Ethnic Groups - The People of Trinidad and Tobago

The People of Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago is the proverbial melting pot of the Caribbean. In this population of 1.3 million, you’ll find ethnic and cultural roots stretching back to India, Africa, China, Europe and the Middle East. This colourful mix is apparent in the exotic look of our people, the spice of our cuisine, the marriage of melodies in our music, our host of religious holidays, and medley of festivals . . . the biggest of all being Trinidad Carnival.

The Africans

Forty percent of the population of Trinidad and Tobago are the descendants of Africans who were brought across the Atlantic Ocean from West Africa. Africans came to the Trinidad and Tobago to work on the plantations owned by the Europeans who bought them as slaves. The trade in slaves and slavery continued for more than 150 years.

A complex social pyramid developed in which Europeans and Africans all had their place. The African influence here is very strong. carnival and Crop Over were times when slaves celebrated . Dances like the limbo dance and stick fighting called Canboulay are still vibrant art forms in Trinidad and Tobago, and these are African in origin. Myths and legends, for example the Anansi stories, still thrill Trinidadian children, and these are derived from African characters and stories.

Although most people of African descent became Christian when missionaries came to the Caribbean, the ancient African religious practices of shango and voodoo are still important to many people.

The Asians

When slavery was abolished in the West Indians islands African slaves were free to leave the plantations. In the larger colonies such Trinidad, Jamaica, Cuba and Guyana the mass movement of slaves from the plantation created a shortage of labour.

To deal with the problem, people from other countries were invited to come and work on the plantations. In return, at the end of their indenture period, they were offered a piece of land in the colony where they worked, or their passage home again. Indentured labourers were brought from China, India and Europe.

The labour problem was solved when the East Indians arrived especially in Guyana and Trinidad. Some 40% of the population of Trinidad and Tobago are descendants of the original East Indians indentured labourers who were brought in.

Like the Africans, the East Indians settlers brought with them their own culture and religion. They also introduced rice-growing, which is the main staple of our homes. Many important celebrations and festivals were brought here by East Indians, for example the Hindu festival of Divali and the Moslem festival of Eid-ul-Fitr.

The Europeans

The first Europeans to make permanent settlements in Trinidad and Tobago were the Spaniards. At the beginning of the seventeenth century all the Europeans became involved in a scramble to take control of the unoccupied islands of the Caribbean. This activity resulted in Europeans from Spain, Holland, France and England combining to form major settlements in Trinidad and Tobago.

Ethnic Groups

Trinidad and Tobago prides itself as being a cosmopolitan nation, where people of all races and religions live and work in harmony.

Ethnic Group

Percentage of Population

(1990 census)

African Descent 39.6
East Indian Descent 40.3
Mixed 18.4
Caucasian 0.6
Chinese 0.4
Other 0.2
Not Stated 0.4

99.9

* Based on sample survey and extrapolation, figures do not add up due to rounding.
Source: Central Statistical Office

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