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The Soca Paradise Trinidad & Tobago

In terms of historical standing in the Caribbean region, few can match the overall impact of Trinidad & Tobago. This twin republic has given the world: limbo (the dance form), calypso (the music style) and steelpan (the musical instrument), in addition to just enough cultural oddities to make those islands stand out. The landscape, the language, the food and especially the people all are a part of the potpourri that makes the islands a wonderful place to visit, and more than worthy to be profiled by Buzzebly.com.

Speak to anyone not quite familiar with Trinidad & Tobago and it will not be long before the annual celebration that is Carnival is brought up. This festival has its origins in the late 18th century with the plantation owners, many of which who were French, organizing costume parties (masquerades) to signify the beginning of the Lenten period of fasting. Slaves, however, were not allowed to take part in these festivities with the ruling class, so they created their own celebration called ‘Canboulay’, which is the French word for burnt cane. Canboulay, and the music emanating from it, was the direct predecessor to Calypso. After the Emancipation Bill was passed in 1833 and the slaves began to participate in the proceedings, Calypso became the official sound of a now united Carnival.

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With Carnival in full swing, the steelpan, another indigenous Trinidad & Tobago creation, was born. The steelpan came about as most inventions can credit their genesis, pure necessity. The Canboulay riots in 1881 were primarily caused by the Trinidadian police ban of sticks and lighted torches, an essential part of Canboulay. Those sticks, in addition to being used as a form of intimidation by rival revelers groups, were also the basis of the percussion instruments that were used at the time. What ensued for a brief moment was the invention of ‘tamboo bamboo’, where bamboo sticks were cut at different lengths to mimic the sounds – soprano, alto, tenor and bass. However, that too was banned after claims that these bamboo sticks were also used in roadside quarrels and street fights. However in 1935, the Newton Tamboo Bamboo band and its leader Lord Humbugger (Carlton Forde) took to the streets with a full aggregate of metal containers: biscuit pans, paint cans, garbage bins and covers. By Carnival Monday, most of the bamboo bands had followed the Newton band, and the sound of Trinidad & Tobago music changed forever.

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One cannot attempt to talk about the islands’ current culture without exploring how the racial component of its population has shaped it. Firstly, the island of Trinidad was a Spanish colony from the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1498, it even got its current name from him as it is said he renamed it “La Isla de la Trinidad” (“The Island of the Trinity”) based on a vow he made before setting out on that particular voyage. The cigar shape of the island of Tobago is said to have influenced its name as the Spanish name for cigar is: cabaco, favaco and tobacco. Like most of the Caribbean, Trinidad & Tobago had times when they were under the rule of several colonies before eventually become independent in 1962. Under these colonies, there were a mixture of whites, Amerindians and African slaves initially until after the abolishment of slavery in 1833. After the slaves were freed, the plantation owners were desperate for new sources of labour. In 1839 the British government began a programme of recruiting Indian labourers in Calcutta to be sent to Trinidad. And from that programme, the Indian community has steadily prospered and grown until now it makes up about 35% of the population of the nation (for the most part equal with the black ethnic group). This mixture of ideals has impacted everything from language and religion to politics and food. The food especially has a unique blend of Indian, African, Amerindian, European, Latin American, Chinese, Jewish, and Arab influence which is combined with Trinidad & Tobago’s natural flora and fauna can lead to very interesting results. Bake and shark, pelau, doubles and wild meat, the latter of which was featured in an earlier article on Buzzebly [put link to Bizarre Caribbean Foods here] all are deeply tied to what many feel it to be a true Trinibagoian.

One of the more remarkable facts about Trinidad is that, geologically, its landscape is closer to the South American continent than it is to rest of the Caribbean basin. The main ecosystems are coastal and marine, that is coral reefs, mangrove swamps, open ocean and seagrass beds; forest and freshwater, like rivers and streams. Tobago, however, shares far more with rest of the Antilles with the southwestern tip of the island having a coral platform and the coastline being indented with numerous bays, beaches, and narrow coastal plains. The Pitch Lake is the most popular and best example on the island of Trinidad of its biodiversity. As the largest deposit of asphalt in the world, incidentally the second largest is Lake Guanoco located in nearby country of Venezuela, Pitch Lake attracts about 20,000 visitors annually and is also mined for asphalt which is sold around the world in addition to be used locally. The animals that inhabit Trinidad are also fairly unique with: anteaters, armadillos, capuchin monkeys, deer, howler monkeys, tree porcupines, manatees, manicou (opossum) and ocelots; all existing naturally in the savannahs and rainforests on the island. The many bays of Tobago are home to leatherback turtles, cocoricos, orange-winged Amazon parrot and mantis shrimp.

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