Caribbean Black History: Tobago

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People from Tobago are normally known as Afro-Tobagonian or inclusively as Afro-Trinidadians to include all the people from Trinidad and Tobago. The people from this region are largely of black descent. They used to be called Negroes or Blacks to indicate that they were from the African descent. Most Caribbean people are of African descent. It is estimated that over 1.6 million people were transported to the Caribbean from Africa between the seventeenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. Once they reached the Caribbean, they were enslaved and forced to work on the vast plantations and in households. In as much as the slave trade was abolished in 1807, these people were not truly emancipated until in 1834. Before emancipation, they were considered the property of their owners, which meant that they were subjects to the wishes of the people who owned them, in other words, they were meant to attend to all the whims of the slave owners in every way. In addition, they were subject to the slave laws that were in practice during the time. This meant that the blacks in the Caribbean were treated in very inhumane ways. They were sold like property, their families were split up, they were subject to inheritance and even being gifted to others among many other horrible treatments. They were denied basics such as education, the right to vote, the right to make their own choices and the right to movement. The only way movement could be accomplished was when a slave owner was migrating to a different country or location and they brought their slaves along. Even after the abolition of slavery, the slaves in the Caribbean were subject to apprenticeship to their masters for a period of four years. This means they were not immediately freed. Understanding the history of blacks in the Caribbean is important as it helps people to find out their roots and the history of their culture, which makes it easier to understand their present practices and their identity as a people.

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The origin of the people in Tobago and most of the Caribbean is from the slaves from West Africa and Central Africa. The ethnicity of the enslaved people in Tobago is commonly from the Malinke, Kongo and Igbo tribes of Africa. These were the tribes that were most affected by the slave trade and who ended up majorly in the highlands of Trinidad and Tobago. Before the Trans-Atlantic Trade, the islands were home to indigenous people before they were occupied by the Spanish Empire. The empire enslaved most of the indigenous people and with the passage of time they intermixed with them creating an identity known as the Mestizo. Later, after Spain started transporting slaves to the Island of Trinidad, there was the emergence of the Mullatos. The Mestizo and the Mullatos started mixing and by this this time, the indigenous people were already nonexistent in the region.

Great Britain took over the Island and abolished slavery in 1834, which resulted in an influx of slaves from all over the globe to the area. Most slaves did not leave even after the abolition of slavery but rather stayed, married and mixed with the local population of the region. In 1845, Britain transported a major fraction of their indentured slaves into the islands further catalyzing the mixture of the population. The people from East India also mixed with the local population and being that they had the Indian customs, which they had retained, these customs mixed into the local population as well.

The Black Power Revolution gained popularity in the region between 1968 and 1970. A group of students formed what was known as the National Joint Action Committee. They were from an affiliate college of the University of the West Indies. This movement had notable influencers such as Fidel Castro, Malcom X, and Stokely Carmichael among others who advanced the movements ideals. Their demonstrations were geared towards bringing Black Power to realization and advocating for a return to African culture and heritage.

The huge influx of slaves from Africa into the Island that occurred in the sixteenth and eighteenth century played an important part in shaping the culture of Tobago and that of Trinidad. The culture in Tobago is rich as in encompasses all the various cultures of people who have been inhabitants of the region from the time before slavery to the present time. The culture in the Island can be noted to include a Carnival culture, Steelpan and Calypso. In terms of religion, most of the blacks in the region are Christians with Catholic as the major religion followed by Anglicans and Methodists. A small minority ascribe to other faiths such as Rastafarianism and Spiritual Baptist.

The steelpan culture is related to music in which steel drums are used as instruments and the artists in the genre are known as pannists. The culture can be traced to the French planters together with their slaves who emigrated to Trinidad and Tobago during the revolution in France in 19789. They came from Martinique with an inclusion of West Africans and Creoles and established a community, before the British took the Islands from Spain. The celebration of the Carnival came with the French. Slaves who were not allowed to take part in the celebrations formed their own version of the celebrations known as the canboulay. The steel pans are now a central part of the culture of the island especially in relation to music and the music contests that are a major part of the culture in Tobago.

The carnival culture, which presently is a central part of the culture in the island, can be traced to the Mas tradition during the late eighteenth century. During the time, French plantation owners organized masquerades and celebrations before the fasting period of Lent. As mentioned, the formation of Canboulay by slaves who could not be part of the celebration laid the foundation for the carnival that is a major tradition in Trinidad and Tobago presently. The carnival has played a major role in the development of music in the islands. Calypso came into being in the seventeenth century and originated from West African music, which was brought by slaves who were important to the island to work as slaves in the sugarcane plantations. The slaves used calypso to mock their masters and to communicate with each other. Early calypso was sang in Creole. The lead was known as a griot but with development of the genre, the leaders role changed to be known as a chantuelle and later a caypsonian. The carnival at present tis an annual occasion that is held on the Monday and Tuesday that precede Ash Wednesday in Trinidad and Tobago. The celebrations are famous for the colorful costumes and high-spirited celebrations that are a characteristic feature of the event.

Black Lives Matter Movement

The movement started in the African-American community with a focus on campaigning against violence directed at black people. The movement organizes protests based on black peoples deaths instigated by law enforcement authority and officers and also addresses issues related to racial profiling inequality in the justice system and police brutality. The movement started from social media after a white man was acquitted in the shooting of a black teen. The Trevor Martin case became a global sensation that highlighted issues that people of African-American descent face.

The effect of the movement and the impact it has on the global society and the people of Tobago is an awareness of issues that have long plagued black people but people refuse to address. The movement has managed to create awareness of issues faced by blacks in America and its environs and has forced the whole of the world to address such issues. For instance, the shooting of the teen as popularized by the movement in social media invited the support of the plight of black people from all over the world. The government has also been forced to address such issues as posed by the movement and ensure the inclusion of blacks in progressive strategies. In Tobago, the impact of the movement underlines the underrepresentation of blacks in social institutions and the stigma associated with being a mixed race black individual.


The culture of the two islands are different as the histories of the two regions are different. The cultural influences that have shaped Trinidad and Tobago vary. However, the most influential aspect of both is the Carnival. There are also some similarities in the diversity of culture of the two islands. The difference in culture can be noted in occasions like death where in Trinidad death is not something that is welcome at all but in Tobago death is celebrated in a variety of ways. Tobago culture has the tradition of keeping vigil at the deceased home. In relation to courtship, Tobago people offer gifts to the bride and test the grooms strength by a series of tests that the man has to pass. They also have a wedding tradition that features a procession with specific attire for men and women. Trinidad celebrates the Indian Diwali, a celebration that pays homage to Hindu goddesses. However, both islands celebrate Easter. The culture in Trinidad has heavy Indian influence compared to Tobagos culture.

Trinidad is the Caribbean island that has the closest culture to that of Tobago owing to the geographical closeness of the two islands and the fact that they share a close history or an intertwined history. This came about because of the slaves who occupied the two islands and their West African origins. The development in Tobago is geared towards progress and the preservation of culture and heritage. The island has a lucrative tourism industry that has been a major source of employment to the people. The energy sector of the island has also played a major role in development and the provision of career choices for the inhabitants. In essence, the development of the island features progressive practices that when combined with cultural diversity makes the place a hub of business, culture, and progression.

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