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How mauvais langue mashed up Bill and Eric
William “Bill” Bronté-Tinkew, a young student at the then Teachers Training College on upper St Vincent St, emerged as victim of a plot: the Doctor was becoming too fond of the young “Bill,” and there were those who nourished jealousy over the relationship.
“Eric had certain faults; he would walk around and get stories from people and believed many of them,” says the man who turned out to be a successful businessman.
Bronté-Tinkew, of English/white and Chinese ancestry with undoubted other ethnicities and nationalities thrown to make him a true true Trini, first encountered the erudite scholar of West Indian history in 1951-52 when Dr Williams delivered visiting lectures at the Teachers’ Training College; Williams was then in the employ of the Caribbean Commission.
It is fairly well known that when Dr Williams broke with the Commission, he decided to “set down my bucket here” where taxpayers had underwritten his classical, British West Indian education. He picked up the anti-colonial struggle which eventually led to the formation of the People’s National Movement, the institution he established with associates such as Bronté-Tinkew.
The times the young “Bill” had with the older “Bill” were good ones. A camaraderie was struck between Williams, rising in the colonial period with a message and an ambition to create a nation, and a young teacher who was sold on the emerging nationalist philosophy.
However, while Dr Williams had begun to map out his political future, Bronté-Tinkew had other ambitions.
One obvious attraction to Bronté-Tinkew for Williams, with his eye on the political geography of Trinidad and Tobago, was that the school teacher belonged to the north-eastern end of Trinidad, the political constituency of the Eastern Counties, which had stalwart Victor Bryan of the Trinidad Labour Party entrenched; he had to be conquered by a popular candidate in the 1956 general election.
Bronté-Tinkew was the “teacher” in the village, the insurance salesman on the side, and writer of newspaper stories for the Trinidad Guardian and the Gazette; he must have been seen as an attractive prospect.
“He (Eric) would jump in my car; I am going home to Toco by my mother, and my mother is cooking real country food; and we would sit down and eat. I showed him all the villages of the north coast; he would chat just like how you and I would chat; if I were late with his tippe tambo, he would not be pleased.”
“I could not lose the election. I was the scout master, I introduced the CYO (the Catholic Youth Organisation); I had the cultural club; and you know in a country district when you’re the teacher and do all these things, you’re looked upon as a leader; and he chose me because he thought I was the right man” says Bronté-Tinkew.
But not only did the young Bill from Toco have other aspirations for himself, but there were also others who did not want to see him as candidate.
“One day at a political meeting when they called on me to go to the platform to speak, I felt a cold steel behind my neck and a voice warned ‘don’t move a foot’; I stood there frozen. Eventually they called someone else to the platform,” says Bronté-Tinkew.
“I could not look around, so I never found out who the person with the cold steel was.”
“When Dr Williams asked me, ‘are you going to contest the seat’, I told him no.
“You really not going?’ I said ‘no’; he said ‘haul you arse and get out”.
“That was in the Hajal Building on Queen Street,” says Bronté-Tinkew.”
Interestingly about the political times, there were deep suspicions about Williams and his band of “communists.”
“We entered the Hajal building one by one, and at some time apart; we did not want to attract suspicion that something was going on in there,” says Bronte-Tinkew.
Among those who began gathering, Bronté-Tinkew remembers Montano, O’Halloran, Victor Campbell, Andrew Carr, Mosaheb, Simonette, Bermudez, Lio Robinson, Oli Mohammed, Dr Solomon, David Toney, Roy Richardson, Clovis, the master tailor from Arima, young Leroy Morris and Thomasos.
“We were like salesmen for the party. We were organised in such a way that every village had someone selling the party,” says Bronté-Tinkew, explaining that “I would have to set up the whole of the north coast, plenty cottage meetings. The reaction of the villagers was very positive,” he says.
“We were selling an independent nation to Trinidad and Tobago. The word colonialism became an obscene word; we were beneath the English and subservient to them, and we wanted to be our own masters of whatever we did and whatever we had; no colonial secretary was wanted.
“We were also selling Dr Williams as one of the most brilliant men in the world; he is a born-Trinidadian, and he had come to take us out of colonial bondage, and he had given the idea that we had to think for ourselves. We were marketing house-to-house. We were not being paid, but Eric was that type of fella when he talks to you; you do.”
Bronté-Tinkew’s association with Premier Williams continued after the election of 1956.
“I received 100 acres of land in the Cumuto area, and I produced one million pounds of chicken per year and sold it to Cannings; 500 sows for the processing plant at the end of the highway; 40 sides of pig every two to three weeks,”; those were the production levels for the gift of the land, says Bronté-Tinkew.
Later on in his business life, Bronté-Tinkew bought over the Mauritzen custom brokerage business and was owner of the Arnos Vale Hotel in Tobago.
Of the reason for the break with Williams, Bronté-Tinkew tells an intriguing story.
“One day I went up to the office of Ray Monsegue, from Toco. As I reached upstairs, I saw a shadowy figure running away. I said Ray who is that? ‘He said Victor Williams.’
“So I asked where he went and Ray said perhaps to the bathroom.”
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“I said let me check: Victor came out from the bathroom with his hands up trembling: ‘Oh God, oh God, don’t do it, don’t do it.’ I said don’t do what? ‘You not going to shoot me; I emptied my pocket; I have no gun. ‘So it’s not true then.’ I said, “What will I shoot you for?”
“After that incident Victor invited me one Sunday to his home in Valsayn and said ‘let’s have a drink;’ not until you tell me what you called me for.
“He reminded me about the time on Queen St. He also asked me when last Eric called me. I said he is busy; he said ‘No. Somebody told him the next time you saw me, Victor, you were going to shoot me.’
“But he said ‘don’t worry we found out it was a lie. Eric asked me to apologise to you because what he heard was a lie.’
“I was too close to Eric; I refused everything that was offered in politics. I became the number one producer of life insurance for National Life of Canada; the first million dollar producer,” says Bronté-Tinkew.
After that incident “the relationship with Dr Williams was never as close as before; if we met we would talk but that was it.
“He recognised me as a helper but not one involved in active politics.” It was an unlikely grouping of politician and businessman spiked by political intrigue.