Sunday, 3 April 2011

Introducing Trinidad and Tobago: opposites really do attract!

Together we aspire, together we achieve.

Picture this. It is Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. The sounds of sweet soca music blast from loudspeakers on massive music trucks. Costumed men and women of all ages, races and religions dance with wild abandon. Or what about this? On a street corner an East Indian woman serves up some fragrant curried doubles to hungry customers while at the same time chatting at the speed of light. Or maybe even this? Some children run about barefoot on the beach, laughing and playing in the sand.

But you would be mistaken if you thought that was a full representation of the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. You are just as likely to see huge malls and shopping plazas, modern skyscrapers, multiplex cinemas, oil executives, businessmen in sharp suits or be stuck in miles of traffic at rush hour. Tourism is NOT a priority (at least not in Trinidad). After all our economy is built on the oil and natural gas industry, manufacturing and financial services. This has led to a very high standard of living for its people. So if you thought it was only about sun, sea and sand, think again. Here are ten things about Trinidad and Tobago that I bet you didn't know!

1. Opposites attract. This dual island nation is the farthest south of all the Caribbean islands. Trinidad is actually closer to Venezuela at some points than it is to Tobago. The islands are like fraternal twins. Trinidad is fast paced and more populous whereas Tobago is the quiet little sister, since it is more natural (it is a top destination for eco-tourism), with beautiful white sand beaches, rainforests and coral reefs.   

2. We are all South American. It is believed that the islands used to be part of the South American continent many years ago. The Northern mountain range of Trinidad is thought to be part of the Andes in South America and was connected as recently as the Ice Age (maybe I shouldn't use the word recent). As a result we have much more flora and fauna than other Caribbean Islands.

3. We are very multicultural. Lots of other countries lay claim to multiculturalism, which tends to equate to pockets of communities who don't really interact or mix with each other. Although parts of the country are dominated by different ethnic groups (40% Afro-caribbean, 40% East Indian and the rest European, Chinese and mixed descent), there is much more intermingling of different ethnic groups which leads to shared customs and food. Unfortunately the country's politicians can be quite divisive around election time!

4. We have many holidays. I think there are about 16 holidays if one includes Carnival, Easter, Christmas etc!! Why is this? Well partly due to our multiculturalism, so in addition to Christian holidays we also have Muslim holidays like Eid and Hindu festivals like Divali. We also have holidays to mark important events like Emancipation Day (when slavery was abolished), Arrival Day (when East Indians arrived in Trinidad, also for other groups like the Chinese), Independence day etc. We can be awarded extra holidays by the Government for sporting events (like getting an Olympic gold or getting through to the World Cup) or winning Miss Universe (yes I am very serious). So we are almost always on holiday. We even have a holiday called Spritual Baptist Liberation Day. I am not making this up! My country is crazy. That is why I love it!! 

5. We take beauty pageants seriously! This may seem silly but we are proud to claim that we have some of the best looking women in the world! Again, this may be due to multiculturalism. But women here are very glamorous and stylish irrespective of size, shape or age. Patients have been known to tell medical students off for looking frumpy on the wards! Therefore when we win Miss Universe or Miss World we celebrate as a nation. And we get a holiday of course........ see point 4!!!!!

6. We created our own musical instrument the steel pan. It is now the official musical instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. You can read more about the history of the steel pan here.

7. We love food! In addition to American style dishes, we have Afro-Caribbean and Asian inspired dishes. Examples include ‘Bake and Shark', which consists of fried dough sandwiching pieces of fried shark meat (very yummy). Other favorites include Callaloo soup, crab and dumplings, curried roti wraps, fresh seafood from the ocean and rivers, edible roots like cassava and yams with saltfish, peas and rice and more. Oh and as I mentioned before we love KFC (which does not taste like the crap provided by outlets in the UK). Even Mc Donald's had to close their franchise here.

8. Our Carnival is as good as Brazil's. Some people believe it is better (can't say for certain as I have not been to Rio). Many people are unaware of Trinidad's Carnival. Although I am not the biggest fan (I like wearing clothes) I cannot deny that it is an amazing event. Who do you think started the Notting Hill Carnival in London? Trinidadian immigrants of course and to be honest Notting Hill pales in comparison to the real thing. I have attended on several occasions and it is actually a pretty poor imitation. I have stopped going as I am always disappointed.

9. We are a musical people. For Carnival there is calypso and soca (faster than calypso and heard more often in parties). There is also chutney (Asian influenced, usually sung in Hindi), chutney soca (for Carnival), parang (sung in Spanish at Christmas), soca parang etc etc...... As a people we like to have a good time and music plays an important part in our ability to do this.

10. We have our own dialect. Although we supposedly speak English (DH claims that I revert to strong Trini when I am home or talking to my parents on the phone), there are many words and phrases which are specific to Trinidad and Tobago.  Examples include.....

badjohn- a bully eg 'he feel he is a badjohn!'
bacchanal- confusion, scandal, argument
bobolee- a stupid person who always gets taken advantage of
chupidee- another word for a stupid person (we don't like idiots here)
commesse- confusion, controversy
horn- to cheat on someone as in 'he get a horn by de wife'.
jumbie- ghost
mamaguy- to make a fool of someone 'doh mamaguy me!'
make style- to show off

We even have a word for doing absolutely nothing or just hanging out. We refer to this as 'liming' and the ability TO LIME is actually what being Trinidadian (or Tobagonian) is all about!!!

So that was a quick overview of my lovely country. Of course there is no perfect place so there are some downsides as well which I have not discussed.

What do you think? Would you like to visit Trinidad and Tobago? Please share in the comments.

I am off now to 'lime' with CP2 :-) Enjoy your day! I can't wait to blog about my mini break in Tobago!


Steve said...

Great insight, I'm going to go and have a look in to the history etc of Trinidad to discover a bit more about it's history and culture.

I have to admit to not knowing much about them apart from being able to locate the islands on a map.

Fashion, Art and other fancies said...

I would enjoy some baked shark right about now;-)
Trinidad is indeed a majestic island. How fortunate you are to be there for Carnival; dancing to soca and so forth. Ah, enjoy, my sweet friend, enjoy! XX

sarah (SHU) said...

i totally would LOVE to go someday! one of my best friends is half-irish and half from tobago (not sure of the right term). i've wanted to go ever since i met her!

Nancy said...

Interesting, thanks!

Angeliki said...

Very interesting post! Have a lovely lovely time xx

caribbean princess said...

Thanks everyone. We had a great time! The beaches were beautiful. The weather was amazing and I had good company.

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