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The History of the Bahá'í Faith


in Trinidad and Tobago

  1. Introduction
  2. The Development of the Faith, in the country, through the Plans
  3. The Bahá'í involvement in the Inter-Religious Organization of Trinidad and Tobago
  4. Publications produced by the NSA of Trinidad and Tobago over the years
  5. History of the National Bahá'í Training Institute Board
  6. Conclusion - Ridvan 2006 and Beyond

Introduction

The development of the Bahá'í Faith in Trinidad may have commenced from the visit of Mrs. Leonora Sterling Armstrong (nee Holsapple - 23rd June, 1895 - 17th October, 1980) - who later became a member of the Bahá'í Continental Board of Counsellors for South America - an institution designed to guide and foster growth in the ongoing Bahá'í Communities of the appointed region. She first visited Port of Spain in 1927 for several days, whilst she was on a tour of different cities throughout the West Indies and Central America to promote the Bahá'í Faith. The late Dr. Hugo Giachery, Hand of the Cause of God indicated that he had visited Trinidad, possibly on more than one occasion, prior to World War II. Mr. Dudley M. Blakely (1902-1982) and his wife Elsa (1895-1988), Knights of Bahá'u'llah, visited Trinidad from March 6th to the end of April 1936. They did a radio talk which was then reported in the newspapers as one which had caught the interest of many. Mr. and Mrs. Stewart W. French also visited Trinidad during either late 1936 or early 1937, as a part of a trip to the Americas.

 

In October 1940, Mr. Ralph Laltoo (b.1915 - d.26th August 2004), a Trinidadian, joined the Bahá’í Faith while studying in Canada - making him the fourth "black" in Canada to join the Faith (Black Roses: see section on Activities in Atlantic Canada) - and here he introduced the Faith to a number of other students. It is thought that he was the first Trinidadian to accept Bahá'u'llah and His Teachings. When he returned to Trinidad in 1943 there would have been no Bahá'í community for him to be involved with however it is likely that his religious needs were met by his membership in the United Church which it is likely that he had retained as that was not an uncommon practice of the Faith in Canada (read more about him in the Naparima biography).

 

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Mrs. Leonora Sterling Armstrong

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Mrs. Elsa Blakely
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Mr. Dudley M. Blakely

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Dr. Malcom King

During the 1950's the Brazilian National Spiritual Assembly was assigned the responsibility of developing the Bahá'í Faith in Trinidad and Tobago. It is then known that two travel teachers, Dr. Cyril Turney and Dr. Malcolm King, both West Indians, taught the Faith in Trinidad in the '50s and '60's. Dr. Malcolm King (1885(?)-1966), Knight of Bahá'u'llah, a Jamaican who was living and studying medicine in the United States when he became a Bahá'í (in 1931), came to Trinidad in 1950. He taught the Faith to Mrs. Harriet Phillip, sister to Dr. Cyril Turney, his friend and teacher (of the Faith). Mrs. Phillip became the first person living in Trinidad to become a Bahá'í in Trinidad. In 1953/1954, Dr. King moved on to Guyana and Jamaica to teach the Faith there. Dr. Cyril Turney, who was born in Barbados and raised in Trinidad, and a

friend and teacher to Dr. King, returned to Trinidad, in 1957, with his daughter, Violet. He continued to teach the Faith and hold regular weekly firesides at his sister's home in Belmont. His brother, Albert Turney, who also became a Bahá'í and was a retired employee of the Guardian newspapers, had the first Bahá'í funeral held in his name, when he died. With the combined forces of the teaching done by Dr. Malcolm King, and Dr. Cyril Turney, they established the first Local Spiritual Assembly, which was for Belmont, Port of Spain.

Subsequently several pioneers, some each from Iran, and USA, Canada, UK, and India came to reside and teach the Faith in Trinidad from the mid '60s. Click Here to view list of Pioneers

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The Development of the Faith, in the country, through the plans

In 1963, the first Universal House of Justice, the international administrative head of the Bahá’í Faith, was elected and after one year initiated a nine (9) year worldwide plan (from April 1964 - April 1973) to spread the Bahá’í Faith and set up the Bahá'í administration in all countries. This plan specified that the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'í's of Venezuela would oversee the development of the Faith in Trinidad and Tobago. This plan and all those that followed, allowed for the systematic growth and establishment of the Faith and the Bahá'í administration in Trinidad and Tobago.

