Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago, officially the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, is a twin-island country that is the southernmost nation of the West Indies in the Caribbean.
It is situated 130 kilometers south of Grenada off the northern edge of the South American mainland, 11 kilometers off the coast of northeastern Venezuela. It shares maritime boundaries with Barbados to the northeast, Grenada and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the northwest, Guyana to the southeast, and Venezuela to the south and west.
The island of Trinidad was a Spanish colony from the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1498 until Spanish governor Don José María Chacón surrendered the island to a British fleet under the command of Sir Ralph Abercromby in 1797.
During the same period, the island of Tobago changed hands among Spanish, British, French, Dutch and Courlander colonizers more times than any other island in the Caribbean.
Trinidad and Tobago were ceded to Britain in 1802 under the Treaty of Amiens as separate states and unified in 1889.
Trinidad and Tobago obtained independence in 1962 and became a republic in 1976.
Trinidad and Tobago is known for its Carnival and Diwali celebrations and as the birthplace of steelpan, the limbo, and music styles such as calypso, soca, parang, and chutney.
Trinidad is split into 14 regional corporations and municipalities, consisting of 9 regions and 5 municipalities.
Covering an area of 5,128 km2 (1,980 sq mi), the country consists of the two main islands, Trinidad and Tobago, and numerous smaller landforms, including Chacachacare, Monos, Huevos, Gaspar Grande (or Gasparee), Little Tobago, and St. Giles Island.
Trinidad is 4,768 km2 (1,841 sq mi) in the area (comprising 93.0% of the country’s total area) with an average length of 80 kilometers and an average width of 59 kilometers.
Tobago has an area of about 300 km2 (120 sq mi), or 5.8% of the country’s area, is 41 km (25 mi) long and 12 km (7.5 mi) at its greatest width. Trinidad and Tobago lie on the continental shelf of South America and are thus geologically considered to lie entirely in South America.
The terrain of the islands is a mixture of mountains and plains. The highest point in the country is found on the Northern Range at El Cerro del Aripo, which is 940 meters above sea level.
As the majority of the population lives on the island of Trinidad, this is the location of most major towns and cities. There are four major municipalities in Trinidad: Port of Spain, the capital, San Fernando, Arima, and Chaguanas.
The main town in Tobago is Scarborough. Trinidad is made up of a variety of soil types, the majority being fine sands and heavy clays. The alluvial valleys of the Northern Range and the soils of the East-West Corridor are the most fertile.
Flora & Fauna
The biological diversity of Trinidad and Tobago has much in common with that of Venezuela. The main ecosystems are: coastal and marine (coral reefs, mangrove swamps, open ocean, and seagrass beds); forest; freshwater (rivers and streams); karst; man-made ecosystems (agricultural land, freshwater dams, secondary forest); and savanna.
Demographics & Language
The ethnic composition of Trinidad and Tobago reflects a history of conquest and immigration. While the earliest inhabitants were of Amerindian heritage, since the 20th century the two dominant groups in the country were those of South Asian and of African heritage.
Indo-Trinidadian and Tobagonians make up the country’s largest ethnic group. They are primarily descendants of indentured workers from South Asia, brought to replace freed African slaves who refused to continue working on the sugar plantations. Through cultural preservation, some residents of Indian descent continue to maintain traditions from their ancestral homeland.
Afro-Trinidadians and Tobagonians make up the country’s second-largest ethnic group, identifying as being of African descent. People of African background were brought to the island as slaves as early as the 16th century.
English is the country’s official language (the local variety of standard English is Trinidadian and Tobagonian English or more properly), but the main spoken language is either of two English-based creole languages (Trinidadian Creole or Tobagonian Creole), which reflects the Amerindian, European, African, and Asian heritage of the nation. Both creoles contain elements from a variety of African languages; Trinidadian English Creole, however, is also influenced by French and French Creole (Patois).
