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Sunday 21 April 2019
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Multiculturalism or common values

MIKE SMITH, we called him. Or MG. If you wished to be more formal he was MG Smith, the Jamaican anthropologist from London or from Princeton. It was Burt Benedict, one of my supervisors at LSE who, carelessly it seemed, half-slammed a book on my desk and said, “Marion, you may find this interesting.” It was Mike Smith on Carriacou. He called it the “plural society”. This society is fragmented, unlike the society bound together by values and institutions.

I thought of MG as the five years of the People’s Partnership draw to a close in the crowning fireworks of FIFA, Jack Warner and Kamla Persad-Bissessar. MG would have predicted it as he predicted Nigeria where he had worked among the Hausa and Lebanon where he had not worked. Where the social institutions of ethnic groups are different and separate, each group will attempt to capture political power. Because of this “peace” will be fragile.

Where groups are integrated with different rights into a society, differing social institutions will follow and so will the attempt of a group to grab power over the other. MG did not associate what he called a “plural society” with race. While race intervened in the plural societies of Carriacou, Grenada, Jamaica as well as South Africa, it did not in the plural societies of the Hausa in Nigeria, the Lebanon nor medieval Europe.

There is enough within our history and in our present to make me uneasy with the “diversity” of the People’s Partnership’s multiculturalism. In Trinidad and Tobago we were multicultural long before the Spaniards arrived. The scant attention that our “Caribs” pay to race indicates that “race” did not have the same social role among our Amerindians that it had in Europe from the time of the “Jews and Moors” edict of Isabella of Spain. Spaniards and French shared power, borrowed and preserved culture. Among the Hausa and in come Caribbean countries, slavery produced a plural society.

In Trinidad even slavery did not produce a full-blown plural society. Evangelising their slaves was part of the duty of Catholic slave owners.

Trini slaves were expected to share the religion of their “owners”, they shared the same language, or a Patois or Creole derived from it. Santa Rosa, parang, Carnival, folklore provided broker spaces which were the heritage of many groups rather than the closed property of one. To some extent all shared the same cultural space. Conflict was not over separateness. It was over access and equality in a vastly unequal society.

Separate institutions

The plural society arrives with Indian indentured labour. Its architects were Morton and the Canadian Mission to the Indians, as well as the sugar plantation owners of the time. These last wished cheap and stable labour. Chinese, Portuguese, the first indentured Indians had skipped plantation and headed for the towns.

A “pass law” made it an offence for Indian indentured labourers to leave the plantation without permission. Indian villages near to the plantation were established. Settlement areas in separate villages, the closed nature of the plantation, the stratification of “plantation society” encouraged separate institutions. The Canadian Mission (Presbyterian), extending the model of the estate school, provided the school.

Religion and education

John Morton, founder of the Canadian Presbyterian Mission to India in Trinidad, and his successor Rev Grant, believed in the “community”, as do Presbyterians, and in Aryans as a superior race which included Indians. The mission to Trinidad was not, therefore, ordinary missionary work. It was both to save Indians from Hindu gods and to ensure that education provided some social mobility for Aryans, although Morton agreed with the plantation and with indentured labour.

All the major Christian religions practised some form of racial discrimination. The Canadian Mission to the Indians, however, took extraordinary steps to ensure that their mission was only to Indians. For decades they refused the dual system of education through which the colonial government funded the primary schools of religious authorities. The dual system would have meant the loss of authority over teachers, over the curriculum and over the all-Indian intake.

Separate institutions were encouraged by the British confessional state where priest and pastor were marriage officers. This encouraged the conversion of the Brahminical pundit from ritual specialist to pastor or priest of all Hindus. The Christian marriage law and separate marriage laws for Muslims, Hindus, Baptists underlined separate institutions.

“Separateness” was sharpened by the Hindu and Muslim nationalism of the 1930s and 1940s.

I suspect that it is reacting against this as well as against the Garveyist substitution of a race for itself in the place of the Marxist and socialist, a class for itself, that a certain Krishna Deonarine changed his name to Cola Rienzi. If we are to establish priorities according to the common good, then we need a unity of purpose and the bonding through common value.

Marion O’Callaghan

Social Anthropologist,

formerly Director of Social Science Programmes, UNESCO


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