Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 12th 2017 Contents SHIVANEE RAMLOCHAN
met Angelo Bissessarsingh
before he was famous, and
before he was sick. He read
from his body of work, which
was already growing far beyond
any modest capacity to contain
it, at Paper Based Bookshop on
October 19, 2013.
It was Angelo's first reading at the
Paper Based Bookshop.
The store's owner, Joan Dayal,
and I both knew within moments of
hearing him claim the microphone
with an anecdotal flourish, that it
would not be his last.
Fame and illness have ways of
galvanising action. People produce
some of their finest (and most foul)
work when they're facing the gal-
lows, or when they're polishing their
Who's Who citations.
Neither of these—not terminal
cancer, nor celebrity—initiated any
brilliance in Angelo that he did not
What was within him burned with
the need to make history accessible,
the daily bread of the wage worker,
maxi taxi driver and Charlotte Street
grocer. His sickness and his popular
appeal were not the making of An-
gelo; they influenced, but did not
dictate the quality of his scholarship,
and the range of its magnetism.
Yet “scholarship” may be too dis-
tancing a word for the substance and
delivery of Angelo's writing.
Many history books hold them-
selves at cold, academic remove.
I have read each of Angelo's four
published books, and each of them
seeks to bring the reader closer to
history's living pulse.
From Walking with the Ancestors
(2014) to Virtual Glimpses into the
Past (2016), what impressed me
most was the consistent readabili-
ty of these volumes, the sense that
by making the past prominent we
might make the present all the more
If we measure men by what they
leave behind, then the Virtual Muse-
um of Trinidad and Tobago, Angelo's
Facebook hub for historic findings,
is a more powerful legacy than the
brick and mortar mansions of many.
It isn't a wild conjecture to im-
agine that this virtual Facebook page
is the site of more daily traffic than
T&T's own National Museum.
The Virtual Museum, and An-
gelo's personal Facebook profile
(now converted into a page of re-
membrance) are less like collegiate
lecterns and more akin to village
The posts were often as conver-
sational, jocular and wryly witty as
was Angelo himself, if you had the
fortune of a half-hour in which he
might bend your ear on vintage cars,
goat racing, 1920s Port-of-Spain, or
the Trinidad Railway Co.
It was in these rambling reminis-
cences on trains and classic automo-
biles, pottery middens and Roman
coins, that Angelo's vast online
readership alleviated its everyday
Here, history became the very best
incarnation of itself: not a palliative,
but a promise that annals and ar-
chives had value in addressing the
land disputes, item classifications
and identity crises of 2017.
In the Virtual Museum, and in
the books that brought it to print
publication, the practical, hopeful
applications of history had a space
to make themselves heard.
Angelo was not merely raising
budding historians; he was engag-
ing his readers and followers to use
history to think proactively.
Though he was thanked for this
in his lifetime, one senses that the
manifestation of that gratitude
might never be sufficient.
Who, after all, stands poised to
fill Angelo's shoes? The work of
a popular historian is a marriage
of meticulous, verifiable research
methods and savvy, socially-at-
T&T history has hardly ever been
so entertaining and educational as
under Angelo's capable, confident
wing—and, there, tied up in a bil-
lowing patriotic bow.
Perhaps in looking to the future,
it is futile to hope for carbon copies
of Angelo, and more productive to
consider the good work his deeds
His history books reside proudly in
homes, schools, non-governmental
organisations; they have been gifted
to presidents and prime ministers,
whom we hope will crack open their
glossy covers for more than photo
Without the patronage of book-
seller Nigel R Khan, what kind of
publication tours might Angelo's
volumes have received?
Sunday, February 12, 2017 guardian.co.tt
An elegy for Angelo
Late historian and author Angelo
Bissessarsingh shares a reflection at
the 2015 NGC Bocas Lit Fest South,
as former T&T Guardian editor Judy
Raymond listens. PHOTO COURTESY:
BOCAS LIT FEST/MARLON JAMES
If we measure men by
what they leave behind,
then the Virtual Museum
of Trinidad and Tobago,
Angelo's Facebook hub for
historic findings, is a more
powerful legacy than the
brick and mortar mansions
of many. It isn't a wild
conjecture to imagine that
this virtual Facebook page
is the site of more daily
traffic than T&T's own
What instruments of state and
private sector stand armed to
smooth the trials of cultural archi-
vists, research-oriented scholars
and amateur historians in our so-
To wrestle with archives in search
of illumination can yield rewards;
we can but hope that that specific
labour is given the prominence An-
gelo fought for it to possess.
In my last private conversation
with Angelo, we spoke of cemeteries.
We reflected on them as land-
marks of revelation, as well as cra-
dles of despair.
I do not think Angelo Bissessars-
ingh would begrudge his mourners
their despair, but he might point
to the hope that lies in graveyards,
nestled alongside the polished head-
stones of many a heartbreak.
He knew better and more intri-
cately than most men how strong the
spirit of human resilience is called to
be, and how to honour that call til the
last breath. (See Photo on Page B2)
EDITOR'S NOTE: Shivanee
Ramlochan is a poet and blogger.
She writes on books for the Sunday
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