By Charles Kong Soo
Trinidad and Tobago Guardian Online | Sunday, October 6, 2013
Topsoil being removed in the Orange Grove Savannah.
Historian Angelo Bissessarsingh says all construction work should be halted on the Government’s aquatic centre in the Orange Grove Savannah (also called the Eddie Hart Grounds) so that an archaeological investigation can be carried out. This was to determine if the area contained priceless historical and cultural artefacts dating back to Spanish colonial times or the First Peoples and can be declared an indigenous protected area.
Bissessarsingh said, “These spaces are very important to the history and culture of the area and by extension T&T. “When projects like these are undertaken, there should be an archeological investigation before anything is done given the lack of consultation with the community.
“When those construction equipment went in, I grieve for what might have been lost. My experience has taught me that when public spaces have existed for as long as the Eddie Hart Grounds has, there are usually artefacts such as coins and ornaments in the subsoil and topsoil.”
Approximately two lots of topsoil was removed from the Eddie Hart Grounds during excavation on September 20. Residents said they were told that the excavation was done without the knowledge of officials at the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago or the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation. Bissessarsingh said there were First Peoples’ settlements spread across that corridor leading into Arima.
He said during the 18th century onwards, there were Spanish encomiendas or plantations given to conquistadors along with an allocation of semi-enslaved First Peoples. Bissessarsingh said there were encomiendas at Tacarigua, Arouca and Caura and that certain spaces existed in perpetuity, especially cemeteries and public spaces such as the old Spanish Square in St Joseph, since 1595.
He said Palmiste Park in South was not as old as the Eddie Hart Grounds and treasures such as 19th-century coins, gun flints, pottery bottles and objects of great antiquarian value to the history of the Republic can still be discovered there.
Bissessarsingh said many people knew the savannah as the Eddie Hart Grounds but it was known long ago as the Orange Grove Sugar Plantation. He said the plantation was owned up to 1850 by William Hardin Burnley, who was the richest man in Trinidad, quite possibly the richest man in its history. Bissessarsingh said upon Burnley’s death, his net worth was probably millions of pounds.
When he died, the property was inherited by his son William Frederick who lived in England and could not come to Trinidad, so it was managed in trust by William Eccles, who founded the St Mary’s Anglican Church and the St Mary’s Orphanage in Tacarigua. He said parts of the estate were sold off to various private entities such as Caroni 1975 Ltd, parts became Trincity, Blue Waters, Trintoplan and Belgrove Funeral Home.
Bissessarsingh said the ground itself was not just a space, it was a social structure and gathering space where generations of people from the time of slavery to the present day met. He said he understood the need for growth and development, but he believed that more consultation with the people had to be done before the aquatic centre was built and not in an ad-hoc manner.
Belix: Protect indigenous peoples’ sites
President of the local indigenous peoples group Partners for First Peoples Roger Belix said the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which was adopted by 144 member states, including T&T, stated quite clearly that burial sites and artefacts of indigenous peoples should be protected and returned.
Belix said, “These sites are sacred and also historical to the peoples of indigenous blood. While they would want to say we don’t exist, they should be preserved and be recognised as indigenous peoples’ sites and returned to the indigenous peoples by the people who now occupy our land.”
Resident: We were not adequately informed
Vernon De Leon, 63, a resident of Arouca for the past 43 years, said there was still no meaningful response from the Government, and the community was still at square one since consultation was limited.
De Leon said while the residents were not against the Ministry of Sports or the Government, appreciating that they had noble intentions, they believed, however, that they were not adequately informed about the implications of converting a section of the savannah into a car park for 300 vehicles, a swimming pool and a road running through the savannah. He said since the car park area was paved there was an increase in flooding on the southern side of the savannah.
De Leon said paving over and destroying the aquifer in the savannah will cause even more flooding in the area and negatively impact the water supply for a significant part of the country as it served WASA’s eight water pumps around the savannah and provided water to north, east and central Trinidad.
He said the low crime in the area was a result of having access to the facilities in the savannah for activities ranging from picnics, sporting events and elderly people coming from as far as Arima to walk leisurely in the outdoors. He feared that this may reverse. De Leon, whose children, Melissa and Marlon represented T&T in track and field, said they were part of “Buggy” Haynes’ football club before they went into athletics, and he used to take his daughter jogging on the field.
He said the area had a rich sporting tradition with the likes of Stern John, “Buggy” Haynes, Eddie Hart, Ellis “Puss” Achong and Keith Aqui and he feared the demise of that legacy with the loss of the savannah. De Leon said of historical significance was a Chinese Pistash tree that still stands in the savannah that dates back to the 1800s to the time of William Hardin Burnley. He said there were alternatives for the location of the aquatic centre and other facilities to be considered such as Trinity College East.
De Leon said there was enough space to accommodate all the proposed facilities in one location south of the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway, opposite Pan Trinbago and Blue Waters without “ripping out the heart of the community.”