Trinidad & Tobago Society: What “Good Old Days”?

Bring back d old time days,

Bring back dem old time ways,

I know everything must change,

But I still love d old time days,

(Nappy Mayers – Ole Time Days)

 

Against the backdrop of a naggingly high rate of violent crime in Trinidad & Tobago, some citizens are calling for a return to the tough crime fighting tactics employed back in the 1970s and 80s. These calls will be addressed in a later post. This post will examine more particularly the general theme of wanting to go back to the way Trinidad & Tobago society used to be in times gone by, before (as some would say) it became the sick and corrupted mess it apparently suddenly is today, and will argue that the “good old days” people seem to want, are but a figment of their collective imagination.

 

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

(Matthew 23:33, KJV)

 

Older heads in T&T point the finger at the current crop of youth – the proverbial generation of vipers to borrow a reference from the quote above – as manifesting negative individualist mentalities that never could be found in their day, or at least so they would like to selectively remember the past and have us believe. The moral fabric of the society is decaying, it is claimed. But alas that decay began a long time ago – and that is if it is even at all accepted that society was ever pristine in the first place; one imagines that the “fella called Lucifer with a bag of white powder” referred to by Ras Shorty I in “Watch Out My Children” 2 decades ago would be pushing 50 by now, were he a real life person and “d people in authority mashin up meh family” through their callous disregard for the needs, prosperity and rights of the poorest among us, and the people who bemoaned being in a situation where they were “still sufferin’ today and we children cyah see dey way”, as related in Brother Resistance’s “Cyah Take Dat” some 3 decades ago reflect a level of disregard for one’s fellow man that it should only be possible to observe post-2000 if the prophets of contemporary Trinbagonian society’s doom are to be given credence.

 

Used to be everyone could afford to live right,

Just to feel nice,

Didn’t need no paradise,

Used to be everyone cared for each other,

Lived like brothers,

Respected one another

(Nappy Mayers – Ole Time Days)

 

Nappy Mayers wasn’t reading from the same playbook as Brother Resistance it would seem, when one juxtaposes their lyrics about the same society. This is a perfect illustration of the amnesia-driven nostalgia for an idyllic past that never existed that manifests itself in calls for a return to the bully boy tactics of old. The kind of socio-economic violence evoked by Bro Resistance is the greatest of crimes in society, and is what led to the Black Power revolution of 1970, which the authorities of the day met with bloody repression of the sort that some are now pining for in 2017.

There was a window of time when children in the mid-20th century could run jockey in the canal, gorge themselves on fruits while happily walking to school in the tropical sunshine, unlike the kids today with their Sunshine Snacks ®, and their parents didn’t have to worry about anything happening to them – apart maybe from the neighbour or just about any old adult seeing them doing something perceived as wrong and righteously giving them a good cutass (!!) because back then in paradise-era T&T anyone could trample all over children because….. well just because…. jus hush yuh mouth and doh aks meh no chupidness unless you want to get a cutass too – and nobody locked their doors at night.

As it happens, this is also the window of time when said children – unless they were world class geniuses and received scholarships to attain the lofty heights of secondary school education – would likely only finish primary school, if even that, and then be set for a nice life of quasi-servitude manual wage labour and austere living that would make the lyrics “times gone by we used to share, together we’d make do, and if I draw a susu, what was mine was yours too” valid. Note that if the child had the good fortune of being “light skin” / “high colour” or whatever pigmentocracy-derived term you prefer, they could perhaps get an office job and place some distance between themselves and the ordinary blacks. Lucky them!

Needless to say, times have changed, though pigmentocracy thrives on. To people wanting to go back to those “good old days”, I say “no thank you, I’m fine”! I like being able to read my own name in the sky and having even the slightest prospect of making something of myself. I don’t quite fancy living as a real life extra on the set of the Color Purple.

It is puzzling the people yearn for that Trinidad & Tobago to come back, but don’t look just a bit further back to the Trinidad & Tobago of the previous generations – you know the one where people’s will counted for nothing and that was ruled over by the Crown Colony government system with its absolutely and unquestionably powerful Executive Council and puppet Legislative Council manned by unelected and unaccountable British government civil servants; the one where, for example, in early 20th century Tobago only 6% of the island’s population was eligible to vote; the one where when they eventually started voting for members of the government, candidates had to be land owners – which was basically British English back then for “white”; the one where all adults didn’t get the right to vote until 1945; the one where, in the 1930s “in Trinidad and Tobago, social conditions were no better than that which prevailed in Guyana, Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean” according to one historian; the one where people’s lives were controlled by “a system which keeps thousands of workers in semi-starvation, denies them all human rights, and crushes with brutal military force any effort on their part to lift their standards of living”, as one activist put it; the one where this system officially obtained until the 1950s and then lingered on for decades.

TT LEGISLATURE.jpg

Thus, isn’t it fair to say that the seeds for the current “generation of vipers”, who appear to know no caring for their fellow man not accountability for their actions, were already being planted decades ago? Almost no criminal element in T&T save Dole Chadee and Abu Bakr have come close to wreaking the sort of havoc that becomes the stuff of folklore and legend the way Boysie Singh and Mano Benjamin did half a century ago. Note also that Abu Bakr is not exactly a youngster, ditto for Chadee if he were still among us, so their “achievements” still go in the “old time Trinidad” column. Sounds like the social fabric has been moth-eaten ever since it was first woven.

Gladys Knight put it best:

Hey, you know, everybody’s talkin’ about the good old days, right,
Everybody, the good old days, the good old days,
Well, let’s talk about the good old days,
Come to think of it as, as bad as we think they are,
These will become the good old days for our children,
[…]

Can it be that it was all so simple then,
Or has time rewritten every line,
And if we had the chance to do it all again,
Tell me,
Would we,
Could we

(Gladys Knight and the Pips – The Way We Were / Try To Remember)

 

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