Many historians who have studied the event reveal that Hindus as well as Africans were part of the Indian and muslim
street processions. Historians also believe that never before had such
a large, armed military force assembled in colonial Trinidad, or in any
other West Indian colony, at any cultural event.
Hosay is the commemoration of the death of the two soldier-grandsons of
Prophet Mohammed who were killed in war in Iraq in 680 AD. The
centerpiece of Hosay is the procession of taziyas made of cardboard and
tinsel. They are symbols of the tomb erected over the remains of
Husain, one of the two grandsons, in the plains of Karbala. Hosay is
celebrated annually in Cedros and St. James in Trinidad. It has been
banned by law in Guyana. In Jamaica, it is the second largest national
cultural event. Hosay is not a festival, and it is not to be viewed or
described as Indian Carnival.
In 1884, the government banned Hosay processions from entering the
towns of Port of Spain and San Fernando. This was tantamount to killing
the best part of the parade. An Indian by the name of Sookoo, and 31
others, drew up a petition to the governor which was rejected. Sookoo
felt that the law was unjust and discriminatory, and consequently
decided to defy the regulation with an act of civil disobedience.
In the 1884 Hosay, each estate had its own taziya, accompained by tassa
drummers and stick fighters. There were processions from Wellington,
Picton, Lennon, Rowbotton, Retrench, Estate, and Union Hall Estate.
Other processions came from Ne Plus Ultra, Corinth, Palmyra and St
Madeline estate. It was a dramatic parade, attracting huge crowds of
spectators annually in San Fernando.
Police detachments were strategically deployed with cartridges loaded
with buckshots to scatter-shoot into the crowd. A contingent of 74
policemen was headed by Captain Baker at Mon Repos Junction. Twenty
soldiers arrived by special train from Port of Spain. Twenty-one
British marines were sent to Princes Town to reinforce the police. The
British warship, H.M.S. Dido, rushed down from Barbados to anchor in
waiting outside the San Fernando harbour.
forces were placed at the three main entrances leading to San Fernando.
They were posted at the Les Efforts junction, which was a toll gate
that lay at the junction of Cipero Street and Rushworth Street. At this
point, 34 armed men, 20 soldiers and 14 policemen were stationed. The
other entrance was at the point where Royal Road met Mon Repos Estate.
The next (northern) entrance was where Point-a-Pierre Road formed a
junction with Mount Moriah Road. Through this entrance, crowds surged
from estates like Vista Bella, Marabella, Concord, Bon Accord, and
Few Indians believed that the police would shoot them down in cold
blood. After all, they were simply participating in a customary
religious procession. One survivor said that he did not believe that
the police would “shoot people like fowls.”
The massacre took place on a Thursday. On horseback, Magistrate Arthur
Child read The Riot Act amid the thunder of tassa drumming, chanting,
singing, and stick-fighting. Few Indians could have really heard what
was being read. Even if they had heard, few could have understood
English at that time. Child ordered the police to shoot at the
procession at Les Efforts. Two volleys were fired into the crowd,
followed by some sporadic shooting. Those in the front of the
procession were mowed down by a hail of bullets. Taziyas fell to the
ground. The dead and wounded lay in pools of blood in the street. There
was shock and panic. There were shrieks of terror and cries of pain.
Some ran into the canefields. Others scampered for shelter from the
At the Mon Repos junction, the stipendiary magistrate read the Riot
Act. Shots were again fired. Again, tazyias fell to the ground, and
men, women and children lay dead. The processions on the Point-a-Pierre
Road were speared gunfire because they were persuaded to turn back. The
nation was shocked into disbelief.
The number of Hosay participants who were killed on October 30th 1884
varies in different accounts. Historian Kelvin Singh concludes that 150
were wounded in the massacre. Those who were fatally wounded ran into
the sugarcane fields where they were found afterwards. Others died
weeks and months later at home and in the hospital. A reasonable
estimate to make is that 22 Indians were killed and 120 injured.
Sadly, the events surrounding this significant day in the history of
Trinidad are known only by a few. October 30th 1884 has been overlooked
in many of the texts that chronicle the nation’s experiences during
colonization. The courage of these jahajis [indentured immigrants]
martyrs who fought and gave their lives for the freedom to worship must
not be forgotten. The fact that Hosay survives to this day is testimony
that the spirit of these martyrs continues to live.
- Story by Dr Kumar Mahabir. Assistant Professor