The following is Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day greeting:
I take this opportunity to extend sincerest Best Wishes to the members of the Spiritual Baptist (Shouter) community on behalf of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, my family and myself, as Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Today, as we celebrate this historic and life-changing occasion, in the ravages of a global pandemic, we must not only acknowledge and salute the determination and resilience of the early Elders and members of the faith but we must draw strength from those before us who in their struggle brought us safely to this stage.
Their determination is extremely relevant, particularly today, when we, as a people, need to motivate ourselves in the face of these major crises. The economic challenges caused by the dramatic slump in world energy prices coupled with the pandemic of the COVID-19 virus, both of which have the potential to severely impact every aspect of our lives, negatively and even permanently, in many ways.
So, today on Spiritual Baptist (Shouter) Liberation Day we should take time out to reflect on the fortitude that the members of the Spiritual Baptist community demonstrated, throughout their struggle, against the colonial authorities to have their faith recognised, as legitimate and deserving. They were banned from practising their religion for discriminatory reasons; they were considered as persons, who were too loud, made funny noises when they worshipped and were deemed to be “an unmitigated nuisance”.
This, in essence, were the “exceptional circumstances” of naked discrimination which the Spiritual Baptist (Shouter) Prohibition Ordinance introduced in November 28, 1917.
Their religious practices were deemed repugnant, and not to be tolerated in “a well-conducted community”. The Ordinance, as such, prevented them from participating in any religious activity, including the building of worship halls and the holding of meetings. So, for decades our hills and forests became their halls of worship.
This denial and oppression would have broken the faith of a lesser group, but the members of Spiritual Baptist and their religion prevailed. Today, more than a century later, it is recognised as an indigenous religion, and part of the process of the “Africanisation of Christianity”. It is against this background that, now that we are an independent nation of over half a century and are free to recognise and right the wrongs of a period of State discrimination, that we the inheritors, survivors and builders of this nation must join hands in uplifting the Shouter Baptist community to equality and respect.
In furtherance of this goal, Cabinet, as promised last year, made public land available for the location of a Spiritual Baptist Cathedral and Memorial Ground in Couva. With that behind us and the construction of the Cathedral ahead of us, on behalf of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, Cabinet has agreed to contribute ten million dollars to the Spiritual Baptist Cathedral construction effort.
The key here is the demonstration and the realisation of Hope! The believers never gave up hope.
They persisted with their lobby to the then Legislative Council for the repeal of the Ordinance and more than a decade later it was passed.
In 1951, The Repeal of Shouters Prohibition Ordinance bill brought with it a rebirth of the faith as it removed the barriers, erected by the State, that prevented believers from worshipping, individually and collectively.
The repeal ended the visible religious oppression and, significantly, it allowed all our citizens to experience the rich, cultural traditions of the religion in all of its glorious forms.
We should be grateful to Trinidad and Tobago’s own Earl Lovelace, who captured their struggles perfectly in his novel, ‘The Wine of Astonishment’, bringing to life the various aspects of what could be considered a dark period, not only in the spiritual lives of the members of the faith, but in the history of Trinidad and Tobago.
Today, the hymns of the Spiritual Baptist (Shouter) are recorded in international, anthropological studies and this country’s Calypso and Soca music have been heavily influenced by the beats of the drums and peals of the bells that have emerged from within the Spiritual Shouter Baptist traditions.
What seemed like insurmountable challenges in 1917 were transformed by this indomitable group of individuals and today their religion thrives unabated, through the worship of thousands of Spiritual Baptists (Shouter) followers in Trinidad, the Caribbean, North America and the UK. I believe there are many lessons every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago could learn from the courage and determination of the Spiritual Baptist community.
As citizens of this country, I encourage everyone to embrace and emulate the strength of purpose, displayed by the Spiritual Baptist community in its struggle, particularly at this time when we, once again are called upon to display strength of character, discipline and brotherly love.
Let us approach our current challenges with the same resolve that its members did. They were determined that change had to come, and as a group, they pursued that Glorious Morning with a clear vision; they were relentless, and never gave up. Let us all band together and defeat the COVID-19 outbreak and with boundless faith experience that glorious morning, hopefully in the not too distant future.
Today, every citizen must do his or her individual part, understanding that this is not the time for “I or Me or Them”, but “Us, All of Us”, in Trinidad and Tobago, if we are to overcome the two, present challenges. In this time of clear and present dangers, we cannot see only ourselves, but should go beyond, thinking broadly of our families, our community and our nation.
Let us all live with a sense of individual responsibility so that we can, collectively, overcome the challenges that face Trinidad and Tobago.
Let us all, as citizens, today acknowledge, share and celebrate the great historical experience that is the Spiritual Baptist (Shouter) Liberation Day and may God Bless Trinidad and Tobago and the world we live in.