By 1964, the Local Spiritual Assembly of Belmont no longer existed and there were only fourteen (14) registered Bahá'í's throughout the country. In 1965, with the arrival of Dr. Israel Kosner (from Venezuela) and Mr. & Mrs. John Farmer (from the United Kingdom), the Local Spiritual Assembly of Port of Spain was elected. Many public meetings were held and received publicity via the mass media. On the 17th June, 1966, Ms Nikou Raouffian, the first officially recognized pioneer to Trinidad, arrived. She was a nurse of Iranian origin, trained in England and worked at Point a Pierre Oil refinery. She married Mr. Mansingh Amarsingh (who was the table tennis champion in Trinidad & the Caribbean) on the 15th August 1970. Another pioneer, Ms Shamsi Sedegat (originally from Iran) arrived in 1968. She was a trained midwife and opened a clinic in Couva. As a result of the efforts made by these pioneers, and the people they taught, by Ridvan 1969 there were two more newly elected Local Spiritual Assemblies, Arima and San Fernando, and the number of believers had been raised to two hundred and eighty five (285). It was also around this time that Mr. Arthur Thomas became the first Bahá'í in Tobago. By Ridvan 1970, five (5) more Local Spiritual Assemblies were elected and new pioneers Mr. Joel Caverly and his fiancée, Edna Ruth Greene were married in the first Bahá'í wedding in Trinidad and Tobago on August 4th, 1970 - Read Article ). By Ridvan 1971 the first National Spiritual Assembly was elected. The first National Spiritual Assembly consisted of Mr. Ramdass Ramkissoon, Mr. Don Swihert, Mr. Joel Caverly, Dr. Lavern Johnson, Mr. Leo Fraser, Mrs. Edna Ruth Caverly, Mrs. Nikou Amarsingh, Ms Shamsi Sedegat

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The First National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'í's of Trinidad and Tobago - Article

and Mr. Fitzroy Soukoo. The National Spiritual Assembly was incorporated by Act of Parliament # 24 of 1972. In 1971, there were twenty seven (27) Local Spiritual Assemblies elected in villages and towns across the country. In 1972, Hand of the Cause, Dr. Ugo Giachery visited Trinidad before leaving for the opening of the Panama Bahá'í Temple in Panama; ten Trinidadian Bahá'í's also represented the Bahá'í Community at that opening (Read Article). On the 16th August 1973, Dr. Ali-Muhammad Varqa, Hand of the Cause of Bahá'u'llah, arrived in Trinidad for a short visit, leaving on the 21st August, 1973. By Ridvan 1974 the number of Local Spiritual Assemblies was increased to eighty two (82). It was during this time (1971-1973) that

the National Bahá'í Centre (at #3 Petra Street, Woodbrook, Port of Spain), the National Temple Site (twenty six (26) acres located on the mountainside of Arouca) and the first Bahá'í National Endowment (in Sangre Grande) were purchased. In addition, Bahá'í Holy Days and marriages became recognized by the government (with letters authorizing children to stay home from school on Holy Days and with Bahá'í marriage officers being designated and recognized) and Bahá'í's began holding summer and winter schools catering for the whole family.

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September 1974, the first National Bahá'í Centre of Trinidad and Tobago

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building of the district Bahá'í Centre, Paharrie Village, Sangre Grande

During the next plan, the five (5) year plan of 1974 to 1979, more pioneers arrived - many still resident today. In May 1974, the Trinidadian Bahá'í's were visited by yet again another Hand of the Cause of God, Jalál Kházeh. In August 1974, the quarterly meeting of the Continental Board of Counsellors was held, for the first time in Trinidad. From the 1st to the 8th August 1974, the first National Summer School was held in Fairy Queen Bay, Tobago. Later that year there was a visit from Hand of the Cause of God, Dr. Ramatullah Muhajir from the 29th September to the 7th October, 1974. In December 1975, Mrs Leonora Armstrong, a member of the Continental Board of

Counsellors, paid her second visit to Trinidad and Tobago while she was on route to Brazil. By the end of the plan, Bahá'í's resided in three hundred and twenty three (323) localities and there were one hundred and thirty eight (138) Local Spiritual Assemblies. Several National Teaching Conferences and conferences for women and children were held. Financial independence from the International Bahá'í community was also attained during this period and there was much publicity via radio and television programs. At least ten simple Bahá'í centres were built in Trinidad and Tobago, of which three (not including the National Bahá'í Centre in Port of Spain) remain standing today. These three are the District Bahá'í Centre's of Sangre Grande (located in Paharrie Village) and San Fernando (located in Palmyra Village) and the Tobago Bahá'í Centre (located in Mason Hall, Tobago). Miss Sheila Burris of Parlatuvier became the first Bahá'í youth of Tobago. The newly appointed National Youth Committee of the Bahá'í's of Trinidad and Tobago also held their first National Youth Conference in Mayaro in 1976. Dr Harry Collymore (8th January 1918 - 27th February 2001), a well known orthopaedic surgeon in San Fernando, joined the Faith in 1975 and was in the same year elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'í's of Trinidad and Tobago until his death in 2001.