A majority of the early Indian immigrants spoke the Bhojpuri and Awadhi dialect of Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu), which later formed into Trinidadian Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu), which became the lingua franca of Indo-Trinidadian and Tobagonians.
In 1935, Indian movies began showing to audiences in Trinidad. Most of the Indian movies were in the Standard Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) dialect and this modified Trinidadian Hindustani slightly by adding Standard Hindu and Urdu phrases and vocabulary to Trinidadian Hindustani. Indian movies also revitalized Hindustani among Indo-Trinidadian and Tobagonians.
Around the mid, to late 1970s the lingua franca of Indo-Trinidadian and Tobagonians switched from Trinidadian Hindustani to a sort of Hindinised version of English. Today Hindustani survives on through Indo-Trinidadian and Tobagonian musical forms such as Bhajan, Indian classical music, Indian folk music, Filmi, Pichakaree, Chutney, Chutney soca, and Chutney parang.
Presently there are about 26,000 people, which is 5.53% of the Indo-Trinidadian and Tobagonian population, who speak Trinidadian Hindustani. Many Indo-Trinidadians and Tobagonians today speak a type of Hinglish that consists of Trinidadian and Tobagonian English that is heavily laced with Trinidadian Hindustani vocabulary and phrases and many Indo-Trinidadians and Tobagonians can recite phrases or prayers in Hindustani today.
There are many places in Trinidad and Tobago that have names of Hindustani origin. Some phrases and vocabulary have even made its way into the mainstream English and English Creole dialect of the country.
The Chinese language first came to Trinidad and Tobago in 1806, when the British had brought Chinese laborers in order to determine if they were fit to use as laborers after the abolition of slavery. About 2,645 Chinese immigrants arrived in Trinidad as indentured labor between 1853 to 1866.
A majority of the people who immigrated in the 19th century were from southern China and spoke the Hakka and Yue dialects of Chinese. In the 20th century after the years of indentureship up to the present day more Chinese people have immigrated to Trinidad and Tobago for business and they speak the dialects of the indentures along with other Chinese dialects, such as Mandarin and Min.
The indigenous languages were Yao on Trinidad and Karina on Tobago, both Cariban and Shebaya on Trinidad, which was Arawakan.
Origin of the name & Heraldry
Historian E. L. Joseph claimed that Trinidad’s Amerindian name was Cairi or “Land of the Humming Bird”, derived from the Arawak name for hummingbird, ierèttê or yerettê. However, other authors dispute this etymology with some claiming that cairi does not mean hummingbird (tukusi or tucuchi being suggested as the correct word) and some claiming that kairi, or iere, simply means island.
Christopher Columbus renamed it “La Isla de la Trinidad” (“The Island of the Trinity”), fulfilling a vow made before setting out on his third voyage of exploration.
Tobago’s cigar-like shape may have given it its Spanish name (cabaco, tavaco, tobacco) and possibly some of its other Amerindian names, such as Aloubaéra (black conch) and Urupaina (big snail), although the English pronunciation is /təˈbeɪɡoʊ/, rhyming with lumbago, sago, and “may go”.
The flag was chosen by the Independence committee in 1962. Red, black and white symbolise the warmth of the people, the richness of the earth and water respectively.
Coat of arms
The coat of arms was designed by the Independence committee, and features the scarlet ibis (native to Trinidad), the cocrico (native to Tobago) and hummingbird. The shield bears three ships, representing both the Trinity, and the three ships that Columbus sailed.
The national flower of Trinidad and Tobago is the chaconia flower. It was chosen as the national flower because it is an indigenous flower that has witnessed the history of Trinidad and Tobago. It was also chosen as the national flower because of its red colour that resembles the red of the national flag and coat of arms and because it blooms around the Independence Day of Trinidad and Tobago.
The national birds of Trinidad and Tobago are the scarlet ibis and the cocrico. The scarlet ibis is kept safe by the government by living in the Caroni Bird Sanctuary which was set up by the government for the protection of these birds. The Cocrico is more indigenous to the island of Tobago and are more likely to be seen in the forest.
