THE HISTORY OF ARIMA AND MY PERSONAL ODYSSEY
Francis Morean @ 2nd November 2018
(This is the fifth in a series of articles being published here by Francis Morean with the focus upon the history of Arima.)
(Today marks 27 years since I made a decision to pursue the path of self-employment and entrepreneurship. It has been a long hard journey, with many significant battles along the way.
Sometimes I wonder whether all those years have really gone by, but it has happened. As is often the case, I use this time to reflect upon my personal journey within the context of the society in which I have lived.
During the course of the day I may share a few of those old pieces and then later I plan to share some insights into my journey that tie in with many of the personal revelations in this story I am now sharing, which I had posted in the Arima Community Info Resource Facebook Group in early November.)
Homer is considered to be the legendary author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epic poems that are the central works of ancient Greek literature. The Iliad is set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek kingdoms.
The Odyssey begins after the end of the war. Odysseus, a key strategist in the war was unable to promptly return home from the war. Odyssey describes the action and aftermath of the Trojan War and Homer’s efforts to return to his wife and son.
Of Homer, it is said: “Seven wealthy towns contend for Homer dead,
Through which the living Homer begged his bread.”
I have lived in more wealthy (and not so wealthy) places in Trinidad and Tobago than Homer supposedly lived in Greece. In fact, in Arima (and the Arima Valley alone) I have lived over the years in almost 3 times as many places as Homer did in Greece.
I have never begged for bread.
In my personal Odyssey I have however been faced with many challenging circumstances that very few would believe. Interestingly, at times, even in the midst of my deepest personal challenges people have somehow seldom been able to recognize it. Maybe this has partly been because every difficult circumstance presented its own unique learning opportunities to me and I always try to keep myself focussed. Maybe too it is because I have almost always had clear goals even on my lowest of days. And probably too because I have always had something to share, even if it was just the last “shilling” in my pocket, as I have narrated in this poem, which I wrote in a few depressing moments after midnight sometime back around 2005 as I was sitting on a concrete bench near Cipriani Statue in Port of Spain.
Have You Ever?
Have you ever paused
As you hurried along
The busy city street
And a destitute you meet?
Have you ever been stopped
In the hurrying race
By the cries that you hear
Of the souls lost out there?
Have you ever looked
Even for a moment
At the man without teeth
And with nothing to eat?
Have you ever wondered
By what circumstance
That they found themselves there
And what stories they share?
Have you ever the taste
Of spoilt food from the bins?
Ever tasted defeat
Or Death’s hand did you cheat?
Have you ever been dealt
With a deck that seem rigg’d
And a hand so unfair
Not a card you can pair?
Have you ever asked
Even a question or two
About those with no blanket or sheet
And with flies-covered feet?
Have you ever watched the cars,
Vroom, vroom, speeding along,
While you, without even a fare
To find a warm bed somewhere?
Have you ever wondered around
At the end of the day
In a manner discrete,
Eyeing a bed of concrete?
Have you ever smiled
As you dipped in your fobs
Your last coins to find there
And with a vagrant you share?
Have you ever walked
Among the monied class, Penniless
Wondering not of their conceit
Or their deceit?
Have you ever laughed
All the way to the bank
With your pockets real bare
But your principles there?
Have you ever taken a stand
Because it was right
And you alone took the heat
But you’d never retreat?
Have you ever paid the price
For the convictions you held
And the burden you bear
For this is your share?
Have you ever spent
The night just half asleep
With your bed just a seat
And not admitting defeat?
Have you escaped
Such hard times like these
And real experiences that I share
Thank God, that you’ve never been there?
This brings me in a somewhat roundabout manner to a point I made in the very first article in this series.
