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History of Trinidad & Tobago

People have lived on the islands of Trinidad & Tobago since about 4000 BC. Over time other groups of people arrived and either replaced earlier groups or intermarried them. After a few waves of varying people, the Arauquinoid people arrived in about 650 AD and by about 1300 AD it seems numerous groups were present including the Arawak (a large linguistic and perhaps ethnic group) Nepoya and Suppoya people and the Carib (a large linguistic and perhaps ethnic group) Yao people.

The first European to arrive to the islands was Christopher Columbus who landed on the islands in 1498. Upon Spanish settlement in the Caribbean in the early 1500s the people of Trinidad & Tobago were regularly raided in order to become slaves. Upon Spanish arrival the islands were fairly densely populated, however disease and the enslavement of these people quickly diminished the population.

It wasn't until 1532 that the Spanish actually tried to settle the islands, but they were driven off the lands. A couple more attempts to settle the islands failed until 1592 when the town of St. Joseph was founded. From this time into the late 1600s the settlements here did little to grow or progress.

In 1687 the Spanish sent numerous missionaries into Trinidad & Tobago. While some of these missionaries were quite successful, others failed and only created distrust and hostility between the Spanish and the local people. In 1699 the local people murdered a number of these missionaries.

The Spanish settlement in Trinidad & Tobago were slow to grow and by the late 1700s population numbers were still significantly low, encouraging the Spanish government to give potential settlers motivation for arriving on the islands. They granted any Roman Catholic land there, along with additional land for bringing in slaves. This offer was extended to Spaniards as well as former slaves of all ethnicities. This led to numerous settlers arriving, including a large number of freed slaves.

In 1797 the islands were surrendered to the British, whose major changes came just years later as the empire outlawed the slave trade in 1807 and illegalized slavery entirely in 1834. This led to an attempt to extend the term of slavery so instead of ending in 1834, it would end in 1840, however this was fought by the local slaves and supported by the British government, freeing the slaves in 1838.

These changes led to large labor shortages and soon the British were giving away free land. After numerous former American slaves settled, Chinese, Africans, Portuguese, and Indians settled on the islands. However, these new labor sources were more expensive than slaves so the production of sugarcane slowly declined as the growth of cocoa increased throughout the 1800s. Also, in the 1860s oil was discovered on the islands, providing another potential revenue stream.

The cocoa industry began to crumble in the 1930 with the Great Depression in the United States and Europe. Also during this time a number of diseases spread among the cocoa plants, killing much of the crop. This shifted the economic focus to oil and a more diversified economy, while also sparking strikes and labor unions demanding greater rights.

In the 1940s Trinidad & Tobago introduced universal adult suffrage and in 1962 Trinidad & Tobago followed Jamaica's lead and became independent. Since this time political and social change has been primarily dictated by racial differences and disagreements, most notably with the Jamaat al Muslimeen, a Muslim group who has resorted to violence and the Indians who have often times been the victims of racism, although they remain the country's largest ethnic group. Meanwhile, economic progress has been primarily dictated by oil prices.

This page was last updated: March, 2013