Trinidad and Tobago

Terry's beach banner

The Whine of Astonishment

By Terry Joseph
April 02, 2004

Spiritual Baptists were suitably astonished at the treatment meted out to 17 of their leaders last Friday morning, when officials at Crowne Plaza attempted to evict them from the hotel, where delegates were gathering for a conference.

After all, the faith had suffered the ultimate indignity of being outlawed in 1917 and even after repeal of the prohibition in 1951, had to wait another 45 years before the Basdeo Panday administration, in a demonstration of State recognition, agreed a public holiday should be awarded to Baptists; bringing the creed on par with other mainstream religions.

In the wake of last Friday's fiasco, the hotel put up a flimsy argument, initially saying the Solid Waste Management Company had made arrangements to rent the conference room and it had no hint of Baptists coming to meet there, perhaps thinking lots of shouting, bell-ringing and other rituals of the faith would take place, or the hotel might turn into one big mourning ground, complete with residual candle-wax and ixora petals; which would compromise its reputation among non-sympathetic guests.

What is truly flabbergasting is the fact that Crowne Plaza seemed to prefer solid waste to Baptists, not knowing precisely what the company would have done in the conference room, had it used the facility for its own deliberations. Frankly, given the nature of its business, I would be a lot more wary about a closed-door gathering of Solid Waste executives than a deeply spiritual affair of any persuasion.

The Baptists were therefore not unreasonable in expressing incredulity at the action of hotel management, although in the glow of triumph over discrimination against the faith, some leaders went completely overboard, demanding tangible redress from Crowne Plaza; suggested compensation ranging from $5 million in cold cash to the construction of a school on lands at Maloney.

As a Baptist myself, these claims sounded as astounding as the circumstances that gave rise to them, since teachings of the faith do not promulgate whining over reversals of fortune-no matter how astonishing they may be-or "an eye for an eye" policy but dwells heavily on forgiveness and reconciliatory approaches to the handling of such problems.

There are, of course, some Baptist leaders who concur with Prime Minister Patrick Manning's call to the flock to put the incident behind them.

Reminding them of the Lord's Prayer, he asked that they forgive those who trespass against them, saying the hotel had apologised and made it clear such behaviour formed no part of its policy.

But even before his attempt to have the Baptists get a tighter grip on to the balance wheel, United National Congress (UNC) chairman Wade Mark, speaking in place of his political leader Basdeo Panday, described the incident as "scandalous, shabby, primitive and outrageous" and appealed directly to Mr Manning to outlaw such discrimination by implementing the Equal Opportunities Act.

At the same event, a Baptist Liberation Day observance at Port of Spain's City Hall, Culture and Community Development Minister, Joan Yuille-Williams singled out the Crowne Plaza sales manager for special mention, reportedly calling him "one of the most ignorant people in Trinidad and Tobago", saying she concluded this after listening to his explanation, although she had not yet read a written report he submitted.

Far away in Point Fortin, at celebrations marking the same occasion, Baptist Archbishop and treasurer of the Inter Religions Organisation, Amilius Murrain, was agreeing in principle with Archbishop Monica Randoo who, on the day previous, had set the compensation demand at $5 million. Archbishop Murrain confirmed his colleagues were speaking with attorneys and said the figure wasn't final, as some members had been severely embarrassed and interviews with them not yet completed.

Somehow, these diametrically opposed positions in the same pursuit sounded like they had been cleanly lifted from Earl Lovelace's novel The Wine of Astonishment, a work rooted in the very struggle of Baptists to gain official State recognition, in which the two main characters, Bolo and Bee, demonstrate a similar gorge of disparity in their approaches to addressing discrimination.

Bolo is a strong and brave stick-fighter, the warrior archetype that simply doesn't understand retreat. In a battle with an opponent called Innocent, when the latter gives up and lays down his stick in surrender (apologising, as it were), Bolo is livid, shouting: "No. No. No. Battle. Battle!" He cannot comprehend giving up the fight.

Bee is the peaceful and reconciliatory model who, although defying the nefarious prohibition against Baptist worship, takes his arrest as destiny, while Bolo buys the fight, attacking all comers to secure release of his mother who was detained along with Bee and the rest of the congregation.

Both see themselves as leading a battle against the oppressor but use different strategies in bringing closure to their struggles.

And so it is in the present imbroglio, with one group seeking ways to heal the situation while another seems intent on milking it, embracing the dubious metropolitan principle of making a grab for the things that are Caesar's, even as they convene to render praise unto God.

Interestingly, neither group has publicly admitted praying for guidance on the matter that, we may presume, was originally being pursued on behalf of the quintessential spiritual leader and, on the evidence, that omission could hardly be on account of any among them being left speechless.

Previous Page / Terry's Homepage