The hummingbird is considered another symbol of Trinidad and Tobago due to its significance to the indigenous peoples, however, it is not a national bird.
History & Timeline
Both Trinidad and Tobago were originally settled by Amerindians of South American origin. Trinidad was first settled by pre-agricultural Archaic people at least 7,000 years ago, making it the earliest settled part of the Caribbean. Ceramic-using agriculturalists settled Trinidad around 150 BC, and then moved further up the Lesser Antillean chain. It was known as ‘Land of the Humming Bird’ by the indigenous peoples. At the time of European contact, Trinidad was occupied by various Arawakan-speaking groups including the Nepoya and Suppoya, and Cariban-speaking groups such as the Yao, while Tobago was occupied by the Island Caribs and Galibi.
Age of colonisation
Columbus reported seeing Tobago on the distant horizon in 1498, naming it Bellaforma, but did not land on the island. The present name of Tobago is thought to be a corruption of its old name, “Tobaco”.
The Dutch and the Courlanders (people from the small Duchy of Courland and Semigallia belonging to Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – modern-day Latvia) established themselves in Tobago in the 16th and 17th centuries and produced tobacco and cotton. Over the centuries, Tobago changed hands between Spanish, British, French, Dutch and Courlander colonisers. Britain consolidated its hold on both islands during the Napoleonic Wars, and they were combined into the colony of Trinidad and Tobago in 1889.
As a result of these colonial struggles, Amerindian, Spanish, French and English place names are all common in the country. African slaves and Chinese, Indian and free African indentured labourers, as well as Portuguese from Madeira, arrived to supply labour in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Emigration from Barbados and the other Lesser Antilles, Venezuela, Syria and Lebanon also impacted on the ethnic make-up of the country.
Christopher Columbus encountered the island of Trinidad on 31 July 1498. In the 1530s, Antonio de Sedeño, a Spanish soldier intent on conquering the island of Trinidad, landed on its southwest coast with a small army of men. He intended to subdue the Orinoco and the Warao, the two major Amerindian peoples of the island, and rule over them in the name of the Spanish king.
Sedeño and his men fought the native Carib Indians on many occasions, and subsequently built a fort. The next few decades were generally spent in warfare with the natives, until in 1592, the ‘Cacique’ (native chief) Wannawanare (also known as Guanaguanare) granted the area later known as “St. Josephs” to Domingo de Vera e Ibargüen, and withdrew to another part of the island.
The settlement of San José de Oruña (St. Joseph) was established by Antonio de Berrío on this land. Only a couple of years later, Sir Walter Raleigh arrived in Trinidad on 22 March 1595. He was in search of the long-rumoured “City of Gold” supposedly located in South America. He soon attacked San José, captured and interrogated Antonio de Berrío, and obtained much information from him and from the Cacique Topiawari. Raleigh then went on his way, and the Spanish authority was restored.
The next century (the 1600s) passed without major incident but sustained attempts by the Spaniards to control and rule over the Amerindians, and especially the exertions of the missionaries, were preparing grounds for an outburst. In 1687, the Catholic Catalan Capuchin friars were given responsibility for the conversions of the indigenous people of Trinidad and the Guianas. After 1687, they founded several missions in Trinidad, supported and richly funded by the state, which also granted encomienda over the native people to them. One such mission was Santa Rosa de Arima, established in 1789, when Amerindians from the former encomiendas of Tacarigua and Arauca (Arouca) were relocated further west.
The missions aimed at conversion and cultural deracination, which were naturally unwelcome to the target population. Escalating tensions between the Spaniards and Amerindians culminated in the Arena massacre which took place in 1699. Amerindians bound to the Church’s encomienda at the mission at Arena/Arima revolted, killing the priests and desecrating the church. They then ambushed the governor and his party, who were on their way to visit the church. The uprising resulted in the death of several hundred Amerindians, of the Roman Catholic priests connected with the mission of San Francisco de los Arenales, of the Spanish Governor José de León y Echales and of all but one member of his party. Among those killed in the governor’s party was Juan Mazien de Sotomayor, missionary priest to the Nepuyo villages of Cuara, Tacarigua and Arauca.
