My World

The world according to me!

The Historic Tour of Belmont

Last Sunday my friend and I went on the Historical Tour of Belmont put on by the National Museum of Trinidad & Tobago. It was great. It was so good to see Belmont with an informed eye. I spent two years travelling in an out of Belmont daily when I did Sixth Form in St. Francois, and wasn’t appropriately appreciative of it’s beauty.

We learned about the Africans who came as free men to Trinidad; a lot of them settled in Belmont. The Mandigos, Ibos and Radas came as artisens, masons: literate free men who lived and thrived in one of Port-of-Spain’s first suburbs.

We looked at the wonderful fretwork, some of these men and their ancestors worked on. Fretwork is like a wooden filigree accent you put on your roof or window. It adds a lovely design element to your house and is a hallmark of Colonial architecture.

Belmont is full of fretwork so I took a ton of pics on my camera. Apparently a lot of those buildings were designed George Brown in the early 1900s.

We stopped off at the St. Judes Home for Girls which was built in Trinidad in 1900> Originally it was a Dominican, but switched to the Carmelite Order during it’s tenure. It’s still in exisitance serving girls who need shelter.

And then there is the abandoned shack of a vendor known as Old Li. He brought the recipe for preserved fruits to Trinidad, and as our tour guide Yvette assured us, he sold the best perserved fruit she’s ever tasted. Unfortunately his shop is no more, and his son “Young Li” opted out of the family business.

We couldn’t visit the Rada Compound because they’re preparing for festival. But we got to see their grave site, the only family-owned grave site in Belmont. Most of the ancestors have the name Antoine, which they adopted to assimilate.

One of the more famous Rada men in Trinidad was Robert Antoine. He came to Trinidad in 1855 on a ship that went around freeing slaves, and stayed on the Tunapuna Compound owned by Bess. The same Bess who’s related to Lloyd Best, the late economist.

By 1868 Antoine was able to establish his own compound in Belmont. Antoine was what we would call a known Obeah man. Traditional African religions were all lumped into that category which was reserved for non-Christian faiths.

People would talk about the drumming and the rituals coming from the Rada Compound. One man in the group says he remembers seeing a severed goat head on the alter, during one of the ceremonies he witnessed as a child.

Then we moved to Piggot Square which is where Belmont Circular and St. Francois Valley Roads intersect. It’s colloqial name refered to Hugh Piggot the Chairman of the “Maco Association of Belmont”. It was there people would gather, and it’s where he had his Doctor Shop. An informal pharmacy, which opened 24/ 7 and you could go to buy medicine to cure many if not all ills, including marijuana.

Piggott Square was also the original University of Woodford Square. The Doctor held his talks to the people here, before settling in Port-of-Spain. This is partially why Belmont is and will  for some time be a PNM stronghold. No opposition party has been able to hold court in Belmont. And since Piggot Square no longer has the political pull it once has it’s doubtful they ever will.

As our other guide Elton Scantleberry said, “Belmont is a place where you get the very best or the very worst.”

In the 1850s Belmont was highly residential, and in 1880 the first 2-storey building went up.

Today Belmont has a bit of a crime problem. It’s perimetres  are becoming more commercialised as the capital city spreads.

But we’re still fortunate, a lot of business have converted the old homes into businesses rather than mash them down. But maintainance may be expensive, and these Colonial structures may be resisitant to modern conveniences. In other words they are ideal for small buinesses, but are at high risk of demolision.

For me I came away from the tour inspired. There are aspects of my history that I didn’t know, and now that I do I’m left with awe and sadness. The older we get the further we move from our past. I just wonder if the average Trinbagonian knows their history, and if the museum is doing enough to preserve it.

If you haven’t been on the museum tours, try one. Go with a camera and a notebook. Or go with a friend, one mans the camera the other the notebook. You’ll come back with a wealth of information, and perhaps a greater appreciation for your country.

Yea, I know…TDC hire me!

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