Chapter 1: The First Trinidadians and Tobagonians

1. When did Amerindians first settle in Trinidad?
Amerindians from Venezuela first crossed the sea and began to live in Trinidad about 7000 years ago. Trinidad has probably been inhabited by people for longer than any other Caribbean island.

2. When did the group of Amerindians who intoduced farming to Trinidad come here? and what crop did they plant?
A new group of Amerindians from Venezuela came to Trinidad between 2000 and 2500 years ago and they brought their expertise as farmers to Trinidad. Their main crop was cassava and they were also hunters and fishing.

3. Define the terms Arawakan and Cariban
Arawakan was the language spoken by the Arawaks and Cariban was the language spoken by the Caribs. The Caribs mostly settled in Tobago and in North Trinidad. Both the Caribs and the Arawaks originally ca,e from Venezuela.

Click here for some examples of Arawakan language

Click here for some examples of Cariban language

4. How did the Amerindians adorn themselves at the time of Columbus' arrival in 1498?
The Amerindians found in Trinidad in 1498 wore clothing made out of cotton, they painted their bodies and wore ornaments out of gold, pearls, teeth, stone and bone.

Click here to see a picture of some modern Taino people in traditional ceremonial wear

5. Describe the lives of the Trinidadian Amerindians in 1498.
  • The Amerindian traded in stone, pearl, gold and salt with the indigenous people in Venezuela and Guyana.
  • Most of their food came from farming, they grew maize, cotton tobacco to smoke, beans, tomatoes and other crops. They fished, hunted animals and fished. Women planted, weeded and reaped the crops, prepared meals and looked after children.
  • The people lived in villages led by a chief who may also have been a priest or medicine man. They believed in nature spirits and held big feasts.

6. Was it easy for the Spanish to settle in Trinidad?
No it was not easy for the Spanish to settle in Trinidad because the Amerindians did not want them to settle there and resisted their presence strongly. The Amerindians put up a good fight and fought with the Spanish everytime they would visit the island. It was only in 1592 that the Spanish could make their first permanent settlement in Trinidad.

7. What happened to the Amerindians under Spanish rule?
Under Spanish rule most of the Amerindians died. Some died from the results of war and bad treatment. Many died from new diseases brought by the Spaniards. Some were taken away as slaves in other Spanish colonies. Soon only a few Amerindians were left.

8 What were encomiendas and what were the main encomiendas in Trinidad?
Encomiendas were villages developend by the Spanish where Amerindians were forced to work as slaves for Spanish landowners growing cocoa or tobacco. The four main encomiendas in Trinidad were in Tacarigua, Arouca, San Juan and Caura.

9. What were missions and what were the main missions in Trinidad?
Missions were villages set up later to protect the remaining Amerindians. They were run by Spanish Catholic priests who converted them to Christianity and also used them as labourers. The 4 main missions were in Arima, Toco, Siparia and Savana Grande ( now known as Princes Town).

10. What happened to the remaining Amerindians by 1793?
In 1793, the surviving Amerindians from old encomiendas and the missions were all gathered together at Arima, Toco and Savana Grande. By this time nearly all of them had accepted the Amerindian faith and most of them spoke Spanish. By then there were only a few Amerindians left in either Trinidad or Tobago.

11. How is our Amerindian heritage still seen in Trinidad today?
Amerindian words : lappe, mapapire, pitch and gayap
Places with Amerindian names: Mucurapo, Piarco, Chaguaramas and Tunapuna
Towns that began as Amerindian villages: San Fernando, Princes Town, Arima, Toco, Tacarigua, San Juan, Port of Spain and St Joseph.

12. Did the Amerindians rebel against the Spaniards when they settled here after 1592?
Yes they did. One leader who fought against the Spanish was Hyarima, a Nepoio chief from the Arima area. There is a statue of him in Arima. In 1699 the Amerindians of Arena revolted, killing the missionaries and the governor. There is a monument to the priests close to the site of Arena in San Rafael.

Read more about Hyarima here:

and here

Picture of Hyarima
external image hyarima.JPG