In deciding in late July 1990 to lay down my roots in Arima, I concluded that “There must be some kind of civilization in Arima
There was never any doubt in my mind and I am still of the same opinion in spite of my numerous ups and downs over the years and my current battles with something of a modern-day version of Marquis de Toro. Most of you have probably never heard about the Marquis de Toro, however at some stage I plan to write an article about one of the historical characters of Arima’s colonial era, whose behaviour was totally despicable at the time and who felt he could belittle and destroy from the Governor, right down to the poor indigenous peoples in the Mission. I have promised myself to avoid certain issues in this series, however, given the very personal nature of this post I hope that readers would bear with that noteworthy digression.
The truth is though that while Arima has produced citizens who have bestrode this land as civic giants, there have also been characters, whose behaviour have been ugly and have stuck out as badly as the view from low-flying planes of the quarries in the Arima Valley.
My statement about the civilization in Arima was clearly demonstrated a few days ago when from the Friday night of the flooding, Arimians of all walks of life, without prejudice to any other considerations, rallied around Mayor Lisa Morris and her team of councillors in providing assistance to flood victims around the Borough and more so at Greenvale.
In the actions of the members of the Arima Borough Council and the many volunteers and contributors, I am reminded of a statement made way back in 1873 by several residents of Arima. At the time, the Warden of the Arima Ward Union, Mr. J.H. La Croix was being shifted to the Tacarigua Ward Union. A group of 58 of the most prominent citizens of Arima at the time prepared an address to him, which read in part:
“How at much personal risk, inconvenience and actual fatigue you were ever ready, without fee or reward, to respond to the call of those who needed your valuable assistance.
Those disinterested acts of Christian benevolence have secured for you the heartfelt gratitude of the poor of your Ward and the warm esteem of the public in general
Your present reward must be the consciousness of having done what you could for suffering humanity, and in the fact that those efforts were crowned with such signal success.
Your future reward rests with HIM who has said “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me.”
This statement should not in any way be taken to mean that whoever may have contributed to the Greenvale flooding fiasco should be absolved from blame. Let the chips fall where they may, and let us pray that a situation like that should never happen again.
In the wake of the flooding I wrote a long piece in which I attempted to place some historical perspectives on the Greenvale flooding. That commentary seems to have gathered more interest than anything I have ever written before and share on Facebook.
In many respects, my experiences as a botanist and the sometimes nomadic lifestyles of my past, contributed significantly to the manner in which I was able to encapsulate over 200 years of the history of the Greenvale and surrounding areas into about 3,000 words.
I previously touched upon an interview I published in July 1999 in which I mentioned my decision to reside in Arima.
The following is an extract from the interview.
((((( AN EXTRACT FROM: HERBS – THE PERSONAL STORY
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE ARIMA?
Sometimes it seems more as if Arima chose me. Before coming to live in Arima I never liked this town, it was just a place I used to pass through on my way to and from the forest.
I used to live and work in the forest for about four years. I only came to Arima to go to the bank, the market, the groceries and occasionally to a few other places with visiting biologists who stayed at my workplace, the William Beebe Tropical Research Station at Simla.
After leaving Simla, I went to live on an old cocoa estate at the beautiful mountain hermitage of la Laja. I was hoping to develop the estate and share the profits with the landowner, however he was making some very unreasonable demands and after a few months there, I began to entertain doubts as to whether I should continue.
I lived in an old tapia house and due to the humidity of the environment many of my books were becoming mouldy. I loved the environment there … while I was there I even wrote what I consider to be the best poem that I have ever written. It was called ‘Come to La Laja’ and it extolled the beauty of this magical mountain. It was an invitation to the public to visit the area where I had hoped to develop an organic farm which would have been used as a base for nature tours etc.
However, on considering the unreasonable demands of the landowner and reflecting upon some of the hardships that I had to endure in my former workplace, I decided that I should leave the estate as quickly as possible. I eventually relocated to Arima where I have since been living.
Soon after coming to Arima to live, I took up a teaching position in Port of Spain, however, the salary did not allow me to give my full attention to the students. I had to prepare herbal products and sell in order to supplement my income. I was burning the candles at both ends and I did not think that I was doing justice to either the students or myself.
