Monday, February 23, 2009



When I arrived in Trinidad newly, a student told me that if I had dark glasses on top of my white jacket, I would have looked just like the Doc. Like who? Dr. Eric Williams, he explained. I thanked him for the flattery but thought that I am not that short or that bald. Of course, I admire Eric Williams as an intellectual and as a nation-builder but I did not know much about his life.

An opportunity came when I was asked to facilitate a television studio panel discussion on ‘Democratic Fatherhood’ for NCC channels 4 and 16 that was broadcast on Independence Day 2008. I had read a speech by Erica Williams in which she paid tribute to her father even while admitting his shortcomings. I wanted the studio panel to read that speech before the programme but the producers said that they could reach Erica by phone and I was able to interview her on what type of father he was. We concluded that he was a democratic type of father.

Recently, I met Erica for the first time and while we had lunch in Movietown, she shamed me by asking if I had visited the Eric Williams Collection in the Main Library of UWI? No, I had not and she said, ‘shame on you’. I decided that I would go and see it and she told me that there was a seminar coming up with international participants and that it was going to be a good opportunity for me to see the collection with a group. I agreed.

I was amazed to discover how much I had in common with Dr Williams. The documentary, ‘The Will of the People’, produced by Che Rodriguez, opened with the unforgettable statement that Williams was a wizard and that like all wizards, he was regarded with awe, not always with love but always with respect. I often felt that that was how some people regarded me but I also wondered why the producer used the word wizard instead of the Trini creole equivalent, obeah man.

I also heard the voice of Williams, not for the first time for it has been played on radio before, but it struck me that he never raised his voice and I am told often that I am soft-spoken myself but not while I am on a stage. I could bawl when I am performing on stage but that is perhaps because I still need to attract attention whereas Williams was so sure that his audience was listening to every word he spoke. Although in one of the clips, two people were whispering to each other as he spoke.

Then he walked and I sat up instantly. In that clip of his visit to China that was repeated in the short documentary, Doctor Williams walked just like I do. He walked as if he was floating the way that the big masquerade would float during carnival rather than walk like the little mas, floating with the legs stretched out in front of him in short confident strides without bending the knees. What a strange coincidence for that is exactly how I walk, making some women in the village in Nigeria where I grew up to nick-name me Oje la nwayoo (the gentle walker).

I am not bragging but the similarities are startling to me. Eric Williams studied with scholarships and so did I, he got a first class honours degree and so did I, he got his PhD from the UK and so did I and his dissertation was published to wide acclaim and so was mine, he left the UK to teach in America at a historically black university and so did I and he relocated to Trinidad from there and so did I after roughly the same amount of years in the US. I was still thinking of these similarities when the film ended and we walked downstairs to the second floor of the library to view the Eric Williams Collection.

I could not believe my eyes when I saw his desk the way it was when he left it. The desk was chaotic, crowded with papers and books, files and folders exactly the way my table usually looks all the time! He was as messy as I am, no more, no less. Now I know that I am in good company and so when next a bossy cleaner tries to straighten out my desk at the office, I will tell her to go and see the Eric Williams Collection!

Of course, I am no Eric Williams and there would never be another one like him. For instance, I have no series of heavy industries that I established to build a new nation, I have not liberated any country from colonialism and I have not headed any state or government. Moreover, I do not own a collection of tobacco pipes or nicely carved elephant tusks nor will you find a picture of a group of children and I with a stick of cigarette between my lips.

Health education has enlightened us more on the harms of tobacco and environmental awareness has taught us not to display elephant tusks but in this case, it is a piece of history given to him on his state visits to African countries and the way he treasured the tusks shows his warmth towards mother Africa, though he swore allegiance to only one mother – Mother Trinidad and Tobago (two mothers?).

Biko Agozino is Professor of Sociology, Coordinator of Criminology Unit, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Deputy Dean for Graduate Studies and Research, Faculty of Social Sciences, UWI, St. Augustine.

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