Noted historian, writer Prof Brinsley Samaroo dies

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Professor Emeritus Dr Brinsley Samaroo, seen in this May 14 photo signing a book for Khafra Kambon of the Emancipation Support Committee. Samaroo died on Sunday at age 84. FILE PHOTO –

Professor Emeritus Dr Brinsley Samaroo, noted historian, retired university lecturer and past government minister, died on Sunday after a brief illness. He was 84.

Former colleagues hailed his enduring contribution to the study of history and the practice of politics.

His daughter Kavita Samaroo issued a statement saying he died peacefully at 12.45 pm. “We would like to thank everyone for their prayers and support during this period and wish to request some private time to grieve. An announcement will be made regarding his memorial service.”

University historian Prof Bridget Brereton told Newsday Samaroo was a pioneer in the study of TT’s history, whose influence would endure.

Former government minister Winston Dookeran said Samaroo had brought historical insights into the practice of politics, including at key moments such as the 1990 coup attempt.

The TT Parliament website said he was a ULF opposition senator (1981-1986) and was elected Nariva MP in 1991. He served in the NAR government from 1987-1991, successively as Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Minister of Decentralization and Minister of Food Production and Marine Exploitation.

Brereton said Samaroo’s passing was a huge loss to everybody interested in researching and spreading knowledge about TT, including the history of the Indian diaspora in the Caribbean. “Brinsley was a leading historian. He wrote extensively about the indentured Indian diaspora in TT and throughout the Caribbean.

“He was one of a group of people who really pioneered the study of the history of the Indian diaspora. He was a pioneer. But not in any way an ethnic historian.”

She said while he was interested in the Indian diaspora, he also wrote a great deal about the history of TT, especially the history of class struggle and labour struggle.

Samaroo was both an academic historian and public historian, Brereton said.

“He very frequently spoke in public. He got involved in particular initiatives to preserve and disseminate the history of TT

“He helped I don’t know how many people who were researching the history of TT. He was always very generous with his time. So anybody passing through TT trying to do some research was certain to be helped by him.” She said his death was a huge loss to TT’s historical fraternity, the region, and Indian diaspora.

Brereton, even in her grief, sounded an upbeat note that Samaroo’s impact would be passed on to others.

“He pioneered a whole movement, to research the history of the Indian diaspora in the Caribbean. There are many, many younger historians from all over the place who are continuing that process. He inspired a movement which is flourishing.

“When he began there was relatively little high-quality research on the topic; Now there is plenty. And more coming out all the time.”

Brereton recalled knowing Samaroo for over 50 years.

“He was a tremendously warm and kind person. He was very sociable. He helped everybody.

“He was very much not the bookish academic in the ivory tower. I cannot think of anybody who was less like that. He was out there all the time.

“And he was a very fine human being.

“He was a beloved teacher at UWI, St Augustine. He taught hundreds and hundreds of students. He was much loved as a teacher.”

Dookeran said on this sad day condolences were pouring in from all over the world ,including the UK and India, both where Samaroo had studied.

“He was an internally acclaimed scholar.” Dookeran said Samaroo had played a pivotal role in his own life, relating that the two had lived in the same village, attended the same schools and both participated in politics. He hailed Samaroo as a “historian, scholar and futuristic thinker.”

“He played an important role in the NAR and in its formation.” Dookeran said Samaroo helped to oversee deliberations during the attempted coup of July 1990.

“His voice was always one of great moderation during those six days.”Dookeran said Samaroo had played a very sobering role during the coup attempt, amid very toxic politics. “He gave a balanced and sober view during the six days and subsequently. Those are important moments during the history of TT in which Dr Samaroo stood up as a man.”

Dookeran recalled learning a lot from Samaroo on the importance of history in the conduct of TT’s politics.

“He had a very proud period in electoral politics.

“His major contribution was in bringing history alive.” Dookeran said many PhD students had benefited from Samaroo’s guidance.

“I am really saddened, but what do you do?” Dookeran reflected on Samaroo’s demise.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in a release, said that it was with “profound sadness,” that she learned the news of Samaroo’s passing.

“Dr Samaroo’s legacy encompasses far more than his political career…and it is his contributions as a historian that truly defined his remarkable life,” she said.

She added that Samaroo delved into the rich and complex history of TT, documenting the atrocities endured by enslaved Africans and indentured East Indians, and the impact this had on the development of the nation.

“Dr Samaroo was a tireless advocate for the preservation and recognition of historical sites, understanding their significance for future generations.

“During my term as prime minister, he played a crucial role in the establishment of a Sugar Heritage Village. Serving as the chair of the Sugar Village Project Steering Committee, Dr Samaroo dedicated his expertise to preserving the invaluable heritage of Trinidad and Tobago’s sugar industry, one of our nation’s most vital sectors,” Persad-Bissessar said.

She added that Samaroo had left an indelible mark on our nation’s history, deserving the highest acclaim. She called on government to honour his “immense contributions” and acknowledge the pivotal role he played in documenting the nation’s past.

Editor’s Note: This is an update to a story published online earlier which can be read below:

UWI Professor Emeritus Dr Brinsley Samaroo has died. He was 84.

Confirmation of his passing came on Sunday afternoon in the form of a brief release posted to social media which stated:

The family of Prof Brinsley Samaroo wishes to advise of his passing today at 12.45 pm. He died peacefully following a brief illness.

“We would like to thank everyone for their prayers and support during this period and wish to request some private time to grieve. An announcement will be made regarding his memorial service.”

Samaroo was a member of the National Alliance for Reconstruction and a former MP for Nariva.

Apart from politics, Samaroo was possibly more well-known for his work in academia as he was once head of The UWI’s History Department and he was also a writer.