How did Trinidad and Tobago get its name?
Christopher Columbus gets the credit for naming Trinidad, calling it, "La Isla de la Trinidad" ("The Island of the Trinity "). Previously, it was believed to be called “Lere,” meaning, “Land of the Hummingbird” named by the Arawaks, an Amerindian people who inhabited the islands long ago. They are home to 17 different varieties of hummingbirds.
Tobago, on the other hand, was named after “tobacco” either for its shape or because they grow it there.
Where are Trinidad and Tobago islands located?
Trinidad is located just 6.8 miles off the northeastern coast of Venezuela and is the largest of the two-island nation. Tobago lies about 35 miles off the northeast of Trinidad. They are the furthest, southeastern islands in the Caribbean Sea. They share maritime borders with Barbados, Grenada, Guyana and Venezuela.
The capital city is Port of Spain, on Trinidad, however, the largest city is San Fernando.
Trinidad has three, large mountain ranges, which is why Columbus most likely named it, “The island of Trinity.” The islands have several small rivers, streams, waterfalls and beautiful coastlines replete with bays, and beaches.
Trinidad and Tobago are an eco-tourism dream. On the south of little Tobago there is a popular dive spot called the Kelleston Drain, that houses the largest brain coral colony in the world.
It is also home to the second largest number of leatherback turtles (about 10,000) who arrive each year on Trinidad beaches to lay and hatch their eggs.
They have the world’s oldest protected rain forest, dating back to 1776. It is also home to one of the highest densities of bird species in the world, with over 400 varieties.
They have an unusual, natural deposit of asphalt called the La Brea Pitch Lake that holds and replenishes around ten million tons of the asphalt that paves roads all over the world.
They are also home to a sand bar that is right in the middle of the ocean, where you can literally stand on top of it. It is called Nylon Pool after Princess Margaret said the water was as clear as her stockings. It is a popular tourist destination.
A Brief History of Trinidad and Tobago
The Islands were originally inhabited by the Arawak Indians, who were sadly killed off by early European settlers. Columbus discovered the islands on his third voyage, in 1498 and they were later colonized by the Spanish in 1592. This lasted for the next 200 years on the Island of Trinidad, until the British captured it and it was formally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1802.
Tobago, however, changed hands 33 times over that same period, between the Spanish, Dutch, English, French, Jamaicans, Swedes, and Great British. Ultimately, it was joined with Trinidad in 1889 as one colony. They gained their full independence in 1962.
The government is run as a parliamentary democracy, modelled after that of the United Kingdom. The monarch was replaced as head of state by a president, chosen by an electoral college. The country has remained a member of the commonwealth. Tobago was given a measure of self-government in 1980.
Culture of Trinidad and Tobago
The two-island nation has a large, diverse mix of cultures that have influenced its evolution. They are Indian, African, Portuguese, Amerindian, Spanish, Chinese and others. The country’s history with the United Kingdom has left a major impact on its culture as well. English is the official language, although Creole languages are spoken as well.
There is also a distinct difference between the two islands, because of their unique histories.
Africans were brought in to work on the plantation economy, as were Indians, Portuguese and the Chinese, after slavery was abolished. Today, Africans and East Indians make up the largest ethnic groups on the Islands. Africans are the largest group on the smaller island of Tobago.
Sugarcane and cacao were the Islands’ main crops. However, petroleum was discovered in 1857 and eventually became the most important export for the nation’s economy, making it the richest and most developed in the Caribbean. It also has the third largest GDP in the Americas, after the USA and Canada.
Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, and Islam are their three main religions.
Festivals are many and celebrated on both islands, with Carnival being the biggest celebration in the nation. They call Carnival the greatest street party in the world. It originated during slavery when the slaves were banned from attending their masters’ fancy balls and parties. The slaves would improvise by staging their own costumed event in their quarters. After emancipation, the slaves challenged the plantation owners to attend their parties. Carnival is now is week-long event that brings in over one billion dollars in revenue each year.
Christian, as well as Hindu and Muslim holidays, are all celebrated and are official holidays. It is special that everyone takes part in each other’s celebrations. It makes for a harmonious and more understanding society. It may also be why they have been ranked as the happiest Caribbean nation.
The two-island nation is responsible for many unique and important styles of music. Afro-Caribbean music spread from the country to other parts of the Caribbean and Venezuela. Its origins stem from the arrival of the African slaves with the French plantation planters in the 18thcentury.
Soca is another style of music that is a blend of Indian music, with the rhythms of calypso. Parang and Picharkaree are other forms of music that originated on the Islands.
