- Ryan Recalls. Selwyn Ryan: His Memoirs by Selwyn Ryan, and: Historical Dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago. New Edition ed. by Rita Pemberton et al.
DISECTING THE PLURAL SOCIETY
The Trinidadian penchant for “dictionaries” or “Who’s Who” of prominent people is a veritable boon to historians and social scientists. It is not simply a collective affinity for vanity. There is arguably a real wider function to such works in a plural society with real social and ethnic separations by providing useful information on otherwise “alien” groups. Some prominent cases will illustrate.
It is difficult to understand pre-Independence Trinidad without consulting Lloyd Sydney Smith’s 1950 Who, What, Why which has the advantage of having photos of nearly all the entrants. The pictures reveal a mostly white and heavily expatriate elite. Ironically, according to the editor, this Who’s Who marks the end of the old aristocracy and the emergence of the formerly marginal Portuguese, Chinese, Syrian and colored communities to prominence. Unfortunately few of these new elites appear in the pictures.
The theme of elite succession was taken up by a work of the prolific recorder of all things Trinidadian and Tobagonian, Michael Anthony’s Historical Dictionary in 1997. No pictures. This social change was also recorded in straight-forward fashion in the self-published work by Carl N. Comma, Who is Who in Trinidad and Tobago (1966). Similarly Michael Anthony’s Heroes of the People of Trinidad and Tobago performed as announced in its title: bringing the old but especially the new elites to the attention of the island’s readers.
Thereafter the prolific Michael Anthony published his extensive and informative Historical Dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago. In addition to a solid list of events and personalities, The Dictionary (pp. 1–629) contains a very comprehensive and inclusive bibliography. If nothing else this [End Page 180] bibliography reveals how frequently Trinidad and Tobago has attracted scholarly attention and interest. In 1998, three members of the History Department at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in St. Augustine edited the Dictionary of Caribbean Biography: Volume One: Trinidad and Tobago. It was a modest volume published by their own department with limited circulation.
So as not to leave out members of the vast Trinidad and Tobago diaspora, UWI graduate Michele Reis produced an elegant and informative Who’s Who in the Trinidad and Tobago Diaspora. This volume documents the oft-repeated thesis that, Trinidadians, like all West Indians, belong to a culture of immigration.
The latest addition to this veritable library of Who’s Who is Rita Pemberton, Debbie McCollin, Gelien Matthews and Michael Toussaint’s, Historical Dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago. New Edition. It is titled New Edition given that the publishers mention that it is in the series Historical Dictionaries of the Americas which published the earlier work with a similar title by Michael Anthony in 1997.
The authors, (all graduates of the History Department of UWI, St. Augustine) cover many events since 1997, not the least of which was the July 27, 2000 attempted coup d’état of Abu Bakar (born Lennox Phillip) and the Jamaat at Muslimeen. Also covered is the passing in 2014 of the former Prime Minister so brutalized by the Muslimeen, A.N.R. Robinson. Two years later, another former Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, died. He is said to have presided over the decline of the Afro-Trinidadian centric Peoples National Movement (PNM) and the rise of the new Indo-Trinidadian political elites.
Astonishingly, there is a serious omission in the Rita Pemberton et al. volume. Clifton Ryan, a calypsonian of modest fame known as “the Mighty Bomber” is listed, but Selwyn Ryan—the most prolific and influential intellectual in post-colonial Trinidad—is not. (309) This omission casts doubt on the completeness of this Who’s Who leaving the...