I quit the job and decided to ‘take a break’. I also moved house. I spent the next two months writing poetry and preparing a manuscript entitled Chaconia’s Scarlet Blossoms. The Pride of Trinidad & Tobago. This manuscript was initially prepared while I lived at La Laja, as a short essay in tribute to the Strike Squad during the final days of the campaign towards the World Cup Finals in Italy. I had submitted the essay to several media however it was never published probably on account of the team’s fatal falter on November 19, 1989 on the Road to Italy.
SO HOW WERE YOU SURVIVING?
I used to freelance with visiting biologists and tourists who came to Trinidad. That took care of the rent and left me with sufficient time to just write and do some of the other things that I enjoyed doing.
In March of 1990, I presented an exhibition entitled ‘Come to La Laja: A Celebration of Life’ at the Annual Flower Show of the Trinidad & Tobago Horticultural Society. While there the head of the Cocoa Research UWI St Augustine invited me to visit him at his office. This I duly did the following week. To my eternal surprise there was a job awaiting me. I stayed there for six months.
While working there, a lady had offered me an apartment to rent which was located just about two minutes’ walk from my workplace.
The proximity to the university offered a great temptation to relocate since I visualised myself having easy access to the library and other facilities. Several other tempting offers were made to me.
However, when I considered the number of occasions that I had ‘moved house’ in the preceding four years, I decided that I should ‘stay put’ for if I moved again I would probably be forever moving for the rest of my life.
What really made me decide to stay in Arima however, was the coup of July 27, 1990. On visiting St. Augustine after the coup I was appalled at the level of destruction which was wrought by the looting. Arima in contrast was hardly affected. ‘There must be some kind of civilisation in Arima, after all’, I thought and that was the final factor which influenced my decision to establish my roots in Arima. )))))
…….from herbs of Arima comes herbs for Trinidad & Tobago and the world!” In it I had retraced some of my steps. I noted that “In December 1991 a decision was taken to establish H.E.R.B.S. (Herbal, Educational, Recreational and Biological Services) a development stage organization, dedicated to environmental conservation and awareness to natural products based upon indigenous resources. H.E.R.B.S. was established in the town of Arima which proved to be strategically located. It provided a large clientele from the adjacent recent housing developments of Bonair, La Horquetta and Maloney; it has been fairly easily accessible being at the end of the Priority Bus Route; it is linked to old established communities such as Blanchisseuse to the north; Arouca to the west, Valencia to the East and Carapo, Guanapo, Talparo and San Rafael to the south. With the exception of Arouca which is fairly urbanised, all of these communities have large tracts of unoccupied lands where wild herbs can be collected, and one can find elder folks who are still fairly familiar with the use of local herbs. These elements are most prevalent in the fairly isolated mountain hamlets of La Laja, Paria/Brasso Seco and Morne La Croix which occur along the Blanchisseuse Road.
In fact, when I first came to live in Arima it was in an apartment, which unknown to me was overrun with rats. My friends and I made fun of it and called it “The Rat Hole”, almost as if we were giving some respectability to it. I wrote about it in some depth in an article which was published in the newspapers several years ago and would not repeat the details here. It was however one of the most unforgettable periods in my life. At the time I needed somewhere so urgently that I had paid the landlord either 3 or 6 moths rent in advance.
I do however wish to share an extract from a piece which I wrote in early August 1995 called “H.E.R.B.S……for the healing of the nations.
