Yunus (Jonas) Muhammad Bath
The Story of Muhammad Sisei (1788 – 1838)The following story has its roots in Manding Muslim civilization which dominated West Africa for three hundred years and stretched from beyond Timbuctu to the Atlantic. It helps to explain why Muslims in Trinidad are still called ‘Madingas’.
IT IS A WELL-KNOWN fact that the first Muslims to come to Trinidad were from West Africa although. hardly anything is known about the nature of their presence and the extent to which they observed Islam. In the majority of cases, if anything, they must have been forced through the disabilities inhumanities of the European slave plantation system either to observe their religion in secret or to renounce it altogether. The process can be better appreciated when compared with slave experiences in other islands of the West Indies and in the Americas which is highlighted in ROOTS, the monumental work of the American writer, Alex Haley1.
The history of these early Muslims’ in Trinidad is still largely obscure and the following is an attempt to cast a ray of light on this ‘area of darkness’. It is largely based on the researches of Carl Campbell published in the journal of the African Studies Association of the West Indies.
Up to the early nineteenth century, there was a thriving Muslim community in Port of Spain led by one Yunus (Jonas) Muhammad Bath. Their numbers were increased by Africans who had served in the British West Indian Regiment during the Napoleonic wars. On being disbanded, some were settled in Port of Spain and some in south Trinidad but most of them apparently were given lands in Manzanilla in the north east of Trinidad. Those in Port of Spain at least petitioned the British government to return to Africa but did not succeed. One of them, however, did succeed in returning to Africa, via England, and his story certainly makes fascinating reading. His name was Muhammad Sisei.
Muhammad Sisei was born about 1788 or 1790 in the Gambia. He belonged to the Mandingo people of the area, the ‘majority of whom were perhaps Muslims at the time. His father’s name was Abu Bakr (after the first successor to Prophet Muhammad) and his mother was called Ayishah (after the name of the Prophet’s wife).
Sisei’s birthplace was Niyani-Maru, a village on the north bend of the river Gambia, about 100 miles upstream from the Atlantic. At the age of eight Sisei was sent some distance away to Dar Salami (Dasilami) which was one of. the centres of Islamic learning in the Gambia. There were many such places in the Gambia at the time, many of which were set up by Muslim merchants on their trading journeys through West Africa. This is one of the main ways in which Islam was spread in the region.
At Dar Salami, Sisei learned to read and write Arabic and he studied the Qur’an. It is said that the writing there was done on paper which was highly prized by the Muslims. This fact acquires importance when it is remembered that literacy has been one of the greatest gifts of Islam to Africa and indeed to many other parts of the world.Sisei stayed at this school for eight years, that is until the age of about sixteen, and he returned to his hometown around 1804..
For a time after this he is said to have travelled somewhat extensively even making a journey (in1805) by sea from his hometown which was a shipping port to the French colony of Goree. The purpose of this journey was trade and perhaps to secure presents for his intended wife for it was around this time too that he was married to a cousin named Aiseta.
He now settled in his hometown, setting up a school and no doubt teaching what he had learnt in Dar Salami. For five years, from1805 to 1810, he continued in this satisfying life, helping, through his teachings, to consolidated and spread Islam in the area.
But the early nineteenth century was a time of great unrest in West Africa and the Gambia in particular. Apart from the Anglo-French rivalry, there were wars between rival local chiefs. It was one of these local wars which brought Sisei’s career as a teacher to an end. Rival chiefs were seeking to gain control of the banks of the Gambia river. One such chief was repulsed in the Upper Gambia and retreated downstream to increase his forces. He attacked Sisei’s hometown and along with others Muhammad Sisei was captured. He was marched as a prisoner of war to Kansala where he spent five months and then to the port town of Sikkah. There he was sold to a French slaver which immediately sailed away.
Five days after sailing from Sikkah, the French slaver was intercepted by a frigate from the British navy which was trying to enforce the abolition of the slave trade especially on the West African coast. (Britain had officially abolished the slave trade from Africa in 1807).
