Academic Oasis | Trinidad and Tobago News Blog

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By Rafique Shah
September 05, 2022

Last Tuesday I was scanning the local TV stations for any independence-related specials they might be showing on the eve of the 60th anniversary when I realized CCN TV6 was about to go live the official opening of the Dr Eric Williams Memorial Library and Museum in Port of Spain.

As the cameras filmed the guests arriving for what was probably one of the milestone events of the anniversary, I felt a surge of nostalgia, memories of what felt like many years ago when Erica Williams , daughter of the late Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, first contacted me about her project.

Now people my age or thereabouts, who know the country’s history, more so the Black Power revolution, and know of my involvement in the mutiny, can express their shock at reading that Erica and I actually talked or otherwise communicated with or wrote to each other. We should be enemies for life, they might think. Allow me to explain my position on these issues.

I can’t think of a single person I hate or dislike in my life. There were a few that I deeply hated and could have inflicted bodily harm on them if the opportunity ever presented itself. But you hate Dr. Williams and his daughter? Never. I know that Erica and probably her father were convinced that some of the rebel soldiers in 1970 wanted them dead.

I have never had such feelings towards Dr. Williams or his daughter or any other member of his family.

I opposed many of his political policies and spoke and wrote openly about these issues. I should add that I know that Erica, and presumably other family members, were marked for death in 1970 (I heard her say so in a documentary). That’s why she doesn’t like me, even hates me. But I know what she was talking about. I commanded the mutineers, and I knew that even though in the heat of the moment the soldiers might say stupid things, the command groups would never have allowed such an atrocity.

Shit, in the end it turned out that while we could die for the revolution we believed in so much, we couldn’t kill for it. Nuff said on that.

I was happy that Erica finally got the government to do its part to make the Dr. Eric Williams Memorial Library a reality. I have not seen it and would hardly do so, given my infirmity.

Given that she has worked for over 20 years – at least since she first contacted me – it’s just that the facility remains healthy, well maintained, well stocked and available for people to whom it was dedicated, situated on his favorite ground, Woodford Square, where many of his books, before printing, were revealed both to the author and to readers assembled in the People’s Parliament.

I can only hope it will attract many younger nationals who seem to know so little of their history. Unfortunately, the educational system that Dr. Williams has instituted since the 1960s seems to have failed when it comes to history as a subject.

I read most of Williams’s books because I consider myself a student of history and he was one of the few who researched them extensively and spent a lot of time publishing them, even though he occupied political functions.

I in no way consider anything he wrote to be biblical truth. But as a body of work, they provide us with more than enough facts, dates, and analysis to keep us going and thirsty for more knowledge.

Historians such as Michael Anthony, Brinsley Samaroo, Bridget Brereton, and works of fiction by writers such as Earl Lovelace and VS Naipaul have added to what is available for both academic and historical use.

If the new library is structured and marketed to appeal to teenage and adult readers, it can still inform our people of their own history. Ask the average Trini, aged 20-40, who was Eric Williams? A blank stare. Maybe 50% would know. Ask about Dr. Rudranath Capildeo, even worse – chances are no one under 25 knows. Lovelace, CLR, Jit Samaroo, Minshall—you guessed it. But ask, who is the latest dancehall artist? All under 40 answer correctly.

The management of the new library could consider organizing conferences and round tables on all aspects of information on our country and on the Caribbean and Latin America at large. This is where our future lies.

Erica and her small team of dedicated workers deserve kudos for what they put into this project for so many years. The new library will shine when many more books by many other authors elevate it to an academic oasis in a wasteland of weapons, knives, and lives.

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