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Origin and name

The original inhabitants were Arawak and Carib Indians. They called their territory Iere, which means simply 'island' according to some and 'island of the hummingbird' according to others. They lived from hunting and fishing.

Trinidad owes its name to Columbus. In 1498, during his third voyage to America, the explorer sailed past an island with three prominent hills that reminded him of the Holy Trinity, or 'Trinidad'. Because there was no gold or silver, the Spanish initially ignored Trinidad. He named Tobago Bella Forma (beautiful formation). Later, however, this was changed to Tobago, probably derived from the word tobacco.

Spanish rule

The first Spanish settlements in Trinidad and Tobago date from 1530. The colonists were mainly concerned with establishing tobacco plantations. They were ruthless to the Indians. They turned them into slaves who had to work on the plantations. Thanks to their firearms, the Europeans were invincible. Moreover, many Arawaks and Caribs fell prey to deadly diseases brought by the Europeans, such as smallpox. The few Indians who survived the tragedy blended in with the new population groups. In the vicinity of Arima, some Indians still live according to the customs of the pre-Columbian period. To replace the Indians, the colonists brought thousands of slaves from West Africa. It was not until the end of the 16th century, under the leadership of Governor Antonio de Berrío y Oruña, that a Spanish community, San José de Oruña (now St. Joseph), settled in Trinidad. However, in 1595, this first European settlement was plundered and set on fire by the Englishman Walter Raleigh. St. Joseph was the first capital of Trinidad, from 1592 to 1783. Antonio de Berrío y Oruña died in 1597 and was immediately succeeded by his son Fernando de Berrío y Oruña.

Dutch occupy Tobago

In 1628 the Dutch landed on Tobago, named the island New Walcheren and built Fort Vlissingen there. In 1629 and 1632 the fort was reinforced with a few hundred Zeelanders. On 1 January 1637 all the Dutch were massacred by the Spaniards, but in 1654 the colony was reinstated together with Kurlanders (Kurland was a historic region in Latvia) and the place New Flushing was founded (now Scarborough). Pieter Becquart founded the settlement of Lampsinsburg, named after the shipowners Adriaan and Cornelis Lampsins. The French also claimed the island, but Cornelis Lampsins was raised to the peerage by Louis XIV and henceforth was entitled to call himself Baron of Tobago. He received the area in hereditary fief.

The Dutch built three forts near Nieuw-Vlissingen on the east side of Tobago: Lampsinsberg, Beveren and Bellavista. On the other side of the island the Kurlanders built Fort Jacob on the present Great Courland Bay. On 11 December 1659 the Kurlanders surrendered peacefully to the Dutch. At that time, about 1500 Europeans and 7000 slaves lived on the island. The slaves worked on about 120 sugar plantations, a number of sugar mills and two rum distilleries.

In January 1966 the island was conquered by British-Jamaican pirates under the command of Robert Searle and John Poyntz, but already in April 1667 the Zeeland admiral Abraham Crijnssen recaptured the island, which had been abandoned by the British and the French. In December 1672, at the time of the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674), the British attacked the island again and defeated the Dutch, who, however, were still allowed to govern the island by the British, as laid down in the Second Treaty of Westminster in 1674. In 1676, the Dutch, led by governor Jacob Binckes, built a new fort, Sterreschans, but several French attacks on the island resulted in the death of Binckes and several hundred more Dutchmen. The remaining Dutch surrendered and the French blew up Fort Sterreschans and left the island.

At the Peace of Nijmegen in 1678, the colony was again given to Holland by France, but when the Count of Courland tried again to establish a settlement on the island, the Dutch had had enough and in 1684, Tobago was declared independent and neutral by the British, French and Dutch and everyone was free to settle on the island. Thus ended the presence of the Dutch and the island in fact became a pirate's nest.

British and French

In the 18th century, the British acquired both islands and they were merged into the colony of Trinidad and Tobago in 1889.

Many French settled in Trinidad during the 18th century. Then, in 1797, the British conquered the island. This created a curious combination: a predominantly French population with a Spanish legal system under English rule. The French, Dutch and English also waged war on Tobago, until the English celebrated their victory in 1814.

After the abolition of slavery in 1836, the colonists brought some 140,000 Indians and Chinese to the islands as plantation workers. They were followed by traders and workers from Lebanon, Syria, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, France, Ireland and Scotland, among others. Former Negro slaves from Baltimore and Pennsylvania also sought refuge there. Over the years, a lively multicultural society developed on the islands.


After World War II, US naval bases were established on Trinidad and the islands became independent in 1958 as part of the West Indies Federation. However, the federation was quickly dismantled and the independent nation of Trinidad and Tobago was established in 1962. Eric Williams, a leading Caribbean historian and known as Father of the Fatherland, was Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago from 1956 until his death in 1981.

The current President of Trinidad and Tobago since February 2013 is Anthony Carmona. Prior to that, he was a judge at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Keith Rowley has been Prime Minister since September 2015. Paula Mae Weekes will be sworn in as the country's first female president in March 2018. In the 2020 elections, Keith Rowley will retain power.


Elmar Landeninformatie


CIA - World Factbook

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Last updated May 2024
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