Customs and Culture

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Customs and Culture in Trinidad and Tobago

Background Information about Trinidad and Tobago

The islands were first inhabited by Arawak and Carib people, who settled here from the South American mainland, and whose descendants make up a small minority of the population. Trinidad was discovered by Christopher Columbus, who claimed it for Spain. Under Spanish rule, large numbers of French settlers established cocoa plantations in Trinidad and imported slaves to work them. The British seized the island in 1798, and abolished slavery. To make up for the labor shortage the government encouraged heavy immigration from countries such as Portugal, France, Germany, China, and most importantly India. Trinidad was united with Tobago in the 1880's. Throughout the early 1900's the country welcomed thousands of mostly black immigrants from other Caribbean countries, as well as Venezuela and Colombia. Following World War II, TT was combined with various other British Caribbean countries into the West Indies Federation, but the different countries could not get along and the federation soon collapsed. TT eventually achieved complete independence on August 31, 1962. Throughout the sixties and seventies, the country prospered thanks to large deposits of oil and natural gas, becoming the wealthiest nation in the Caribbean. However, in the late eighties, oil prices dropped significantly, causing a major economic meltdown. Thousands of Trinidadians left the country at this time, in search of better opportunities elsewhere. Throughout the ninties and 2000's the country recovered dramatically and it continues to improve today.

The country has a cosmopolitan society inhabited by many different peoples and cultures who live together in relative peace and harmony.

The two islands have distinct personalities. Trinidad is the larger of the two, and is the location of most of the country's cities and activity. It is also the country's industrial centre, noted for petroleum and natural gas production, which make T&T one of the most prosperous countries in the Caribbean. Tobago is known for tourism, which is its main industry and is a popular tourist destination. Both islands have a share of natural beauty.

Respecting Local Customs in Trinidad and Tobago

It's a good idea to greet a stranger before asking him or her a question. It's a better idea to avoid strangers when not in the company of others. There is no nude or topless bathing anywhere in Trinidad and Tobago.

Many Trinbagonians like to discuss sports. Being a former British colony, these discussions usually centre around football(soccer) and cricket.

In Trinidad and Tobago, many of the world's great religions are well represented. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Bah'ai are popular. Judaism is not very popular and is practised mostly among expatriates. Atheism and agnosticism are not widespread although many people will hold agnostic beliefs without being openly agnostic.

Although Trinidad has a large Indian Hindu community, there are no taboos that Westerners would have a difficult time getting used to. The cow is not so sacred as to prohibit eating beef or wearing leather although Hindus do not eat beef. (A few ultra-conservative Hindus may take exception to all this, but they are very, very few in number.)

Trinidadians can be extremely friendly and hospitable -- especially with guests who share a common religion with them. Be sure to bring small gifts to show your appreciation, as some visitors who had no intention of visiting or staying with locals end up doing so anyway.

Some homes (including a few guest houses) in rural areas are not connected to any underground water mains. However, they may still have running water from a large, round, black outdoor water tank. If staying in such a place, be sure to conserve water -- especially in the dry season (or year-round if it doesn't collect rainwater from the roof). If the tanks run dry, water trucks for refills may be available. However, even underground piped water may be rationed during the dry season. In short, if you are not staying in a major hotel, ask about the water situation.

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