedom of conscience.

“Thus Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day, while of great significance to members of the faith, is also of tremendous importance to the entire society. Spiritual Baptists fought and won freedoms that we all can enjoy today.”