Reviews

Massa Day Done
 
I was recently asked to review a book titled Mass Day Done: Our Republican Constitution, written by former Tapia member, Lennie Nimblett.

No other study of Trinidad and Tobago’s politics covers so much in one volume. The book analyses the full text of the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution.

What makes it useful and valuable is that it integrates political theory relevant to the Caribbean as well as political history…

In attempting to do all those things in one volume, Mr Nimblett has produced neither fish nor fowl, but a bit of good Caribbean stew consisting of a well-rounded political understanding of Trinidad and a similar analysis of Tobago.

Mr Nimblett previously wrote a volume which dealt with the union of Trinidad and Tobago 1889-1899 which he published in 2012.

Given the encyclopaedic nature of the study, I had to be selective.

In the history section, I chose for analysis the “colour bar” as used by Governor Picton who saw it as his principal instrument of governance.

As the Colonial Office advised him: “The only model of rendering these people useful, without their becoming formidable to the colony is to have them where they are; to establish no artificial distinction; to humiliate then by no marks of degradation or incapacity. You need not promote them to any office of importance or honour, but it is not necessary is not necessary to show them that you have raised an insuperable bar to their advancement and ambition.”

Nimblett argued that the “colour bar” lasted until 1970 when the Black Power movement despite its inarticulateness, pointed obliquely to the persistence of this colonial phenomenon.

Some white businessmen claimed that the colour bar was substantially abolished long before 1970. The cost of importing labour had led to its constructive abolition.

The most that one can say is that it was substantially bent out of shape before 1970.

Capitalism had helped to generate its own contradictions.

The second section of the book is lively and will be attractive to those interested Trinidad’s constitution and political system.

I was somewhat surprised that given the theme of the book, the author identified critical parts of the Constitution but so little of its dynamics.

Nowhere are we told how well or otherwise the system functioned, which individuals or groups considered it favourably and how they interfaced with each other openly and clandestinely.

Readers would have welcomed fuller discussion of the Wooding commission, the Eric Williams and Ellis Clarke version in which power was transferred from colony to republic over the years.

Nimblett treats other subjects such as proportional representation, communal representation, the unicameral senate, the hybrid executive and presidential prerogative, all of which were important issues discussed during the period.

Most absent of all was mention of the executive presidency and the efforts which were made to the existing hybrid model by Patrick Manning which led ultimately to his fall.

Mr Manning believed that his newly crafted model to be the natural instructional successor of the Westminster model.

Ellis Clarke also claimed to believe likewise.

The book is an important and valuable contribution to our growing collection of studies on Trinidad and Tobago’s history and politics.

The decision of Prime Minister Rowley to give more attention to the teaching of Trinidad and Tobago’s history and the appearance of this book are fortunate conjunctures.

I believe that we have a unique hybrid model or formula which is relevant our biracial circumstances.
 
Professor Selwyn Ryan
Sunday Express
2016-02-21