After celebrating the Easter holiday for two days at the end of last week and both Sunday and Monday of this week, the country is closed down again today for yet another religious holiday, Spiritual Shouter Baptist Liberation Day! That's a mouthful and I really had to research a bit to figure out exactly what the country was celebrating. The Spiritual Shouter Baptist religion, a melding of Protestant Christianity and old African doctrines and rituals, is a unique religion and indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago. Today's public holiday commemorates the 1951 repeal of a 1917 Trini law that prohibited the activities of the Shouter Baptist faith.
The derogatory name “Shouter” was given to the participants because of their tendency to shout, clap and sing loudly. Not so different than the reason the Quakers were named “Quakers” (they trembled at the word of the Lord) and the Shakers (shaking Quakers) were called “Shakers”, “because of their ecstatic behavior during worship services.” It doesn't sound much different than a good old evangelistic “come to Jesus” revival meeting under a tent in rural America. People live, feel and express their religion in many different ways. Some more enthusiastically than others. According to Trinidad's National Library and Info Center … “It has managed to fuse the spontaneity and rhythms of Africa with the restrained, traditional tenets of Christianity to produce a religion that is vibrant, expressive and dynamic.
From 1917 to 1951 the Spiritual and Shouter Baptist faith was banned in Trinidad by the colonial government of the day. The legislation to enact this ban was called the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance and it was passed on 16 November 1917. The reason given? “Shouters made too much noise with their loud singing and bell ringing and disturbed the peace.” The real reason? Plantation owners and officials were afraid that such religious solidarity would cause unity with the laborers, as well as foster and preserve African rituals. They wanted to subdue it before it got out of hand. The Shouters persevered in spite of the ban and harsh punishment. The religion survives today, not only in Trinidad and Tobago, but on other Caribbean islands as well.
So there's lots of lively singing and bell ringing and dancing involved. Participants dress in traditional, brightly colored garb and celebrate their ability to practice their religion freely. A great way to celebrate, however we'll miss out on the activities in the boatyard. No fear, however, we've found a YouTube that shows what's going on. As for holidays in Trinidad? With 17 public holidays, not counting the days taken for Carnival, I think we'll find one to celebrate before we leave.