Shi'ism in the Region





    The Hosay Massacre (also called the Jahaji or Mohurrun ) of October 30th 1884 is a dark episode in local history. The boisterous commemoration of the martyrdom of Mohammed’s nephews, Hosein and Hassan, came to Trinidad in the 1850’s with the indentured immigrants from India and was first celebrated on Palmiste Estate near San Fernando. A facsimile of the martyrs’ tomb in Kerbala would be assembled of bamboo, tinsel and cloth and the finished Taja would often tower as high as thirty feet. Amidst much drumming and festivity, the gaudy taja would be carried in high procession to the sea or an estate pond and ‘drowned’.

    Despite being of Islamic origin, Hosay was celebrated by all on the estate including the negro panboilers and with the exception of the white plantocracy. The 1880’s were a time of unrest. In 1881, a riot erupted at Cedar Hill estate which resulted in the assault of the overseer and requiring the intervention of the police before it was quelled. The growing numbers of Indians in the colony was a source of worry to colonial authorities who feared a mass uprising. The government , through the indomitable Inspector Commandant of Police , Captian Arthur Wybrow Baker , issued an ordinance which would prevent the Hosay processions from the estates from entering the town of San Fernando , which was done so that the tajas may be dumped near King’s Wharf .

    On the eve of Hosay, police reinforcements were stationed at the Court House on Harris Promenade while a shipload of Marines, the HMS Dido anchored offshore. It is recorded that some of the Indians on particular estates did not participate in the processions which would approach Royal Road through Mon Repos Estate, and Cipero Cross (Cross Crossing).

    On October 30th files of armed policemen were stationed at these strategic points to await the eight or ten thousand strong who would defy the Ordinance. It is possible that the Indians did not believe that the police would fire, but upon approaching the barricade at Cipero Cross, Stipendary Magistrate Arthur Child read the riot act and the police fired into the throng. A similar scene occurred almost simultaneously at the junction of Circular Road and Royal Road and when the acris smoke cleared, eleven lay dead and over one hundred were seriously wounded. The tajas were abandoned as carts took the dead to Paradise Cemetery where they were buried in a mass grave upon which the present-day San Fernando Central Market now stands. It is said by some that the hasty internment was done to hide a much greater death toll. This bloody chapter of our history must always stand as a monument to the sovereignty of religious freedoms and the immense sacrifice made by those whose lives were given for this cause.

    Hosay in St Vincent

    Hosay/Muharram, the Shia Muslim commemoration of the death of Hosein at Karbala  in 680 A.D., was last observed in the St. Joseph area in the 1930s. Informants can still recount the striking of brass cymbals, the beating of drums, the placing of ingredients into the taziya [imitation mausoleums] and the drowning of the taziya itself into a river (Personal interview with Dr. Earl Kirby, born 1922, St. Vincent and with Ms. Mary Ann Gopaul, op. cit.). 

    Extracted from "Race retention and culture loss: South Asians/East Indians in St. Vincent By Kumar Mahabir.  This paper is based on an interview done in 1982 with a 93-year old Indian, Mr. James Woods of St. Vincent.  The interview was done with Mr. James Woods, born 1889, at his home in Richard Park, St. Vincent , on March 15, 1982 when Woods was 93 years old."
     

    The Trinidad Newsday online edition reported that Cedros, a fishing village in south-western Trinidad, held hosay festival celebrations.  Hosay is  well known  in St. James, a suburb of Port of Spain, Trinidad's capital city.  While the Guyana Chronicle laments that it is a "A Muslim custom on the verge of extinction here".

    Friday October 30th, will mark the 125th anniversary of what historians describe as perhaps the bloodiest massacre in Trinidad and Tobago under British rule. On October 30th 1884, 22 Indians were killed and 120 others injured in a hail of police gunfire at two Hosay processions in San Fernando. Included in the casualties were defenceless women and children.

    Westmoreland witness to Hosay processions in the early twentieth century remembers that “Hosay represented mystery, beauty and violence. Non Indians, fascinated by the highly crafted Tazia, were often driven away forcefully by those in the procession. Looking or touching was forbidden, and dangerous. Fighting broke out…[chiefly] from each believer’s desire to be the first to launch his own shrine into the sea, an act which brings great blessing and good fortune…” She adds, more prosaically, that “the police were always on the alert during Hosay, and the Savanna-la-mar Hospital usually admitted a number of the wounded.

    BMMA was primarily incorporated to propagate the teaching of Ahlulbayt to the inmates of correctional institutions in USA and Canada. These inmates who had embraced Islam according to the Sunni Madhhab were disenchanted and asked for directions towards the Seerah of Ahlulbayt. The founder members of BMMA embarked on this mission with full support from well-wishers and donors who pledged their loyal support for this cause. BMMA was born.

    Soon after BMMA was informed of the Shiite converts in Trinidad and Guyana. Most interestingly BMMA stumbled upon the Hossay Festival in Trinidad which has been taking place every Muharram for the last 150 years to commemorate the martyrdon of Imam Hussein (a.s.). This event is organized by the Shiite Muslims of Indian ethnic origin whose fore fathers were taken to Trinidad by British Raaj as indentured labourers. This festival was known to the Muslim Ummah for a long time. Unfortunately it was ignored by all. Time took its toll and the event change from solemnity to festivity.


    Beginning in the 19t h century, a wave of indentured workers were brought by the British from India to Trinidad to work the plantations which had been abandoned by former slaves who had been freed by the abolition of slavery in 1838. By 1917, the end of indentureship, nearly 144,000 workers had been brought to Trinidad. The majority came from the North Indian areas of Agra and Oudh (Awadh), and while most were Hindu, there were Muslims among them, a minority of whom were Shi'a.  The Muslims brought their devotional practices with them to the Caribbean and they continued to commemorate the Muharram rituals on the plantations.



    The following essay depicts the organic process of religious practices that adapt to foreign assimilation efforts that stave off cultural amnesia. During 1845-1917 several thousand East Indians immigrated to British colonies in the Caribbean. A practice of taziyahs, was brought over and evolved to contemporary times that reflects a Carribean flavor. Taziyahs, that is, miniature replicas of Imams shrines that are paraded in religious processions during the festival are termed Hosay. The author Asad Rizvi provides an overview of this fascinating example of an interracial and interreligious practice that every religious community takes place in.

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