Order was eventually restored and the Spanish authority was re-established. Another century passed, and during the 1700s, Trinidad was an island province belonging to the Viceroyalty of New Spain, together with Central America, present-day Mexico and the Southwestern United States. However, Trinidad in this period was still mostly forest, populated by a few Spaniards with their handful of slaves and a few thousand Amerindians. Indeed, the population in 1777 was only 1400, and Spanish colonisation in Trinidad remained tenuous.
Influx of French people
Since Trinidad was considered underpopulated, Roume de St. Laurent, a Frenchman living in Grenada, was able to obtain a Cédula de Población from the Spanish king Charles III on 4 November 1783. A Cédula de Población had previously been granted in 1776 by the king, but had not shown results, and therefore the new Cédula was more generous. It granted free land and tax exemption for 10 years to Roman Catholic foreign settlers who were willing to swear allegiance to the King of Spain. The land grant was 30 fanegas (13 hectares/32 acres) for each free man, woman and child and half of that for each slave that they brought with them.
It was fortuitous that the Cédula was issued only a few years before the French Revolution. During that period of upheaval, French planters with their slaves, free coloureds and mulattos from the neighbouring islands of Martinique, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Guadeloupe and Dominica migrated to Trinidad, where they established an agriculture-based economy (sugar and cocoa).These new immigrants established local communities in Blanchisseuse, Champs Fleurs, Paramin, Cascade, Carenage and Laventille.
Trinidad’s population jumped to over 15,000 by the end of 1789, from just under 1,400 in 1777. By 1797, the population of Port of Spain had increased from under 3,000 to 10,422 in five years, and consisted of people of mixed race, Spaniards, Africans, French republican soldiers, retired pirates and French nobility. The total population of Trinidad was 17,718, of which 2,151 were of European ancestry, 4,476 were “free blacks and people of colour”, 10,009 were enslaved people and 1,082 Amerindians. The sparse settlement and slow rate of population-increase during Spanish rule (and even during British rule) made Trinidad one of the less populated colonies of the West Indies, with the least developed plantation infrastructure.
In 1797, a British force led by General Sir Ralph Abercromby launched the invasion of Trinidad. His squadron sailed through the Bocas and anchored off the coast of Chaguaramas. The Spanish Governor Chacón decided to capitulate without fighting. Trinidad thus became a British crown colony, with a French-speaking population and Spanish laws. British rule was formalised under the Treaty of Amiens (1802).
British rule led to an influx of settlers from the United Kingdom and the British colonies of the Eastern Caribbean. English, Scots, Irish, German and Italian families arrived. Under British rule, new states were created and the import of slaves did increase, but this was the period of abolitionism in England and the slave trade was under attack. Slavery was abolished in 1833, after which former slaves served an “apprenticeship” period which ended on 1 August 1838 with full emancipation. An overview of the populations statistics in 1838, however, clearly reveals the contrast between Trinidad and its neighbouring islands: upon emancipation of the slaves in 1838, Trinidad had only 17,439 slaves, with 80% of slave owners having enslaved fewer than 10 people each.:84–85 In contrast, at twice the size of Trinidad, Jamaica had roughly 360,000 slaves.
Influx of Indians
After slaves were emancipated, plantation owners were in severe need of labour. The British authorities filled this need by instituting a system of indentureship. Various nationalities were contracted under this system, including East Indians, Chinese and Portuguese. Of these, the East Indians were imported in the largest numbers, starting from 1 May 1845, when 225 Indians were brought in the first shipment to Trinidad on the Fatel Razack, a Muslim-owned vessel. Indentureship of the East Indians lasted from 1845 to 1917, during which more than 147,000 Indians were brought to Trinidad to work on sugarcane plantations. They added what was initially the second-largest population grouping to the young nation, and their labour developed previously underdeveloped plantation lands.
