Trinidad and Tobago

At the time of European contact Trinidad was occupied by various Arawakan-speaking groups including the Nepoya and Suppoya, and Cariban-speaking groups such as the Yao, while Tobago was occupied by the Island Caribs and Galibi. The Amerindian name for Trinidad was Kairi or Iere which is usually translated as The Land of the Hummingbird, although others have reported that it simply meant island. Christopher Columbus encountered the island of Trinidad on July 31, 1498 and named it after the Holy Trinity. Columbus reported seeing Tobago, which he named Bella Forma, but did not land on the island.

According to the earliest English-language source cited in the Oxford English Dictionary, Tobago bore a name that has become the English word tobacco. (The correct pronunciation is “tah-BAY-go”)

The Spaniard, Antonio de Sedeño first settled Trinidad in the 1530s as a means of controlling the Orinoco and subduing the Warao tribes along the coast of New Andalusia. The town of San José de Oruña (St. Joseph) was established by Antonio de Berrío on this land. Raleigh arrived in Trinedado on March 22 1595 casting anchor at Curiapan/Punta de Gallos and described the pitch lake (Piche or Tierra de Brea) and the Annaperima hill. This hill was known to the Warao as the home of the sea god Na’barima. Raleigh soon attacked San José and captured and interrogated de Berrío obtaining much information from him

In the 1700s, Trinidad belonged as an island province to the vice royalty of New Spain along with modern Mexico and Central America. The Dutch and the Courlanders had established themselves in Tobago in the 16th and 17th centuries and produced tobacco and cotton. However Trinidad in this period was still mostly forest, populated by a few Spaniards with their handful of slaves and a few thousand Amerindians. Spanish colonisation in Trinidad remained tenuous. In 1715, after two hundred years of Spanish rule San José de Oruña and Puerto España (Port of Spain) are hamlets rather than towns.


Map of Tobago, 1715

The first European visitors to Tobago appear to have been English adventurers in 1580 and in 1608; James I claimed Tobago for England. The first European settlers were Dutchmen who formed a short-lived settlement at New Walcheren or modern Plymouth. The island changed hands at least 22 times altogether between the French, Dutch, British and Courlanders (the Duchy of Courland was located in what is now modern western Latvia) and was controlled at times by various pirate groups.

Tobago is primarily hilly and of volcanic origin. The southwest of the island is flat and consists largely of coralline limestone. The hilly spine of the island, the Main Ridge. The highest point in Tobago is the 1804 ft Pigeon Peak near Speyside