May 18, 2006
The town of Siparia is steeped in a history that has made it the place that it is today. No longer a mere village, Siparia has developed into a major center of commerce and trading activity and is a very recognizable part of the twin-island country of Trinidad and Tobago.
Siparia was established circa 1758 by Capuchin priests from Aragon, Spain, who came to proselytize their Christian doctrine among the indigenous Amerindian population.
In 1795, Pope Pius VI decreed that the saint known as "The Divine Shepherdess", or more familiarly called 'La Divina Pastora', was made the patron saint of all the Capuchin missions. A Spanish priest brought a statue of the Catholic saint to the church in Siparia from Venezuela sometime in the 19th century, declaring that it had saved his life. This was when the church was henceforth referred to as "The Church of La Divina Pastora". In 1906, Siparia had officially become a Roman Catholic parish.
By 1797, there were 140 Amerindians at the Mission of Siparia who were governed by one Spaniard, who was supposedly a Capuchin priest. It has been recorded that these Amerindians on the missions were in contact with other Amerindians (Guarahoon Indians) from the Spanish Main who found their way through what is now the Siparia-Quinam Road to the main town.
The missions began to disintegrate by the 1800's as the Protestant colonizers had no intention of upholding this Catholic tradition. In fact, the British Governor, Ralph Woodford had converted the Mission of Siparia into an ordinary village. Despite this, by Woodford's death in 1838, Siparia had its mission priest or 'padre', its 'Corregidor' or Magistrate and its schoolmaster of the mission school.
Also, Woodford had made Siparia a safe haven for royalist refugees from neighboring Venezuela during its War of Independence. Siparia, it has been told, was one of the few areas in Trinidad that was free from the French Republicans who had also existed on the island.
After the Spanish were expelled by the British in 1797, Frederick Mallet, the captain of the British Surveying Engineers had tested the soil in the area and had admonished that it was appropriate for all crop cultivation except for cotton. Escapee royalists who had brought with them enslaved Africans and had introduced cocoa and coffee cultivation to Siparia had taken full advantage of the fertile soil in Siparia and profited immensely from the production. However, there was a serious decline in cocoa and coffee cultivation during the post-slavery era and Siparia had lost some of its former glory with regards to its agricultural success.
Concomitant with this decline was the decline in the immense economic success and popularity that Siparia once possessed. That was until the discovery of oil in south-west Trinidad just before the First World War ensued. Thus, many Siparia residents became employed in the industry and sub-industries of oil. Also, many came from all over Trinidad to work (and some eventually to live) in the vicinity. In fact, the gap between San Fernando and Siparia was bridged in 1913 to accommodate increased traffic in the southland.
What is also notable about the area of Siparia is its connection with the last Spanish General of Trinidad, Don Jose Maria Chacon, who during the capitulation of Trinidad by the British in 1797 had made several agreements with them, which were not honored by the British. In an attempt to address this, ten acres of land was granted to an ancestor of Chacon, Therese Chacon, by Governor Sanford Freeling in 1833. It is alleged than an ancestor of Therese Chacon, Isadora Chacon, still resides in Siparia.
Siparia remains a primarily Roman Catholic area and has been able to maintain a heavy flow of people to its borders. The feast day of La Divina Pastora as well as the "Siparee Fete" (which occurs on the second Sunday after Easter) attracts many visitors to the area and are popular traditions in the country of Trinidad and Tobago.
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