The Legacy of the First Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago
Our Amerindians were the earliest people to settle in Trinidad and Tobago and as such are celebrated as the First Peoples, the Indigenous Peoples of our twin-island nation. There were two periods of migration into the Caribbean from Central and South America: the archaic period from around 5000BC – 200BC and the saladoid period from around 500BC – 600AD.
There has been a continuous Amerindian presence in Trinidad for almost 11,000 years. However, Tobago’s Amerindian history is very different from that of Trinidad. The earliest settlement in Tobago dates back to about 3500BC but this is thought to have been a short-lived satellite settlement from Trinidad. Permanent Amerindian occupation of Tobago began around 0AD with the Kalina and Kalinago and continued until 1810AD when these peoples abandoned the island to settle in north and east Trinidad.
By the time Christopher Columbus arrived on our shores in 1492, our Amerindian population is thought to have been around 40,000, although population estimates as high as 200,000 have been submitted. The population included eight (8) ethnic peoples belonging to three language families.
- The Waraowitu and the Chaguanes who spoke Warao
- The Aruaca and Sheba who spoke Arawak
- The Nepuyo, Yao and Karina all of whom spoke the Carib language
- The Kalinago or Island Carib of Tobago who spoke an Arawakan language
We, descendants of our First Peoples still live in Trinidad. We continue to fight for and defend our way of life. Our ancestors owned and named our world. Many of these names have survived to date.
- Natural features such as Tapana, Nariva and the Aripo mountains; the Aripo and Tamana Caves; the Caroni, Oropouche and Ortoire rivers
- Place names including Arima, Paria, Salybia, Caura, Arouca, Tacarigua, Chaguanas, Carapichaima, Couva, Chacachacare, Mucurapo, Guaico, Caratal, Guayaguayare , Mayaro and others
- Plants and animals such as carat and timite palms, tobacco, cacao, ceiba (silk cotton tree), maize, manicou, agouti, lappe and many more
- Many of our present towns and villages are built on ancient Amerindian settlement sites
- Some of our roads are built on old Amerindian trails. These include the Tumpuna Road in Arima and part of the Siparia-Quinam road
Parang, utilizing both Spanish and Amerindian instruments emanated from the evangelization of the Amerindians. Arima and Siparia, two large Amerindian mission towns have given us our two oldest festivals: The Santa Rosa festival and La Divina Pastora. We continue to enjoy the foods that our ancestors enjoyed such as wild meat, cocoa, cassava, roucou, corn, maize and warap. Similar to our Amerindian forbears we barbecue our meats and season them with chardon beni (cilantro). We too relax after eating in a hammock.