PRONUNCIATION: tri-nih-DAD-ee-uhns (and) tah-bay-GO-nee-uhns
LOCATION: Trinidad and Tobago (TRI-nih-dad and tah-BAY-go)
POPULATION: 1.3 million
LANGUAGE: English; English-derived Creole with African and other elements; Hindi; Urdu; Spanish
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; Church of England and Church of Scotland; Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Pentecostal, Baptist, and other Protestant churches; Hinduism; Islam; Christian-African sects
The nation of Trinidad and Tobago consists of two Caribbean islands that have been united politically since 1962. (The people of both islands are generally referred to today as "Trinidadians.") The islands were originally inhabited by the Arawaks, Caribs, and other Amerindians. In 1498 they were claimed by Christopher Columbus for the Spanish, but Trinidad was ceded to the British by 1802. By 1814, Tobago, which had changed hands several times, was also a British possession. In 1888 Tobago was joined with Trinidad as a colonial territory under the name Trinidad and Tobago.
In the twentieth century, Trinidad's nationalistic hopes were symbolized by one revered leader, Eric Williams. In 1955, Williams founded the People's National Movement (PNM). Trinidad and Tobago became an independent member of the British Commonwealth in 1962 and a republic in 1976. Williams remained the head of the government until his death in 1981.
During the worldwide oil crisis of the 1970s, Trinidad and Tobago enjoyed a period of great prosperity and development thanks to offshore oil reserves. However, at the end of the decade, world oil prices declined, and the nation suffered an economic recession. Trinidad and Tobago still faces the challenge of stabilizing its economy and reducing its dependence on world oil prices.
Trinidad and Tobago are the southernmost islands of the West Indies. With an area of 1,864 square miles (4,828 square kilometers), Trinidad is the largest island of the Lesser Antilles. Three mountain ranges stretch across the country from east to west. Tiny Tobago is only about 26 miles (42 kilometers) long and 7 miles (11 kilometers) wide. It consists of lowlands dominated by a chain of volcanic hills that runs the length of the island.
A little over 40 percent of Trinidad and Tobago's 1.3 million people are black, another 40 percent are of Asian Indian descent, about 15 percent are of mixed descent, and smaller numbers are Chinese or European.
English is the nation's official language. However, the common language of the great majority of residents is an English-derived Creole dialect that contains elements of African and other languages. Hindi and Urdu are spoken by segments of the Indian population. Spanish is spoken in some areas as well.
In Trinidadian Creole, the plural form of "you" is allyu, and the French-English ah wee means "ours." French expressions such as il fait chaud (literally, "it makes hot") and il y a (literally, "it there has") are mirrored in the Trinidadian "it making hot" and "it have," which is used for "there is."
Amerindian-derived words include the names of foods—cassava, balata, and roocoo—as well as place names, including Guayaguayare and Carapichaima.
Trinidadian folklore includes devils in disguise, a wolfman named Lagahoo, and a variety of other figures. Folktales are told about Papa Bois, the ruler of the forest, and his son, Callaloo. Other folklore figures include Diablesse, a character comparable to Circe in Greek mythology. She attracts men and then turns them into hogs, after which they fall down a cliff.
About one-third of Trinidad and Tobago's population are Roman Catholic. Trinidadians of African descent also belong to the Church of England and a variety of other churches. The Baptist religion is especially popular on Tobago. Trinidad's Asian Indian community embraces the Hindu and Muslim religions.
There are also religious sects that combine Christianity with African religious beliefs and practices. The best known of these is Shango. It honors both Shango, the god of thunder and lightning, and Christian saints. Through dance and drumming, its priests, called mogbas, summon spirits known as orishas .
Due to the nation's religious diversity, Trinidad and Tobago has many public holidays. The major Christian holy days are observed. The Hindu holidays of Divali (pronounced "Duwali") and Ramleema are also recognized. The Muslim festival of Hosay has grown into a four-day festival that includes Trinidadian cultural features such as tassa drumming. Emancipation Day (August 1) and Independence Day (August 31) are secular holidays marking important dates in the nation's history.
Trinidad and Tobago's most important festival is its Carnival. This celebration is recognized as one of the world's most extravagant and colorful pre-Lenten celebrations. The entire nation participates in this 200-year-old tradition, which is held in the final two days preceding Lent (in February). The main activities take place in Port of Spain. Preparations begin months in advance. The participating groups, called "bands," plan their "mas" (short for "masquerade") costumes. Each band chooses a historical, cultural, fantastic, or folkloric theme. Hundreds of coordinated costumes are painstakingly debated, designed, and assembled.
Musical competitions between rival calypso and steel drum groups are held in the period leading up to Carnival. On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the King and Queen of Carnival are chosen based on their costumes. The Carnival festivities officially begin at dawn on Monday morning, called Jour Ouvert , or Joovay . They include massive parades by the organized "bands"—each ranging from 500 to over 2,000 members. The climax of the celebration is the judging of the best costumed band.
Major life transitions, such as birth, marriage, and death, are marked by religious ceremonies appropriate to each Trinidadian's faith community.