The Five Year Plan of 1974-1979 was followed by a Seven (7) Year Plan lasting from 1979 to 1986. During this time teaching efforts were continued and the mass media was increasingly used to increase the number of believers and strengthening of Local Spiritual Assemblies. Children’s Classes, Youth Activities and Summer Schools were also held. On March 22nd, 1980, the visiting Hand of the Cause, Mr H Collis Featherstone, and his wife, Mrs Featherstone, along with Counsellor Ruth Pringle and representative of the National Spiritual Assembly, Dr. M. H. Jamalabadi met with the President of Trinidad and Tobago to discuss the Bahá'í Faith and the Government's policies on religion (Read Article). That same day they had an

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National Bahá'í Youth Conference, August, 1977.

interview on 610 Radio with interviewer Denis McComie (view picture and article here). In 1983, travel teachers, Dr. Farzam Arbab (from Columbia) and Mr. Jinabi Caldwell, visited Trinidad and introduced the Institute process.

During the next plan, the six (6) year plan from 1986 to 1992, with the help of Counsellors Peter Mc Laren and Donald Witzel, of Venezuela (who visited regularly), regular children’s classes were established, women’s and youth meetings and conferences were

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Counsellor Peter McLaren with his wife, Susan and young daughter, Nuriyyih, back in the early 1980's.

held and reading materials were purchased for the first National Bahá'í Library. The mass media was approached for publicity. National and regional youth committee's were appointed by the National Spiritual Assembly. Dr. McLaren was first an Auxiliary Board Member for Trinidad and Tobago, then later a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors, who visited our community for many years & resided here in the early 1980's. The 1970's and 1980's were characterized by a vast expansion in the membership of the Faith through travel teaching activities nationwide. Methods of consolidation were yet to be developed beyond periodic and occasional revisits each year and quarterly newsletters to most of the believers.

The year of Ridvan 1992 to Ridvan 1993 is known in the international Bahá'í community as the Holy year as it was the commemoration of the centenary (100 years) of the passing of Bahá'u'llah, founder of the Bahá'í Faith. During that time Bahá'í's around the world, including Trinidad and Tobago, undertook year long celebrations. The Bahá'í's of Trinidad and Tobago endeavoured to present a document from the Universal House of Justice to the government of Trinidad and Tobago about the life of Bahá'u'llah. This document was also published in the national newspapers and presented to various schools and other organizations. There were also displays in public libraries and articles in newspapers.

The next plan of 1993 to 1996 (the three year plan) focused on teaching the faith and increasing the development of resources (for more information on this, please read more on the National Bahá'í Training Institute). Many youth camps and teaching campaigns were held to assist with the deepening and training of youths.

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youth camps held at Paharrie Bahá'í Center, Sangre Grande

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Youth Camp in Mayaro

The four year plan of 1996 - 2000 was marked firstly by a change in the boundaries of all the Local Spiritual Assemblies to reduce the number of Assemblies from one hundred and sixty eight (168) to twenty five (25); eighteen (18) in Trinidad and seven (7) in Tobago to align them more consistently to the local government boundaries; and secondly by the rebuilding of the National Bahá'í Centre. The National Spiritual Assembly also produced another book, titled Bahá'í Teachings on Education (see publications).

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The "old" National Bahá'í Centre

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Tearing it down in 1999

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The New National Bahá'í Center in 2000

The next plan, the one year plan of 2000 - 2001 was focused on consolidating the teaching efforts of the past several years before the attention of the Faith moved into a new direction.

Then with the introduction of the new plan in 2001 - 2006 (the five year plan), they began to focus on establishing a systematic educational process through the use of devotional meetings, children’s classes and Bahá'í institute courses (often held as study circles). To Achieve this they began to group their Local Spiritual Assembly areas into clusters to facilitate collaboration for growth (between individual Bahá'í's as well as for Bahá'í agencies) in manageable geographic proportions; thereby enhancing the capacity for creativity & initiative in those areas.

