By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Posted: August 21, 2008
I spent the first twelve days of August in London seeking to discover when Trinidad and Tobago became a political and social entity-our signs of becoming-- and the necessary corollary: what does it mean to be a Trinbagonian. In the same way that Spain became a united country when it drove the Moors out of Grenada in 1492 and ultimately created a "Spanish lifestyle" it seemed worthwhile to determine when Trinidad and Tobago became a unique entity and what specific events marked its social and cultural beginnings.
After London, I explored Spain for another ten days. I had to meet with the Spanish translator of one of my books so I decided to take advantage of that opening to see a little of Spain. For most of my adult life I wanted to see Guernica, Picasso's monumental mural he painted during the Spanish Civil War after Hitler bombed the Basque village of the same name. Located at the Reina Sophia Museum, Guernica remains the apogee of Picasso's works.
Ever since I encountered Picasso in the mid seventies, I became one of his fans. Together with Wilfredo Lam and Le Roi Clarke, I consider Picasso one of the most important painters in the world. Whenever I go to Paris, I visit the Picasso Museum. In Madrid, I was under whelmed by the Ruebens, Goyas or Velázquezes, the pride of Spanish paintings that are housed in the Prado Museum. I prefer the African motifs of Picasso, Lam and Clarke (or even the cubism of Fernand Leger), their distortions and spiritual integrity of their work. When I look at Picasso, Lam and Clarke I see reflections of my struggle for wholeness in a world that tries continuously to distort my identity.
Columbus made several voyages to the Indies and came upon Trinidad in 1498. Isabella, the Spanish queen, invested in Columbus's enterprise because of the souls it could win and the gold it could bring. Ferdinand and Isabella's defeat of Islam made them the Catholic monarchs. In an age when there was no refrigeration, Eastern spices were prized for preserving and flavoring meats.
In 1492 when Columbus reached San Salvador, he was looking for the wealthy cities of Marco Polo in the East. However, the fabulous riches of the New World set the stage for the rise of Europe and Spain's Golden Age. Within a century, most of America was speaking Spanish and a unique culture was being created. This encounter changed our conception of men and women and the course of history for all times.
Prior to this glorious achievement, the Moors of North African who streamed across the Strait of Gibraltar were responsible for much of Spain's development. They brought advanced irrigation techniques that allowed the Spanish to grow crops such as rice, cotton, sugar cane, almonds, oranges and peaches. When the Europeans decided to import Africans to work on the New World plantations they knew Africans already had the experience of planting sugar cane in Canary Islands, African islands off Spain that are now part Spain.
Grenada was the last place in Spain in which the Moors flourished before they were defeated in 1492. As the Moors were being expelled, the Europeans were beginning their conquest of the New World. In 1492 Nebjira published Gramartica del Castellano, the first grammar text of a modern language. When the queen asked why he was writing such a book, he responded: "Your majesty, language is the perfect instrument of empire."
The Moors ushered into Spain a great cultural flowering and revived an interest in philosophy, medicine and mathematics and literature. Architecture flourished and some of the most splendid mosques were built during that period. The philosopher Averroes, emblematic of the heights of Moorish learning, translated the works of Aristotle into Arabic thereby preserving them for the Western world. Much of what we call the European Renaissance was a discovery of what the Moors kept alive during Europe's Dark Age.
After the Moors' defeat, the Arabic language was outlawed; they were forbidden to wear traditional dress and were expelled from Spain in 1611. Yet, they left their cultural imprint upon the country. Alhambra, the last standing monument of the Moors, remains a magnificent reflection of their scientific knowledge, cultural achievements and religious convictions. Thanks to Washington Irving's "rambling expedition" to Granada. His Tales of the Alhambra (1832) introduced the world to this splendid city that sits atop the "Hill of Gold."
Spain owned Trinidad until Abercromby took it for the British in 1797. Its administrative headquarters was located in Venezuela. By then, Spain was in its dotage and had exhausted all of the riches its conquest of the New World had brought it. Poor Appadocca, the Spanish captain when Abercromby arrived, could do nothing but give up the island without a fight. Thereafter, we have had to melt our Spanish, French, British, Indian, American Indian and African inheritances into a unique fusion called Trinbagonianism.
As we ponder who we are, it might be wise to remember that Spain still lingers in our memory; its rich history is a part of our heritage.
Professor Cudjoe's email is firstname.lastname@example.org
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