One interesting mistake is that we encourage the idea that shelters people in the belief that we are a monolithic society. That we are “One”. But- we are disunited by mutual discord through different traditions and we were once rivals by constitution and enemies amongst ourselves. Then and now there is a sense of fermentation. One way to steady this dizziness is to surrender every resentment. We are full of imperfections and keenly want to clear the slate and unchain ourselves from the contradictions in our pasts. But there is no forgiveness outside of responsibility. If we don’t forgive each other today, then everything we hope for in the future will drown in the undertow of our miserable beginnings.

We must find no satisfaction whatever at any time in where we have reached. There can only be a divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest to reinvent ourselves.  The waltz-like dance of the bookman, and the slanting sway of imps genuflecting with a Bermudez biscuit tin is a pageantry that projects a perspective of our collective soul. These deliberate exaggerations of ourselves help us to remember that once we all walked sideways with the awkward halting grace of the sea crab clinging to a slab of stone. The sway of the imp and the constant bowing of the bookman is a performance of living.

There was no Trinidad before there was Trinidad. Our assemblage of cultures, identities, histories, myths, languages and foibles did not exist before the 1783 Cedula of Population. For 285 years, Isabella and Ferdinand, who received the island as part of the fief of Columbus, built only a set of open mud-plastered ajoupas, interspersed between large silk cotton trees. This was the full extent of infrastructure development works via foreign direct investment.

The objective of the Cedula was to develop a plantation economy by relaxing restrictions on access to land, free trade and investment, and creating a safer climate for capital accumulation. Since the Cedula was not abrogated by the Capitulation of Trinidad in 1797, Clause XII was often regarded as part of the constitution during the early 20th century and many residents appealed to it to protect their liberty, person and property.

All foreign natives of nations and states who professed the Roman Catholic faith were given a grant of lands in gratis and in perpetuity. Each settler of European ancestry of either sex was given four fanegas and two sevenths of land, (equal to thirty-two acres English measure), and half of the above quantity for every negro or mulatto slave that such white person or persons shall import with them.

The distribution of title was logged in a vellum book of population. But it was not egalitarian. Title was calibrated using a Colour Scale that measured the distance of persons mixed ancestry from white persons. The result was a classification of persons as quadroon, mestee, costee, mulatto, cabre and other clades along a continuum of colour.

The free coloureds and mulattoes were given half the quantity of land granted to the whites, and if they brought with them slaves, being their own property, the quantity of land granted to them was increased in proportion to the number of enslaved persons accompanying them. As for the land granted to negroes and mulattoes, it was one half of the quantity granted to persons enslaved by Europeans.

In 1783, Trinidad’s population was 2,763. Seventy-four per cent or 2,032 were First Peoples. The enslaved constituted eleven per cent of the population (310) which was barely larger than the 295 free non-white migrants from neighbouring islands. The remaining 126 were European. By 1797 the demographic structure of the island shifted and the structure of the economy showed hundreds of sugar, coffee, and cotton plantations producing merchandise for export. The population expanded dramatically to 17,718. About fifty-six percent were enslaved people. There were 4,476 free non-whites and 2,151 Europeans. However, the First People community declined by fifty per cent from the level achieved fourteen years prior and represented only six per cent of the total population. They were granted no lands what so ever.

Around 1813, in the Naparimas, thirty-eight coloured proprietors owned seventeen sugar estates, three coffee estates, one coffee/provision estate and ten provision estates. The free coloureds owned 35% of the estates and 30.1% of the enslaved peoples. A decade after slavery was abolished in 1834, bonded labourers arrived from India. By 1871, there were 27,425 East Indians, approximately 22 percent of the population; by 1911 that figure had grown to 110,911 or about 33 percent of all residents of the island. They purchased property from wages which they saved throughout servitude.

Migrants arrived from China and Portugal along with penniless Maronite Christians from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. Joseph Nahous followed his sister Faridi to Trinidad, arriving in 1937, sixteen years after Faridi left Syria. Fourteen years after his arrival, Joseph sent for his wife and children. So lengthy and bottomless was the suffering of the Syrians. The Cedula created the context, the contestation and the possibilities for cultural bricolage and métissage but it also established difference and inequality.