Amerindian peoples have existed in Trinidad
for as long as 7,000 years before the arrival of Columbus, and numbered
at least 40,000 at the time of Spanish settlement in 1592.
All of Trinidad was populated by several
tribes, Trinidad being a transit point in the Caribbean network of Amerindian
trade and exchange.
Amerindian tribes were referred to by
various names: Yaio, Nepuyo, Chaima, Warao, Carinepogoto, Aruaca,
Shebaio, Saluaio, etc.
Amerindian words and place names survive
into the present: the Caroni and Oropouche rivers;
the Tamana and Aripo mountains; places such as
Aripo, Paria, Arouca, Caura, Tunapuna, Tacarigua, Couva, Mucurapo, Chaguanas,
Carapichaima, Guaico, Mayaro, Guayaguayare; flora such as cassava,
maize, cacao, tobacco, and fauna such as manicou and agouti.
of the place names refer to objects used by Amerindians: Guaico, an obvious
adulteration of "guayuco" refers to what some call the "loin cloth" worn
by Amerindians; Aripo is the name for the griddle used to cook cassava
bread; Maracas, as you have already guessed, refers to the musical rattle.
Some place names also remind us of the names of Amerindian groups of the
past: Chaguanas, Piarco (from Parico), Tamana,
Trinidad's Amerindians formed part of
large regional island-to-island and island-to-mainland trading networks;
the Warao of Venezuela, who still exist, were frequent vistors until only
The Amerindians developed the canoe,
the bow and arrow, and the ajoupa (the name of their housing structures)..
Amerindian cuisine is enjoyed by many
Trinidadians: Cassava bread and Farine; Warap; barbecued wild
game; corn pastelles; coffee; cocoa; chardon beni.
The Amerindians also gave Trinidad and
Tobago its first major rebellion in the name of freedom: the Arena
uprising of 1699, led by Cacique Bustamante.
In 1783 Trinidad's Amerindians were
displaced from their lands to make way for the influx of French planters
and their African slaves.
Around 1759 the Mission of Arima was
formed, consolidated and enlarged by 1786, and the Amerindians were to
have had control of a maximum of 1,300 acres of land.
A number of tribes were pressed into
Arima, mostly Nepuyo, and generically referred to as either "Caribe" or
"Indio" -- Arima was the last Mission Town.
Parang, utilizing both Spanish
and Amerindian musical instruments, emerged from the evangelization of
the Amerindians, some argue.
The Caribs in Arima , converted to Catholicism,
were led by a Titular Queen.
The histories of major towns such as
Arima and Siparia, two large former Amerindian Mission Towns, have given
us Trinidad's two oldest festivals: The Santa Rosa Festival of Arima,
and La Divina Pastora in Siparia.
The Santa Rosa Carib Community is the
last remaining organized group of people identifying with an Amerindian
identity and way of life.
At least 12,000 people in Northeast
Trinidad may be of Amerindian descent.