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Trinidad and Tobago

Bella Forma, Carib Indians, Calypso music, bicameral legislature, indentured servants

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Trinidad and Tobago, country comprising the southernmost of the islands in the Caribbean Sea. Trinidad, Tobago, and the adjacent islets that make up the country are situated off the northern coast of South America. The country’s capital and largest city, Port-of-Spain, is on Trinidad, the larger of the two islands.

Trinidad and Tobago has a varied population. Descendants of immigrants from India make up the largest group, followed closely by people of black African descent. Each group makes up about 40 percent of the population. The remainder are of European, South American, Middle Eastern, Chinese, or mixed ancestry. Trinidad and Tobago’s culture reflects this diverse population. Calypso music originated here, as did steel bands, which use oil drums cut to various sizes as drum heads. Every year before Lent the islands throw a huge Carnival party featuring calypso and steel bands.

The politics of Trinidad and Tobago largely follows ethnic lines. Eric Williams, a historian and political scientist who led the country to independence in 1962, founded one of the two major political parties, the People’s National Movement, which draws its support largely from black Africans. Trinidadians of Asian ancestry generally support the opposition parties.

Deposits of petroleum and natural gas give Trinidad and Tobago one of the highest per capita income levels in Latin America. However, the petroleum industry employs relatively few people, and unemployment has plagued the island nation. Sugarcane was long the main industry, and Africans were brought in as slaves to work on the sugar plantations. After the abolition of slavery, indentured servants came from India and other countries to work on the plantations.

The first European to reach Trinidad and Tobago was Christopher Columbus. He named Trinidad (meaning “Trinity” in Spanish) after three peaks he saw from his ship. The name he gave Tobago, Bella Forma (“Beautiful Shape”), did not stick. The island’s present name comes from the word tobacco, which Carib Indians grew on Tobago. Columbus claimed Trinidad for Spain, and it remained a Spanish colony until 1802, when Britain took it. Tobago’s history remained separate until Britain joined it with Trinidad in 1889. Before then, Tobago changed hands many times. Trinidad and Tobago gained independence from Britain on August 31, 1962, and became a republic on August 1, 1976.


According to the constitution of 1976, Trinidad and Tobago is a republic. The constitution provides for a president and a bicameral legislature, consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The president is elected by an electoral college of members of both houses of the legislature. The House of Representatives has 41 members, elected by the people to five-year terms. The 31 members of the Senate are appointed by the president. The legislature granted Tobago its own House of Assembly in 1980. This 15-seat house has certain powers over local finances and runs many public services; however, it has no legislative power.


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