IN his message for Spiritual Shouter Baptist Day being celebrated on Thursday, the Prime Minister hailed the historical struggle of that community against legal oppression and social marginalisation, drawing parallels with the wider African community's fight against discrimination.
"I have come to understand that every time I grappled with the history and painful experiences of the early Baptist faithful, I experience an inner awakening, feelings of an infusion, and an awakening of consciousness." Dr Rowley said that today that faith's members stood proudly as equal citizens of the republic, with their dignity established, thanks to this unique and democratic country we all have built, amid hopes for positive outlooks for better days.
"This was not always so for the early Baptist worshippers.
"On slave plantations, African people were considered sub-human, mere chattel, or tools and objects, 'a brother to the ox,' as one reference said, or 'animals cut off from light, music, and dreams.'”
He said from the post-Emancipation period (post 1838) to the early 20th century, the Spiritual Shouter Baptist faithful were deemed among the least of African people.
"They were profiled, in various ways, as 'noisy', 'hideous', and 'uncivilised'.
"Then came the laws to prevent them from worshipping the Almighty in the ways that they saw him."
However, he said their faith proved stronger than oppressive, colonial laws.
"In their pain and isolation, they, however, may have felt a warm connection that stretched from their West African roots, to other forms and examples of discrimination against the Africans. They, however, remained undaunted, seeing their religion as a living process, within the total society that is Trinidad and Tobago."
Rowley recalled the Baptist's long road from the imposition of the Shouter Prohibition Ordinance 1917 to its eventual repeal on March 30, 1951.
"From our vantage point today, we can say that in every experience there are negatives, but for the Spiritual Shouter Baptists, there were heavy loads of daily negatives that their faithful carried - the hostile laws, disadvantages in the education system, economic exclusion, the cultural contempt, the questions of class and colour.
"However, arising out of their experience, the recently departed, Professor Gordon Rohlehr saw a 'revolution in the perception of the self”, which today is part of the ongoing process of African self-affirmation, and self-assertion, and this process can be identified in our rejection of the oppressive plantation system.
"Today, that lineage is evident in the patterns of our folk-tales, proverbs, rhetoric, our performances, our literature, our dress, our foods, our flair or Trinbago 'style'”.
He said that community had shown us, from their experience, that religion was a living, dynamic and absolutely necessary process, within our larger TT society.
"Today (Thursday), we will celebrate with the Spiritual Shouter Baptist in their festivities at the newly-built administrative complex in Couva, thanks to the contributions from the Government’s ecclesiastical fund.
"This complex is the first step, and hopefully, within the near future their celebrations will be conducted within the walls of the edifice of the Spiritual Shouter Baptist cathedral. We trust that this accomplishment is a grand milestone on the happy road to unity and brotherhood.
"Go forward, Brothers and Sisters, with the words of John “I am the vine; You are the branches”, and “as the Father has loved me, I have loved you, you also should love one another. Happy Liberation Day."