We all know what moving feels like. It entails making new friends, perhaps changing jobs and generally adapting to a new environment. But it’s even more challenging when that move involves crossing shores to an entire other nation, a nation that may not speak your language and may not understand or even accept your culture.
Some 174 years ago a mother would have held her children close, some even still at her bosom. But for the dream she was sold about having a better life, she would have chartered into the unknown. With only a prayer in her heart and belief in her god that she would make it to the end of lengthy and harsh journey alive, she would enter a ship, filled with her countrymen, en route to an island she knew not called Trinidad, which would eventually become her home.
This is a story of Taitree, an East- Indian indentured labourer, who would rose to become a cocoa proprietor in the late1800s. She would also become the matriarch of the Chatoor family who settled in Siparia, living in the mud house, she built with her own two hands.
Out of that mud house came doctors, lawyers and teachers, a fourth generation elder told Guardian Media.
Rajwantee Bullock is “proud from whence she came” and together with her children Andrea and Adrian, they have fought to preserve the mud house, using only of their personal earnings.
“My pension and NIS…. every cent went into preserving this mud house. We spent over $1M, over the years,” Bullock says.
For some who may think it a waste of time, she views the mud house as a significant representation and reminder of the hard work and sacrifices made by her forefathers and other indentured labourers who came to the shores of T&T.
In her quest to preserve this “family treasure,” Bullock did much research and salvaged as much remaining handiwork, she could find and transformed the mud house into a museum, which was officially opened last year on May 25.
Inside the museum presents an exhibition of East Indian artefacts like the “night nurse,” (aged and worn out enamel potties), jata—two stones used to grind grain to make flour and the takha—a carved hole in the wall of the mud house where valuables like jewellery and money were stored.
Since its opening, it has offered tours to schools, locals and tourists alike, educating them on the history of the Chatoor family’s mud house, as well as the history of indentured labourers in T&T.
Cocoa held a special place in the hearts of the Chatoor family and as such, of the 17- and- a- half acres that once produced cocoa, Bullock has kept a single cocoa tree which stands now as the “odd man” in a field filled with eggplants and oranges, among other fruits and vegetables.
However, more than the harvesting of or selling of cocoa, it was in the mud house, each generation of the Chatoor family was taught spiritual and moral values.
The girls were raised very different from the boys, who would sleep in one room with their father and then move to the upper room and sleep in hammocks when they became teenagers.
The girls were made to sleep closely together in one bed to form everlasting bonds, as was explained by Bullock. At their bed head, a picture of a deity would watch over them and the girls would learn to grow to emulate this deity.
Cooking was done by the women and with no refrigerators in those times; chicken, fish and other meats would be placed in large enamel pails, which were then placed on strings and hung from the ceiling of the kitchen.
It is the hope of Bullock that with the mud house museum, which holds all these memories, young people would learn how to treasure their history and how to pass it on.
Reporter: Bobbie Lee-Dixon