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Prohibition

From 1917 to 1951 the Spiritual/Shouter Baptist faith was banned in Trinidad by the colonial government of the day.  The legislation to enact this ban was called the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance and it was passed on 16 November 1917.  The reason given for the ordinance was that the Shouters made too much noise with their loud singing and bell ringing (Henry 32-35) and disturbed the peace.  During worship, participants danced, shouted, shook and fell to the ground in convulsions. Such behaviour was deemed unseemly by the more traditional and conservative elements in the society.  Also, the established churches regarded such behaviour as heathen and barbaric. Furthermore, they were concerned about the large number of people who were leaving the traditional churches to join the Spiritual Baptist faith.  The police, who had been persecuting the Baptists for several years, also wanted them muzzled.

Although not said openly, the real reason for the antagonism towards the Baptists was that many of their practices were of African origin.  Things African were associated with the shame and degradation of slavery and a large part of the population of Trinidad did not want to be reminded of this.  Hence the strong lobbying to have the religion banned.  In the end, the colonial government responded to the complaints of the taxpayers, landowners and police by passing the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance.

Those thirty-four years of prohibition were difficult for the Spiritual/Shouter Baptists.  The ordinance forbid them from erecting or maintaining any “Shouter House” or from holding meetings.  Estate managers and owners were required to report any meetings to the police, and the police were authorized to enter a building where a meeting was being held, without a warrant. (See full-text of Ordinance).  Worshippers were arrested, beaten and jailed if they were caught practising their religion.  They had to flee to the hills and forests to practise their religion.  Even then, the police still pursued and brutalized them.  Nevertheless the Spiritual/Shouter Baptists survived.


During the 1920s and 1930s, the Baptists fought many court battles and tried to counteract the negative perceptions of their faith.  It was only when Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler emerged as a labour leader that attitudes towards the Baptists gradually began to change.  Butler himself was a devoted Baptist and controversial figure.  His public meetings were reminiscent of a Baptist prayer meeting. His prominence gave the religion some legitimacy although he too was jailed for his political and religious and beliefs.


During the 1940s a new leader emerged to champion the Baptists’ cause.  Grenadian-born Elton George Griffith started a campaign to have the Prohibition Ordinance repealed.  Under his leadership the numerous Independent Baptist churches formed the West Indian Evangelical Spiritual Baptist Faith.  In 1940, as a united body, they presented a petition to the Legislative Council asking for the ordinance to be repealed.  It was not granted but a few years later Albert Gomes asked the council to appoint a committee to look into a repeal of the 1917 ordinance.  A committee was formed but it took several years before it released its findings.  Meanwhile Griffith and his followers continued to lobby members of the Legislative Council to support the repeal.  Finally, after much lobbying, the bill to repeal the ordinance was passed on 30 March 1951.  The Spiritual/Shouter Baptists were free to practise their religion.