Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Made in Trinidad and Tobago

Please welcome our guest today, Sangeeta Nancy Boondoo, an attorney with the government of Trinidad and Tobago. She is filling in today for Supriya. Sangeeta first wrote for Novel Adventurers in February.

When you live in a country like Trinidad and Tobago, it’s difficult to talk about cross-cultural art forms or blends because the country itself is a cross-cultural blend. There is so much to say that you don’t know where to begin. In the end, I decided to spotlight three cross-cultural facets of life in Trinidad and Tobago. I hope you enjoy.

Our music is one of our finest cross-cultural art-forms. In an earlier post on this blog, I wrote about chutney and calypso/soca music. Chutney has its origins in the Indo-Trinidadian population while calypso/soca originated from the local Afro-Trinidadian population. 

In the past, you would not have seen or heard a mixing of the two, but that has changed. Anyone can sing either chutney or calypso/soca; even better, we now have chutney soca, wherein the rhythm of soca and the melody of chutney have blended to present a new and unique sound. One of my favourites is “Bring It” celebrating a Trinbagonian love for rum and partying:

In the early part of the nineteenth century, Venezuelans migrated to work on cocoa estates in Trinidad and brought with them their version of parang music, which over the years has absorbed aspects of local African and French creole culture. The instruments used indicate the cultural blend: a four string guitar, maracas, and marimbola (an Afro-Venezuelan instrument), the box bass (a wooden instrument native to Trinidad), and other more conventional instruments. The lyrics can be entirely in English, Spanish or a mix of both.

Parang is Christmas music, and similar to carolers, paranderos (parang musicians) move from house to house on Christmas Day serenading their neighbours with the lovely music for the small price of something to eat and drink. It is not Christmas now, but I believe that anytime is a good time for good music. You can listen to the late Daisy Voisin, the undisputed queen of parang, singing of her delight for the birth of Jesus:

Another cross-cultural aspect of Trinidad and Tobago society is the Spiritual Shouter Baptist faith, an indigenous religion which grew from the multi-cultural nature of the country. The origins of this religion are unclear; what we do know is that the religion developed within the African-Caribbean community and it reflects elements of Protestant Christianity and African religious doctrines.

The difference between the Baptist faith practices in Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean countries may result from the influx of the “Merrikens,” African-American soldiers who fought for the British in the American War of Independence and were given freedom and land grants in southern Trinidad, a British colony. The Merrikens brought their Baptist faith with them and they, along with the Anglicans who came to Trinidad, are thought to have influenced the local Shouter/Spiritual Baptist faith. Whatever its origin, this part of our culture is a beautiful combination of African rhythms and sedate Christianity.
The island of Tobago itself is a cross-cultural blend, and the Tobago Heritage Festival celebrates this diversity. The island bounced around as the colony of several European nations. This European influence, along with that of the native Amerindians and the Africans led to a unique culture which is different from Trinidad’s.

My favourite part of the festival is the Ole Time Wedding, which follows traditional European courtship codes. It features a procession of dashing gentlemen dressed in formal black and white suits, top hats, bow ties, and white gloves. They carry large umbrellas to shade their “brides.” The women dress in 18th and 19th century dresses, platform shoes, decorated wide-brimmed hats or fascinators, and gloves. The wedding procession winds its way along the street, dancing the “brush back,” a tap dance variation, to the enchantingly sweet sounds of the tambrin and fiddle, stopping along the way to enjoy cake and wine.

Trinidad and Tobago has a rich culture, born from the many that have made their homes on these islands over the centuries, and while it is not perfect, I think it is beautiful.


  1. The Old Time Wedding is really interesting. Is that something celebrated only in Tobago?

  2. Yes, the Old Time Wedding is celebrated only in Tobago, we may be one country but Tobago is culturally distinct from Trinidad. Tobago only became a "ward" of Trinidad (whilst both were British colonies) about 1899 due to economic difficulties. It is an lovely island!

  3. Sangeeta, thanks for such a wonderful post! Your passion for your country and its culture is obvious, and it's so nice to experience different aspects through a local's eyes. Thank you!

  4. Sangeeta, everything you write about Trinidad and Tobago makes me more fascinated about your country. So much diversity in such a small place. I can see why it was hard for you to pick one cross-cultural blend to write about. Thanks for giving us such an intriguing sampling.

  5. Alli and Heidi you are welcome!! Funny thing is that experiencing other cultures was the catalyst for my love. I am sure that when you get here you will enjoy it!!

  6. For such a tiny set of islands, the country packs in so much diversity, from food to music to festivals, right to the people and their history. I know T&T has experienced difficult times in grappling with its diversity, but I hope more Trinis embrace it as you do.

    Thanks for sharing, Sangeeta, and thanks again for filling in for me.

  7. Supriya, we continue to have our issues, but more and more of us identify ourselves as "Trini" or "Trinbagonian" without the Indo/Afro qualification. I think we are moving in the right direction in recognising ourselves as one people and celebrating and,importantly,understanding our diversity. I hope that we stop allowing ourselves to be divided.

    You are welcome.

  8. I've just read "The Wine of Astonishment" by Trinidadian author Earl Lovelace and become really interested in your country and culture, especially the part on the Spiritual Baptist faith. Thank you for this post!