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Dec. 2004 - Study Circles in Kelly Village
with the Black Mens Gathering of America

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The Bahá'í involvement in the Inter-Religious Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago

The Inter-Religious Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago was founded in 1970 by the late Archbishop Anthony Pantin. Their motto is "The Fatherhood of God and the Universal Brotherhood of Man". The Bahá'í Faith of Trinidad and Tobago first became a member in 1972, declined membership when the organisation appeared to take a political heading, and later renewed their application in 1996.

The Inter-Religious Organisation currently recognises the heads of four main religions (Christian - 11 churches; Hindu - 9 sects; Muslim - 3 sects and the Bahá'í Faith (1 National Spiritual Assembly), as well as one African /Christian religion, the Orisha's (IRO Annual General Meeting Report).

The Inter-Religious Organisation is renowned, not only for publicizing it's statements on the moral decay of society, but also for fostering religious tolerance, acceptance and inter-religious harmony via organising inter-religious ceremonies and by encouraging people to participate in the Holy Days and religious festivities of other religions.

Mr. Doudou Diène, Special Rapporteur in his Addendum on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mission to Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago describes the Inter-Religious Organisation "an original and effective mechanism for intercommunity dialogue that genuinely helps to preserve social harmony ... and its services emphasize what the communities have in common rather than what divides them, i.e., the search for justice, truth and peace."

The Bahá'í's of Trinidad and Tobago see this organization not only as a step in the fulfilment of the Bahá'í principle of the recognition of the oneness of religion, but also as part of the fulfilment of the promise of World Peace. As such, over the years, the Bahá'í's of Trinidad and Tobago have willingly participated in almost every inter-religious activity hosted by the Inter-Religious Organization of Trinidad and Tobago.

According to an article in Bahá'í Philately, in 1991, in recognition of the Inter-Religious Organization’s contribution to the society of Trinidad and Tobago, the Trinidad and Tobago government saw it fit to "issue stamps honouring the Inter-Religious Organization (IRO) in this country ..." The Postal services consulted with Dr. Hamid Farabi of the Baha'i Faith, who was the IRO President at that time and decided to issue 5 stamps one for each of the above religions. These stamps were released on April 21st, 2002, which coincided with the first day of the Bahá'í Holy year marking the centenary of the passing of Bahá'u'llah, founder of the Bahá'í Faith.

Over the years the Bahá'í Faith has been represented in the Inter Religious Organisation by:

  • Dr. Harry Collymore who was a member from 1985 to 1991;
  • Dr. Hamid Farabi who was a member from 1985 to 2000 and was the President of the Inter Religious Organization from 1991-1994, 1st Vice President from 1988 to 1991 and from 1994-1997 and Public Relations Officer from 1986 to 1988;
  • Mr. Laurence Coward who has been a member from 1991 to the present;
  • Mr. Stephen Burris who has been a member from 2000 to the present and 2nd Vice President of the Inter Religious Organization from 2003 to 2006.

Other Bahá'í's also participate in inter religious services, television and radio programs and seminars arranged by the Inter Religious Organization of Trinidad and Tobago.

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Publications produced by the NSA of Trinidad & Tobago over the years

The Bahá'í's of Trinidad and Tobago have striven to produce several publications. The Bahá'í Bulletin was begun in January 1971, before the election of the first National Spiritual Assembly of Trinidad and Tobago. A nineteen day Bahá’í feast letter later came into existence. Compilations were produced in the 1990's and even music album's produced in the 2000's.

Other publications are: World Unity: Children's Colouring and Study Book (1983) by Mrs. Doreen Anderson and Mrs. Joy Billington; Lesson Material for Children's Colouring & Study Book (1983) by Mrs. Doreen Anderson; Moral Education (1994), a compilation of the writings of all four major religions, on various moral issues, by Mrs. Doreen Anderson; Bahá'í Teachings on Education (1998), compiled by Dr Hamid Farabi; and the CD Waves of Guidance with music from the Bahá'í's of Trinidad and Tobago (2005), produced by Mr. Navid Lancaster.

 

You can find some of these products for sale (on the internet) in the shopShop or at the National Bahá'í Center.

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History of the National Bahá'í Training Institute

The National Bahá'í Training Institute Board was officially recognized as an agency of the Bahá'í Faith of Trinidad and Tobago in 1996, but institute courses had already been in Trinidad for at least a decade.