Manding Empire in 1350
Sisei was taken on board the British frigate to Antigua. Technically he was free and did not experience plantation slavery, the reason given being that it was difficult to fit free Africans into the small slave society of Antigua. Instead, he was immediately enlisted in the Third West India Regiment as a grenadier and given the name Felix Ditt. Originally, these black regiments were enlisted for service only in the West Indies. As a member of the regiment, Sisei was one of the”Kingsmen” distinguished from the slaves. He saw active service against the French in Guadeloupe and was at one time stationed in Barbados.
Between 1811 and 1825, Sisei the Muslim Mandingo fought alongside Africans who were Yoruba,Ashanti, Foulah, Susu, and Hausa,some of whom especially those from the last three groups must have been Muslims also.
Sisei was to spend most of his life in the West Indies in Trinidad. He arrived in this island in 1816 but it was not until 1825 that the Regiment was demobilised and Sisei was discharged with good conduct.Most of the disbanded soldiers were given lands on the east coast of Trinidad, in the Manzanilla district,away from the slaves on the west coast plantations. But somehow Sisei never received or accepted land nor pension. And instead of settling down with the other disbanded soldiers in Manzanilla he moved to Port of Spain and became a member of the Muslim group there led by Yunus Muhammad Bath.
Yunus Muhammad Bath it is said was a remarkable man leading a Muslim Mandingo community which lived in a certain part of Port of Spain, practised the religion of Islam and led a group existence.One of the main concerns of the group was to raise money to buy the freedom of Muslim slaves. Some of them did well economically but decided, as mentioned earlier, to petition the British government to repatriate them to Africa. One of the petitions addressed to William IV, King of Great Britain and Ireland begins with the Arabic invocation, “Allahuma Sally alla Mahomed”- Oh God, bless Muhammad. The petitioners described themselves as “the followers of Mahomed, the prophet of God”and stated that “While slaves, we did not spend our money in liquor as other slaves did and always will do”. On three occasions they petitioned the British government to repatriate them but their requests were not met. These Mandingo Muslims had to settle permanently in Trinidad.
Sisei however was determined to return to Africa. With money borrowed from another Muslim, he brought a passage for himself, his wife and young child to England where he arrived about the middle of 1938. His wife whom he had married in 1831 was a creole woman from Grenada.
In England, Sisei “fell under the friendly protection” of John Washington, secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, who used him to learn a lot about the languages and geography of West Africa. Washington, from whom much of these details of Sisei’s life are known, also hoped that Sisei might be useful in future British expeditions into the interior of Africa.
From Washington, we get an idea of the kind of personality that was Muhammad Sisei. This Muslim was said to be quick and intelligent and a strict follower of Islam. He knew the Qur’an very well and certain parts of it he always carried with him. He even wrote Mandingo in Arabic characters and he is said to have shown the general intelligence that travellers usually associated with the Mandingoes.
Muhammad Sisei left England and returned to the Gambia. His native town, Niyani-Maru, was so easily accessible by boat, that there is every possibility that Muhammad Sisei, alias Felix Ditt, did get back to the place of his birth.
The story of Muhammad Sisei is a remarkable one in the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.Similar fascinating accounts have been researched and told, some in more detail than others-see for example The Fortunate Slave by Douglas Grant, published in 1968 by Oxford University Press,which deals with the story of Ayyub ibn Sulayman (Job ben Solomon), the son of a Fulani amir, who was captured and brought to America in the 1730’s. There must be many individual lives like that of Muhammad Sisei which could be a rich field for enquiry. And apart from individual lives, in the Trinidad context, what became of the Muslim communities in Port of Spain, Manzanilla and South Trinidad is an intriguing subject for further historical research.
1. Alex Haley’s search for his past has revealed a,Muslim ancestry. The village of Juffore also from the Gambia from where his ancestor was taken as a slave has been and still is, according to Haley, completely Muslim. To commemorate this, he has built and dedicated a mosque in Juffore itself.
Slavery Days in Trinidad by C R Ottley, Trinidad , 1974
Mohammedu Sisei of Gambia and Trinidad c. 1788-1838 in Bulletin of the African Studies Association of the West Indies, N o . 7 by Carl Campbell.
Originally published in The Muslim Standard (Trinidad) April 1977 issue.
Wonder how many of us growing up in rural communities in Trinidad remember the Village Panchayat ? The word “panchayat” literally means “assembly” (ayat) of ( panch) wise and respected elders chosen and accepted by the local community to give advise or settle disputes among individuals.
