Overview of Trinidad and Tobago’s History

The present-day diverse culture and population of the islands is best understood with knowledge of the country’s historical background.

Map of Caribbean Region

Map of Caribbean Region

Originally, Amerindian settlers (Arawak and Carib tribes) from South America inhabited the two islands. Colonisation ensued following Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the lands in 1498; the local tribes were enslaved by the Spanish, however, the horrible conditions they were subjected to resulted in a near genocide of the indigenous population. Few descendants of the tribes remain today (mostly Carib) and even fewer of their cultural elements prevail (with the exception of place names).

Subsequent to the Spanish’s conquest, multiple changing of “hands” occurred with the various colonial powers over the years. While the British were the last to rule, the Dutch, Courlanders, French, and Spanish colonial powers still had a significant impact on the local culture, which is reflected in place names, foods and dishes, language, and local customs today.

During colonisation, West African tribes were enslaved and brought to the islands to work on plantations under the rule of the prevailing colonial masters. The slaves were separated and not permitted to practice their native cultures; they had to adopt that of their masters (Christianization of the slaves) or risk being severely punished or even killed. As a result not many African cultural traditions survive today, though there have been recent efforts to revive them.

Indian Indentured Labourers on the Plantations

Following the emancipation of the slaves in 1834, indentured labourers from India (largest of the group), Madeira, and China were brought to supplement the shortage of labour on the plantations. They were allowed to keep and practice openly their cultural traditions under this new free system.

Later, migrants from other Caribbean islands, Venezuela, Syria, and Lebanon settled on the islands and also had a great impact on the contemporary population of the islands.

Today, all of these various racial and ethnic groups make up the ‘melting-pot’ of a population that is Trinidad and Tobago. The country’s populace is predominantly Indian, followed by African, Mixed, Caucasian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Other (all in descending order based on population size). The resulting culture is that of a “mosaic” of the various individual groups, fairly blended and yet distinct in many ways.

Throughout this blog, posts will focus on the island-life culture and the places to visit on a student budget.

*Disclaimer: This is a summary of the country’s history, it does not intend to comprehensively cover all of the happenings in the country, but it merely acts as a brief encapsulation of the historical events that led to the current population and culture of Trinidad and Tobago.