Isolation is the enemy. That is, Africans of the diaspora are weakened by division. More exactly, when we come into contact with one another, we tend to focus more on our differences than our similarities. At the same time, however, it is pretty amazing when we discover the cultural unity of Africans in the diaspora. Recently, I travelled to Trinidad & Tobago, which shares a little-known spiritual legacy with African Americans.
AFRICAN AMERICANS IN TRINIDAD
THE 2ND GREAT AWAKENING. African American and Trinidadian spiritual traditions are joined at the hip. Of course, we share common African roots. More recently, however, there was a wave of African American spiritualists who came to Trinidad & Tobago as part of the Second Great Awakening, which was a Protestant religious revival that took place during the early 19th century in the United States. The movement began around 1790, gained momentum by 1800 and, after 1820, membership rose rapidly among Baptist and Methodist congregations whose preachers led the movement. The Second Great Awakening was characterized by enthusiasm, emotion, and an appeal to the super-natural, which enabled the movement to absorb greater numbers of African Americans, the vast majority of whom remained loyal to African spiritual practices like Hoodoo, Conjure and Root Work.
Revivals were the main feature of the Second Great Awakening. Through the revivals, Pastors enrolled hundreds of thousands of new members in existing evangelical denominations, which led to the formation of new denominations. Among the new denominations were numerous syncretic African American religious movements, including the Zion Revivalists of Jamaica. Of particular interest to practitioners of Orisa Lifestyle is the Spiritual Baptist faith which combines elements of Yoruba spirituality and Christianity.
THE MERIKINS. The Second Great Awakening coincided with another wave of African Americans who resettled in Trinidad & Tobago. The Baptist faith was intensified in Trinidad by the Merikins, former American slaves who were recruited by the British to fight, as the Corps of Colonial Marines, against the Americans during the War of 1812. After the end of the war, these ex-slaves were settled in Trinidad, to the east of the Mission of Savannah Grande (now known as Princes Town) in six villages, since then called the Company Villages.
Many of the soldiers had been among four thousand runaway slaves from plantations in Virginia, Georgia, Maryland, and South Carolina. They were encouraged to abscond en masse, providing valuable information to the British and disrupting the local economy when their disappearance caused a shortage of plantation labor. They were recruited into a British battalion of Colonial Marines, and after the war, when they were given land in Trinidad, each village was made up of men from one of the six companies, and some of their families.
Official accounts put the number of settlers between four hundred and eight hundred. (No one knows what happened to Second Company: rumor has it they were lost at sea.) Some of the villages have since been renamed: Indian Walk, after the First Peoples who passed through it regularly, because it was on the route to one of their sacred sites; Hardbargain, because the discharged soldiers weren’t satisfied with the first settlements they received; New Grant, after a better agreement was reached. 
Six companies of Freedmen were recruited into a Corps of Colonial Marines along the Atlantic coast, from Chesapeake Bay to Georgia. Each of the villages was settled under the command of a corporal or sergeant, who maintained a military style of discipline. Some of the villages were named after the companies and the Fifth and Sixth Company villages still retain those names. Each of the Veteran Marines were granted 16 acres of land and some of these plots are still farmed today by descendants of original settlers. They were settled in an area populated by French-speaking Catholics and retained cohesion as an English-speaking, Baptist community. 
The Spiritual Baptists, or “Shouters” as they came to be referred to because of their spirited and evangelical hollering, became a public nuisance to colonial authorities in the early 1900s, resulting in the passage of the 1917 Shouter Prohibition Ordinance, a repressive attempt to legislate them out of existence. The law effectively outlawed Spiritual Baptist worship, but was later repealed by the Parliament in 1951.
(Related: Listen to my interview with Senator Barbara Burke, who led the campaign to win a Spiritual Baptist national holiday.)
African traditions were influential in the Merikin settlements and these included the gayap system of communal help, herbal medicine and Obeah – African tribal science. A prominent elder in the 20th century was "Papa Neezer" – Samuel Ebenezer Elliot (1901–1969) – who was a descendant of an original settler, George Elliot, and renowned for his ability to heal and cast out evil spirits. His syncretic form of religion included veneration of Sango, prophecies from the "Obi" and revelation from the Psalms. The Spiritual Baptist faith is a legacy of the Merikin community. One of Papa Neezer's protégés, American anthropologist Dr Frances Henry, called him, in a memoir, “one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever encountered.” Her book, He Had the Power, is subtitled Pa Neezer, the Orisha King of Trinidad.
During his early years, he was a member of the Spiritual Baptist Church. However, he became involved in the Orisa movement after he was told in a dream that he had healing powers and was able to cast out demons. It is said that he received the powers while sleeping in his garden, when a snake passed over him without causing any harm. He interpreted the event as spiritual powers bestowed on him and soon became the undisputed leader of the affairs of the Orisas in Moruga.
In a recent interview with Pa Neezer's great-neice, Jaramogi, she recalled, “We didn’t come here as slaves.” She has helped forge an alliance between the Merikins and the Maroons of Jamaica, Suriname, and elsewhere in the region, peoples who escaped from slavery and lived more or less independently of colonial rule. That independence is still clear in the Merikins’ traditional way of life, much of which continues unchanged. People move away or migrate, but some return. Up in the company villages, everyone knows each other, and who’s related to whom. While the T&T government faces a recession and urges everyone to grow food, the Merikins already do. When they first came to Trinidad, they were given rations for a few months until the land they had planted started bearing. Now, where you might expect a lawn, the sloping garden behind a house will be covered with the wide heart shapes of dasheen leaves, or plants used as seasoning or herbal remedies. Merikin families also have land scattered throughout their villages, parcels of the original sixteen acres that have been divided and passed down through generations.  It is precisely this revolutionary spirit of freedom and independence that permeates Orisa Lifestyle in Trinidad & Tobago.
EXPERIENCE THE ANCESTRAL LEGACY OF TRINIDAD