By Hudson George
Tivoli is a village in St. Andrew, Grenada, bordering St. Patrick. It has a Roman Catholic Church and a Roman Catholic School. However, decades ago there was a conflict in Tivoli between the Roman Catholic priests and Orisha worshippers better known as a Shango worshippers during the last week in lent known as Holy Week.
The religious conflict had it roots in colonialism. The French had already established their version of colonisation with Roman Catholicism as the new religion for more than a century before the British took control of Grenada.
Therefore, the majority of Grenadians were Roman Catholic but deep inside the heart and soul of most Grenadians they are still tied to their African spirituality, that creates religious duality within the population and Tivoli became the centre of religious duality conflict during the last week in lent, known as Holy Week.
Basically, I remember as a small boy walking from Hermitage, St. Patrick to Tivoli R. C. School with exercise book, a textbook and no shoes on my feet, crossing the border that separate St. Patrick from St. Andrew over the Palm Bridge that creates the divides.
However, as a small boy those days I find the distance was very far to travel but I had no other choice but to pound the road barefooted morning and evening, even when the sun was very hot and I could have felt the heat at the bottom of my feet coming from the hot asphalt road.
I remember there were two Orisha shrines in the community. One of the shrines was controlled by well-known worldwide Orisha leader Norman Paul and the other shine was controlled by Tan Po Po. The two shines were not far apart from each other. They were walking distance apart, about seven minutes for the most, even though Norman Paul shrine was situated in Conference village.
On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church is not far away from the two shrines either. The walking distance from Norman Paul shine to the Catholic Church is about less than fifteen minutes. And from Tan Po Po shrine to the Catholic Church is about six minutes.
The parish priest in Tivoli had strong influence on the people who attended church service. On the other hand, The Shango leaders had great influence on their followers too. And what makes the conflict even more complicated some Grenadians who are Roman Catholic are Orisha worshippers too
I remember during that time Father Pyke was the parish priest at Tivoli R.C. Church. His influence spread beyond the village. He served as parishioner for Catholics in other villages in St. Andrew and even in some villages in St. Patrick, including Hermitage, Mt. Rose, Pointzfield and Observatory.
Father Pyke used to ride a motorbike scooter. Those days some people were scared of him. He had once physically abused an old lady called Ms. Anne Mumu from Tivoli by slapping her in her face. During those days it was common for priests to physically assault church members.
Not too long after I started school at Tivoli R. C. School, Father Pyke had left. He was replaced by Father Bowen and the church members were happy. However, after Father Pyke left, he died a couple months later and the people within the Catholic community did not mourn over his passing, they said he was a wicked priest.
Father Bowen was a better community priest. I remember hearing those faithful Catholic saying he was a nice priest. I remember he was a good draught board player and he used to visit the Handicraft Centre at Tivoli R.C. School to play the game draught with Mr. Valentine Viechweg who was head of the Handicraft Centre and then later on became principal of the Tivoli R.C. School.
In addition, during Holy Week lent time, Tivoli junction used to be a lively hot spot, as those wooden colourful buses such as Study Your Head, Leader G, Easy Going and Welcome loaded with Shango worshippers dressed in beautiful bright colours clothing with their heads rapped, passed through the junction heading to Norman Paul’s shrine and Tan Po Po Shrine, ringing bells, singing and chanting.
And while the drums are beating we could hear the rhythm of the different drums, while we were in the classrooms in the school. On the other hand, the Catholic priest was not happy with the Shango activities. I heard stories about some Catholic priests who confronted the Shango leaders about their religious activities, but they ignored those priests and there was nothing else those priests could have done to stop the Yoruba rituals.
During our lunch break as students, we used to take a walk past Ramdhanny shop to go see the religious activities at Tan Po Po shrine. Some students used to go past Tan Po Po shrine and walk towards Mr. Rengear shop and then walk through the side road towards Norman Paul’s shrine to see the activities.
But part of the religious conflict is that, while the Shango people were doing their rituals, the priest makes it mandatory for all students who are Roman Catholic by faith, must attend one hour from 11:00 AM to 12:00 Mid-Day, inside to church to participate in the Station of the Cross rituals. However, I was lucky not to be included in the service because I am not a Roman Catholic.
Those of us students who were not Roman Catholic were told to remain in our class and do some reading, while all the teachers are in the church with the Catholic students. During that time all teachers at the school were Roman Catholic, so they had no other choice but to follow the rules of the church.
Even though those of us who were not Roman Catholic were happy to be free from the religious activities at the Church, we had to be vigilant that the school Principal Mr. Braveboy “Bravey” don’t sneak up on us and see us doing anything that is not educational. If he catches us idling, we getting some real leather belt blows. Those days “Bravey” was more interested in going to get his drinks at Mr. Lyons shop after school.
In addition, some of us students who were not Roman Catholic had an option if we want to participate in the Station of the Cross rituals. I participated a few times when Father Bowen was the parish priest just to see what was going because he was a people’s person.
After Father Bowen left Tivoli, then came Father Zed who was much younger. Father Zed was originally from Czechoslovakia. It is said that he ran away when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia to stabilize and installed a new socialist’s regime.
One day I saw Father Zed boxed a student for talking inside the church, so I never went back. The student was originally from La. Poterie. I can never forget that day. However, I find the service was long and boring because I never really like going to church. I find the one hour service was like five hours.
Now that I am older and I understand that Roman Catholic rituals are similar the Orisha rituals and this is the reason the African slaves were able to use the Catholic saints in disguise, in order to practice their African spirituality and rituals.
Therefore, Norman Paul, Tan Po Po and the Roman Catholic priests were all worshipping the Almighty Creator, but colonialism was the only difference.