Wine of Astonishment

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The origins and early development of the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Religion in Trinidad and Tobago are not well known but the consensus is the religion developed among the people of African descent during the Nineteenth Century. It can be found throughout the Caribbean under various names but according to Gibbs de Peza (10), the name Spiritual Shouter Baptist is indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago. It is a unique religion, comprising elements of Protestant Christianity and African doctrines and rituals. It is also one of the few religions indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago. The term Shouter was given to the Baptists because of their tendency to shout, clap and sing loudly during their religious services. It was a derogatory term imposed on them by mainstream society. During their fight to have the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance repealed, the Baptists decided to use the term Spiritual Baptists instead of Shouter Baptists, in an effort to gain respect for their religion. There are four theories that place the roots of the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Religion in Africa, Britain, North America and St. Vincent. The first theory suggests that certain practices of the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Faith can be traced directly to Africa – however this theory is not well documented. While researchers agree on Africa, there is some dispute as to where in Africa. Some religious practices of the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Faith have been identified as being similar to that of Peoples or former Kingdoms in West Africa – particularly the Dahomey People (now situated in Benin), the Kongo People (now in Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo and part of Angola) and the Yoruba People (now primarily in Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and Togo. Another segment of the influx of new settlers in 1797 was a group of former American Slaves who had supported Britain during the American War of Independence. They were rewarded for their loyalty with their freedom and grants of land in South Trinidad. They formed “Company Villages” that were named after the military companies in which they had served, for example, “Fifth Company, Moruga” (Henry, 2003). These settlers brought their Baptist faith with them and influenced the development of the indigenous Spiritual Shouter Baptist Faith. Viola Gopaul-Whittington (12) has stated another theory that suggests the roots of the Spiritual Shouter Baptists can be found in the migration of fundamental Protestants, known as “Shakers“, from St. Vincent to Trinidad during the early part of the twentieth century. This explains the origins of the four Baptist groups in Trinidad and Tobago – the London Baptists, the Independent Baptists, the Fundamental Baptists and the Spiritual Shouter Baptists. Although the origins of the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Faith in Trinidad and Tobago can be traced to foreign countries, it has evolved over time to become a unique, indigenous religion. It has managed to fuse the spontaneity and rhythms of Africa with the restrained, traditional tenets of Christianity to produce a religion that is vibrant, expressive and dynamic.

PROHIBITION
From 1917 to 1951 the Spiritual and Shouter Baptist faith was banned in Trinidad by the colonial government of the day. The legislation to enact this ban was called the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance and it was passed on 16 November 1917. The reason given for the ordinance was that the Shouters made too much noise with their loud singing and bell ringing and disturbed the peace. During worship, participants danced, shouted, shook and fell to the ground in convulsions. Such behaviour was deemed unseemly by the more traditional and conservative elements in the society. Also, the established churches regarded such behaviour as heathen and barbaric. Furthermore, they were concerned about the large number of people who were leaving the traditional churches to join the Spiritual Baptist faith. The police, who had been persecuting the Baptists for several years, also...
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