Trinidad and Tobago- What an exciting culture….

Only in Trinidad can you push a door that says pull and it will open. – Unknown

Image ref: Maria Nunes

For most people, if the question of what country to visit for carnival pops up, Trinidad and Tobago will be the answer. Why? Most of their holidays are marked with colourful celebrations.

Have you ever wondered how the place, its people and its culture came to be?

Keep scrolling down to find out.

Image ref: Global Voices

Little is known about the history of Trinidad or Tobago before the famous adventurer, Christopher Columbus landed on their shores in 1498.  History has it that by the 1300s, the island was largely populated by Arawak and Carib Indian populations which were largely wiped out under the Spanish encomienda system. This pressured Indians to convert to Christianity and labour as slaves on Spanish Mission lands in exchange for “protection”.

Three hundred years later, Trinidad, a sparsely populated jungle island, belonged to the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which at that time comprised Mexico, Central America, and the southwestern United States. In an effort to populate the island, King Carlos III issued the 1783 Cedula de Poblacion that granted free lands to any foreign settlers and their slaves in exchange for a sworn allegiance to the Spanish crown.  This resulted in numerous Martinique Creole planters settling in Trinidad. To this day, there is the claim that the policy helped develop Trinidad’s extremely profitable sugarcane and cacao industries as the promise of free land attracted French planters, and other Europeans.

Image ref: Antique Photograph

Trinidad was part of the Spanish Empire until 1796, when Sir Ralph Abercromby and his 18 warships surrounded the island, forcing the then Spanish Governor Don Jose Maria Chacon to surrender the island to British forces. Fast forward to 1802, the territory was ceded to the British Crown making it an official colonial subsidiary. Trinidad’s sugar industry, which English investors were keen to expand, proved pretty profitable.

Image ref: Antique photograph

With the 1838 Act of Parliament abolishing slavery in all British territories in the 17th century, African slaves, who constituted the majority of the labour force on the island’s sugar and cocoa plantations refused to work, causing Trinidad’s agricultural economy to teeter on the verge of collapse.

To prevent a complete collapse of the sugar and chocolate industries, experiments with new sources of labour started with the Chinese, Portuguese, African- Americans, and, most notably, Indians. These new populations were to irrevocably alter the cultural evolution of the island. As Indians proved the most resilient and ready workers, they were consequently recruited in greater numbers than those from any other country, and by 1891, the island’s Indian population was already above 45,800. Continuous migration from India to Trinidad increased until the Indian Legislative Assembly abolished the system of indentureship.

With the onset of World War II, Trinidad accommodated the United States military bases profoundly altering the nature and composition of Trinidadian society, lending an “American flavour” to the Creole nation. Some years down the line, Trinidad and Tobago received full independence from the United Kingdom on August 31, 1962.    

Image ref: Port of Spain Fest

Since independence, Trinidad and Tobago has been forced to contend with many of the same issues faced by other post-colonial nations: corruption, unemployment, fractured politics, and lingering problems of economic underdevelopment.  However, unlike many nations, the island republic has proven remarkably resilient.  It remains stable due to its petroleum exports and stands as the Caribbean’s most robust economy. 

However, since independence, Trinidad has witnessed much political infighting and deadlocks. In 2011, Prime Minister Kamala Pressad-Bissessar declared a State of Emergency due to the high levels of crime rampant in the country and the role the islands play in the global drug trade, leading many pundits to speculate on the current and future stability of Trinidad.

Today, Trinidad and Tobago, just like many nations with an unhappy past, stands as a tourist attraction destination with settlers from different parts of the world. When next you visit the colourful country, appreciate its people.

Do you have any question or comment? Do share with us in the comment section.

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