Exploring the history and experiences of mixed heritage persons and inter-racial relationships across the world

Trinidad and Tobago

Map Trinidad & TobagoLike Suriname, the island state of Trinidad and Tobago which includes several smaller islands is one of those countries in this region of the world that could be considered South America but due to their closer relationship in terms of culture and history are generally regarded as part of the Caribbean.

Like many other West Indian islands, both Trinidad and Tobago were originally settled by Amerindians of South American origin. Trinidad was settled mainly by the Arawaks and is regarded as having been one of the earliest-settled parts of the Caribbean. Tobago on the other was settled by the Caribs whose range extends all over the southern Caribbean which is named after them. The Caribs displaced both Arawak and Taíno peoples throughout the region usually assimilating the Arawak and Taíno women and in so doing were a mixed population. It would appear that the first Europeans to visit Tobago were the English in 1580 but it was the Courlanders who settled there around 1654. This separate history is for the most part the history of the two islands until 1888/89 when the two islands were united into a British crown colony.

Revellers Wine at Trinidad CarnivalTrinidad was a Spanish colony from the times of Christopher Columbus discovery to 1802 when it was became part of the British West Indies. As with other parts of the Spanish colonial empire, the early Spanish settlers enslaved but also mixed with the Amerindians resulting in a growing Mestizo population. The usual raft of old world diseases and harsh conditions imposed by the colonialists meant the indigenous Amerindians slowly faded out of existence save for a small Carib population that exists today. The Spanish began bringing African slaves to the island from as early as 1517. Miscegenation continued with a Mulatto (term used to describe a mixed European/African person) population adding to the mix on the island.

Echoing the Haitian experience, a Frenchman obtained a concession in the form of the Spanish crown’s 1783 Cedula of Population law which promised free land to Europeans willing to relocate to Trinidad. The French, as well as many other Europeans came other parts of the Caribbean with their slaves and from Europe to work the plantations adding to an already mixed population. The concession was granted as Trinidad was under-populated and the French influx greatly influenced the island with French becoming the ‘de-facto’ language. This European mix and low population may be the reason why the Spanish Governor gave up the colony to the British without a fight in 1802. Trinidad became a British crown colony, with a French-speaking population and Spanish laws. Even under the early British rule, the island’s population grew slowly and by the time slavery was abolished there were only 18,000 or so slaves – compared to the 360,000 in Jamaica which is only twice as large as Trinidad.

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