Last month, NRI Achievers got to converse with the High Commissioner of Trinidad & Tobago to India, His Excellency Chandradath Singh, on a fine midwinter day at his residence. A Career Diplomat with a deep love for music, dance and the arts, a Windies cricketeer who can still bowl a tricky lefthanded spin, the High Commissioner and his petite Indian wife shared their thoughts freely and informally, on topics ranging from PIO Indians searching for their roots to Diaspora customs,festivals and culture, from T&T’s contribution to world culture to opportunities that exist for Investments in their Caribbean nation. But before we get there, lets embark on a brief armchair tour of these Caribbean Jewels:
THE LAND & IT’S PEOPLE
The Republic of Trinidad & Tobago is an archipelago state in the southern Caribbean, lying just off the coast of Venezuela and Grenada in the Lesser Antilles, sharing maritime boundaries with Barbados to the north-east, Grenada to the north-west, Guyana to the southeast, and Venezuela to the south and west. The country, comprising the two main islands of Trinidad and Tobago and numerous smaller land forms, has an area of some 5,000 odd sq-km. Trinidad is the larger and more populous, taking up about 94% of the total area and 96% of the population. The nation lies just outside the hurricane belt.
Historically, the island of Trinidad was a Spanish colony from the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1498 until the capitulation of the Spanish to a British fleet of 18 warships in 1797. During the same period, the island of Tobago changed several hands, among them Spanish, British, French, Dutch and Courlander colonizers, until both were ceded to Britain in 1802 under the Treaty of Amiens. The country attained independence in 1962 and became a republic in 1976.
T&T is among the wealthiest and most developed nations of the Caribbean, listed among the top 40 of the 70 High Income countries of the world. It’s per capita GDP at US$ 20,300, is perhaps the highest in the Caribbean. While it is strongly dependent on the petroleum industry, Tourism and Manufacturing are also important to the local economy. Tourism is a growing sector, though not proportionately as important as it is to many other Caribbean economies. Agricultural produce include citrus, cocoa, and other products. Recent growth has been fueled mainly by investments into liquefied natural gas (LNG), petrochemicals, and steel. Oil and gas account for about 40% of GDP and 80% of exports, but only for 5% of employment.
Infrastructure is pretty good, social services and utilities are fairly reliable in the cities, while some rural districts still suffer from water shortages. Telecom service is relatively modern, cellular service is widespread and is a major driver for growth. Trinidad & Tobago has a fullfledged International Airport, an extensive network of paved roads with several good four and six lane highways including one controlled access expressway. Overall, the transport system in T&T consists of a network of roads across both major islands, ferries connecting Port of Spain with Scarborough and San Fernando, and commercial airports on both islands. Transportation options include public buses, private taxis and minibuses on land; inter-island ferries and inter-city water-taxis by sea.
Trinidad is served by Piarco International Airport, out of which one-score international airlines operate, offering access to some thirty-odd international destinations. Caribbean Airlines, T&T’s government-owned national carrier, has its main hub here and services the Caribbean, the United States, Canada and South America. The T&T government also owns the Jamaican
airline “Air Jamaica”.
Most (96%) of the country’s 1.3 million inhabitants reside on the island of Trinidad, with the remainder (4%) in Tobago. The ethnic composition of Trinidad & Tobago reflects a history of conquests and immigration. Two major ethnic groups, Indo-Trinidadian & Tobagonians and Afro-Trinidadian & Tobagonians, account for almost 80% of the population, while people of mixed race, European, Chinese, Syrian- Lebanese and Amerindian descent make up the rest of the population. Different religions coexist in T&T. A majority are Christians (65.7%), followed by Hindus (25.6%) and Muslims (6.6%), according to the 2000 Census. A small Judaic community also exists, as well as several other Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Taoism that are followed by the Chinese community. There is also a small Baha’i community.
Trinidad & Tobago is the birthplace of Calypso music and the Steel-pan, which is widely claimed to be the only new accoustic musical instrument to be invented during the 20th century. Trinidad is also the birthplace of Soca, Chutney, Parang, and the Carnival. It’s diverse cultural and religious background also allows for many festivities and ceremonies throughout the year.
Trinidad & Tobago lays claim to two Nobel Laureates in V. S. Naipaul, and St. Lucian-born Derek Walcott, who founded the Trinidad Theater Workshop. Other famous Trinidadians include Edmundo Ros, the “King of Latin American Music,” born in Port of Spain, and Designer Peter Minshall, who is renowned not only for his Carnival costumes, but also for his role in opening ceremonies of the Barcelona Olympics, the 1994 Football World Cup, the 1996 Summer Olympics and the 2002 Winter olympics, for which he won an Emmy.
Cricket is the most popular sports of Trinidad & Tobago,spiced with intense inter-island rivalry of its Caribbean neighbors.Brian Lara, world record holder for the most runs scoredboth in a Test and in a FirstClass innings, was born in asmall town of Santa Cruz, T&T,
and is often referred to as the ‘Prince’ of Port of Spain or simply
‘the Prince’. This legendary West Indian batsman is widely regarded
as one of the finest batsmento have ever played the game, and is one of the most famous sporting icons in the country.
Football is a popular sport. Other notable sports include Netball, Rugby Union is played, and Basketball is common in colleges, universities, and is played throughout various urban basketball courts. Rugby continues to be a popular sport, and horse racing is another popular sporting pastime. There is also a T&T national baseball team which represents the nation in international competitions.