Savor the Cultural Stew

Settlers from around the world add spice to life in Trinidad & Tobago


Port of Spain, Trinidad. In the Caribbean nation of Trinidad & Tobago you’ll find more than swaying palms and sun-kissed beaches. When you visit these historic islands you’ll enjoy a multicultural feast prepared by descendants of settlers from Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East.

Arawak and Carib Indians prospered here at the south-eastern end of the Caribbean chain until 1498, when Columbus spotted the island he named for the Holy Trinity. The explorer also sighted Tobago, later named for the tobacco Indians cultivated here.

When the Spaniards discovered no gold or silver in the islands, they enslaved the local Indians and shipped them off to work in other Indies settlements. Today a small but vibrant Carib community thrives in Arima, in northcentral Trinidad.

Nearly a century would pass before Spain established Trinidad’s first European community, San Jose de Oruna (St. Joseph) just east of the modern capital of Port of Spain. But Spain’s lack of commitment to develop the area made it easy prey for England’s Sir Walter Raleigh, who sacked the town in 1595.

No attempts were made to colonize Tobago, but in the 17th century English, French, Dutch and even Courlanders (Latvians) fought to control the strategic island, along with pirates who used it as a base for raiding other Indies outposts.

Britain gained control of Trinidad and Tobago in 1797. During the next 20 years, English overseers brought in 10,000 Africans to work sugar, cotton and indigo plantations. Descendants of those slaves today comprise the largest segment of Tobago’s population.

After Britain abolished slavery in 1830, landowners imported thousands of indentured workers from India, China and the Middle East. Their descendants have given Trinidad its multi-ethnic charm and cosmopolitan flavour.

It is in Trinidad’s bustling Port of Spain that you will discover restaurants, museums, galleries and shops. Tranquil Tobago, on the other hand, draws tourists, as well as Trinidadians, who seek a haven from an often hectic world.

The distinction between the islands is all the more apparent when you consider that they existed separately for centuries. Tobago at one time maintained its own legislature. But economic downturns resulting from the collapse of the sugar market in the late 19th century prompted Britain to make Tobago a governmental ward of larger Trinidad.

The joined islands gained independence in 1962 and the new nation of Trinidad and Tobago became a republic in 1976.

Although it lacks the precious metals Spain coveted, Trinidad nonetheless is rich in natural resources. Oil production generated huge revenues here for decades. Then market fluctuations spurred Trinidad and Tobago to turn to tourism.

Now visitors from around the world flock to the islands each year to enjoy spectacular reefs, abundant wildlife and unique patchwork communities proud of their Catholic and Anglican churches, Hindu temples and Muslim mosques.

In Trinidad & Tobago past and present forge a future for the world to emulate, a culture that not only tolerates diversity but celebrates it.


For more information on the history and culture of Trinidad & Tobago, call 868-675-7034.

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