tabanca - "the forlorn feeling that one gets, when a love affair is over".....Cote ce, Cote la





by  Michael Anthony

sugar mill

Trinidad Express.......... January 5, 2000

In Trinidad we know of only half of the ten centuries, which have passed in this second millennium after Christ, for our recorded history began only in 1498, with the coming of Columbus. Previous to that, the country was inhabited only by Amerindians, and of their past we know nothing since they did not write. We can only examine Trinidad after the end of the 15th century.

The 16th century continued to be a century of great silence, but it was also the century when Trinidad began to change from being a completely Amerindian island which the conquerors called primitive, to a land where at least one town had been established - San Jose de Oruna. That century could be said to have ended in shambles, for the governor, Antonio de Berrio, died on the mainland while seeking El Dorado; then the only town, San Jose de Oruna, was burnt to the ground by Sir Walter Raleigh, and the fact was that Trinidad was left almost as it had been when that century began.

The 17th century did not make much of a difference either. There was a succession of Spanish governors who came and spent some time at the capital, San Jose de Oruna, and left, but there was no Trinidad of progress on the horizon. However, in 1687, something significant happened. The governor of 1682, Diego Suarez Ponce de Leon, feeling that if the Amerindians were not Roman Catholic like him they were heathens, called on the King of Spain to send missionaries to convert the Amerindians to Christianity.
The missionaries came in 1687, and in founding various missions - about 20 in all - they were in fact founding villages. However, in keeping with the 16th century, the 17th century also ended with tragedy. In 1699 trouble broke out at one of the capuchin missions - San Francisco de los Arenales, better known as Arena. There, three priests were killed by the Spaniards: "El massacre de Arena," or the Arena massacre. However, the real massacre had taken place when the Spanish forces pursued and killed hundreds of Amerindians in revenge for this incident.

The 18th century could be called the most crucial century of the millennium, for this was the century, which saw Trinidad get an active and vibrant population. The century had begun rather slowly but the significant moment came in 1777 when a French settler from Grenada, Phillipe-Roume de Saint Laurent, was invited to Trinidad to see if he could settle here. Saint Laurent was glad to come, hoping to get away, he said, from British influence in Grenada.
Saint Laurent was invited here in a scheme by the Spanish government to attract settlers to Trinidad in the hope that, should it be attacked by the British, then fighting a war in the Windward Islands, it would have a population with which to defend itself.
Shortly after Saint Laurent arrived, he decided on his future and the future of Trinidad. For he fell so much in love with the island that he was determined to attract all the French people in Grenada and the other islands to come and settle in Trinidad. He drew up a document to show the governor how, by Spain offering incentives such as the granting of land, and relief from taxes, he would be able to attract thousands of planters and their slaves, who would then open estates and develop Trinidad.
The governor could not decide, nor could his superior, the Intendant at Caracas, and so Saint Laurent decided to go to Madrid to see the King of Spain. The King was so excited on hearing Saint Laurent's plan that, in November 1783, he declared a Cedula of population for Trinidad. This, in the main, is what has given Trinidad its African population and its French Creoles.
At the close of the 18th century the population of Trinidad was about 20,000 people, more than half of whom were African slaves. There were about 5,000 French planters, and the rest were free blacks and coloureds. The capital, which had been San Jose, moved to Puerto Espana.
This century also ended with tragedy, but this time for Spain. On February 17, 1797, the British attacked Trinidad, and the force from within, which was supposed to defend it, never did any such thing. In fact it was hostile to Spain. The next day Trinidad fell.

The 19th century, which began with British rule, saw violent occurrences under the first governor Thomas Picton, the destruction by fire of the former Puerto Espana (Port of Spain), and it saw the long struggle of the slaves to be free. This freedom came in 1838, and with the slaves turning away from the sugar plantations; it saw the introduction of the East Indians in 1845.
Other highlights of the 19th century were the establishment of a public education system in 1851 by Governor Lord Harris, the introduction of electricity in 1895, and the tense struggle for political reform.

When the last century of the millennium - the 20th - started on January 1,1901, the country was poised for all sorts of conflict and pain, change and progress. And it was a century in which the hitherto 'subject' peoples were to come into their own.......

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