Steelpans, also referred to as “pans,” are steel drums acoustically tuned, percussion instruments, made from oil drums, lids, frying pans and trash can lids. These instruments were made after percussion music and stick fighting were banned following a riot in the 1880s. The musicians that play them are called “pannists.” Steelpans are the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.
Trinidadian and Tobagonian Cuisine
It is no surprise that the cuisine of these Caribbean islands is as diverse as its history. It has many influences, with the most prominent being West African and Indian, with some Caribbean, Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese in the mix. This creates a wonderful fusion of flavor.
One popular dish is callaloo, which has African roots and is made with dasheen or taro leaves, okra, crab, pumpkin, onions and coconut milk and a green sauce made from culantro, which is locally known chadon beni. It is typically served with a cornbread called coo coo. Curried Duck is beloved and made from Muscovy ducks that are bred on the islands. There are curried duck competitions held throughout the year.
Pelau is another popular dish, that is rice based. Stewed chicken, macaroni pie, oxtails, and dahl are the more staple dishes. Typically, the dishes are curried, stewed or barbecued.
Being an islands’ nation, fish and seafood play an important role in the cuisine. Flying fish, king fish, red fish, bonito, tilapia, as well as shrimp, lobster, crab and conch, are loved. There is a delicacy called cascade which is made from a seasonal freshwater fish, which is curried and served with lagoon rice.
Soups and stews, known as blue food, are made from taro roots, sweet potato, cassava and yams. Fish broth made into a bouillabaisse, is also popular.
Trinidad is home to the second hottest pepper on the planet called the Moruna scorpion. It measures over two million on the Scoville Scale for heat. This along with other peppers and herbs like culantro and lime, are made into pepper sauces that are ubiquitous there.
Chutneys, made from mango, cucumber, tomato, coconut and tamarind, are a condiment that comes in an array of flavors and seasonings. Green seasoning is the most popular.
Achar is also a popular condiment, which is made from a variety of pickled goods.
There is also a huge array of street foods like doubles, bake and shark, aloo pie, pholourie, roti wraps, kebabs, wontons, and souse, to name a few.
Roast corn and boiled corn on the cob can be found day and night, when in season.
For desserts, they like them sweet and made from coconut, guava, nuts and of course chocolate, as they claim to grow the best cacao on the planet.
So let’s enjoy a Trinidadian and Tobagonian meal:
Doubles (Flat bread with curried chickpeas)
Chadon Beni Sauce (Cucumber & Culantro chutney)
We set the scene with the colors of Trinidad and Tobago; red, black and white. We placed Spanish ships to represent the colonial presence of Spain. A little, black drummer boy was added, for the creation of the steel pan, plus a photo of the national bird; the stunningly beautiful scarlet Ibis. Finally we added seashells, as it is an Islands’ nation.
For our first course, we devoured the very popular street food called doubles. They get the name because they are served on two pieces of soft baras (little flat, fried bread.) These are topped with channa or curried chickpeas and then topped with an amazing cucumber chutney called Chadon Beni Sauce that added spicy heat, coolness and an amazing flavor of culantro to this dish. These are served for breakfast and also as snacks, throughout the day.
For the main course, we loved the macaroni pie. It is basically a firm mac and cheese, mixed with creole flavors that is baked in a casserole dish and served with ketchup.
Dessert was a delicious coconut roll, made with fresh grated coconut, brown sugar with a hint of nutmeg, rolled up in a buttery crust. It was divine!
After dinner we decided to put on a little Calypso music and try the limbo. Did I mention the limbo dance was created in Trinidad and Tobago? You know the dance, it is where the stick keeps getting lowered as you pass under it leaning backwards, without touching it. How low can you go?
As we say goodbye to these intriguing islands, I leave you with a few popular sayings:
“Better belly buss than good food waste” - which means, it is better to eat and stuff yourself than to let good food go to waste.
“Every bread has a cheese” - Everyone, even someone unattractive, is bound to find a soul mate.
“Any time is Trinidad time”- a common saying, used as an excuse for being late.
Until Next time,
Appreciate the wide ranging article.
The pepper is the Moruga Scorpion.
Yes, there are three Mountain Ranges, Northern, Central and Southern. It is in the Southern a small region in the South East where three peaks (Trinity Hills) may have inspired Columbus to n a name the island Trinidad after the Holy Trinity.
Have a Great Day.
Darlene at International Cuisine
Thank you kindly for the additional information! I appreciate it.