Photo description :Mrs Blackadder, schoolmistress of many years at the Tacarigua CMI school, with some of her students and Dalmatian. Circa 1899.
It's that time of year when Christmas Treats for Children is a common occurrence in schools, villages and communities throughout Trinidad and Tobago . But how many are aware of how concept of Christmas Treat for children in Trinidad first started? This article written by Founder of VMOTT Angelo Bissessarsingh provides us with the answer.
When indentured labour began entering Trinidad from India in 1845, the overwhelming majority of these people were Hindus with a small number of Muslims. Christmas was an unknown concept to them of course and here in the Caribbean, they would have their first contact with this festive season.
The labourers were bound in five and ten-year contracts to sugar estates (cocoa plantations to a lesser extent), and from 1866-1880, were offered an incentive to remain in the island and form a peasantry which would provide a seasonal workforce for the plantations. Whilst bound to the estates, a few owners and managers of a more benign disposition would have introduced Christmas to the lives of the workers.
Almost certainly, this was the case of the Orange Grove Estates conglomerate which was managed by the foresighted William Eccles (1816-59), who founded an industrial school and orphanage in Tacarigua, under the auspices of the Anglican Church.
This paternalistic approach would have also pertained at Lothians Estate near Princes Town where the kindly Irishman, H B Darling was the proprietor.
The coming of the Rev John Morton and his wife, Sarah, in 1868 to establish the Presbyterian Church’s Canadian Mission to the Indians (CMI) began a long process of trying to find the right method of evangelisation and at once hit upon education as the key.
Dozens of schools were founded across the island with concentration on the areas where there was a predominantly high population of ex-indentured labourers and their children.
Churches in Quebec, Nova Scotia and Ontario would forward to the CMI large boxes filled with small bibles, toys, religious books and sometimes clothing (made by the Auxiliaries of the Women’s Foreign Mission Society) which would be distributed in the schools.
The ladies of the Chalmers church in Quebec were particularly magnanimous for in addition to the regular fare, they sent along dressed dolls, pocketknives, school bags, marbles, pencil boxes, scissors, whistles, necklaces and watches. The whole was often valued at $60 which was quite a large sum in those days, and this generosity from Quebec was a steady expectation from the early 1890s right up to 1914. One can only imagine the excitement of the poor children of the canefields upon receiving such elaborate presents.
Mrs Morton described one such treat in 1877, at Mission Village, which would later become Princes Town:
“Examination of the Mission School Miss Blackadder’s began at 12 sharp. A number of white people present—Mr Darling, who sent a good supply of candies and two beautiful bouquets, Mr and Mrs Frost, who sent a nice parcel of small books and cards, and some others. Children present sang nicely and, indeed, went through their exercises very well and were particularly clean. The little pictures from the box you sent were greatly prized. I hope you will be able to get some more.
“All got some candy and a large banana; that was all the treat.”
The early experiments with treats proved to be so successful for the conversion process that it spread to other parts of the CMI field including Tunapuna. At the Tacarigua school, where the very same Mrs Blackadder from Mission Village was later assigned, Mrs Morton described a treat in 1887:
“A Christmas treat early became an institution. We had seven schools to provide for. In each we examined the register and counted how many children had made over 400 attendances, how many 300, and so on. All these had cakes and candy and a little present according to the days they had made. The careless ones who had too few attendances were called up and told they could not have any present and only a small share of the sweetmeats. A very few who came in for cakes but had not come to read were sent home without anything as a warning to the rest.
“We find this a good plan for encouraging attendance; we have adopted the same plan in our Sabbath schools, but confining the rewards to the very best children.”
The Christmas treat tradition soon spread to other denominational schools and was often accompanied by a concert. This often coincided with the auspicious annual visit by the local school inspector who would assess the progress of the students.
Today, Christmas treats have become sordid affairs of sometimes dubious motives, but those who were educated in the primary schools of several decades ago still cherish memories of the joy felt at the bestowing of small gifts which meant so much.
Source: Angelo Bissessarsingh, Virtual Museum of Trinidad and Tobago 2014
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