In the 1970’s, the Ruhi Institute of Cali, Columbia, began producing a series of courses for study based on the Writings of the Bahá'í Faith. In 1983, Dr. Farzan Arbab, from Columbia, came to Trinidad and presented these materials to the Bahá'í's here. Mr. Lawrence Coward, who was then an Auxiliary Board Member for the Bahá'í's of Trinidad and Tobago, proceeded to Cali, Columbia to undergo an orientation and training in the presentation of the courses and shared the training on his return. In Trinidad these courses were offered under the name of the Olinga Institute and were primarily presented in a residential setting as a one month intensive course, this was later reduced to two weeks & four day courses. Later that year, Mr. Jenabe Caldwell came to Trinidad and during the time he was here, managed to organize several institutes of nine days duration, in which participants studied from the Hidden Words of Bahá'u'llah and from the Seven Valleys and Four Valleys and then proceeded to take part in teaching projects as a team. The effect on the community was rejuvenating. He left in 1984.

In 1991, Mrs. Ann Marie Ramsahai attended a Ruhi Institute course in Guyana, and was later trained as a Ruhi Institute course tutor in 1994, in Barbados. The following year, 1992, Mr. Ganesh Ramsahai and Mrs. Kathleen Farabi went to Guyana to be trained in a similar fashion. Shortly after their return, they held the first of the developed Ruhi Institute courses in Trinidad, in August, 2002, in Valsayn. The course lasted for eleven days as a live in retreat.

In 1996, the first National Institute Board was appointed and it met to begin organizing a structured and systematic Bahá'í educational system. The name has since been changed to the National Bahá'í Training Institute of Trinidad and Tobago. Many training institutes have been held since then, some as live-in retreats for seven to nine days and others on weekends. More often they are held once or twice a week (to accommodate working people), and are called study circles. These study circles focus on the writings as they pertain to topics such as life after death, the importance of prayer, Bahá'í History and how to teach children’s classes and youth groups. These study circles take the form of group discussions where individuals are free to express their understanding, but are guided by the tutor. The aim is to impart knowledge, spiritual insights and encourage acts of service to the community.

The system of Bahá'í education that has since been developed by the National Bahá'í Training Institute consists of children’s classes for children under the age of eleven years; junior youth groups for preteens & teenagers from the ages of eleven to fourteen years; and study circles for everyone fifteen years and older.

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Conclusion - Ridvan 2006 and Beyond

The Bahá'í Faith has been in Trinidad for just about fifty years and now has approximately 10,000 members throughout the country Trinidad and Tobago. The Faith has gone through a number of phases. The first phase was about growth of the numbers of Bahá'í's and the establishment of the administration. This phase lasted from it's inception in Trinidad to the formation of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'í's of Trinidad and Tobago. The second phase was of consolidating the victories of the first phase and sustaining the activities across the country and opening our doors to thousands who joined the Faith. It was a time of mass expansion and great excitement. This phase lasted from the early 1970's to 1980's. The third phase was the period from the mid 1980's to the mid 1990's. This was characterized by a realization that there were insufficient numbers of trained resources to facilitate the rapid growth experienced in the 1970's and activities became more focused in specific areas and the strengthening of local Spiritual Assemblies and the development of the institute process began. The Bahá'í Faith has just begun the next plan of 2006 - 2010 (the second five year plan of the 21st century) and this emphasizes the educational process that is the engine of sustained growth in the community. Of the 25 officially recognized possible Local Spiritual Assembly areas, currently twenty one (21) have elected Local Spiritual Assemblies (LSA’s) to encourage, guide and support the development of the Faith in their areas. At Ridvan 2006 the cluster areas were adjusted according to the perceived needs & learning that had taken place during the past 5 years. There are now 5 clusters: North West, North East, Central, South and Tobago.

Bibliography

  1. "The History of the Baha'i Faith in Trinidad and Tobago" An original research thesis by Kathy Farabi (© 2003)
  2. http://bahai-library.com/books/bw18/720-748.html
  3. The Bahá'í World vol. XVIII p.733 & p.809
  4. http://bahai-library.org/books/latinamerica.lamb.html
  5. The Bahá'í World vol. XX p.929
  6. http://bahai-library.org/unpubl.articles/black.roses.html
  7. http://www.naparima.org/laltoo.htm
  8. The Bahá'í World vol.XIV p.101, p.316 & p.425
  9. Funarel Program for Dr Henry "Harry" Wesley Moulton Collymore
  10. The First Bahá'í Wedding in Trinidad - 4th August 1970
  11. The election of the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'í of Trinidad and Tobago{/modal}
  12. Bahá'í International News Service No. 35 Apr-May 1984
  13. Mr H Collis Featherstone, and wife 610 Radio interview
  14. Inter Religious Organization of Trinidad and Tobago Annual General Meeting Report 2006
  15. Mr. Doudou Diène, Special Rapporteur to the United Nations
  16. Bahá'í Philately

 
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