trinidad and tobago flag red black stripe white

Country of the Week: Trinidad and Tobago

In Countries by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

Centuries of colonization have shaped Trinidad and Tobago into one of the most unique and diverse countries in the Caribbean. Start your journey into its amazing history and culture now!

  • Capital: Port of Spain
  • Largest City: San Fernando
  • Population (2015): 1,349,667 (152nd)
  • Total Area: 5,131 km² (171st)
  • Official Language: English
  • National Language: Trinidadian Creole
  • Currency: Trinidad and Tobago dollar ($/TT$) (TTD)
trinidad church colonial caribbean building

An old church on the island of Trinidad

History of Trinidad and Tobago

As with most Caribbean islands, Trinidad and Tobago was populated by different tribes prior to European colonization, including the Arawak and Carib peoples. While not known when these tribes first arrived, it’s likely that the islands were inhabited relatively early due to its proximity to South America.

European Colonization

The island was discovered (in the European context) by Christopher Columbus in 1498, and settlement attempts began over the next couple decades. During this process, the inhabitants of the island of Trinidad were pressed into slavery at the hands of the Spanish. Despite this, many further settlement efforts failed and colonization didn’t work out as planned for the most part. Regardless, Trinidad served as a waypoint for many seeking the fabled El Dorado, including the Englishman Sir Walter Raleigh. The other island, Tobago, saw Dutch settlement alongside attempts by Courland (Polish-Lithuanian vassal, modern day Latvia) and the English.

The French also got involved, so by the end of the 17th century there were five different European colonial powers with a vested interest in the islands. While we can’t go into too much detail (we’d be here all day), pirates also got involved and the Dutch seized control of a large amount of Trinidad for much of the 1600’s. The Spanish also sent missionaries throughout the late 17th and 18th centuries. Throughout his time, slavery was the lifeblood of the colony. Eventually, this period of chaos came to an end when Trinidad was ceded to the British in 1797.

British Trinidad and Tobago

The British ended the slave trade in 1807 which  led to the full abolition of slavery in the coming decades. Landowners in Trinidad and Tobago then resorted to importing workers from nearby countries and indentured servants from India to compensate. During the 19th century, agricultural production increased and cacao became a prized asset. Despite this, the plight of the indentured servants from India caused strain between the workers and the overseers. It’s also worth mentioning that oil was found on Trinidad and Tobago, with production continuing today.

Modern Trinidad and Tobago

The early part of the 20th century was characterized by disputes over home rule. While the British tried to establish a West Indies union in 1958, this didn’t pan out and Trinidad and Tobago was granted full independence in 1962 – with Eric Williams serving as the first Prime Minister. 14 years later, the country became a republic, though it remained a member of the Commonwealth. Living standards and wealth increased thanks to multiple oil booms. Today, the country has begun to diversify its economy and is also a major tourist destination in the region.

fishing sunset boat trinidad tobago caribbean

A fishing boat on the water as the sun sets

Culture of Trinidad and Tobago

The culture of Trinidad and Tobago comes from an unsurprisingly diverse set of influences – among them various European, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous cultures. The most visible influence today is that of England, with the country English-speaking, along with many other cultural links (including sports). While there is a common legacy between Trinidad and Tobago, the two islands do differ both culturally, economically, and geographically.

Festivals in Trinidad and Tobago

Festivals are an important part of life in Trinidad and Tobago. The most famous is Carnival, which has evolved from a celebration amongst the elite to recognition of the abolition of slavery to a countrywide party. Calypso music (of which the country is the birthplace) is commonly heard through these celebrations, along with soca music.

Sports in Trinidad and Tobago

One of the most popular sports in Trinidad and Tobago is cricket, a legacy of British colonial rule. The country competes at the highest international level as one of the member countries of the West Indies team. Soccer is also popular, with the team having reached the 2006 World Cup (and fighting out a well-deserved draw against Sweden). Athletics are also followed, with the country finding success particularly in track and field at the Olympics (including a silver medal in the 100m dash in 2008).

Famous People from Trinidad and Tobago

One of the most famous people from Trinidad is singer Nicki Minaj (who was born there). Soccer player Dwight Yorke, who played for Manchester United (among other teams), is from Tobago. Soccer player Kenwyne Jones, formerly of Sunderland and Stoke of the English Premier League, is from Trinidad.

hot peppers trinidad tobago chili spicy

Hot peppers are commonly associated with the country – particularly the renowned ‘Scorpion’ pepper

Geography of Trinidad and Tobago

As should be clear by this point, the country is predominantly made up of two islands – Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad is the much larger of the two (about 93% of the area) and is also home to the country’s capital and larger cities. There are three different mountain ranges found on the island, along with a healthy amount of fertile soil. Tobago is also mountainous, though significantly smaller. Other, much smaller islands make up the rest of the country.

The three largest municipalities are San Fernando, Port of Spain (the capital), and Chaguanas. While the latter is classified as town, it is actually the single largest of the three. However, San Fernando is the largest ‘city’, while the metropolitan area around Port of Spain numbers over 250,000.

port of spain trinidad city port commercial shipping

Port of Spain – the capital of Trinidad and Tobago

Facts about Trinidad and Tobago

  • The ‘Scorpion’ pepper from the country is officially the world’s hottest pepper
  • The limbo was created in Trinidad and Tobago
  • Tobago may be the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe, and possibly Treasure Island
  • The country has the third highest GDP per person in the Americas
  • It’s the best place to celebrate Diwali in this hemisphere
  • The term and slogan ‘black power’ was made popular by Trinidad and Tobago native Stokely Carmichael
  • The accent is considered one of the world’s sexiest
  • Steel pan music comes from Trinidad and Tobago
sunset tobago sea caribbean

Sunset over still waters

Last Word

Check back later this week for the country’s best destinations in our Travel Guide, as well as more on the currency and economy with the Currency Spotlight!

Stay tuned to theCurrent for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems (see them all HERE).

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