It was a time of famine and no money to return to their homeland when villagers, living in an unfamiliar place, offered prayers to the Hindu deity Lord Ganesha, also known as the remover of obstacles to end their suffering.
That was 100 years ago.
Yesterday, the Suchit Trace Ganesh Mandir celebrated 100 years of performing Ganesha Yajna (prayers with the ritual of offerings). The community which is predominantly Hindu performs the 11 days of Ganesha prayers during the Ganesha Utsav period each year.
The Ganesh Utsav festival will end on September 8 which will follow the Pitri Paksha (a fortnight of honouring the late ancestors).
Fifteen days before the celebration commences, a group of villagers would go in search for the ideal texture of dirt to construct the murti (an image which represents the divine form of God). One week before the festival begins the murti is moulded and shaped into the image of Lord Ganesha.
Tulsiaram Singh, 73, said he has been making murtis since age 12. And for the past 15 years he has been moulding murtis for the Suchit Trace Ganesh Mandir. He explained that after the mould dries, the image will be painted and dressed in a dhoti (traditional male garment which is cloth wrapped around the waist) and jewelry.
The celebration will begin with a procession as villagers carry the murti of Lord Ganesha upon their shoulders and place it on a stage for viewing.
And it ends with an all-night vigil, as devotees sing and chant religious songs and mantras. Before sunrise a group of villagers take the murti upon their shoulders and walk through the community to the river where the murti will be submerged in the water.
Lord Ganesha is the most recognised among the pantheon of Hindu Deities as he is identified as the one with the elephant head. He is also known as the God of Wisdom. During this time, (Ganesha Utsav) pundits (Hindu religious leader) read from the Ganesha Purana (Hindu scripture venerating Ganesha).
Devotees choose a particular day to make offerings within the 11 days of worship. They offer sweets, flowers and money at the feet of the murtis in the temple and give the same to anyone in attendance in charity.
The 100-year-old mandir is located at Puzzle Island.
The place got its unusual name from oil and natural gas explorers as they would often become lost while trying to find their way into the community. But to the locals it is better known as Tenant Hill or Suchit Trace.
The small community, overlooking the Oropouche River, has as estimated 2,000 residents. Suchit Trace connects both Debe and Penal.
The only way in or out of the community was to walk the jigsaw puzzle dirt tracks or through using bull carts and some used boats. The agrarian community was first settled by Madras East Indian indentured immigrants. After their indentureship contract ended these labourers left the land to become inhabited by 12 families. These original 12 families still inhabit the community today, with others migrating in or out of the community.
The residents were isolated from other communities and often, getting medical attention was near impossible especially during the rainy season as flooding always occurred.
The community first saw signs of development when natural gas was first discovered within the area. Natural gas was being used as a cheap fuel source for T&TEC (Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission) with a power station being established in Penal during the 1950s.
Contractors cleared the forested land, and dirt roads made of wooden slabs and gravel, which were eventually paved with pitch, were constructed.
The community saw many troubles including having no running water and no electricity.
Ramlal Samaroo 63, told stories of walking to Narine Persad’s house to watch television. Samlal reminisced about sleeping on flour bags on the ground and cooking in a chulha (fireside made of dirt).
The temple, which remains today, was the centre for the community and evolved from a carat shed to wood and galvanize and eventually a concrete structure was built. Each villager still gives donations for the maintenance of the temple.
The community boasts of having one of the oldest havan kund (a pit made of iron or dirt for the fire ceremony) in the country. This havan kund pit has been residing in the same spot for 100 years and the temple has evolved around it.