History, Culture and and Government

Both Trinidad and Tobago were originally inhabited by Amerindians. During the colonial period, from the 15th to the 18th centuries, both islands received an influx of Spanish and French settlers, and in Tobago’s case, Dutch and Courlanders. Eventually, though, they came under British rule: Trinidad in 1797 and Tobago in 1803. In 1889, Britain joined Tobago to Trinidad, and, ever since, the islands have been governed as one. In 1962, we became independent from Britain and now have a parliamentary democratic system. The Prime Minister is the head of government, while the President is the head of state. The Tobago House of Assembly controls some of Tobago’s domestic affairs.

Like their South American neighbours, the islands were inhabited by indigenous people, mainly the Caribs and the Arawaks, prior to their discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1498. Trinidad was in the hands of the Spanish from the 15th century until it was captured by the British in 1797. During the Spanish rule, very few Spanish people settled in Trinidad and by the 1780's, Spain through the Cedula Act, invited all Catholic nations, to come to Trinidad . This was during the time of the French revolution, and many French fleeing the conflicts between the Royalians and the Republicans accepted the offer made by the Spanish to colonise Trinidad

French planters from the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe came during this time. The plantation owners cultivated sugar-cane, coffee and cocoa, and brought with them African slaves to cultivate the land. When the British arrived, they met a country ruled by the Spanish with French speaking citizens.

Tobago's history is very different from that of Trinidad. It changed hands many more times and was ruled at one time or another, by the Spanish, Dutch, French and British.

Trinidad became a British colony in 1802 and Tobago in 1814. They were enjoined administratively by the British in 1889 and then politically linked as a joint colony in 1890.

With the abolition of slavery, a shortfall in labour for agriculture was met by the Indians who began to arrive in Trinidad in 1845, as indentured labourers.

They emigrated from Bengal, Bombay, Madras, Punjab and other provinces, and had both Muslims and Hindus among them. Chinese and Portuguese from the island of Madeira, also came as indentured labourers. Early this century, many Syrian and Lebanese also came to Trinidad and played an important role in commerce, particularly in the textile and retail industries.

Up to the 19th century the islands like most colonies, developed as primary producers, supplying produce to be traded on the international market. Sugar and cocoa were big businesses in those days. Traders from England, Scotland, Germany, France and the United States, came to Trinidad as salesmen, entrepreneurs and bankers. Compared to the other islands, Trinidad was a wealthy, cosmopolitan country.

The direction of economic development began to change with first, the discovery of oil in Trinidad and then the commercialisation of the petroleum industry during the 20th century. The first oil deposits were discovered in 1866 and by 1908 crude oil production began. In 1912, the first oil refinery in Trinidad was established. In 1954, marine drilling began off the west coast of the island. In 1959 commercialisation of natural gas began with the establishment of the first ammonia plant. By 1986, the first commercial oil and gas discoveries were made off the east coast.

During the 1970's with the oil boom, Trinidad and Tobago was well poised to use the revenue generated from the increased production in the energy sector, to diversify its economy.

In 1962, Trinidad and Tobago became independent and in 1976, it became a Republic.