My grandfather Prabudhas, was employed as a lawyer's clerk in the 1950s, therefore the villagers of Quarry Village, considered him the village elder and thus they would seek his advise and bring their problems to him . As a little child growing up I always wondered why so many people paid him regular visits on an afternoon. When asked my father said " they having a panchayat".
Now that I reflect the concept of the Village Panchayat was in the early 1950s and 60s a novel approach adopted by village elders in settling disputes and solving problems of villagers in a peaceful manner
Source: Virtual Museum of T&T
Conservationists outraged as ancient burial site unearthed
Human bones unearthed by a bulldozer clearing land at Rambert Village, near San Fernando. Photo: Dexter Phillip
THE teeth belonged to someone who survived childhood. Still attached to the lower jawbone, the molars show signs of a hard life; deep cavities, worn enamel, gum disease. The jaw was part of the skull and skeleton unearth and dismembered by a bulldozer carving land near San Fernando for Trinidad's insatiable need for housing. The bulldozer would go on to expose the bones of an unknown number of people, likely African slaves, who lived and died on the La Ressource sugar estate, near San Fernando in the 1800s.
The bones were exposed two weeks ago. People who care about the country's history have been outraged by the desecration. The police say they can't do much about it. The
land belongs to a private developer with the right to do whatever he pleases. The bones were still there up to yesterday. Ribs, tibias, femurs, casket handles, coffin nails, strewn about the clay exposed by the earthmovers. Recent rains have exposed more.
No one knows for sure what should or can be done. And if you think none of this is important, consider this.
BORN in the year 1776, in St Vincent, French creole slave supplier Louis Bicaise sailed to Trinidad at age 34, and married into the Scottish Rambert family, then one of the wealthiest in the fertile Naparimas in south Trinidad.
With his brother in law, Bicaise established the La Ressource Estate, and settled there with wife and children. In a short time he would become the sole owner of a prosperous plantation, enriched by the sweat and blood of the slaves that he bought and sold to surrounding plantations, including neighbouring Palmiste.
A son, John Nelson Bicaise, would go on to become the only known West Indian slave trader, who made a fortune from the misery that was the trade in human beings, dealing from his station on the bank of the Rio Nunez, on Africa' West Coast in what is now the country of Guineau. The son would end up dying penniless and diseased, and was buried in Africa, having lost contact with his Trinidad family, whose estate suffered similar misfortune.
The La Ressource estate was ruined as a result of the issues related to Emancipation, and Louis Bicaise would have to mortgage his plantation to an English merchant. In 1838, the year African slaves won full freedom, Bicaise died, leaving a wife, ten children, and the estate in debt.
His body was entombed on a hilltop overlooking the estate, flanked on the east by a cemetery containing the remains of slaves and others who worked the plantation. Bicaise's wife Marie Rose Rambert, would also be buried on the hill thirty years later, and his last surviving son, Charles in 1882.
A marble epitat inscribed in French on Bicaise's grave read:
Natif De Saint Vincent
Decedee A La Trinidad Le 13 Septembre 1838
A L'age De 62 Ans
Il Faut Bon Fils , Bon Pere
Bon Frere, Bon Parent & Bon Ami
Les Excellents Qualites De Son Coeur
Le Font Regretter Par Tous Ceux Qui Connurent
Translation - Louis Bicaise, native of St. Vincent. Died in Trinidad on 13th September 1838 at the age of 62. He was a good son, good father, good brother, good kinsman and good friend. His big-heartedness has left him regretted by all those who knew him.
Photographer Dexter Philip photographs the grave of 19th century splantation owner Louis Bicaise, located on a hilltop at Rambert Village, near San Fernando
We know all of this because of the research of famed historian Fr Anthony De Verteuil, who with Belgian Chris-Arthur De Wilde, wrote about the Bicaise family in the book The Black Earth of South Naparima, and the work of historian/writer Angelo Bissessarsingh who, in his book Walking with the Ancestors, wrote about what remains of the Bicaise family tomb (the marble since broken up and inscriptions stolen), and of the slave cemetery (where up to the 1960s, the descendants still came to pay homage). Evidence of the Bicaise tombs can still be found, if you take that trip off Dumfries Road, Rambert Villave pull back the bushes and look for the Scottish firebricks (imported as a ballast in the holds of European sugar ships) which mark the burials, now surrounded by excavated land.