Trinidadians are known for enjoying life, even in the face of hardship. When curfews were imposed in 1970, they held "Curfew fêtes (festivals)." When the country's economy suffered from falling oil prices in the 1980s, people threw "Recession fêtes."
Another aspect of this casual attitude can be seen in the practice called liming. (This is the counterpart of "hanging out" in the United States.) Trinidadian men have a long tradition of congregating at street corners, on front stoops, or near movie houses. They chat and pass the time as they take in the passing scene.
Long before it was heard in the United States, the phrase "Yo! Wha' appenin" was a common working-class greeting in Port of Spain, the capital city.
The traditional Trinidadian house, called an ajoupa, was built of thatch and mud. Today, most Trinidadians live in wooden houses with roofs of galvanized metal. The houses generally have three or four rooms. Almost all houses have indoor plumbing, and most have electricity. Several houses often share one yard.
There is a serious housing shortage in Trinidad and Tobago. Many city dwellers live in slums and tenement buildings
Women wield considerable authority within African families in Trinidad and Tobago. Many are heads of households. Common-law marriages are widespread within the African community.
Among the Indian population, large extended-family households are common. Even members of smaller households have a strong sense of obligation toward their relatives outside the nuclear family. Arranged marriages are common, and the man is always considered the head of the household. Divorce and remarriage for widows are discouraged.
Most Trinidadians wear modern Western-style clothing. The Caribbean "shirt jac," a belted jacket worn with a scarf and no shirt, is popular among men in Port of Spain. Traditional clothing—including men's turbans and women's saris—is worn by some members of the country's Asian Indian population.
Every year special clubs spend months preparing extravagant costumes for Trinidad and Tobago's famous Carnival celebration. The brightly colored outfits may be made of either cotton or such dressy fabrics as velvet, satin, and lamé. They are often decorated with beads, feathers, sequins, shells, leaves, and straw.
The rich and varied cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago combines African, Asian Indian, Amerindian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and European influences.
One of the country's most popular foods is roti . (A recipe for the bread follows.) Roti is a flat bread, similar to the Indian naan , that is filled with curried beef, chicken, lamb, and beef, and cooked vegetables. Curried potatoes and chickpeas are added as well. Another favorite dish is sans coche, a pork stew served with dumplings. Callaloo is a mixture of okra and puréed dasheen leaves (also called callaloo greens), with either crab or salted pork added for flavor. Coocoo, a cake similar to cornbread, is made from corn flour and okra. The national beverage of Trinidad and Tobago is rum.
Formal education—which begins at age five—is highly valued in Trinidad and Tobago. The country has a literacy rate of about 96 percent. About 75 percent of high-school-age students are enrolled in school. The University of the West Indies has a campus on Trinidad.
Two forms of native Trinidadian music—calypso and steel drum music—have become famous throughout the world. Steel drum music originated when members of traditional African percussion bands began using discarded oil drums. The bottoms are cut off and the tops hammered into a convex shape marked by a pattern of dents that produce different pitches.
Probably the best-known Trinidad-born writer is V. S. Naipaul, author of such books as Miguel Street and A House for Mr. Biswas. Other well-known writers include Michael Anthony and Samuel Selvon. Derek Walcott, the 1992 Nobel laureate in literature, was born on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia but has spent much of his time in Trinidad.
Peter Minshall, a celebrated designer for Carnival masquerade bands, has also become well-known and well-respected in the international art world.
About 34 percent of the labor force in Trinidad and Tobago are employed in service-related jobs; 17 percent in trade; 15 percent in mining and manufacturing; 10 percent in agriculture, forestry, and fishing; and the remainder in other occupations. Agriculture in Trinidad and Tobago is carried out both on large mechanized farms and on small tracts of land worked by peasant farmers without modern farm machinery.
Serve by wrapping the bread around a filling. Suggestions for fillings include curried chicken salad, or any other sandwich filling or vegetable combination.
Sports in Trinidad and Tobago reflect the historical influence of the British. Cricket is extremely popular, as is soccer (called "football"). Horse racing is very popular as well.
Music plays an important role in everyday life in Trinidad and Tobago. The latest calypso songs can be heard on radios and sound systems throughout the country. SoCa—combining soul ("So-") and calypso ("-Ca")—has been highly popular since the 1980s. Trinidadians also enjoy watching movies and television. American soap operas are especially popular.
The nation's artisans produce handbeaten copper jewelry, woven straw goods, pottery, woodcarvings, boldly printed fabrics, and other handmade goods.
There is a shortage of housing in the cities, which have difficulties in providing essential public services. High unemployment has led to social unrest, particularly among the country's youth. There has also been an increase in serious crime. Much of it is drug-and gang-related.
Bereton, Bridget. A History of Modern Trinidad. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann Educational Books, 1982.
Meditz, Sandra W., and Dennis M. Hanratty. Islands of the Caribbean Commonwealth: A Regional Study. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989.
Williams, A. R. "Trinidad and Tobago." National Geographic (March 1994), p. 66–89.
Yelvington, Kevin, ed. Trinidad Ethnicity. London: MacMillan, 1992.