Trinidad & Tobago at 60: Celebration and contemplation

Image of Trinidad's capital, Port of Spain, against the national flag of Trinidad and Tobago compiled using paid Canva elements.

August 31, 2022 marks 60 years of independence from Britain for the Caribbean twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. The country's calendar of celebratory events, which began in early July, has been well patronised, and most social media users are happy about the diamond jubilee, using it as an opportunity to express a sense of national pride.

Various landmark buildings in the capital, Port of Spain, were lit up to celebrate the anniversary, as were landmarks in other countries, including the United Kingdom and Canada. Google got in on the action with its doodle, and even the scarlet ibis, one of Trinidad and Tobago's national birds, made quite a showing — both in real life and using artificial intelligence — as if to wish the nation a happy Independence Day.

Many citizens attended — or viewed via livestream — the annual Independence Day parade, which always starts off the day's celebrations.

The milestone prompted artist Gillian Bishop to reflect on what happened on Independence Day itself:

Sixty years ago, tonight, on the stroke of midnight, on the grounds of the Red House, the Union Jack was lowered, and the flag of Trinidad and Tobago raised. I was a witness to this historic ceremony, and at that moment, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and promise of my country. It was an extremely moving ceremony, which I shall never forget.

As a young student and “member of a corps of Liaison Aides representing the Government of Trinidad and Tobago as hosts to specially invited foreign guests,” she “felt a heavy sense of responsibility”; 60 years later, she wondered:

Have we lived up to this promise? In far too many ways, we have not. But this is a time for celebration as well as reflection. Let this anniversary herald the start of a ‘diamond’ age in our country, an age of toughness, brilliance and love. As we celebrate our country and our people, let us all resolve to do better, to be the citizens we can and must be, if this little country is to progress and thrive in a world which is consistently contemptuous of small island states such as ours.

In referring to a speech by Eric Williams, Trinidad and Tobago's first prime minister and regarded as “the father of the nation,” Renée Cummings suggested that the diamond jubilee was “a great time to reimagine what it means […] to be a citizen of Trinidad & Tobago”:

Let today be the day that we unveil Trinidad & Tobago 2.0

Dr. Eric Williams, in a speech delivered at the Independence Youth Rally, Queen's Park Oval, on 30th August 1962, (the eve of our Independence from Britain), to the soon-to-be citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. ‘I have given to the Nation as its watchwords, Discipline, Production, Tolerance.’ […]

What is material here is the Independence Youth Rally, the importance and significance of a youth rally, a prime minister recognising the importance of youth to nation building and directly addressing youth.

The future of Trinidad and Tobago is the future of the youth of Trinidad and Tobago. Let us recommit to youth development.

In a blog post, writer Ira Mathur called the Independence era led by Williams “[s]uch days of hope”:

In his six years at Oxford topping his class in politics and history in 1935, Williams never stopped thinking and writing about Trinidad as his base for his doctorate. He had already written The Negro in the Caribbean (1942), Capitalism and Slavery (1944).

Williams didn’t do everything right (who did?) but gave everyone in the country access to education.

But he did something very right.

All his life, he probed what democracy means in small islands where the majority were once slaves and servants. Institutions weren’t enough. It was a battle of hearts and minds.

In some ways, it still is — people are still fighting battles. Concerned about the loud noise associated with the evening's fireworks display in Port of Spain, which takes place at the Queen's Park Savannah within close proximity to the country's zoo, some social media users used the occasion to advocate. Lara Quentrall-Thomas observed:

‘Noiseless Fireworks’ will will make up forty percent (40%) of the fireworks display at San Fernando Hill. Better than 0%. Not quite 100%.
Come on POS! [Port of Spain]

The Trinidad and Tobago Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (TTSPCA) added:

Happy 60th Independence Day Trinidad and Tobago 🇹🇹 May the next 60 years bring greater changes in law and in the hearts and minds of our people for the betterment of all our animals.

Several netizens, via Facebook and WhatsApp, shared memes that drew attention to the nation's shortcomings, including the condition of the roads, some of which are in a state of disrepair. Photographer Sarita Rampersad, meanwhile, posted images of both cultural pride and social concern.

University professor and newspaper columnist Gabrielle Hosein expressed her own concern “at the way that nationhood gets mixed up with state power, and love for country becomes mixed up with loyalty to state authority”:

On an anniversary of independence, we mark transition from being a colony. We also mark decades of self-rule. We present how we see ourselves now. We breathe into a vision for who we want to be and what we still must achieve.

We must also ask ourselves about exclusions, and what our independent status means to those without equal access to the freedoms and protections of the very citizenship we are celebrating, such as LGBTI communities. We must ask ourselves about inequities, and what independent status means to neglected rural communities where flooding results from near-abandonment by the very state being celebrated today.

We must ask ourselves about fear at a time when citizens are in terror both in and outside their homes, because of failures and corruption that connect politics to ports, to police. Institutions are how a state touches the lives of its nation of people, and are how they most experience its rules and their rights.

On a Newsauce Facebook thread asking people which were their favourite lines of the national anthem, one commenter said it “meant nothing” to him at the moment because of “the state of this country.” In response, Rhoda Bharath offered:

[W]e are 60 yrs old and slowly decolonising. Everything you described above is part of the human condition and are the toxic traits we need to evolve from. There isn't a country in this hemisphere that isn't experiencing what you described [and] yet, we would have no issues with them celebrating their milestones and achievements.

Trinidad and Tobago, like many formerly colonised places, is still a young nation, excelling at some things and struggling with others. In her blog post, Mathur considered this:

Some say Trinidad is not a real place, others that God is a Trini, opinions swinging wildly between boasting and the burlesque. […]

Think of us, you and me, a people who, despite it all, despite us, all being strands plucked from far off continents, continue to back democracy and live in peace with one another. […]

Something to celebrate.

1 comment

  • Kigoonya Deoson

    Thanks for the information and informing us of the History and independence of TRINIDAD and TOBAGO.I hear and read about this great country only in my history lessons. Please keep up this spirit as i also circulate widely in my network in Uganda.

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