It was left up to Bissessarsingh, on his popular Facebook page Virtual Museum of Trinidad and Tobago three Saturdays ago, to alert conservationists about what had happened to the site. People wanted to know, where was the African Emancipation Committee? Didn't anyone at least understand the anthropological importance of what was being lost? By then, it was too late. The police did visit. The District Medical Officer was called in. He knew immediately that the bones belong to people who lived a long, long time ago.
Divisional Commander of the Southern Division Senior Superintendent Irwin Hackshaw said historical sites were not the responsibility of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, but that his officers had responded to the report of an ancient burial site at Rambert Village, San Fernando, being desecrated. He said officers visited the site and contacted the relevant authorities. The items recovered, which included skeletal remains, were handed over to archaeologists, he said.
The rest of the bones are scattered on the hillside, where more than seven feet of soil has been removed in some places. Crime scene tape was pulled across a mound of earth that was not yet excavated by the bulldozer. The Express later attempted to contact (by email and telephone) company said to be developing the land. There was never a response.
“There is nothing we can do really. When we get a report we can contact the relevant people. That is it,” Hacksaw said.
No one is more disturbed by it all, than chairman of the National Trust Professor Winston Suite, who has followed the events at Rambert Village, with despair.
This was one of the most famous estates in south Trinidad and important to understanding how the country had developed to this point, he said. Yet too many people saw nothing wrong with destroying such a site, and now it was likely too late. Yes, Town and Country gave permission, but does it mean that one should go ahead and do whatever one wants at the expense of our national heritage? What's happening in the country? He asked. An absence of education. Maybe it was time to introduce history as a subject in the primary school curriculum. If people only knew, said Suite, they would probably attach more importance to things dating from the time when our ancestors were indentured or enslaved.
What's the National Trust doing?
The National Trust is tasked with listing and acquiring heritage property, permanently preserving lands that are heritage sites and as far as practicable, retaining their natural features and conserving the animal and plant life, in addition to preserving, maintaining, repairing and servicing buildings of historical value. But with the number of sites that need protection, the job in daunting, especially since it has been inactive for more than a decade. Professor Suite is asking that citizens get involved. The National Trust is organising visits of historic sites around the country - the company villages of Moruga, the Moruga Museum, Devil's Woodyard, the railway tunnel in Tabaquite, the Banwari site, Temple in the Sea. And there is the Nelson Island Experience of Tubal Uriah Butler on June 28th (contact 308-8197, 390-6521). Talk has begun again about trying to establish museums in every regional corporation in the country. The National Trust meets today with Chairman of the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation Terry Rondon who wants to demolish the old post office, court house and fire station, some of the buildings more than 100 years old. Professor Suite is going to try saving the buildings.
You can log on to www.trinidadexpress.com to see additional photographs and videos of the gravesite and tomb.
And these were not the only ones
Past Bishop Anstey High School students, both locally and abroad, showed their support for former student and newly inaugurated President Paula-Mae Weekes by wearing their school tie in various fashions.
The former students posted photos of themselves with their ties on social media and also wore them to attend the inauguration on Monday at the Grand Stand, Queen's Park Savannah.
Sharon Rowley, wife of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, told Newsday: "As a past student and you know we Bishops people always stick together, I am thoroughly elated and think she will be doing an excellent job. As she talked about the little light that will indeed be a large flame, that made us proud."
Mrs Rowley said that coming after International Women's Day, "I am totally elated because we are on our way to what we consider gender parity. There is a 2030 (United Nations) deadline but I think we have achieved it with this step."
D'Vonne Dolly, a Lower Sixth Form student of Bishop Anstey, said: "As a Bishops girl and the President being a Bishops girl, I feel very proud and honoured. It shows that Bishops girls have a lot of worth and should be held in high honour because one of us has achieved such a great thing. And I think we are all round girls and it shows because we have the first female President."
Queena Edwards, also a Lower Sixth Form student said as a Bishops girl she feels very proud. "She is seen as a role model to us. It shows that whatever we put our minds to, we can achieve it."
President of the Bishop Anstey High School alumnae association Shonda Moore said the idea was not started by the association but by a Hilarian. She said past students wore ties in their hair and as part of their work or general attire on Monday to coincide with the inauguration of Weekes. Some attended the event, the school choir performed and most of the school attended.
