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The romanticised origin of American Thanksgiving rests on the pretty fantasy that, in the 17th century (widely accepted, based on the narrowest of documentation, to be 1621) a group of religious people, who never did anything wrong (like being part of the invasion of a foreign country and the systematic murder of its native people) held the “First Thanksgiving” in Plymouth (even though scores had been held before) as a communal meal to celebrate a bountiful harvest given to them by God (unlike the land, which they took for themselves with superior weaponry).
Out of the goodness of their hearts, the (made-up) story goes, the Pilgrims-with-a-capital-P (probably really either Separatists or Puritans) shared their meal with Native Americans, who surely would have starved, but for the Pilgrims’ kindness (a history rewrite worthy of a small-family-company-or-large-state-enterprise Sunday newspaper advertising supplement, since the Pilgrims would not have known how to plant corn without the Amerindian Squanto).
The meal was centred on huge turkeys and even huger amounts of prayerfulness, and the white folk wore stiff black clothes and white cloth caps that would not come into fashion for another half-century, and the Indians wore feathered headdresses, even though Europeans in America would not come into contact with that style of Plains Indians headwear for decades. The American Indians (or Native Americans, as they came to be called, now that they are almost exterminated) contributed directly, by all accounts, five deer and, indirectly, all the food crops to the feast, but are still religiously cast as the recipients of the Pilgrims’ generosity.
Now you can tell that version must be wrong because it’s the one recorded in Wikipedia, that first (and usually only) Trinidadian Internet reference point—not counting porn sites. (One love is Trini politics and one click is Trini research.) Wikipedia is as trustworthy as Fr Murphy in an orphanage for deaf, dumb and blind boys. Wikipedia is not researched, but written down, and by anyone from Mickey D’s fry-guy to a man who “heard it somewhere once.”
The only people you can be sure don’t contribute to Wikipedia are those with genuine academic credentials. Scholars view Wikipedia the way atheists do the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Prophet being flown all around the world and up to heaven on a winged horse in a single night: it’s for people who’ll believe anything (and doesn’t the Buraq story sounds remarkably like Santa Claus?).
It would be no surprise if the Wikipedia entry for Christmas has Jesus being born in a manger under a fir tree decorated with tinsel; and getting a PlayStation—and a toy tool set—for Christmas. Trinis have not adopted Thanksgiving itself, which passed largely unnoticed yesterday, because, I suspect, no one has successfully curried a turkey yet, but they are enthusiastic about today, Black Friday, one of the few things in white America that is both black and positive.
Trinis have leapt on Black Friday like Somalis on sacks of rice as a great day to celebrate the hallowed Trinidadian tradition of buying crap they don’t need on credit because it’s on sale.
Since World War II, Trinis have proudly followed American fashion—even if the Americans could more profitably have followed ours, as the Andrews Sisters proved when they stole Rum & Coca-Cola from Lord Invader. How much better would the deniers of Obamacare be today if, before they left Chaguaramas, the Americans had adopted socialised medicine instead of the for-profit-healthcare they’re now spreading around the world.
Today, Trinis, still chasing the Yankee dollar, will follow the American example and buy actual crap, actual faecal matter, if the price is knocked down far enough; and might grumble about the shipping charges but would understand if the handling charges were raised a bit in this instance.
But all this Thanksgiving talk got me to thinking that there is indeed a Trini Thanksgiving story, which, like the Yankee one, took place when our nation was set up— viz, at Independence. And it goes a little something like this.
In 1962, a small group called the Pilgrim’s National Movement held the First Thanksgiving in the Red House, after the PNM won the First Universal Suffrage General Election. And, to celebrate the bountiful harvest the Native African American Trinidadians had received from God—ie, a Santa Claus bag called “the Treasury,” holding the white-people-and-them oil-sector rents that had previously gone to the Crown—the PNM, recognising that they could not have done it without the Muslim Indians, held a big feast called, not “Thanks-“ but “Rum-and-Roti-Giving.”
And this Rum-and-Roti-Giving has been held not every year, but every five years since, making it the strongest modern Trini tradition. The Trini Thanksgiving has evolved: today, instead of rum, the Pilgrims—now called the People’s Pilgrims—drink Johnny Walker Blue Label; and, instead of roti, they eat something they call “ex cargo,” which they think is tiny little steaks, and caviar, which they think is a remarkably tasteless anchar.
Three things remain unchangeable about Trini Thanksgiving, though: one, the style of dress remains stiff and uncomfortable and looks ridiculous on its wearers; two, unlike the American Thanksgiving, which is now a secular, or at least ecumenical, holiday, the Trini Thanksgiving has become more and more religious—and there are fewer and fewer people who will admit to doing anything wrong; and, three, everyone involved is still eating ah food—except Wayne Kublalsingh.
BC Pires gives thanks and praises only in the chorus of David Rudder songs. E-mail your charges of a want of patriotism to him at [email protected]
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