Famous for their creativity, Trinbagonians seemed to have adopted the attitude that “if it’s nice, then do it twice”.
That led to two golden anniversary celebrations from both sides of the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament to mark the 50th year of political independence from Britain.
On the eastern side of the famed “Red House”, the seat of Parliament, at Woodford Square in downtown Port of Spain, there were the official and national celebrations organised by the Government.
However, a disenchanted Opposition marked the occasion on the western side of the Parliament, at the actual spot where the original celebrations took place on 31 August 1962.
But notwithstanding the different political colours at the two ceremonies, both centred on the re-enactment of the 1962 lowering of the British Union Jack and the raising of the red, white and black flag of Trinidad and Tobago.
As could be expected, the national celebrations were larger and grander, with a massive cultural extravaganza on the nights of the 30th and into the 31st in Woodford Square, which was the stomping ground of the acknowledged “Father of the Nation”, Dr Eric Williams – the country’s first Prime Minister.
The ceremony at Woodford Square, attended by thousands of nationals, consisted of five hours of performances before the flag hoisting.
Included in the show were performances by vintage calypsonians such as Relator, King Austin and the “sweet soca man”, the Baron.
Reigning calypso monarch Duane O’Connor put in a performance to balance the generational scale.
Then there were steel pan virtuosos Len Boogsie Sharpe and Ray Holman, along with East Indian dancing.
The re-enactment was followed by a concert performance from the biggest soca star of the day, Machel Montano, and his arch-rival, Iwer George.
President Max Richards and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar concluded early independence morning urging, in their very different ways, the nation to work towards the next 50 years.
“We are at a critical juncture in our nation. Fifty years of independence have gone. I ask you what will be our legacy over the next 50 years. How will be judged by our children’s children?” asked the Prime Minister. “I urge you, fellow citizens, to seize this opportunity for progress.”
Mrs Persad-Bissessar, the first female to have been elected prime minister in Trinidad, told her audience she was “proud to be the one chosen by destiny to lead the country to this 50th anniversary of independence”.
However, she then called for “a more mature politics, not one based on race, religion and geographical space”.
This comment fits in the context of a country where the two major parties, the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the majority ruling party, the United National Congress, have their support bases in the African and Indian population of the country
President Richards complimented the country and its citizens for the 50 years of political independence, saying the people had done some things very well and should feel proud of this.
“Over time, however, money, particularly new money and modernity, have taken their toll on proper style and civilisation,” President Richards said.
“We have become modern, but are we civilised?
“Without intending to steal our joy, I am constrained to warn that we are nurturing generations of children who are allowed not to take responsibility for their actions.
“We are making too much room for non-thinkers, who take the easy, clever way out, once patronage, in any form, is available. We deserve much better,” said President Richards, whose term of office comes to an end in the first quarter of 2013.
The opposition’s celebrations
The opposition celebrations were similar in format to those of the government, but far less commanding in size and less elaborate, with PNM supporters having to settle for just their political leader, Dr Keith Rowley.
The PNM celebrations began just a block away from those of the government.
However, participants marched to the Balisier House Headquarters of the party in candlelight for the re-enactment. The PNM General Secretary, Ashton Ford, told Caribbean Intelligence© that the party, which has ruled the country for 37 of the 50 years of political independence, planned its own celebrations after accusing the government of not doing enough to mark the anniversary.
He said that the official celebrations had been deliberately neglecting the contribution of PNM founder Dr Williams.
“The government did not respond positively to the anniversary of Dr Williams’ birth and did not want to place Dr Williams at the centre of the anniversary celebrations, because it felt that doing so would be celebrating PNM achievements,” Dr Rowley said.
In turn, Planning Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie accused the PNM of being divisive and hammered it for not accepting the government’s invitation to participate in the planning of the national celebrations.
Divided: “Terribly wrong”
“We must ask ourselves whether or not we have lost our way, if our leaders—government and opposition—cannot find it in themselves to put aside their differences for the sake of our nation to give commitment to unity,” commented the Catholic Archbishop of Port of Spain, Joseph Harris.
The outspoken archbishop added: “For this very divided land of ours, on this most important anniversary of independence, not to celebrate together, then something has gone terribly wrong with the dream of the forefathers of the nation.”
He lamented that the nation’s motto, “Together we aspire, together we achieve,” had been lost.
“I urge all citizens to let us love our country,” the archbishop said.
“I urge our elected representatives of all faiths, but especially those of our faith, to put country before self and political affiliation.
I urge you elected representatives to work, to endeavour to build a united country of which we can all be proud.”
In editorial comment, the Trinidad Express criticised both opposition and governing party, saying that “T&T should be put first”.
The paper noted that it could not be fairly contended that Dr Williams was left out of the celebrations.
However the Express editorial of Saturday 1 September said the celebrations should have been placed in the hands of an independent committee:
“Instead we have got yet another event managed by centralised government resulting, inevitably, in political one-upmanship.”
What the public did
But notwithstanding the contentions and a dose of regular “Trini Bacchanal” around the staging of the celebrations, tens of thousands of people from all groups and social classes and ethnicities came out.
They enjoyed the cultural shows and the military parade on Independence morning, followed by a jump-up through the streets to the military bands playing popular calypsos.
The celebrations continued into the night as tens of thousands of people across different parts of the islands delighted in the fireworks displays.
No matter what the politicians did, it was a full weekend of celebrations - Trini style.