The indentureship contract was exploitative, such that historians including Hugh Tinker were to call it “a new system of slavery”. People were contracted for a period of five years, with a daily wage as low as 25 cents in the early 20th century, and they were guaranteed return passage to India at the end of their contract period. However, coercive means were often used to retain labourers, and the indentureship contracts were soon extended to 10 years after the planters complained that they were losing their labour too early. In lieu of the return passage, the British authorities soon began offering portions of land to encourage settlement; however, the numbers of people who did receive land grants is unclear. East Indians entering the colony were also subject to particular crown laws which segregated them from the rest of Trinidad’s population, such as the requirement that they carry a pass with them once off the plantations, and that if freed, they carry their “Free Papers” or certificate indicating completion of the indenture period. The ex-Indentureds came to constitute a vital and significant section of the population, as did the ex-slaves.
Alongside sugarcane, the cacao (cocoa) crop also contributed greatly to economic earnings in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the 1920–1930 period, the collapse of the sugarcane industry concomitant with the failure of the cocoa industry resulted in widespread depression among the rural and agricultural workers in Trinidad, and encouraged the rise of the Labour movement. This movement was led by Arthur Cipriani and Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler, who, in combination with his Indian partners (notably Adrian Cola Rienzi), aimed to unite the working class and agricultural labour class to achieve a better standard of living for them, as well as to hasten the departure of the British. This effort was severely undermined by the British Home Office and by the British-educated Trinidadian elite, many of whom were descended from the plantocracy themselves. They instigated a vicious race politicking in Trinidad aimed at dividing the class-based movement on race-based lines, and they succeeded, especially since Butler’s support had collapsed from the top down.
Petroleum had been discovered in 1857, but became economically significant only in the 1930s and afterwards, as a result of the collapse of sugarcane and cocoa, and increasing industrialisation. By the 1950s, petroleum had become a staple in Trinidad’s export market, and was responsible for a growing middle class among all sections of the Trinidad population. The collapse of Trinidad’s major agricultural commodities, followed by the Depression, and the rise of the oil economy, led to major changes in the country’s social structure.
Trinidad and Tobago started to gain rights in the early 1900s. They achieved the right to vote in 1924. In the 1940s the citizens pushed for a self run internal government.
Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence from the United Kingdom on 31 August 1962. Elizabeth II remained head of state as Queen of Trinidad and Tobago. Eric Williams, a noted Caribbean historian, widely regarded as The Father of The Nation, was the first Prime Minister; he served from 1956 to 1959, before independence as Chief Minister, from 1959 to 1962, before independence as Premier, from 1962 to 1976, after independence as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, then from 1976 to his death in 1981 as Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Rudranath Capildeo was the first Leader of the Opposition of Trinidad and Tobago post-independence; he served from 1962 to 1967. Solomon Hochoy was the first Governor-General and he served from 1962 to 1972.
The presence of American military bases in Chaguaramas and Cumuto in Trinidad during World War II profoundly changed the character of society. In the post-war period, the wave of decolonisation that swept the British Empire led to the formation of the West Indies Federation in 1958 as a vehicle for independence. Chaguaramas was the proposed site for the federal capital. The Federation dissolved after the Jamaican Federation of the West Indies membership referendum of 1961, and the resulting withdrawal of the Province of Jamaica. The government of Trinidad and Tobago then also chose to seek independence from the United Kingdom on its own.
In 1976, the country became a republic within the Commonwealth, though it retained the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as its final appellate court. Between the years 1972 and 1983, the republic profited greatly from the rising price of oil, as the oil-rich country increased its living standards greatly. In 1990, 114 members of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, led by Yasin Abu Bakr, formerly known as Lennox Phillip, stormed the Red House (the seat of Parliament), and Trinidad and Tobago Television, the only television station in the country at the time, and held the country’s government hostage for six days before surrendering.
