This month I was learning more about Trinidad and Tobago – before starting this month, I knew a little bit about the Caribbean in general, but not much about T&T specifically.
This month gave me a great lesson in Trinidad and Tobago’s past – the two islands switching colonial hands multiple times (including French being spoken on an island never controlled by France, and Latvia having a crack at empire), the history and present of Indigenous Carib people, and how Trinidad and Tobago’s population descended from people taken as slaves in Africa and Indian indentured labourers to create a pluralist country with its own unique identity and culture.
The recent past and present of Trinidad is fascinating – the Black Power Revolution, civil rights movement, and decolonization, but also the post-colonial complexities of race between African, Indian, and creole populations. The 1990 coup attempt was something I had never heard about before, and it has been fascinating to listen to podcasts about current political and cultural matters on Trinidad and Tobago.
I also learned a bit about the difference between Trinidad and Tobago – the different colonial history and the sense of distinctiveness that Tobagoans feel. The currently very live issue of increased autonomy for Tobago really caught my attention. Tobago’s constitutional future seems like Scotland’s inside the UK, and as a legal/political nerd, it’s interesting to hear the process and the political narratives.
On a lighter note, the food this month was incredible – I had more snacks than I knew what to do with! (1,2,3,4,5 posts!) Doubles were delicious, I liked the bitterness of mauby, and I’ve gone back for more curry goat roti. I’ve been using the the various pepper sauces and condiments in my cooking, and it was interesting to try cooking with green bananas and salt cod for the first time. And of course, I’ve now got a great rum punch recipe handy.
I feel like I’ve only barely skimmed the surface of Trinidad and Tobago’s music scene – soca, calypso (including a wonderfully risqué song), chutney, parang, and to mix it up, punk! Great radio stations too, and learning more about the sheer scale of Carnival is neat – I’d love to go one day.
An interesting thing I noticed is all the connections between Canada and Trinidad and Tobago – it’s not something I went hunting for, the long history (good and bad) between our two countries kept popping up. Canada has a history place of migration (either temporary or permanent) and has a huge Caribbean population, with Trinidadians leading the creation Caribana, now one of the biggest festivals in Canada. But there are also dark parts to our history, the racism of Canadian universities against students from the West Indies, and Canada acting as Britain’s colonial right hand, with Canadians running missionary schools and creating the West Indian Domestic Scheme in the colonial era.
But even little connections between Canada show up – Trinidad’s most popular brand of pop taking their branding from a defunct Montreal company, and the importance of salt cod in Trinbagonian cuisine – it would have been historically imported from Newfoundland in exchange for Caribbean rum, which has in turn become culturally important to Newfoundland.
This was a really neat month – I had a lot of fun learning more about Trinidad and Tobago, and I’d love to visit!
Addendum – Coming in just under the wire, I got to try some of the famous red Solo. It tastes like cotton candy meets cream soda meets liquid Swedish berries. It’s really good, but very sweet. Red Solo (aka Kola Champagne) is probably the most famous flavour of the pop brand, and is a cultural touchstone as the best thing to wash down a spicy roti.