The issue of the renaming of the Trinity Cross has gained
momentum following the decision of High Court Judge Jamadar
in which he held the naming of our highest national award
the Trinity Cross was discriminatory.
The judge opined that national awards must bear symbols that
are embracing of all creeds. Plainly he shared the views of
the applicants Maha Sabha and Islamic Relief Centre that the
designation Trinity Cross was skewed towards Christians.
In the light of this it was of interest to note the response
of the former librarian with the Central Library Services,
Wilhelmina McDowell-Benjamin, to the controversy.
She was, it appears, instrumental in the design of the cross
(not necessarily in its name) in the early 1980s. She claims
religion never entered her mind at the time she did the design.
She researched the matter thoroughly and found there were
many meanings to cross, one of which was as an
ornament in the form of a cross, worn as a distinction by
knights and people of exceptional merit and bravery.
Mrs McDowell-Benjamin may be perfectly sincere but she misses
the point. What is important here is not so much what informed
the design but what informed the name of the award.
In any event does it matter that she did not consciously think
Many people behave in a particular fashion or do things in
a particular way perfectly unconscious at the time that they
are behaving in accordance with their own socialisation or
To a Christian person, therefore, the concept of the cross
might be so ingrained, that person might well be promoting
it as a part of our national being without any conscious consideration
of the fact.
Reverence and respect for the cross in a Christian is automatic.
That the cross does not have the same significance in other
faiths cannot be doubted. Representatives of the Hindu and
Muslim groups certainly made that clear to the judge.
Consider the meaning of cross in the Concise Oxford.
There are several meanings of cross in the dictionary. The
first two pertain to the literal meaning of the actual thing
a mark, object formed by two intersecting lines; an
upright post used in antiquity for crucifixion.
The third meaning reads, The Cross on which Christ was
crucified and it is significant to note that of all
the several dictionary meanings of cross this was the only
one that was in upper case (capitals).
It is true, as Mrs McDowell-Benjamin suggested, one of the
other dictionary meanings is that of a cross-shaped
decoration awarded for personal valour or indicating
rank in the order of knighthood.
And if one did not live in a vibrantly multi-ethnic and multi-religious
society the possibility of religious identification with this
national award might not have been in issue nor would it have
become an issue. One could have ascribed the name as indicative
of personal valour or the like and there would be no contention.
We, however, live in a country where it cannot be said with
assurance that 50 per cent of the population belong to any
one religion. It is necessary, therefore, that the Government
should be equally sensitive to the feelings and concerns of
all religious groups.
If the term Trinity Cross (with a capital C) invokes the crucifixion
of Christ it may be viewed as exclusionary in its intent by
these groups. With that in mind it is perhaps necessary to
change the name of our highest award to something more reflective
of our diversity in race and religion. After all we boast
in our National Anthem that here every creed and race
find an equal place and this is what we would like to
ensure, both in perception and reality.
There are some who might wish to posit there is no need for
a name change; that Trinity refers to the country of T&T
and that cross has a wider meaning (as indicated by Mrs McDowell-Benjamin).
They may see it as catering to some form of religious imposition
by changing the name of an award we have had for over 40 years.
That view in my opinion is short-sighted and it is evident
the Government in vowing to adopt the judgment of Justice
Jamadar does not share it. If so many people in the country
feel excluded, discriminated against or even insulted by the
current designation of our highest award that it causes an
annual almost bitter controversy why not change it? Why not?
Those who argue against the change are not the ones who feel
sidelined so why should they oppose it? In other words, unless
the new proposed name turns out to be discriminatory to them,
they really have no grounds for complaint.
The only argument I have heard held out that may have an iota
of substance is that if the Trinity Cross is renamed what
about all other names, including that of the island of Trinidad.
In other words where will it all end? This approach is confrontational
and really does not seek to understand the issue.
Trinidad is a name coined over 500 years ago. In those intervening
hundreds of years any original linking of the name Trinidad
to the concept of the Holy Trinity would have become merely
a historical fact at a time when no ancestor of any of the
current inhabitants of this island lived here. They came long,
long afterwards. In a way it would be presumptuous of any
of us today to seek to quarrel with the name given in 1498
(albeit in Spanish).
In contrast, the Trinity Cross is an appellation chosen at
a time when we were actually in the process of forming the
independent nation we are today, a nation of many creeds,
races and religions.
We should have had the foresight and sensitivity then to designate
our highest award by a less exclusionary and more all-inclusive
name. We did not. It is not too late to correct that faux