Last update: 11-Dec-2013 6:16 am
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Mandinka Muslims fight to save settlement from destruction: Declare Quare a heritage site
The Mandinka Research Foundation is fighting to preserve Quare, one of Trinidad’s early Muslim settlements from the 1800s, which is on the verge of destruction as a result of quarrying.
Quare, bordered by the Hondo river in Valencia, was about 300 acres of forest and home to hundreds of African Mandinka Muslims. Now it is reduced to a mere seven acres, after extensive quarrying by several companies, including the National Quarries Company Ltd (NQCL).
Advocates and researchers believe the excavation of gravel at the Tapana quarry site—even though it is legal—is to blame for the decimation of the settlement. Director of the foundation Khalid Hassan agrees.
“We assume all the land Tapana is on is Quare land,” he said during an interview. The old settlement has been obliterated, he said.
According to information from the Ministry of Energy’s Web site there are 69 active quarries in Trinidad, both public and private, where 31 are for sand and gravel. Forty per cent of these quarries are located on State lands.
A small graveyard was discovered on the seven acres of land, where the Muslim villagers buried their dead almost 200 years ago.
“That is what we have left in the forest presently, and that is what is in danger.”
Describing the condition of the land, foundation member Saifuddin Tijani said there were craters and trenches, some eight feet deep.
“To get to the land is kind of impassable, really. From a point you can see the forested area, but before that, they have dug nearly every piece of land around it. And this is the last piece.”
The National Trust echoed Tijani’s comment on access, and said attempts to get to the seven-acre area have been unsuccessful.
Earlier this year, the Muslim group Independent Muslim Professionals Acting Together (Impact), wrote to the trust on behalf of the foundation, lobbying for the old Muslim settlement to be placed on the official list of national heritage sites.
Hassan says the letter was acknowledged, but no action has been taken.
However, convener for the archaeological sub-committee of the trust Jalaludin Khan said his committee recommended the settlement to the trust council to be put on an initial “intention to list” list. That means the onus is on the council to do a detailed study report on Quare’s location, boundaries, history, with accompanying photographs.
“It’s still in the process to be listed,” he said.
Chairman of the trust Dr Kumar Mahabir said via e-mail the trust planned to put the settlement on the national heritage list.
Another source at the trust, who did not want to be named, said a site visit to Quare was put on hold, as the area was overgrown with bush, and there was a threat from snakes.
“We’re waiting for it to be cleared,” the source said via telephone.
While attaining national heritage status for the Quare area is high on the foundation’s list of priorities, Hassan is also calling on the Government to stop quarrying operations around the site.
Tijani said otherwise he predicted that within a year the remaining area, along with the graveyard, would be destroyed.
His prediction matched that of historian Prof Brinsley Samaroo, who researched and co-wrote a paper presented in 2005 about the area, titled “Hondo River Site: An Early Islamic Settlement in Trinidad.”
Samaroo said the remaining part of the settlement had a year left if the quarrying for gravel continued.
“I definitely think the quarrying should be stopped right up to the edge of the settlement…I think the next stage of the quarrying is going to take over the whole settlement. And nobody seems to care to stop the quarrying,” he said in a telephone interview.
Samaroo, who said he knew the area well as a result of his extensive research, said there were other adjacent areas that could be tapped into for quarrying to continue.
“There really is no need to invade on that particular sacred place at this time.”
He said the country would stand to lose the heritage of the unique area.
“It is the only African-American Islamic settlement in the southern Caribbean. There is no other. So I think just for that reason alone, it should be preserved as a sacred heritage site,” he said.
Hassan and Tijani speculated that the Government and general public tended to sideline African Muslims in Trinidad, which the foundation also feels is the reason its cries are being ignored.
“We are urgently calling on the Government to respect us and respect those that buried there and respect those that were exiled there,” Hassan said.
Samaroo agreed to some extent African Muslims were not as favourably recognised as other religious groups in the country, but said the onus was on them to change that, and be more proactive to gain public support in their fight to save the settlement.
“They are not lobbying sufficiently in their own interests...so I think the ball really is in their court to make the (settlement) better known.”
Hassan said the foundation planned to take the matter to the United Nations if nothing was done to save the area.
“In an issue like this, we intend to make it an international issue...We will.”
Founded in 1815, Quare was given to Muslim African-Americans who had fought on the British side in the British-American wars from 1812 to 1815.
They lived in settlements on the east coast of the US, some still slaves, some free, and were lured by the British to fight against their American masters. After being exiled, Trinidad was one of two British colonies prepared to allow them to settle here. They were placed in the deserted and undeveloped forested area in East Trinidad.
Another group that came to area was made up of disbanded soldiers from the West India Regiment (WIR) who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, some from Sierra Leone.
According to estimates in Samaroo’s research paper, in June and July 1819, under Governor Woodford, 299 people initially settled, followed by 445 people in 1825. Each male settler received eight acres of land if he was single, and double that if he was married. They were provided with agricultural tools and seeds to develop themselves and the area.
The people thrived, introducing rice to Trinidad, and producing cassava, yam, ginger and plantain, which they sold in the Arima market.
This trek proved difficult, as there was no bridge to help them across the Hondo river, and the roads were impassable owing to overgrown bush. The settlers began to disperse and settle in other areas such as Arouca, Sangre Grande, Manzanilla, Arima and some even moved to Port-of-Spain.
According to Samaroo’s study, the area suffered rapid deterioration from the 1830s and by 1843, the settlement was nearly devoid of people and activity.
Web site link to Ministry: http://www.energy.gov.tt/mineral_industry.php?mid=22
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