One hundred and two years ago, the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance was passed, banning the members of our only indigenous faith from worshipping and congregating freely. For the next thirty-four years, the Spiritual Shouter Baptists endured public scorn and harassment and were forced underground as they attempted to preserve their religion, dignity and way of life.
Today, Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day, we celebrate the repeal of the oppressive decree which was enacted, ostensibly to end the disturbance to public order caused by the noise of bell-ringing, clapping and shouting typical of Baptist meetings. In reality, the distinctive features and rituals of the Spiritual Baptist religion were viewed with contempt and seen as an affront to the stoicism of the established churches and as a challenge to their authority. The fundamentally African practices represented to many a bleak chapter of our history that they preferred to forget.
The prohibition against the Spiritual Baptist faith was more an exercise of colonial subjugation and perceived cultural superiority than a crackdown on public disorder. Ultimately, the ordinance failed in its intentions and at its repeal on 30th March 1951, the Spiritual Shouter Baptists emerged strong, vibrant and thriving.
The tenacity and resolve of the Spiritual Shouter Baptists in their struggle for freedom and recognition hold valuable lessons for the rest of the national community. Through sustained but peaceful agitation, determination and persistence, they carved for themselves an equal place in the religious and cultural landscape of Trinidad and Tobago. The Spiritual Baptists never yielded nor altered their beliefs to reflect the demands of the wider society but fought to maintain their traditions and heritage. Today, Spiritual Baptists can proudly wear their garments, bear their flags, ring their bells and build their churches.
We can take pattern from the efforts of the Spiritual Baptists who stood their ground and stayed their course. Their refusal to bow to ideals of colonial propriety and respectability was an early lesson in cultural pride and demonstrated the value of celebrating, rather than shunning, our links to the past. We salute those local heroes of resilience who withstood ridicule, persecution and imprisonment for the sake of their faith.
As the Spiritual Baptist community marks this significant and special occasion, I extend to them and to the nation best wishes for a peaceful and happy Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day.