Today is Shouter Baptist Liberation Day in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s a public holiday dedicated to commemorating the repeal of the act that banned Shouter Baptists from worshipping publicly (from worshipping at all, they had to hide to observe their religion). They’re called Shouter Baptists, but actually, that’s a bit of a misnomer, and a bit derrogatory, although the name is used by the group as well. The word shouter is derived from the fact that followers worship loudly. They testify, they shout, they ring bells and sing loudly in the street. They have been known to stand on street corners profesying and proclaiming the Word. The word Baptist comes from the fact the religion was influenced by American blacks who migrated to Trinidad (referred to themselves as Merikens) after fighting with the British army and refered to themselves as Baptists. Three separate groups have evolved in Trinidad & Tobago (and other Caribbean islands), at least one, which is mistakenly referred to as Baptist: the Spiritual Baptists, the Shouter Baptists, and Shango Baptists. The latter is the only one that openly embraces a connection to Africa, is very similar to Santeria, Ifa, Candomble of Cuba, Brazil, and other areas where Africans were enslaved. However, the former two identify themselves as Christian and tend to reject the representation of orishas, ancestor deification, altars with ancestral elements, elements of Ifa (a Yoruba tradition) and other West African systems of worship.
This transformation is apparent in carnival too – the constant battle between defining our own traditions and creating something indigenous, and embracing Eurocentric interpretations of our culture. Carnival began for Africans in the Caribbean, not as an opportunity for debauchery before lent (they weren’t originally Catholic), but as one of the few ways to connect with their ancestors. Somewhere along the way it transformed from Egungun, Gelede, representation of the orishas into something more bright and sparkly, but I’m not sure how deep. In recent decades Trinbagonians have been more open to the idea of African heritage – even in worship (and even outside of Emancipation day, imagine that). This year I was surprised to encounter a children’s carnival band that put the elements of Orisha and Egugun, which I’ve referenced briefly before, into de mas. Today, I won’t share photos of “Shouter” Baptists, but continue to blog de carnaval with these folks. I spoke to the bandleader (and spiritual leader), Iya Louise Brown-Clarke, but only briefly. Her sister told me it was “difficult to get orisha children to play mas”, and when I asked if it was also difficult to get some non-orisha children to play because of some people’s suspicion of their religion, she said that was true too. I noticed two individuals catch the spirit as the band was nearing the savannah. I don’t know if it occurred at other times during the parade. A large band of Moko Jumbies followed them and I would say that those two moments filled my spirit for Carnival Saturday in a way that usually happens once or twice every carnival. I am compelled to look into this in greater depth.