…….from herbs of Arima comes herbs for Trinidad & Tobago and the world!” In it I had retraced some of my steps. I noted that “In December 1991 a decision was taken to establish H.E.R.B.S. (Herbal, Educational, Recreational and Biological Services) a development stage organisation, dedicated to environmental conservation and awareness to natural products based upon indigenous resources. H.E.R.B.S. was established in the town of Arima which proved to be strategically located. It provided a large clientele from the adjacent recent housing developments of Bonair, La Horquetta and Maloney; it has been fairly easily accessible being at the end of the Priority Bus Route; it is linked to old established communities such as Blanchisseuse to the north; Arouca to the west, Valencia to the East and Carapo, Guanapo, Talparo and San Rafael to the south. With the exception of Arouca which is fairly urbanised, all of these communities have large tracts of unoccupied lands where wild herbs can be collected, and one can find elder folks who are still fairly familiar with the use of local herbs. These elements are most prevalent in the fairly isolated mountain hamlets of La Laja, Paria/Brasso Seco and Morne La Croix which occur along the Blanchisseuse Road.
Most of the raw materials used by H.E.R.B.S. are collected from these lush, relatively unpolluted mountain districts. In addition, the herb lore of these areas has been widely incorporated in the practices of H.E.R.B.S. These hamlets have been populated mainly by “cocoa paynols ” who for over a century, on account of their relative isolation, have depended mainly upon herbal medicines in their health care. A noteworthy aspect of their culture has been the evolution of a wide range of herbal antidotes, known generally as “botuella de compuesta” which are used to counteract the venom of snakes such as the coral, the fer-de-lance and the bush master which abound in these areas. Special tribute should be paid to folks such as the late Dorotheo “Yombay” Diaz of Morne La Croix and Felix Boneo of Paria/Brasso Seco. In the town of Arima itself one can still find Javien “Dixon” Caprietta, an octogenarian of Carib stock who concocts an antidote from the pweda root.”
I sometimes spent long hours or an occasional night in Morne La Croix or other places, having journeyed there to interview the elders. In fact, that pattern has never stopped.
After a while, my efforts to document our ethnobotanical traditions and resources provided me with more and more insights into many other aspects of our history and culture.
I made mention of this in a piece I wrote way back in the mid-nineties, a heavily edited version of which was published in the Trinidad and Tobago Review. I had titled it “Sunset in the Shadow of Tucuche” in tribute to a Lluengo traditional healer Eduardo “Placid” Manson, who had passed away. The following is an extract from that essay.
“Ishmael Samaad, a local amateur naturalist, concerned environmentalist and philanthropist probably best described Placid’s wealth (of information) when on the latter’s passing he mentioned the assistance which Placid had given to him in naming and tagging a number of trees on a trail leading from the Tucuche Nature Retreat which Samaad has been steadfastly and almost single-handedly trying to establish at the top of Maracas Hills.
He pointed out that “Every Sunday for six months …. Almost religiously …. In rain or sun …. Or we used to get wet like hell …. We went up there on the Maracas – Las Cuevas trail and he looked at all the trees from my place to the Maracas – Las Cuevas Ridge and identified every species of tree by looking at the bark; looking at the crown; taking up the seed,…. He was partially blind towards the end …. Seeds like gommier …. He would feel them or smell them and know what they were. He would also look at the latex and just rattle off the names. Over 150 trees. I marked them from number 1 to 153…with labels of laminate…plastic. One of his sons used to come with us.”
Placid had very little formal education, yet he would have done any forester’s office proud. Among other things he was a walking manual of dendrology.
Though “wasteful time” had changed his “day of youth to sullied night”, Placid remained spritely to the end. He was no longer able to make any long walks into the forest, however, he comfortably ambled around his hillside tapia home to collect herbs from his natural, outdoor ‘open-air apothecary’. He was always able to properly identify the herbs growing on the hillside allotment. However, in interviewing elderly folks like him, it was always difficult to gather data on the herbs. One needed a lot of patience as I have earlier mentioned. The information about the use of the herbs would often be intertwined in a tapestry of historical information, personal anecdotes, failed hopes and dreams, concerns about the present state of society, etc. Sometimes just as they are getting to the root of the matter the mind seems to make a 180 degree turn into some other issue. Sometimes I am unable to establish the veracity of some of the information which they present to me. One of the approaches I have developed is to ask the same questions to the informants after a time lapse of periods varying from 6 months to, in some cases to 12-14 years. I always try to establish the age of the informants.”