Moore said it was very touching that Weekes used a lot of the words from the school song, in her inauguration speech. She also reported that six Hilarians were invited to a toast by Trinidad and Tobago Ambassador to the United States in Washington, Brigadier General Anthony Phillips-Spencer in honour of Weekes.
HILARIANS UNITE: Trinidad and Tobago Ambassador to the United States in Washington, DC Brigadier General Anthony Phillips-Spencer (seated) hosts Hilarians yesterday in honour of the inauguration of former Bishop Anstey High Scholl student Paula Mae-Weekes as President.
Tuesday March 19th, 1968......... This was the scene in the courtyard outside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, as the crowd awaited the inaugration of T&T's first Roman Catholic Archbishop, in the person of Monsignor Anthony Pantin.
Source: Virtual Museum of T&T
From all indications, Trinidad and Tobago will be electing its first female President next Friday.
Following deliberations by both Government and Opposition, just one nominee has been named - retired Justice of Appeal Paula Mae Weekes.
Here are a few things you should know about the President-designate:
1. Justice Paula Mae Weekes is a former pupil of the Bishop Anstey High School, and a graduate of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, and the Hugh Wooding Law School.
2. She was called to the Bar in 1982 and entered private practice a little over a decade later.
3. In 1996, Weekes became the fifth female judge in Trinidad and Tobago's High Court.
4. She was elevated to the Court of Appeal in 2005 where she served for the next 11 years. She retired in 2016.
5. In February 2017, she was sworn-in as a justice of appeal in the Turks and Caicos Islands for a three-year term.
6. For an eleven-day period in August 2012, Weekes acted as the Chief Justice (CJ) when Acting CJ Wendell Kangalloo was injured in a vehicular accident.
7. The retired Justice of Appeal is single and has no children.
Source: The Loop March 19, 2018
According to the history books, the indigenous population of the Caribbean felt the full force of the first Spanish invasion in the 15th century. Within just 30 years – or so it has long been said – the Taíno people were wiped out by disease, slavery, and the brutal practices of the occupying Europeans.
But new molecular evidence is rewriting this history. While many Caribbean communities have long insisted that they are in fact descended from the “extinct” Taíno, science can now finally back them up. Researchers have sequenced the first full ancient genome of a pre-European Caribbean, and found that the genes of these “extinct” people still persist to this day within many native islanders.
“It's a fascinating finding,” said Dr Hannes Schroeder, who led the research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Many history books will tell you that the indigenous population of the Caribbean was all but wiped out, but people who self-identify as Taíno have always argued for continuity. Now we know they were right all along: there has been some form of genetic continuity in the Caribbean.”
The genetic analysis of the early inhabitants of the Caribbean was only made possible through the discovery of skeletal remains in a cave on Eleuthera, which is part of the Bahamas. Archaeologists were actually searching for evidence of the first European settlers, but as they dug through the layers of the cave, they came across objects dating to the first indigenous communities to have lived on the land, including a few burials.
The team then compared this genome from the Bahamas to that of people living on Puerto Rico, revealing that they were actually more closely related to this ancient woman than to any other indigenous South American group. While this initial study only looked at one modern-day group of people, the researchers are fairly confident that the same will be true of other Caribbean communities.
What is more, the ancient genome can also shed light on how people first came to inhabit the archipelago, which is thought to have been the last part of the Americas to have been settled some 8,000 years ago. The genetics show that the indigenous Caribbean islanders are most closely related to other groups from northern South America, and can potentially trace their origins as far back as the Amazon and Orinoco Basins. Source: IFL Science
The jaw of one of the original inhabitants of the Caribbean, from which researchers could extract DNA. Jane Day
As a child when we visited the country side, this would be a familiar sight. Great memories. I wonder if this is still continued today?
The BEETHAM ESTATE and the BEETHAM Highway in Port of Spain were named after Sir Edward Bethan Beetham who was the 16th Governor of Trinidad and Tobago during the period 1955-1960. Sir Beetham was in fact the last of Colonial Governor of Trinidad and Tobago of British Descent ( Source - Aspiring Minds). In second photo Sir Edward Beetham is person on the right of the Police Commisioner.
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