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SPIRITUAL/SHOUTER BAPTIST LIBERATION DAY

By   Rev.Teacher  Hazel Ann Gibbs  DePeza

 

 

March 30, 1996 marked a milestone on a long journey from November 28, 1917 with a major junction along the way on March 30, 1951. On March 30, 1996, the first Spiritual/Shouter Baptist Liberation Holiday was celebrated as a result of the declaration by Prime Minister Basdeo Panday granting a national holiday recorded in the declaration as “Spiritual Baptist/Shouter Holiday”.  This declaration was made 45 years after the Legislative Council repealed the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance on March 30, 1951 granting the members of the Faith the freedom to worship without breaking the law. The law, the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance remained in effect for 35 years, passed in November 1917 to “render illegal practices of the body known as Shouters”.

The legal proceedings are recorded in the Hansard as proof of the facts of the legislations for and against the “body known as Shouters”. The legislations are only part of the story, significant, but still part: the half has not yet been told. The reality of the need and the cause for celebration is a long painful journey marked by the sorrow of rejection and deception on the social plain but lit by the fires of redemption on the spiritual plain. Thanks to the power of God to “heal the broken-hearted ... and ... to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18) the wretched of the earth are blessed and placed in pleasant places.

There is no official documentation of the early beginnings of the Spiritual Baptist Faith. Nevertheless, the available histories of Trinidad and Tobago, the works written about religion in the nation, writings about the Spiritual/Shouter Baptists, and the oral tradition provide sufficient proof that the people among whom the Faith emerged were the Africans of the slave and ex-slave community residing in Trinidad. In 1843, George Cowen attempted to offer respectability to the already existing Baptist community under the cover of the Baptist Missionary Society of London, under the condition that they “give up shouting and the manifestation of spirit possession”.

Those who accepted the offer came to be known as London Baptists. Those Baptists who rejected British domination divided themselves into two: one group like the London Baptists who gave up shouting and the manifestation of spirit possession, the Independent Baptists, the other group who continued to walk the byways and highways preaching the Gospel, calling man to repentance, prophesying of impending danger called Wayside, Candle, Barefoot, Shouter, Spiritual Baptists. This latter group maintained their shouting and manifestation of spirit possession as integral to their worship.

An elder of the Faith, Bishop Eudora Thomas wrote in her work, Short History of the Spiritual Baptist (commonly called Shouters)  (n.d.) “Relatively little is known about the first Spiritual Baptist Leader... the Faith slowly developed sometime during the 19th century... the Spiritual Baptists or Shouters played a large role in spreading the knowledge of Christianity throughout the islands, by their evangelical labours, crusades, byways and hedges preaching to all who cared to listen. Their duty was to make the teachings of Jesus Christ known” (Thomas, p.1).

The consistent growth of this “slave movement” threatened the status quo and “The Shouters Prohibition Ordinance of 1917 was a direct attempt by the plantocracy and the Colonial authorities to destroy this effort of the ex-slaves at unity” (Michael Ramcharan).  Archbishop Oba Douglas described it as “a most iniquitous Act perpetrated against a people for worshipping God”.  Yet, Spiritual Israel was not daunted by persecution; they were following in the footsteps of the Apostles and Early Christians. “The beatings, imprisonment, and fines resulting from infractions of the Ordinance bear witness to the tenacity of our people in the face of difficulty” (Michael Ramcharan).

The Repeal of the Act came in 1951, after many strategies and multitudes of prayers of the Baptist community, and by the much lobbying of the committee of Baptists led by Archbishop Elton Griffith. The removal of the legislation put an end to police brutality and the criminalization of Baptist worship. It did not stem the scorn and contempt of the national society for those “outlaws” who disturbed the peace of the “civilized” classes with their loud singing, shouting, and ringing of bells. The Faith remained ostracized from society and endured social persecution long after the authorities ceased legal prosecution.

Seeking societal status the strategies and prayers of the Baptist community shifted to a call for recognition by the state in the form of schools, a cathedral, or a national day. Archbishop Barbara Burke launched a successful lobby for recognition during her tenure as a government senator and in 1996, the repeal of social ostracization came in the form of a national holiday bearing the name of the Spiritual/Shouter Baptist. Fourteen years after the declaration of recognition of the struggles of the Faith, sadly, the Faith is still not fully accepted into the fabric of society. Gladly, however, each year on March 30, every creed and race in the nation of Trinidad and Tobago is compelled to take notice that the only indigenous religious movement in Trinidad and Tobago is alive, well, and growing.

Celebration of Spiritual Baptist/Shouter Holiday is significant of the resilience of the people of God to withstand wiles of the devil. It commemorates the suffering, persecution and prosecution of a people who were determined to worship God in the black beauty of holiness. It acknowledges the struggles and efforts of the freedom fighters of the Faith to ensure the development of the Faith. It highlights the achievements and growth of the Faith. And most significantly it proclaims the power of God in the affairs of man, for though He

“has made us to drink the wine of astonishment” (Ps. 60:3),

“now may Israel say,

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us;:

Then they had swallowed us up...

Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth.

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth”

(Ps. 124: 1-3, 6, 8).

 

Reference

Gibbs Depeza, H. A. (2007). My Faith – Spiritual Baptist Christian. U.S.A. : Xulon Press.

  Appendix .

                                   CHAPTER  27

                      SHOUTERS   PROHIBITION

   An Ordinance  To  Render  Illegal  Indulgence  In The   Practices of  The  Body  Known as Shouters.

                                                                                                       28th   November,  1917.

 

[1] This  Ordinance may be cited as the Shouters  Prohibition  Ordinance.

[2]  [i]  A  “Shouters”  meeting  means  a  “ meeting  or  gathering  of  two  or  more  persons , whether  indoors  or  in the  open  air, at  which  the  customs  and  practices  of  the  “BODY” known  as  ‘SHOUTERS”  [ Thereafter  in  this  Ordinance  referred  to  as “ the  Shouters” ] are  indulged  in . The  decision  of  any  Magistrate  in  any  case  brought  under  this  Ordinance  as  to  whether  the  customs  and  practices  are  those  of  the  “Shouters”  shall be  final,  whether  the  persons  indulging  in  such  customs  or  practices  call  themselves  Shouters  or  by  any  other  name.

       [ii] A “Shouters “ house  means  any  house  or  building  or  room  in  any  house  or  building  which  is  used  for  the  purpose  of  holding  “Shouters”  meetings, or  any  house  or  building  which  is  used  for  the  purpose  of  initiating  any  person  into  the  ceremonies  of  the  “Shouters” . The  decision  of   any  Magistrate  in  any  case  brought  under  this  Ordinance  as  to  whether  a  house  or  building  or room  is  a  “Shouters”  house  shall  be  final.

      [iii]  The  term  “Manager”  includes  any  person  having  control  over  or  charge  of  any  estate  or  land  whatsoever  in  the  Colony.

[3]  It  shall be  an  offence  against  this  Ordinance  for  any  person  to   hold  or  take  part  in  or  to  attend  any  “Shouters”  meeting  or  for  any  ‘Shouters”  meeting  to  be  held  in  any  part  of  the  Colony  indoors  or  in  the  open  air  any  time  of  the  day  or  night.

[4]  It  shall be  an  offence  against  this  Ordinance  to  erect  or  to   maintain  any  “Shouters”  house or  to shut  up  any  person  in  any  “Shouters”  house  for  the  purpose  of  initiating  such  persons  into  the  ceremonies   of  the  ‘Shouters”.

[5] [i]  If  it  shall  come  to  the  knowledge  of  the  owner  or  manager  of   any  estate  or  land  in  the  Colony  that  a   “Shouters”  house  is  being  erected  or  maintained ,  or   that  “Shouters”  meetings  are   being  held,  on the  estate  or  land  over  which  such  owner  or  manager  has  control,  he  shall  forthwith  notify  the  non-commissioned  officer  in  charge  of  the  Constabulary  Station  nearest  to   such  house  , estate or  land of  the  erection  or  maintenance  of  such  “Shouters”  house  or  of  the  locality  or  place  at  which  such  “Shouters”  meetings  are  being  held.

     [ii] The  manager  or  owner  of  any estate  or  land  in  the  Colony  who  fails  so to  notify  such  non-commissioned  officer  as  aforesaid , or  who  knowingly  permits  the  erection  or  maintenance  of  any  “Shouters” house  or  the  holding  of  “Shouters”  meetings  on  any  estate  or  land  over  which  he have  control  shall be  guilty  of  an  offence  against  this  Ordinance.

                                                                                                 

                                                                                                                        HARRY  L.  KNAGGS.

                                                                                                                       Clerk   of  the  Council.l.

Reference:

C.M.Jacobs [1996] Caribbean  History Society . # 40 Duke  Street, Port of Spain, Trinidad and  Tobago.W.I

                                  JOY COMES  IN  THE MORMING-Elton  George Griffith  and  the Shouter  Baptists.

 

About  the  Author.

Rev.Teacher  Hazel  Ann  Gibbs  DePeza  is  an  ordained  Spiritual  Baptist  minister ,Spiritual  teacher ,and  Principal  of  The  Herman  Parris S.B .Southland  School   of  Theology.  She has  been  a teacher  and  teacher  educator  and  is  now  a Senior  Instructor  at  The  University of  Trinidad  and  Tobago’s School  of Studies  in  Learning , Cognition ,and Education.

She  holds  a  Diploma in  Theology, a  Teacher’s  Diploma, a B.A.[Hons], a Master of  Philosophy  in  Linguistics, and  has completed  her Doctoral  Studies  for  The  Doctor  of  Education  in  Educational  Leadership.

Rev.Gibbs  DePeza  is  also  an  author , editor ,  and  a  poet . She  has  publications  with  York  University and  the  University  of  Puerto  Rico  and  has  presented  papers  at  various  local  and  international  conferences  on  education.  She  hosts  two  radio  programmes  and  is  involved  in  youth and  prison  ministry.