Trinidad and Tobago form a twin-island state in the Caribbean with a fascinating and colourful history. Energetic carnival celebrations, steel drums, the limbo, and calypso music epitomise the islands’ culture. Consequently, it is a vibrant and musical place! The beaches are exceptional. Mayaro Beach, in southeast Trinidad, offers seven miles of golden sand.
The island of Trinidad was a Spanish colony from the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1498 until the Spanish governor surrendered the island to the British fleet, in 1797. During those three centuries, the island of Tobago changed hands between the Spanish, British, French, Dutch and the Duchy of Courland (now Latvia). Finally, the 1802 Treaty of Amiens secured the islands of Trinidad and Tobago for Britain. Unification of the two separate states happened in 1889. Trinidad and Tobago gained independence in 1962 and became a republic in 1976.
The name comes from Christopher Columbus who called the island “La Isla de la Trinidad” meaning “Trinity”, as a homage to the Holy Trinity. Tobago has a cigar-like shape. This may explain the Spanish name “Tobaco” which over the years became pronounced “Tobago”.
Officially the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the main islands stand together. Additionally, as part of the republic, there are numerous smaller isles, including Chacachacare, Monos, Huevos, Gaspar Grande, Little Tobago, and St. Giles Island. Their location is 130 kilometres south of Grenada and just 11 kilometres off the coast of Venezuela.
Petroleum and Gas
The majority of people live on the island of Trinidad. Therefore, this is where most of the major towns are situated. The island divides into four areas; Port of Spain, San Fernando, Arima and Chaguanas. Tobago has just one principal city, Scarborough.
Unlike most of the English-speaking Caribbean, the republic’s economy is primarily industrial. There is an emphasis on petrochemicals and petroleum. The region has plentiful reserves of oil and natural gas.
The climate is tropical. There are two seasons; the dry season from January until May/June and the rainy season during the rest of the year. However, this doesn’t mean that the coastal areas are not hot and sunny, practically 365 days a year! In the Northern Mountain Range, the climate is different from the lower regions. The mountains have constant cloud cover, cooler temperatures and most of the rainfall.
There are tradewinds, predominantly from the northeast. Also unusually for Caribbean islands, both Trinidad and Tobago have often escaped the devastation of major hurricanes. Even Hurricane Ivan passed close by but did not hit the islands, in September 2004.
South American Indians were the first settlers who named Trinidad ‘Land of the Humming Bird’. When the Spanish arrived, Trinidad’s people were Arawak, Nepoya and Suppoya. Tobago was home to Caribs and Galibi.
Christopher Columbus reported the sighting of Trinidad on 31 July 1498 but did not land. Later, in the 1530s, a Spanish soldier named Sedeño landed on the southwest coast with a small army. Sedeño and his men fought the native Carib Indians and built a fortress. For the next few decades fighting continued with the natives. Subsequently, in 1592, the ‘Cacique’ (native chief) granted the area later known as “St. Josephs” to the invaders and withdrew to another area of the island.
Free land with no taxes
It was all going well until Sir Walter Raleigh arrived in 1595, looking for the legendary “El Dorado” (City of Gold)in the region. He attacked the island and interrogated both the Spanish and the Tribal Chief. Once Raleigh had the information he required he left the Spanish to restore authority. This “visit” led to the Spanish being unnerved by the ease with which they could lose control of the island.
The Spanish king offered free land and tax exemption for Roman Catholic foreign settlers willing to swear allegiance to Spain. The grant was 30 fanegas (13 hectares) for each free man, woman and child plus half of the amount for each slave who accompanied them.
The French Revolution began in France. French planters and aristocrats fleeing their country arrived with their slaves. Sugar and Cocoa plantations provided an income. New communities sprang up all over the island.
The population increased from 1,400 to 17,718, but it took nearly 20 years. The communities comprised Spaniards, French republican soldiers, retired pirates and French nobility. Additionally, Africans – some slaves were freed but chose to remain on the island, and 10,000 people were still in slavery.
The Treaty of Amiens
In 1797, General Sir Ralph Abercromby’s army invaded the island. The Spanish Governor capitulated without a fight. Thus Trinidad became a British colony of French-speaking people with Spanish laws. The Treaty of Amiens formalised British rule in 1802.
Consequently, English, Scots, Irish, German and Italian families arrived. The abolition of slavery transpired in 1833. After decades of struggle and debate, Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence from the UK on 31 August 1962. Elizabeth II remained Queen of the islands.
The islands are now a multicultural and multiracial society. Petroleum and natural gas continue to support the economy. However, tourism plays a big part too. Most of the arriving tourists are from the United States. Sailing and yacht charter are the principal holiday activity for many of the visitors to the islands.