After a while, I began to document those other matters. And bit by bit I began to get an amazing sense that there are so many elders out there with so many amazing stories. I also became clearly conscious that there are so many aspects of our history that not been properly documented.
For many years one of my unspoken goals was “Gathering the fragments of our botanical inheritance.” It was an active process, which unfortunately was horribly disturbed beginning in late 2002 when I chose to contest the Tobago East constituency in the General Elections. For a while I had lost almost all of my life’s work and my nomadic lifestyle became accentuated.
In the midst of all of that I was beset with a variety of court battles.
In November 1989, the Red Friday had been my inspiration for writing about the Chaconia. But I subsequently had experienced my personal Red Fridays. One arose on Carnival Friday of 2001, when I was the subject of a vile and concerted racist attack in the pages of the Express newspaper. It caused me great distress and had a negative domino effect in my life. I challenged the defamatory behaviour of the publishers and editors of the Express all the way to the High Court. I also challenged some other racist attacks in court. That led to another Red Friday for me.
In my manuscript “Under The Chaconia Tree” I noted:
“Another (Red Friday) was a Friday in July two thousand and four in the year of our Lord. On that fateful day I received a taste of what passes for the system of justice in this nation as I stood before a local court to challenge the racists statements made by a local writer and the blatant practice of racism in this society. It is my belief that the judge chose to deny me the right to be heard. I do not think that I got the best that our system of justice can provide.”
In his address to the court, the attorney of a clique of avowedly racist writers sought to first discredit me and my botanical work by asking, “Who is Francis Morean? Nobody knows Francis Morean?” A few minutes later, his convoluted thinking led him to make a sleight of hand remark that the court matter was “a battle between two academic titans” as he sought to create a new classification of privilege for the practice of racism on academic grounds.
Standing in the courtroom I formed the perception that many lawyers, like many politicians are guided by a separate set of moral principles and may be in the seemingly lucky position of using the defence of their oath and professional ethics as lawyers, to defend not only criminals but tainted politicians and deliberately racist writers.”
I was however quite resolute.
As the decision was made against me that fateful Friday, the emotions I had experienced were similar to those I had experienced at the Election Day back on October 7th 2002 in Tobago.
I knew not why but I clearly felt as though I had gained a victory, notwithstanding the judge’s decision. My spirit remained undaunted. In the shockingly aggressive and militaristic style in which the judgment had been handed down, the spirit of the warrior had been awakened.
It led me to review my work as a member of the maligned group of individuals which a local perpetrator of racism has chosen to describe as “non-Indian botanists”. It also led me to reassess not only my duty as a botanist but also my duty as a citizen in a divided society. It led me to reassess the status of the various books and manuscripts about local plants which I had produced over the years and where possible to revise and update their contents. Unfortunately, large proportions of these, as well as my additional notes, were not in my possession at the time due to the unlawful actions of a legal draftsperson, who, comes with the pretence of continental sophistication and of being a “Good Citizen”. This only served to harden my resolve.
Notwithstanding these and other difficult circumstances I was inspired to take a fresh look at our national flower. It led to the production of a work which some have considered to be a magnum opus. I have made a decision to write some things here for reasons which may not be presently understood and for which I may be criticized. As events unfold the words written here would be better understood. I have however made a decision to take up the mantle of the warrior and to publicly challenge the perpetrators of racism, nepotism, media bias, poverty, environmental degradation, flooding, economic warfare and the scourge of crime in our land. This is my response.”
The horrible behaviour of the judge- who is now dead – had shocked me. In his Judgment he failed to even provide a proper citation of a Law Case, which I had brought to the attention of the Court. His belligerence however triggered in me a powerful impulse to fight back. Part of that fight back was my decision to host a major exhibition and a series of workshops and lectures in 2008 at an office, which I was renting at Ariapita Avenue in Woodbrook in 2008. The theme “Gathering the Fragments of Our Botanical Inheritance” was then repeated at major hotels in both Port of Spain and San Fernando.
