Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a nation in the southern
Caribbean Sea, situated 11 km (7 miles) off the coast of Venezuela.
It is an archipelagic state consisting of two main islands,
Trinidad and Tobago, and 21 smaller islands. The larger and
more populated island is Trinidad, while Tobago is smaller (303
square kilometres; about 6% of the total area) and less populous
(50,000 people; 4% of the total population). Citizens are officially
called Trinidadians or Tobagonians or Citizens of Trinidad and
Tobago, but are informally referred to as Trinis or Trinbagonians.
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Unlike most of the English-speaking Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago is a primarily
industrialised country whose economy is based on petroleum and petrochemicals.
People of Indian and African descent make up almost 80% of the population, while
the remainder are mostly mixed race with small European, Chinese and Syrian-Lebanese
minorities. Trinidad and Tobago is famous for its pre-Lenten Carnival and as the
birthplace of steelpan and limbo.
The capital city Port-of-Spain is currently a leading candidate
to serve as the headquarters of the Permanent Secretariat
of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA-ALCA).
Both Trinidad and Tobago were originally settled by Amerindians
of South American origin. Trinidad was first settled by pre-agricultural
Archaic people at least 7000 years, making it the earliest-settled
part of the Caribbean. Ceramic-using agriculturalists settled
Trinidad around 250 BCE and then moved up the Lesser Antillean
chain. At the time of European contact Trinidad was occupied
by various Arawakan- and Cariban-speaking tribes including
the Nepoya, Suppoya and Yao, while Tobago was occupied by
the Island Caribs and Galibi. The aboriginal name for Trinidad
was Kairi or Iere which is usually translated as The Land
of the Hummingbird, although others have reported that it
simply meant island. Christopher Columbus encountered the
island of Trinidad on July 31, 1498 and named it after the
Holy Trinity. Columbus reported seeing Tobago, which he named
Bella Forma, but did not land on the island. The name Tobago
is probably derived from tobacco.
The Spanish established a presence on Trinidad, while Tobago
changed hands between British, French, Dutch and Courlanders.
Britain consolidated its hold on both islands during the Napoleonic
Wars, and they were combined into the colony of Trinidad and
Tobago in 1889. As a result of these colonial struggles Amerindian,
Spanish, and French and English place names are all common
in the country. African slaves and Indian, Chinese, Portuguese
and free African indentured labourers were imported to supply
labour in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Immigration
from Barbados and the Lesser Antilles, Venezuela and Syria
and Lebanon also impacted on the ethnic make-up of the country.
Although originally a sugar colony, cacao dominated the economy
in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. After
the collapse of the cacao crop (due to disease and the Great
Depression) petroleum increasingly came to dominate the economy.
The Depression and the rise of the oil economy led to changes
in the social structure.
The presence of American military bases in Chaguaramas and Cumuto in Trinidad
during World War II profoundly changed the character of society. In the post-war
period, the wave of decolonisation that swept the British Empire led to the formation
of the West Indies Federation in 1958 as a vehicle for independence. Chaguaramas
was the proposed site for the federal capital. The Federation dissolved after
the withdrawal of Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago elected for independence in
In 1976 the country severed its links with the British monarchy
and became a republic within the Commonwealth.
Petroleum, petrochemicals and natural gas continue to be
the backbone of the economy. Tourism is the mainstay of the
economy of Tobago, although it has declined in the environment
after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Trinidad and Tobago
is one of the most prosperous nations in the Caribbean, although
less so than it was during the "oil boom" between
1973 and 1983.