The histories of Trinidad and Tobago are different, and there are contrasts in the cultural influences which have shaped each island. There are also regional differences within each island.
Trinidad and Tobago is an English-speaking country with strong links to the United Kingdom. Historical membership in the British Empire left a major influence on the country, including the dominance of the English language and the popularity of the two top sports in the country, football and cricket.
Members of a Costume band parade in Port of Spain during Carnival.
The most influential single cultural factor in Trinidad and Tobago is Carnival, brought to Trinidad by French settlers from Martinique in the later part of the 18th century. Originally the celebration was confined to the elite, but it was imitated and adapted by their slaves and, after the abolition of slavery in 1838, the practise spread into the free population.
The Canboulay Riots of 1881 were a turning point in the evolution of Trinidad Carnival. Carnival was originally confined to the upper classes, which rode the streets in floats, or watched from the upper stories of residences and businesses. The night was given over to the lower classes.
The first few hours of Carnival Monday morning, from about 4 am until sunrise was known as J'ouvert (a contraction of jour ouvert). Costumed and masked by the darkness, J'ouvert allowed the wealthy to mix with the poor in relative anonymity. Monday night (night 'mas) had a similar, but lesser function.
The daytime of Carnival Monday and Tuesday are dominated by costumed masqueraders. Until World War II, most of these masqueraders portrayed traditional characters including the Midnight Robber, Police and Thief, Wild Indian, Bat', Jab Molassie, Jab Jab, Red Devil, Blue Devil, and Dame Lorraine.
With the wartime presence of US soldiers (and war movies) Sailor Mas' was added. In the postwar period, individuals gave way to organised bands, which today can include thousands of masqueraders. Peter Minshall is often considered the greatest mas' designer.
Carnival take place most heatedly during the week before the actual parade of bands on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. However, traditionally, the Carnival season begins on Boxing Day December 26 and soca and calypso music reign supreme over the airwaves. The fetes that take place from year end through carnival (usually in February) are generally carnival-themed and feature live music from bands and soca artists who are promoting their song contributions for the year.
In Christmas, parang is the traditional form of music at that time of year. Pastelle, black cake, fruit cake, sweet bread (paime) are customary eats; Peardrax, ponche de creme ("punchin'"), ginger beer, sorrel wine are the drinks. As most of the residents are Christian, Christmas is one of the biggest celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago.
Divali is a Hindu festival, a celebration of the victory of good over evil.
A tadjah at Hosay in the 1950s.
Hosay is the local manifestation of the Shia Muslim Remembrance of Muharram in Trinidad and Tobago (where is it spelled Hussay). The name Hosay comes from "Husayn", whose martyrdom is commemorated in the festival. . Recently it has been revived elsewhere.
An East Indian spring festival, celebrated as a festival of colours.
Calypso music developed together with Carnival. The chantuelle, who spoke for the band, evolved into the calypsonian (and other characters, such as the Midnight Robber). The music, which drew upon African and French influences, became the voice of the people. It allowed the masses to challenge the doings of the unelected Governor and Legislative Council, and the elected town councils of Port of Spain and San Fernando.
As English replaced patois (Creole French) as the dominant language, calypso migrated into English, and in so doing it attracted more attention from the government. Calypso continued to play an important role in political expression, and also served to document the history of Trinidad and Tobago.
Soca is a dance music which is a mix of Trinidad's calypso and Indian music and rhythms, especially chutney music. It combines the melodic lilting sound of calypso with insistent cadence percussion, and Indian musical instruments—particularly the dholak, tabla and dhantal—as demonstrated in Shorty's classic compositions "Ïndrani" and "Shanti Om". Soca and its derivatives (Chutney soca, Groovy soca, Ragga soca) have largely displaced mainstream calypso as the music of Carnival.
Chutney was born out of the East Indian influence in Trinidad, and derives elements both from traditional Indian music and popular soca music.
Rapso is a uniquely Trinidadian music that grew out of the social unrest of the 1970s, though it is often described as a fusion of soca and calypso with American hip hop.
Parang is a music with Caribbean and Latin American cultural influences. The word is derived from two Spanish words: Parranda, meaning "a spree or fete" and Parar meaning "to stop". Parang is a popular folk music originating out of Trinidad and Tobago, it is part of the Island's Hispanic heritage that originated from over 400 years ago during Spanish rule via Venezuela.
Pichakaree is an Indo-Trinidadian musical form which originated in Trinidad and Tobago. Pichakaree songs are generally social commentary, and are sung using a mixture of Hindi, English and Bhojpuri words. The musical form was devised by RaviJi, spiritual leader of the Hindu Prachar Kendra. Pichakaree competitions are an integral part of Phagwa celebrations hosted by the Hindu Prachar Kendra.
The steelband developed during wartime. They were preceded by the Tambu Bamboo bands, which used percussion instruments based on bamboo. The steelband movement developed in the postwar period with many bands taking names from war movies like Casablanca, Tokyo, Free French and Tripoli.
The cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago draws upon the varied origins of its people. Three influences predominate, Creole, Indian and Chinese cuisine.
Creole food commonly includes callaloo, macaroni pie and red beans. Indian food is based on curry. Although the Chinese element in the population is small, it is cooked in most homes, and is served in almost all sit-down restaurants.
The first permanent folk-dance company and theatre in Trinidad was the Little Carib Theatre.
Trinidad and Tobago has produced many noted writers, including Nobel laureates Sir Vidia Naipaul and St. Lucia–born poet Derek Walcott, and other award-winning authors such as Earl Lovelace and Michael Anthony.
The largest religious groups are the Roman Catholics and Hindus. The Anglicans, Muslims, Presbyterians, Methodist and Gurdwara sikhs are among the smaller groups.
Two Afro-Caribbean syncretic faiths, the Shouter or Spiritual Baptist and the Orisha faith (formerly called Shangos, a less than complimentary term) are among the fastest growing religious groups, as are a host of American-style evangelical and fundamentalist churches usually lumped as "Pentecostal" by most Trinidadians (although this designation is often inaccurate).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), has also expanded its presence in the country since the mid-1980s.