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People, Languages & Religions in Trinidad & Tobago


The ethnic composition of Trinidad & Tobago reflects a history of conquest and immigration. Two major ethnic groups, Indo-Trinidadian and Tobagonians, and Afro-Trinidadian and Tobagonians, account for almost 80% of the population, while people of non African or Indian mixed race, European, Chinese and Syrian-Lebanese descent make up most of the rest of the population.

Afro-Trinidadian and Tobagonian make up the country's largest ethnic group; many are of mix ancestry (Mulatto, Dougla) but self identify as Black (approximately 50.5%). The majority of the African slave were brought in the last few years of Trinidad's Spanish colonial era, and the beginning of the English colonial period. In the census of 1777 there were only 2,763 people recorded as living on the island, including some 2,000 Arawaks. During this time there were many African slave owners. In 1807, the UK Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act 1807 that abolished the trading of slaves, and the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 abolished the practice of slavery.

Indo-Trinidadians and Tobagonian make up the country's second largest ethnic group (approximately 37%). They are primarily descendants from indentured workers from India, brought to replace freed African slaves who refused to continue working on the sugar plantations. The Indian community is divided roughly half-and-half between those who maintained their original, religions and those who have converted to Christianity or have no religious affiliation. Through cultural preservation groups, Trinidadians and Tobagonians of Indian descent maintain many of their customs and rites.

The European population is primarily descended from early settlers and immigrants. About half are of British origin, and the remainder are of French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German heritage. The recent census counted 11,000 of British, 4,200 Spanish, 4,000 French, 2,700 Portuguese and 2,700 German descent. These numbers do not include people who have at least some European ancestry or self-identify as African or Indian. They may be descended from settlers from Spain, or from mixed-raced immigrants from Venezuela, commonly referred to as "Cocoa Panyols".

The French arrived mostly during the Spanish period to take advantage of free agricultural lands. The Portuguese were brought to replace freed African slaves when they refused to accept low wages. The Europeans who remained in Trinidad live in areas in and around Port of Spain. In Tobago, most Europeans are retirees from Germany and Scandinavia who have recently arrived there.

Given the large number of ethnic identities in Trinidad & Tobago many citizens have a mixed ethnic heritage origination from the French, West Africa, Creoles, Chinese, India, Germans, Swiss, Portuguese, British, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Arab, Lebanese, African American, other Caribbean islands, Venezuela and Irish. Common ethnic mixtures include people of European and African descent, Mulattos, and Indian and African descent (Dougla). This mixed population is estimated at around 20.6%, however it is much higher when considering the various degrees of African, Indian, European, and indigenous Amerindian ancestry of the total population. A person might self identify as Black or Indian based on physical appearance however they might be genetically more similar to a person of Indian and African descent.

There are groups of Chinese who, like the Portuguese and Indians, are descended from indentured labourers. They account for about 20,000 people and live mostly in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando. There are also about 2,500 Arabs, originating from Syria and Lebanon who live mostly in Port-of-Spain. The Syrian and Lebanese communities of Trinidad & Tobago are predominantly Christian, migrating from the Middle East in the 19th century while fleeing religious persecution received from the Ottoman Empire later landing in the Caribbean and Latin America. Other Lebanese and Syrians came in the early to middle 20th century to escape the war and turmoil in the region. Finally there are the mixed raced Caribs who are descended from the native, pre-colonial people of the islands. They are organised around the Santa Rosa Carib Community and live mostly in and around Arima.


English is the country's only official language (the local variety of standard English is known as Trinidadian English), but the main spoken language is either of two English-based creole languages (Trinidadian Creole English or Tobagonian Creole English) which reflects the Spanish, Indian, African and European heritage of the nation. Both creoles contain elements from a number and variety of African languages; Trinidadian Creole, however, is also influenced by French, French Creole, Spanish, and by Bhojpuri/Hindi. The Spanish languages and other vernaculars are normally spoken in informal situations, and there is no formalised system of writing. Patois (a variety of Spanish/French) was once the most widely spoken language in Trinidad & Tobago, and there are various remnants of the language in everyday vernacular. There was also a Spanish-based creole, known as "Coco Payol", a term also used to describe people of Spanish ancestry.

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