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The Presbyterian Missionary Efforts in Trinidad

The Presbyterian Missionary Efforts in Trinidad

Author: Satnarayan Maharaj

Sarah Morton was ignorant of Hinduism

In a letter to the editor published in another daily newspaper, Anand Arnold of Curepe condemned me for statements I made during a Ramayan Yagna at the El Dorado South Hindu School on February 23.

I am the Secretary General of the Maha Sabha and when I speak at a religious function in a Hindu religious institution, I speak about Hinduism, our struggles and our achievements.

Mr Arnold, who claims to be a Presbyterian, went to El Dorado to listen to the 50 years of achievements by Hindus who were subjected to every conceivable deception in the conversion process.

Arnold wrote: "Sat spoke ill of every existing religion, especially Christians ... Mr Maharaj disrespected Sarah Morton, one of the missionaries who brought the Presbyterian Faith to Trinidad."

In fact, I quoted firstly from an Anglican report on, "the Coolie Orphan Home" established in 1856 by FW Burnley, a sugar planter in the district of Tacarigua.

The Anglican report stated: "The Coolie Orphan Home proudly proclaimed was a bridgehead for an assault on heathenism. Orphans were duly baptised and christened with the names of the ships that brought them and their parents to Trinidad. Indian names were never given to them."

I then drew reference to Rev Gamble's 1864 report to the Baptist Missionary Society which stated: "Here in Trinidad we have many thousands of Hindus and Mussulmans with their heathenist rites and impute practices."

He blamed this on the "debasing and defiling system of Hinduism."

Rev William Moister, a Methodist, wrote in 1883: "These people (Hindus) have brought their ideology and superstitions and have in many places erected their idols, shrines and temples where they perform their noisy and foolish ceremonies."

And finally, to emphasise how Hinduism was misrepresented and vilified, I quoted Anand Arnold's great Lady of Presbyterianism, Sarah Morton, who wrote in a Canadian publication called the Presbyterian Witness: "These stories (Puranas) samples of wicked absurdities that delight the hearts of the Hindu people."

She continued: "To make a feast and cause Brahmans to read them (Puranas) to the assembled crowd is an act of the highest merit. It should make us humble to see how the boasted intellect of man can degrade itself."

Morton's final lines in that article betrayed her intention, which was to extract money from Canadians.

She wrote: "The writer humbly hopes that the reading of them may draw forth anew the sympathy and aid of Christians for those who are without God."

John Morton was a Presbyterian minister in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. Because of ill health, he was advised to seek a warmer place in which to live, and together with his wife Sarah and daughter Agnes, left Nova Scotia on November 31, 1867, aboard the ship Mickmack. Morton landed in Trinidad on January 3, 1868.

Most of what we know about the "good work" of the Mortons and other Canadians who sailed down to civilise the Hindus of Trinidad, comes from reports made available to us via converts themselves.

But there are Trinidad scholars who have conducted their own researches, not only among local records, but also through archives in Canada.

One such scholar/researcher is Dr Dennis Moore, who holds a doctorate in political science from Queen's University, Canada.

After diligent research, Dr Moore published in 1995, a book titled Racial Ideology in Trinidad, with some in-depth analysis of the United Presbyterian Church of Canada and its activities in Trinidad.

I hold, in my library, an autographed copy in which he writes of the role of Sarah Morton.

The lady was no doubt gentle and kind, but when she wrote articles in the Presbyterian Witness in Canada, through which she hoped to gain vast donations, she was not so gentle about the Hindus.

In one article she totally misrepresented Hinduism: "To the powerful there is no sin... Ram Chandra (Our God Ram) appears to be the most powerful, but Hanuman the Monkey God proved stronger, as he jumped the sea from Ceylon."

According to Dr Moore: "Muslims who are called Mohammedans, did not escape the vilification that was mostly heaped upon Hindus."

There are many like Mr Arnold who attempt to change the history of Trinidad by sanitising the works and deeds of their heroes and heroines, but history is about facts. The undiluted truth.

Thank God, neither I nor the Maha Sabha and our Hindus have to depend on apologists like Mr Arnold when we remind the Hindu population of its history of survival in Trinidad and Tobago.

The Maha Sabha has a burden of duty to use history, not as an armory of weapons against other religions, but as a valuable source of evidence of the injustice done to Hindus.

No religion is superior to any other religion when each religion is judged by its own standards of what is right.

Sarah Morton was no doubt sincere to her cause, but exceedingly mischievous and ignorant from a Hindu point of view.

We want our children to know that her prejudices in favour of Christianity provides no basis for judging the value of Hindu traditions, rituals and beliefs.

Religious intolerance in the USA, Europe, Pakistan, India or anywhere is an evil mankind must confront.

The reverends Gamble, Moister and Morton are symbols of religious intolerance and racist posturing disguised as missionary philanthropy.

We have to confront their legacies and expose them to the closest scrutiny.

It is on the basis of an honest appraisal of our history that our children and future generations will grow to love and respect each other.

They should know of all the injustices, religious intolerance and widespread ignorance spread about their ancient customs.

My lecture was devoted to promoting harmony through a better knowledge of our past.

(Satnarayan Maharaj is the Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha)

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