Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A brief background on Trinidad

Trinidad in common with most of the Caribbean was the home of the Arawak and Carib Indians.

In 1498 Christopher Columbus on his third transatlantic voyage sighted an island surmounted by three peaks and named it La Trinite. It was not until 1592 that the Spanish colonised the island and grew mostly tobacco and later cocao. The settlement remained small, often plundered by British and Dutch. St Joseph was the capital until 1757 when Puerto de Espana became the residence of the Spanish government.

In 1776 the Spanish began to actively seek to attract planters. The French revolution in Europe was unsettling many French possessions in the Caribbean creating the right conditions for emigration. By 1790 so many French planters had arrived and settled that the island had almost become French. It was during this period that Trindad began to change into the more traditional caribean slave based economy.

In 1797 the British at war with the French and Spanish took Trinidad without bloodshed. The slave based economy continued and flourished with sugar now as the mainstay through the emancipation of the slaves until the middle of the twentieth century and the oil dominated economy of inedpendence.

Emancipation of the African slave population officially took place on 1st August 1834, although it actually came into effect in 1838. The former slaves looked upon agricultural labour as demeaning and moved into the suberbs seeking other work. This movement away from agriculture is a consistent theme throughout the Caribbean even today. The descendents of the African slaves enjoying planting and tending their own small plot, but resisting employment in this area.

The economy of the islands, particularly Trinidad, was purely agricultural, and predominantly sugar. The emancipation was a nightmare for planters suddenly bereft of labour. They solved the problem by turning first to India and later to China.

In May 1845 the sailing ship Fatel Rozack arrived in Trinidad bringing over 200 immigrants from Calcutta, the first of the Indian immigrants.

These people were brought out under a scheme known as indentureship, by which a legal commitment was made that the arrivee must work for a total of 5 years before having any option to change jobs or seek alternative work.

This immigration continued until 1917 when the Indian government halted the scheme.

The Indians who arrived were mostly from the north east around Calcutta. In practice this meant from within Calcutta's catchment area which spreads up the valley of the Ganges, through Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to the Punjab.

Being a naturally industrious people on the completion of their indentureship many became traders and small businessmen.

The majority are Hindu although there is a large Moslem community. They remain largely in extended families which encourages the passing of traditions and cooking methods from generation to generation.

The style of life and family interaction are well documented by writers like V. S. and Shiva Naipaul and Sam Selvon.

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