Academy of the Performing Arts, Port of Spain – Source

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.


Trinidad and Tobago feels so deeply Caribbean that I keep forgetting that Trinidad is only a few kilometres off the South American mainland! One of the neatest cultural crossovers between those narrow straights is parang. Parang originated as Venezuelan folk music but has become a mainstay of Christmas music in Trinidad and Tobago.

Here’s a really high quality documentary on parang – with great performances from parang musicians. They also touch on the genre’s history, connection with Venezuela and Christmas, and how it has evolved on Trinidad and Tobago.

Parang has also taken on lots of influence from soca and calypso, and is almost now a catchall term for Christmas music. Here’s DJ Ana again with a soca parang mix for Christmas (I know, it’s still October!)


The Bamboo Cathedral – Source

Nerd World Politics: Under the Gunn – From 2018, the first podcast from Nerd World Politics – two self-described “Black nerd activists” from Trinidad and Tobago who discuss political and social justice elements of modern nerd culture. They’re absolutely fantastic and extremely thoughtful. This first episode covered the James Gunn controversy, including how calling out and forgiveness works in both nerd and activist circles, better ways to deal with inappropriate behaviour, the weaponization of cancelling, and the corporate and cultural responses to situations like Gunn’s.

The House Lime: Jemel the Entertainer – The House Lime is a fun, casual interview show (liming being slang for chatting or shooting the shit). This episode they interview Jemel the Entertainer, a prominent Trinidadian comedian on social media. It’s an intriguing interview, covering how to be successful through new media, the comedy scene in Trinidad and Tobago, the nature of local fame, and acting with professionalism and building back your reputation after a scandal (and hoo boy, he’s had some scandal in the past).

Jus’ Ole Talk: Jus’ Fix It Pt. 1Jus’ Ole Talk is a really good quality discussion podcast about everyday life in Trinidad. I listened to the first “Jus’ Fix It” episode, that looked at ways to potentially fix problems in society. The first half mainly focused on Trinidad and Tobago in international sports, and how to properly nurture young athletes with either state or private support. They particularly look at the Olympics and Jamaica, which is similar in size, wealth, and history, but is far more competitive internationally than Trinidad is. This episode also starts into a discussion about customer service in Trinidad, and I’ve never heard a funnier use of dead air in my life. I’m going to tune into the second half to hear the rest, they were starting into an interesting discussion on the colonial hangover in customer service. A quick note though, there’s at least another podcast from Trinidad with the same name, so look for the “Showtime Trinidad” one.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Witchbroom by Lawrence Scott

Witchbroom by Lawrence Scott is a flowing, dizzying novel – it feels much like Love in the Time of Cholera. Both a satirical and mournful book, following Lavren, the last child of a great plantation family on Trinidad, who is both intersex and able to conjure up his family’s past – somewhere between telling tales, actual visions, and physically manifesting in the past.

It’s dreamy floating magical realism, without hard narrative boundaries, but that tracks through the crimes and passions of Lavren’s family through Trinidad’s history. Class, race, religion, and colonial power structures weave their way through the decline and dying out of this wealthy family, who are sometimes cruel, wholly self-interested, and all very odd, but at the same time, it’s shot through with the human tenderness of Lavren taking care of his mother in her last days.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: First Peoples / Reconciliation

An interesting (though mild) look at the history and present of the Indigenous Carib population of Trinidad, and the Santa Rosa First Peoples’ Community, the representative body of the community. This includes an interview with the late Carib Queen Jennifer Cassar on cultural transmission, engaging youth and building identity, and public awareness. There’s also a look at Amerindian Heritage Day (now called First Peoples’ Day of Recognition and Heritage Week) and plans to build up active agricultural, culinary, and traditional knowledge bases.

However, past this video, there’s some very interesting deeper nuance. This older article, Reviving Caribs: Recognition, Patronage and Ceremonial Indigeneity in Trinidad and Tobago” by anthropologist Maximilian C. Forte focuses both on the organizational challenges the Santa Rosa community faces and that they risk “reconciliation without self-determination” – ceremonialized and celebrated by the state, but not engaged in political advocacy and reconciliation the way other Indigenous groups are.

However, Forte’s article also recognizes a nuance with Indigenous reconciliation in Trinidad – Trinidad is not Canada or Australia. It’s not really because of Trinidad’s smaller Indigenous population (both in absolute numbers, and proportionally), it’s largely because Trinidad was not a settler colony, but an extractive colony.

A settler colony is where a large mainly-European permanent population is brought in to displace the Indigenous people already there (Canada, the US, New Zealand, French Algeria was a failed attempt). The settler population normally has legal and proprietary rights. However, an extractive colony is where there is a small elite extracting wealth and resources, including wealth produced by the labour of either an Indigenous population or a new population brought in for that purpose – usually slaves or indentured labour, that does not have the same rights as the elite (India, most of Africa, the Caribbean).

As a former extractive colony, the ancestors of Trinidad’s population had either no or little choice to come to the island, and only gained their own true self-determination themselves through emancipation, decolonization and the civil rights movement. This makes it a lot less clear-cut situation when it comes to reconciliation between the Indigenous community (and even the larger Trinbagonian population) and the state – what responsibility does the modern post-colonial state and population of Trinidad and Tobago carry for the sins of the colonial government’s past?


