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Bissessarsingh: We all remember something
Hundreds of people turned out to the launch of a new book, A Walk Back in Time: Snapshots of the History of Trinidad & Tobago, by Angelo Bissessarsingh, on February 18.
The historian, founder of the Virtual Museum of T&T, launched the new publication at the rotunda at West Mall, at an evening hosted by Nigel R Khan. There was a sense of poignancy at the gathering, as Bissessarsingh, popular for his passion and wit, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had been given only a few months to live.
Fellow historian and author Fr Anthony de Verteuil said an opening prayer before Kerry Ann Bishop of Queen Bishop Publishing, publishers of Snapshots, delivered congratulatory remarks. Prof Bridget Brereton, author of A History of Modern Trinidad, lauded the new book, which includes many rare and diverse photos of T&T’s past.
Lord Relator (Willard Harris) treated guests to some fitting vintage kaiso selections including Bring Them Back, Old Time Days and Gavaskar (A Lovely Day for Cricket), before Bissessarsingh came to the lectern.
He thanked those who had “supported and sustained” him, including the doctors and nurses on his medical team, family members and other “guardian angels,” Simone de la Bastide and the committee formed for the promotion and publication of his work, Nigel R Khan, friends in the media and those who had “found value in what I have to say.”
He called on all citizens who care about preserving national history to join him on his mission. “This book is about us, it’s the story we all share.”
“We all remember something,” he said. “We must build on what I and others have built.”
But, he lamented, cultural imperialism and a culture of indifference to history were fast diluting the nation’s heritage: “It pains me that very soon our identity may be lost,” he said.
T&T’s oil wealth has been a mixed blessing because it has allowed us “to throw out the old and bring in the new.” He cited numerous indications that American culture, made ubiquitous by the mass media, was capturing the hearts and minds of citizens, particularly the young.
“Our children need to know where they come from,” he said. He encouraged everyone to “do your part toward preserving the legacy for our children,” and so they have “a sense of pride” in who they are. He spoke passionately about the importance of cherishing the rich and multi-faceted national legacy of T&T, much of which remains undocumented—his life’s work.
“As short as my life is, I have been privileged to walk part of it with you.” But despite his daunting prognosis, he urged those present to continue the work of documenting the past: “As little as we have left, there is still that in each of us that will enrich our knowledge of ourselves.”
“There are still many more stories I have to tell.” The 300-strong audience rose to their feet, giving Bissessarsingh a standing ovation. His Excellency, President Anthony Carmona, shared remarks, also praising Bissessarsingh for his “inspiring” work.