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Speech by Professor BrinsleySamaroo
At the University of Trinidad and Tobago

Monday, 01 August 2011

"A Sugar Heritage Village"

On 18th May 2011 the Prime Minister opened a project which had been long in the making, namely the Sugar Heritage Village and Museum at Brechin Castle, Couva.  That project is important because this nation started its road to development with the sugar industry which obtained its first boost with the arrival of Roume de St. Laurent and his French compatriots and their slaves in 1783.  From its beginnings in Northern Trinidad the industry gradually moved to the Central and Southern areas as slavery continued to provide the necessary labour.  After emancipation in 1838 Indian indentured labourers were brought in to replace African workers.  But all the Africans did not abandon the plantations; many remained as cartermen, boilers, carpenters, mechanics, cane weighers and policemen.  Here on the plains of Caroni and the Naparimas, the Ganges met the Nile as the two major races struggled to keep the economy on a sound footing.   In the process they created a culture of sugar which still dominates the life of the former sugar lands.

In 1937 there were two major developments which occurred on these sugar lands.  One was the formation of the All Trinidad Sugar Estates Factory Workers Trade Union which for the first time gave representation to many thousands of sugar workers who had revolted in 1935, 1936 and 1937 against slave conditions on the sugar estates.  Now, under the leadership of Adrian Cola Rienzi they transformed the nature of the industry.  At the same time, Caroni (1937) was created when Tate and Lyle, a British multi-national company bought our Caroni Sugar Estates (Trinidad) Ltd making a conglomerate which included Waterloo on the Western coast and Brechin Castle in Couva.  Brechin Castle, the headquarters, by 1940 its landscape was changed by the construction of the factory and the four cooling ponds at the back as well as major company offices, the dispensary, Sevilla School, Sevilla Club and residences for the mainly expatriate senior staff.  In 1960 Caroni bought out Usine Ste. Madeleine which had grown considerably since its founding in 1870.  In 1975 the State bought the conglomerate, calling it Caroni (1975) Ltd which continued producing sugar but also went into diversification, producing citrus, prawns, large and small ruminants and rice.  By the end of the 20th century as oil became increasingly significant, the sugar industry and agriculture generally sank into a low second place until the state closed down Caroni Ltd in 2003, retrenching 9,000 workers directly and a further 35,000.00 who were indirectly dependent on the industry.  Just over 75,000.00 acres of land now became available for other uses.

The need to preserve this heritage was a challenge taken up by The Academy for Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs at the University of Trinidad and Tobago in 2008. Since that time, a team from UTT has been meeting with the principal stakeholders and has been discussing proposals for the establishment of a Sugar Museum and Heritage Village.  In February 2011 the nation’s Cabinet endorsed the work that has been on-going through the establishment of a co-ordinating Committee comprising the major interest groups in this enterprise.  This committee now meets regularly to do further planning for the 560 acre project.  A long list of projects has been drawn up; these will be outlined in this article.  At the present time an archive of books, pamphlets tapes, letters and a wide variety of other documents have been collected and stored at the old pharmacy buildings.  This can be of considerable use to researchers in a wide range of areas pertinent to the sugar industry.  A visitor reception centre and project office has been established on the Brechin Castle compound and artifacts relating to the industry are being collected and stored pending the opening of the Museum at Sevilla House.

The Co-ordinating committee works under the aegis of the Ministry of Tourism and has drawn up a list of proposed projects such as the Heritage Village which will re-create life on the sugar estates, complete with labourers, ajoupas, implements used on the estates, railways lines, engines and recreational spaces.  There will be a replica exhibit of the old sugar factory, to be assembled from materials retrieved from sugar establishments of yester year.  There will be a living sugar cane museum consisting of all the varieties of canes brought to Trinbago over the centuries.  Such a (small-scale) museum currently exists at the former experimental station at Waterloo; this will be transferred to Brechin Castle and extended in size.  There are a few empty unused buildings on the compound, formerly officers’ homes.  These will be re-furbished and used as a cultural centre, conference centre and accommodation for visiting researchers and visitors to the Heritage Village.  The Four Ponds area at the back of the factory will be converted into a recreation park, using much of the present landscape but making the resort more people-friendly.

These are some of the ideas behind what the state hopes to be a major tourist centre for Caribbean and non-Caribbean people.  However, of equal importance is the need to appraise the nation of a major factor in our evolution from slavery and indentureship into nationhood.  The Sugar Museum and Heritage Village has to be a major identity-maker, a symbol of achievement for people who are ignorant of what we have achieved over the centuries.  With state support and public co-operation this project will be a major boost to our efforts to make ourselves a truly independent people.