Indian Arrival Day is a commemoration of the arrival of the first indentured labourers from India to Trinidad, and touches on both the challenges people faced, and as a celebration of Indian culture and history. The British Empire turned to Indian indentured labour as a replacement to slavery (workers were paid, though only a pittance, and worked in similar conditions as people did under slavery, but did get land grants after their term was up), and it was not limited to Trinidad. Similar holidays are held around the Caribbean, in South Africa, and Fiji.

It’s a bittersweet holiday, as it’s both a celebration of a culture that not just survived hardship and dislocation, but thrived. However, it’s also a holiday that commemorates those who did not make it through the suffering, and that many labourers were pressured into leaving India through force, trickery, or desperation. I recommend reading Arthur Dash’s editorial “An immigration storyfor more context.

There are also those in the Indo-Caribbean community that are against celebrating Indian Arrival Day, seeing it as a deeply colonial holiday. It’s also criticized as fuelling racial divides, particularly with the historical legacies of British colonialism – the post-indentureship land grants gave the Indian community a significant financial leg up over the Afro-Caribbean community, and there were often outright attempts by the British to divide the Indian and African communities as a way to keep control. Guyanese writer Rajiv Mohabir’s article “Why I Will Never Celebrate Indian Arrival Dayis a good read on this view, and those historical legacies definitely shone through in Green Days by the River.

Another interesting element is that the Indo-Carribean community both developed their own identity, and kept a lot deep connections with India, including religion and music. This video below from Shawn at Hindu Lifestyle has a great look at West Indian Hinduism and identity, as well as the extra layer of identity that comes from being an Indo-Trinidadian raised in Canada.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Snacks to the max!

Part 3 of my giant haul of snacks from Trinidad and Tobago that I got from Caribbean Export Co – parts 1 and 2 are here.

Sunshine Snacks Zoomers – So many varieties of cheezies from Trinidad! These are bright orange wagon wheels, quite salty and really hitting the spot. These are just good honest junk food cheezies, and I really like the shape.

Catch – There’s so many good chocolate bars here, wow. Catch is a caramel centre with layers of chocolate and crispy rice. It’s wonderful, good textures, good chocolate. Love it.

Charles Tiki Gold Vanilla Thrilla – Another Tiki Gold, this one vanilla. A bar of wafers covered in chocolate, but with a mellow vanilla aftertaste. I’d say I like this one more than the chocolate one, but the coconut one is still the best.

K’s Red Mango – I tried K’s Sweet Plums earlier, very much like ume, but now let’s see what these deep red presented mango slices are like! …They are INTENSELY sour, I was not prepared for that. There’s a subtle spiciness and sweetness at the end, but oh man, that’s a pucker. I actually went “WOW” and winced at my first bite …. and yet I finished the bag.

Charles Bobbie – Bobbies are individually wrapped chocolate balls, about the size of a quail egg, with kind of a waxy, dense milk chocolate. Deep in the centre is a single peanut – surprise!

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Curry goat roti

Curry goat roti is originally from the Indo-Trinidadian community, but the pan-Caribbean nature of these dishes is really evident in how widespread they are, both in the Caribbean and among ex-pat communities.

I’ve noticed that here in Ottawa, there’s very few Caribbean restaurants that are dedicated to only one country’s cuisine – they usually focus either on the English or the French Caribbean, or even mix the two. I went to Island Flava, which was definitely English Caribbean – the menu is a mix of Jamaican and Trinidadian dishes, and the lady at the counter had a St. Lucian flag mask.

For the curry goat, I had the option of bone-in or boneless – definitely went bone-in, that’s where the flavour is. They also give the option of making it extra spicy, went for that too!

The roti is HUGE – this will definitely be both lunch and dinner. The goat is tender and falling apart, mixed with curried potatoes, and it’s lovely and spicy – made me break a sweat. This is DELICIOUS, I’m going back to try their other dishes.


I keep on running into “where do I even begin” topics this month – especially around Carnival. Carnival is so huge, so emblematic of Trinidad and Tobago, and such a complex holiday, that there’s so much to learn about it. I’d recommend starting with the article Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago: Ferocious Spirit, Enduring Identities” by Shrinagar Francis that gives both a rundown of the festivities, and works to undo a myth that Carnival was a purely European invention, which obscures a lot of Carnival’s African roots.

I’d also suggest this beautiful short film about Playing Mas and getting ready for the festivities. It really captures both the fun, the chaos, but also all the work that goes into Carnival.

A really good interview on the history of Carnival, the religious and cultural meanings, the different events in Carnival. They also talk about how Carnival has grown and spread first to other parts of the Caribbean and then to other parts of the world.

A bit on some of the more historical characters and protest nature of Carnival.

To build on the international influence Carnival has, that last video was shot in Toronto, where Caribana has become one of the largest festivals in Canada, with up to 2 million people attending in a normal year. It’s a direct offshoot from Trinidadian Carnival, though it’s held in the summer for obvious reasons – you don’t want to be down to a bikini in the snow.