Every year on March 30th is a public holiday in Trinidad and Tobago to commemorate the liberation of the Spiritual Baptist community. Practicing their religion was banned from 1917 - 1951 in this country by the British colonial government, and they had to keep their faith alive in secret while fighting to get the ban removed. Finally, in March 1951, the Repeal of Shouter Prohibition Ordinance was passed, and the Spiritual Baptists gained religious freedom.
The Prime Minister shared in his speech on this holiday last year that he feels, “a rush of emotions whenever this celebration comes around because I attempt to transport myself into an observer, trying somehow to experience going back in time to the historical road, which the early members of the Spiritual Shouter Baptists faith travelled in Trinidad and Tobago. Theirs is the sad history of a people seeking legitimacy, a right to worship what they felt deeply in their being, and a defense of their sense of self… Such was the colonial experience, and road the Spiritual Shouter Baptist travelled. Thankfully, we can all look at how far we have come. Today we celebrate in the magnificence of our dress, the elevated haunting notes of our melodious voices, and most importantly in the embrace of the faith by the young generation of the Spiritual Baptist youth, ably guided by generations of ancestors.”
"Then, across the music of our joy, cutting through the God-praising, we
hear this whistle blast and this gruff voice announcing:
'Awright, you under arrest!' And Bee eyes widening and the
congregation coming back to itself, the handclapping and the
God-praising ending and the bell in Sister Lucas hand still
ringing though she ain't ringing it, and when we turn around, I
see stand up there by the door this tall, bowleg, big-head man
with a baton in his hand and a gun on his waist, and his eyes
smiling in his wicked face.
'Don't try to get away. We have you now,' he say. And
behind him, the other police stand up like a shield blocking the
door, their batons raise up, ready for murder.
'Brethren, please don't run,' Bee say, his forehead frowning
and his noseholes widening. 'Please don't give them the excuse
to brutalise you."
As one of our family book club choices, we read ‘The Wine of Astonishment’ by Earl Lovelace. The quote above comes from this book. This story is about the persecution the Spiritual Baptists faced in Trinidad. I must admit I only had a vague idea of the struggles of the Spiritual Baptists before, but reading this book was very valuable in understanding and learning more. We were lucky to have Mr. Lovelace join us to discuss the book after we read it, and that helped us gain even more knowledge of not just the plot and characters but the struggles faced by this community. What a powerful book, and it is one that I think everyone should check out. I told Mr. Lovelace that I would love to see this as a movie. Hopefully, that can happen soon so that this story can reach a wider audience. Have any of you read this book?