From king to coup

via Trinidad ExpressBy Gerard Best

Tuesday, October 12th 2004

Who would have thought that His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian Emperor hailed by Rastafarians as a divine incarnation, would have a place in the Museum of Trinidad and Tobago Police Service?

A place between His Excellency Governor-General Sir Solomon Hochoy and Lady Thelma Hochoy, no less, Selassie's uniformed frame flanked in the black and white photograph by these two light-skinned embodiments of the "Babylon" system that Rastafari philosophy opposes.

Yet there he was. Further down the landing, the irony is compounded by a photograph of Inspector General of Police and Commandant of Local Forces Colonel Arthur Stephen Mavrogordato (1931-38), the Englishman who gave the command in 1937 to arrest famed trade union movement pioneer Tubal Uriah "Buzz" Butler.

The former Police Headquarters Building, which now houses the Museum of Trinidad and Tobago Police Services is perhaps a historical monument of greater value than all the memorabilia contained in its showcases. The building, which was itself rocked with explosives and gutted by fire in the 1990 Muslimeen insurrection, now stands fully refurbished, and houses an extensive catalogue of unforgettable moments in the nation's history, from colonial days to the present.

Once you sift through the pictures of the 1901 coronation of Edward VII, the 1962 Declaration of Independence and the 1966 visit of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, you actually get to some good stuff. Take this one picture on the ground floor, for example. A thousand words couldn't tell its story. Taken after the bloody 1990 coup d'etat, the photo simply showed two bullet-riddled photographs of former president Noor Hassanali and then prime minister Arthur NR Robinson in their shattered glass frames.

Upheaval of a different kind was captured in a photo of Makandal Daaga (Geddes Granger), in a snapshot of the political activist addressing a spirited crowd during the Black Power revolution at Woodford Square, "The People's Parliament."

Regrettably, the latest extension of the National Museum Service of Trinidad and Tobago has too few of these striking images. Not that there aren't some gems in there.

A couple of precious shots show the bustling streets of downtown Port of Spain in another era. One picture of Frederick Street, taken between 1916 and 1930, shows His Royal Highness Prince Edward, against the backdrop of a Mounted Police Escort parade, riding past Canning and Company Ltd and Y De Lima and Company Ltd, two "megastores" of that time. The Merry Widow Ice Cream Parlour shop sign is clearly visible in an adjacent photograph, taken in 1918.

These relics are treasured records of life in the early 1900s, but the oldest photo of the Trinidad Constabulary's arms and uniforms dates back to the previous century. It shows the inauguration of Queen's Royal College at Princes Building in 1870. The College again gained honourable mention in the caption below an image of World Chief Scout Lord Baden Powell's inspection of the local Boy Scouts group, which was formed at The Farmhouse, QRC in 1912.

Naturally, the exhibits trace the history of the T&T Police Services, from the separation of the Fire Brigade and the Constabulary in 1894, all the way up to the full computerisation of Police communications technology in this century. Naturally, the photos take the scenic route, putting youthful faces to names like retired Commissioners Randolph Burroughs (1978-87), Louis Jim Rodriguez (1987-90), Jules Bernard (1990-96), Noor Mohammed (1996-1998) and Hilton Guy (1998-2003), as well as former commissioner Everald Snaggs and teaching visitors all about the interesting developments along the way.

Those developments include the evolution of the Canine Division from the 1950s onward for the purpose of drug detection, personal protection and apprehension, the establishment of the Women Police Branch in 1955 to deal with female and juvenile offenders, and the transition in 1962 from Police Marine Branch to the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard.

For schoolchildren with no choice in the matter, or for the idle of purpose merely wandering the streets of Port of Spain on a Tuesday or Saturday, a visit to the museum could be the order of the day. But the more discerning will perhaps leave the building wondering when some of the outdated equipment and outmoded techniques currently being used by the T&T Police Service's will take their place in the corridors of history where they rightfully belong.