March 30, 2013 - Shouter Baptist Liberation Day in Trinidad and Tobago

Today's holiday reminds the people of Trinidad and Tobago that for more than 30 years, from 1917 to 1951, practicing the Spiritual Baptist religion (otherwise known as the Shouter Baptist religion) was illegal!

This group of Christians were called Shouter Baptists by outsiders to poke fun at the loud clapping and shouting during worship services. The Shouter Baptists themselves didn't like the name and decided to call themselves Spiritual Baptists. Their enthusiastic dancing, clapping, singing, and shouting made services lively—sometimes people even fell to the ground and shook with convulsions.

In addition to shouting, many
Spiritual Baptists ring bells during
Why was this worship illegal? The police and government made the excuse that the services were too loud. The Shouter Baptists, they said, disturbed the peace. The dancing and shouting and especially the convulsions seemed primitive, even indecent (they hinted).

It is possible that the underlying reason for the ban was that this religion mixed Baptist beliefs with African traditions, and some people—even some black people—in Trinidad had prejudice against all things African. Black people who were former slaves didn't want the reminder of their degradation.

Who were the Merikins?

As I read about how this bigoted law got passed in the first place, I found out (for the first time in my long, long life) about the “Merikins.” These were former slaves who fought with the British against the Americans in the War of 1812. The black marines were fighting against their former owners—one might say they felt as if they were fighting for freedom, for themselves and their people.

For their service, after the war was over, British offered to take all of the black marines to Trinidad, where they could be free. About 760 marines took them up on their offer and emigrated to Trinidad, where they set up “companies” (villages), each under the supervision of a sergeant or corporal. The government provided the refugees shelter, tools, and some cuttings and seeds for planting. Some also received clothes, blankets, and food to eat while they started farms. The “starter” daily rations were plantain (a kind of banana) and salt meat.

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