The Spiritual Baptists, also known as “Shouters”, is a group which operates in a syncretic belief system featuring strong West African (Yoruba) and Christian elements. Another popular type of spiritual-based, African-derived religion is Revivalism which shares similar beliefs, rituals and practices; it emerged into Jamaica during the 18th to 19th century through the Great Revival Movement with some forms of the Native Baptist Movement.
The Spiritual Baptists evolved as an organisation in the Caribbean, and in Trinidad and Tobago in particular, after an 18th century war between Britain and the United States. Oral testimonies have noted that during the war a significant number of enslaved African-Americans, located in the American southern states, joined British forces in exchange for promises of their freedom. After the war, six companies of enslaved Africans and their families were sent to Trinidad by the British to settle. While some found alternate areas to live, others stayed in areas known as Company villages. These settlers maintained their Baptist faith of the Second Great Awakening and combined it with Gullah cultural practices emanating from Georgia in the American South.
Company village settlers were exposed to the Baptist Missionary Society’s influence while settlers in the North of Trinidad practised their faith brought from America.
The name Shouter was derived from a practice in Baptist churches. Their worship involved dancing, singing, spirit-possessed members clapping, shouting and making loud noises during open air services. This oftentimes occurred in spite of objections from the general public. As such, the term Shouter was seen as a derogatory term on the twin-island state.
The Spiritual and Shouter Baptists share similarities with practices consist of mourning, prilgrimages, thanksgiving services and colourful spiritual clothes; with symbolic sacred items such as candles, water, flowers and glass vessels filled with water. The Spiritual and Shouter Baptist practices were banned in Trinidad by the colonial government through the promulgation of the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance of 1917. The ordinance stated that noises created by Shouters were intolerable, and that loud singing and bell ringing caused a public disturbance. The ordinance prohibited the erection or maintenance of Shouter Churches or the holding of meetings. Those found practising in public faced prosecution and as a result many fled to the hills to worship.
Despite the challenges faced, the Spiritual and Shouter Baptists survived as a discrete group. Several lobby attempts were made to the Legislative Council to have the Act repealed. This lobbying led to passage of the Prohibition Ordinance Act in the 1950’s which granted them the freedom to worship publicly. On March 30, 1996, the Spiritual Shouter Baptists were granted an annual holiday,” The Baptist Liberation Day,” in commemoration of their religious and political struggles.
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