In many ways, deep down inside I am a warrior. I can easily identify with the exploits of the warrior Hyarima. In many ways I am also like Ogun, who is prepared to withdraw deep into the forest and live alone. It is one of the reasons why I have loved La Laja so much. In some ways I am like John the Baptist. I am prepared to eat wild honey and locusts, if needs be. Or for that matter, “Green fig and salt with coconut oil.”
It is also one of the reasons why I may sometimes carry a stem of the anare palm or use its symbolism in several of my statements.
I could be very uncompromising and that has come at a price. One result of that has been that there have been periods of my life when I had to live under not just very frugal but very difficult circumstances. I have shared here some pictures of some of the places in which I have lived over the last 25 to 30 years. They are not meant to elicit sympathy. They are not meant to shock, although I think they may. They are not meant to be displayed even as badges of honour. Rather they are meant to tell a part of my Odyssey.
In a very interesting manner though, those periods when I lived in those places have contributed most significantly to my personal growth and development, to my education in The School of Hard Knocks and to my ability to share a lot of what I have shared in the first four parts so far in this series.
One person who inspired me greatly during my early years in Arima was journalist and writer Elma Reyes. Her son Ken was among a number of “Artists of Arima” with whom I have collaborated over the years in a project which I called “Bringing Art Alive.” In my down time which stretched between 2002 and 2007 Ken was always ready to curse me whenever he met me because the less money I had meant the less I could invest in art. But if ever I needed to bunk out in Arima for a night or two, I knew where I could not just stay, but also discuss a range of matters pertaining to the history and culture of Arima.
Quite significantly, I have never resorted to a life of crime or to even the briefest periods of criminal activity, through thick or thin in those trying periods.
Quite interestingly though, from 2006 to 2009, I rented a property on King Street from a peace loving gentleman called Mr. Lawrence Sorzano. On the outer wall of the premises was a painting of a man carrying a gun. Very often when I opened the door on mornings there were zoosh bottles and other signs that cocaine users had been there while I slept. Sometimes, I heard gunshots and through the cracks in the walls I could witness commotion on the streets. Even those situations led me to amazing discoveries about the indigenous history of Arima and of the very spot on which I was living. It forced me to literally take up temporary residence at a Port of Spain hotel in my effort to rebuild my business. In my down time I had refashioned my goals and dreams and I used that period to quickly bring some of them into being. Part of that dream was to own my own properties in Arima. Returning to Arima was a critical part of the equation. There was unfinished work needing my attention.
Those varying periods however exposed me to an awareness of a wide range of social and historical issues, in most amazing ways. Every situation provided an opportunity to meet interesting people and gain insights into little-known aspects of the history of many of our communities. In many of those situations my resources were limited to just pen and paper. However, I was able to source critical information, which would otherwise, most likely have been lost upon the passing of the elders. All too often by the time I was able to improving my stock of recording devices, they were already dead.
In many cases it also led to a deepening of awareness on some matters that receive very little public attention, insufficient attention or attention that is lacking in details. One such issue has been that of the land rights of the indigenous peoples of Arima and other parts of the island. It is my great pleasure to share my knowledge on these issues.
From the earliest days of business (and even before), one of the clearly stated goals was to educate the public. Another goal was to act as a bridge between the world of academia and the common man who may not have access to information that is lying around in some cases in dust-covered books in libraries and archives both in Trinidad and Tobago and abroad. There is a lot more that I plan to share on various matters pertaining to the history of Arima.
I wish to thank everyone for their kind, courteous and appreciative comments on the four articles I have posted in this group so far. It is a sort of courtesy for which Arimians are well known. In fact, I even plan to share a post entirely on the topic of the extent to which courtesy has been an historical attribute of Arimians. And as a courtesy, I have decided to open this window into the world of the person who is writing this series.