The cycle of divide and rule


The disgraceful spectacle of two senior female politicians verbally flagellating each other over their names and ancestral heritage is but one of many sad affirmations that T&T, after 60 years of political independence, is still in the throes of the pathological psychology of colonialism, and very much a divided nation.

The British imperial government clearly understood that in order to effectively rule its vast empire, the millions of colonial subjects had to be kept divided.

As a result, the maxim ‘divide et impera’ (divide and rule) became the fundamental principle underpinning British imperial policy. This strategy revolved around exacerbating naturally occurring fissures such as race, religion, ethnicity or historic rivalry among the colonial population.

In colonial T&T, the use of labels in official communications and through everyday discourse to define and stereotype the two major groups were established. Descriptions such n—–, c—–, dumb, lazy, untrustworthy, cunning, etc, were perpetuated as markers for members of one group or the other, which eventually became ingrained in the psyche of the society.

Displays of favouritism towards one group over the other served to strengthen existing mistrust, such as the requirement that voters be functionally literate in English, even where 80 per cent of the Indo population were unable to read or write compared to ten per cent of the Afro population.

Attempts at cultural unity such as the Hosay celebrations of 1880s were repressed and, in this case, violently.

Additionally, keeping the two races apart was expedient to aims of the colonial authorities as the indentured immigrants were seen as an effective counterpoise to the newly emancipated slaves as they kept wage demands in check. This created further animosity between both groups in the process.

All of this is to say to these two lovely ladies and the wider population, although the genesis of our society is divide et impera, the British departed 60 years ago, leaving us holding the reins of a battered nation. Divide-and-rule may have led to our division, which in turn underpins our seemingly intractable political, economic and social challenges, but this self-perpetuating cycle can be broken.

We must appreciate our ancestors took a journey across the sea to get here and were all Creolised to varying degrees. The distinctive culture which emerged-including our names, food, music, traditions and language-is who we are as a people; it belongs to all of us and does not exist anywhere else on this planet.

We are Trinbagonians, a unique bunch of people; all 1.4 million of us. For the good and advancement of our nation, we don’t necessarily need to assimilate but, rather, simply integrate and return to our long-forgotten national watchwords: Discipline, Production and Tolerance.

Eugene Sylvester