Since 2003, the country has entered a second oil boom, a driving force which the government hopes to use to turn the country’s main export back to sugar and agriculture. Great concern was raised in August 2007 when it was predicted that this boom would last only until 2018. Petroleum, petrochemicals and natural gas continue to be the backbone of the economy. Tourism and the public service are the mainstay of the economy of Tobago, though authorities have begun to diversify the island. The bulk of tourist arrivals on the islands are from the United States.
The country is also a recognised transhipment point for illegal narcotics, with the cocaine distribution from the South American continent to the United States Eastern seaboard. With the most recent seizure of US$100 million shipment by United States Authorities on 17 January 2014.
Traditions, Holidays & Festivals
Trinidad and Tobago is the birthplace of calypso music and the steelpan. Trinidad is also the birthplace of soca music, chutney music, chutney-soca, parang, and chutney parang. The diverse cultural and religious backgrounds of its citizens has led to many festivities and ceremonies throughout the year, such as Carnival, Diwali, and Eid festivities.
Trinidad and Tobago’s infrastructure is good by regional standards.
The international airport in Trinidad was expanded in 2001. There is an extensive network of paved roads with several good four and six lane highways including one controlled access expressway. The Ministry of Works estimates that an average Trinidadian spends about four hours in traffic per day.
Emergency services are reliable, but may suffer delays in rural districts. Private hospitals are available and reliable. Utilities are fairly reliable in the cities. Some areas, however, especially rural districts, still suffer from water shortages.
The transport system in Trinidad and Tobago consists of a dense network of highways and roads across both major islands, ferries connecting Port of Spain with Scarborough and San Fernando, and international airports on both islands. The Uriah Butler Highway, Churchill Roosevelt Highway and the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway links the island of Trinidad together, whereas the Claude Noel Highway is the only major highway in Tobago. Public transportation options on land are public buses, private taxis and minibuses. By sea, the options are inter-island ferries and inter-city water taxis.
The island of Trinidad is served by Piarco International Airport located in Piarco. It was opened on 8 January 1931. Elevated at 17.4 metres (57 ft) above sea level it comprises an area of 680 hectares (1,700 acres) and has a runway of 3,200 metres (10,500 ft). The airport consists of two terminals, the North Terminal and the South Terminal. The older South Terminal underwent renovations in 2009 for use as a VIP entrance point during the 5th Summit of the Americas. The North Terminal was completed in 2001, and consists of 14-second-level aircraft gates with jetways for international flights, two ground-level domestic gates and 82 ticket counter positions.
Piarco International Airport was voted the Caribbean’s leading airport for customer satisfaction and operational efficiency at the prestigious World Travel Awards (WTA), held in the Turks and Caicos in 2006. In 2008 the passenger throughput at Piarco International Airport was approximately 2.6 million.
Piarco International Airport is the seventh busiest airport in the Caribbean and the third busiest in the English-speaking Caribbean, after Sangster International Airport and Lynden Pindling International Airport.
As of December 2006, nineteen international airlines operated out of Piarco and offered flights to twenty-seven international destinations. Caribbean Airlines, the national airline, operates its main hub at the Piarco International Airport and services the Caribbean, the United States, Canada and South America. The airline is wholly owned by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. After an additional cash injection of US$50 million, the Trinidad and Tobago government acquired the Jamaican airline Air Jamaica on 1 May 2010, with a 6–12-month transition period to follow.
Caribbean Airlines, the national and state-owned airline of Trinidad and Tobago, is the largest in the Caribbean. After the acquisition of the now defunct Air Jamaica, it became the largest airline and was voted as the Caribbean’s leading airline.
The Island of Tobago is served by the A.N.R. Robinson International Airport in Crown Point. This airport has regular services to North America and Europe. There are regular flights between the two islands, with fares being heavily subsidised by the Government.