Complaints about ‘Shouters’ appeared in Trinidadian newspapers as early as the 1890s. In 1898 the Port of Spain Gazette described ‘a congregation of “Shouters”‘ who met every Sunday in a house in Tunapuna, near Port of Spain. Early twentieth century reports recount some of the religious practices of the group that would come to be known as followers of the Spiritual Baptist faith, including wakes and initiation rites. The ‘Shouters’ practiced a form of Christianity that had developed out of religious revivals in the nineteenth century, and drew deeply on West African religious practices. Their beliefs and forms of worship shared a great deal with the ‘Converted’ of St. Vincent and the ‘Jordanites’ of Guyana. From around 1909 there were increasingly vociferous calls in the press for suppression of the ‘Shouters’, which became louder after the government of St. Vincent passed the ‘Shakerism Prohibition Ordinance’ in 1912, making the practices of the ‘Shakers’ (the Converted) illegal.
In 1917 the legislature of Trinidad and Tobago passed the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance, followed in 1927 by Grenada’s ‘Public Meetings (Shakerism) Prohibitions Ordinance’. The Shouters Prohibition Ordinance was followed by many prosecutions, including that of Teacher Bailey and his congregation. Adherents of the Spiritual Baptist religion continued to worship, but more secretly. Earl Lovelace’s novel, The Wine of Astonishment, depicts this period in Trinidadian history. In the 1930s the labour leader Uriah ‘Buzz’ Butler called for religious freedom, including the repeal of the Ordinance, and his campaign was taken up in the 1940s by Elton George Griffith, a prominent Spiritual Baptist preacher. The campaign succeeded in 1951, when the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance was repealed. In 1996 the government of Trinidad and Tobago made the anniversary of the law’s repeal a national holiday, ‘Spiritual Shouter Baptist Liberation Day’.
An Ordinance to render illegal indulgence in the practices of the body known as the Shouters.
Ordinance Chapter 4. No. 19- 1940
Commencement 28th November, 1917
Short title 1. This Ordinance may be cited as the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance.
Definition of “Shouters’ meeting” 2. (1) A “Shouters’ meeting” means a meeting or gathering of two or more persons, whether indoors or in the open air, at which the customs and practices of the body known as Shouters (hereafter in this Ordinance referred to as “the Shouters”) are indulged in. The decision of any Magistrate in any case brought under this Ordinance as to whether the customs and practices are those of the Shouters shall be final, whether the persons indulging in such customs or practices call themselves Shouters or by any other name.
“Shouters’ house” 2) A “Shouters’ house” means any house or building or room in any house or building which is used for the purpose of holding Shouters’ meetings, or any house or building or room in any house or building which is used for the purpose of initiating any person into the ceremonies of the Shouters. The decision of any Magistrate in any case brought under this Ordinance as to whether a house or building or room in any house or building is a Shouters’ house shall be final.
Manager 3)The term “manager” includes any person having control over or charge of any estate or land whatsoever in the Colony.
No person to take part in Shouters’ meeting 3. It shall be an offence for any person to hold or to take part in or to attend any Shouters’ meeting or for any Shouters’ meeting to be held in any part of the Colony indoors or in the open air at any time of the day or night.
No Shouters’ house to be erected or maintained 4. It shall be an offence to erect or to maintain any Shouters’ house or to shut up any person in any Shouters’ house for the purpose of initiating such person into the ceremonies of the Shouters.
Owner or manager of estate or land to inform the Police of Shouters’ houses or meetings 5. (1) If it shall come to the knowledge of the owner or manager of any estate or land in the Colony that a Shouters’ house is being erected or maintained, or that Shouters’ meetings are being held, on the estate or land over which such owner or manager has control, he shall forthwith notify the Subordinate Police Officer in charge of the Police Station nearest to such house, estate or land of the erection or maintenance of such Shouters’ house or of the locality or place at which such Shouters’ meetings are being held.
(2) The manager or owner of any estate or land in the Colony who fails so to notify such Subordinate Police Officer as aforesaid, or who knowingly permits the erection or maintenance of any Shouters’ house or the holding of Shouters’ meetings on any estate or land over which he has control, shall be guilty of an offence.
Acts of indecency 6. It shall be an offence for any person at or in the vicinity of any Shouters’ meeting to commit or cause to be committed or to induce or to persuade to be committed any act of indecency.
Police may enter, without warrant, house or place where Shouters’ meeting is being held 7.(1) It shall be lawful for any party of members of the Police Force, of whom one shall be a Gazetted Police Officer or Subordinate Police Officer, without a warrant to enter at any time of the day or night, any house, estate, land, or place in or on which such Gazetted Police Officer or Subordinate Police Officer may have good ground to believe or suspect that s Shouters’ meeting is being held or where he may have good ground to believe or suspect that any person or persons is or are being kept for the purpose of initiation into the ceremonies of the Shouters, and to take the names and addresses of all persons present at such Shouters’ meeting or Shouters’ house.
(2) It shall also be lawful for any member of the Police Force to demand the names and addresses of any persons taking part in any meeting in the open air which he has good reason to believe is a Shouters’ meeting.
(3) Any person refusing to give his name and address to any member of the Police Force when asked to do so under the authority of this section shall be liable to be arrested and to be detained at a Police Station until his identity can be established.
Penalties 8. Any person guilty of an offence under this Ordinance shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine of two hundred and forty dollars.
‘The “Shouters” at Tunapuna’, Port of Spain Gazette 26 October 1898, p. 4.
‘A Growing Evil’, Port of Spain Gazette 25 April 1909, p. 2
Fraser, Adrian. From Shakers to Spiritual Baptists: The Struggle for Survival of the Shakers of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. St Vincent and the Grenadines: Kings-SVG, 2011.
Gibson, Kean. Comfa Religion and Creole Language in a Caribbean Community. Albany: State University of New York, 2001.
Jacobs, C. M. Joy Comes In the Morning: Elton George Griffith and the Shouter Baptists. Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago: Caribbean Historical Society, 1996.
Lovelace, Earl. The Wine of Astonishment. Oxford: Heinemann, 1982.
‘Spiritual Shouter Baptist Liberation Day’, Trinidad and Tobago National Library and Information System Authority http://www2.nalis.gov.tt/Research/SubjectGuide/SpiritualShouterBaptistLiberationDay/tabid/98/Default.aspx?PageContentID=53
‘Shouter Prohibition Ordinance (Full Text)’, Trinidad and Tobago National Library and Information System Authority http://www2.nalis.gov.tt/Research/SubjectGuide/SpiritualShouterBaptistLiberationDay/tabid/98/Default.aspx?PageContentID=58