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  • Villaging the NationThe Politics of Making Ourselves in Postcolonial Trinidad
  • Teruyuki Tsuji (bio)


The objective of this article is twofold. First, it illuminates the contradictions innate in the postcolonial elite reification of national identity and culture and explores how they undermine and upset historical ethno-racial and cultural articulations. Despite its exclusive focus on the Trinidadian case, the paper addresses issues relevant to postcolonial societies within and beyond the Anglophone Caribbean that have configured themselves as multiracial, -ethnic, and -religious complexes. By addressing these questions with a concrete case, this article provides an empirically-grounded and theoretically heuristic analysis of the politics of racial and cultural differentiation and mixing as well as nation-building. Second, the paper critically reflects on the relevance of conventional conceptions of cultural mixing, such as creolization and hybridization, which have underlain the postcolonial nationalist discourse and have played a part in actual politics of anti-colonialism and independence in British West Indies, including Trinidad. The shift of scholarly attention from a culture to cultures has elevated the status of the Caribbean from a desolate region with no trace of cultural purity for the traditional anthropological quest to a “frontier” (Trouillot, “Caribbean Region”) for anthropological exploration of intercultural dialogues, conflicts, and mixing. In response, the Creolization Metaphor, originated in and refined by the Caribbean experience, has obtained the status of a master trope in general social scientific discourse. However, as scholars increasingly emphasize the existence of mixing, the how, when, and why of creolization are relegated to the back burner. What results is the violation of the original conceptual and theoretical goal: essentializing the cultural mixing, not de-essentializing the ethnic components. By (re)locating in the “historical conditions of cultural production” (Price 304), this paper foregrounds the problems intrinsic to current concepts of cultural mixing, which prevent their application as eclectic notions beyond particular temporal and geographic contexts. More specifically, this article draws on the broad-ranging rural development programs, generically called the “Better Village Program,” designed and implemented by Eric Williams, the first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, as an ethnographic case.

In March 1963, shortly after independence, Williams initiated what became known as the Meet the People Tour. Within about a year, he literally met the people in 239 districts across eight counties, and received written requests directly from representatives of rural communities (Sutton 218). The Tour was immediately followed by the Better Village Program. In recognition of the landlessness of the farmers, for example, the government [End Page 1148] accelerated the distribution of crown lands. According to records, only one and three applications for Crown land were approved in 1959 and 1960, respectively (Craig 37). In contrast, the Cabinet granted no fewer than 7,700 applications a year after the beginning of the tour (Sutton 221). At the same time, under the auspices of locally operating foreign corporations, the government allocated millions of dollars for the improvement of infrastructure, including the construction of access roads, low-income housing, and an expanded electrical system (Craig 38). These improvements and land grants fixed landless and unemployed population in rural regions, which simultaneously enlarged existing villages and gave birth to new ones.

The Better Village Program has been compared with the social engineering schemes of rural (re)settlement and production, like ones tried in post-independent African states. For example, C. B. G. London (1991) concludes, “Eric Williams decided on ‘borrowing from Africa’s soul’ by adopting what has since been called the ‘Nkrumah’s Village Model’” (253). In Seeing Like a State (1998), with case studies of Tanzania and Ethiopia, James Scott argues that the leaders of new African states are frequently absorbed in redesigning rural districts because “[l]egibility is a condition of manipulation. Any substantial intervention in society [. . .] requires the invention of units that are visible [ . . . ]. Whatever the units being manipulated, they must be organized in a manner that permits them to be identified, observed, recorded, counted, aggregated, and monitored” (183). During the colonial period, the “stateless spaces,” which were neither plantations nor urban centers under close surveillance and control, were viewed as a threat to colonial authorities (189). According to Scott, this is also true for postcolonial states...