The week leading up to 14th October has been used to shine a spotlight on the history and culture of the indigenous people of Trinidad and Tobago. Originally referred to as Amerindians, from 1990 the earliest people to settle in Trinidad and Tobago are celebrated as the First Peoples. They mark their “Heritage Week” celebrations with a series of events in Arima, Port of Spain and other community areas. Persons from other indigenous tribes throughout the world, various religious bodies and the public are invited to partake in sacred traditions such as the Smoke Ceremony and the Water Ritual. Indigenous street parades and other events promote greater understanding and appreciation of the First Peoples’ Communities in Trinidad and Tobago.  



There has been a continuous Amerindian presence in Trinidad for approximately 8000 years. However, Tobago’s Amerindian history is very different from that of Trinidad.  The earliest settlements in Tobago dates from 3500BC to 1000BC.

There have been dozens of Amerindian settlements excavated on the islands. In Trinidad, these include Palo Seco, Ortoire, Banwari Trace, the Red House, Princes Town and Moruga Road.  Bon Accord, Milford, Mount Irvine and Courland are just a few of those unearthed in Tobago.

After the 1498 arrival of Christopher Columbus to Trinidad, the Amerindian population was estimated to be as high as 200,000. It was revised to 40,000 in 1595.  The Amerindian population included eight (8) ethnic peoples belonging to three language families. The Waraowitu and the Chaguanes who spoke Warao, the Aruaca and Shebaio who spoke Arawak, the Nepuyo, Carinepagoto, Yao and Kalina all of whom spoke the Carib language. Archaeologists believe the Kalina most likely occupied Tobago.

European colonialism, declined population numbers significantly over the past centuries.  Nevertheless, Trinidadians of full or partial Amerindian heritage live in the Toco/Cumana area, Arima and Siparia. Surviving traditional Carib families bear surnames such as Calderon, Hernandez, Campo, and Lopez.

Today, Richardo Bharath Hernandez serves as the Santa Rosa First People Community Chief and Nona Lopez Calderon Galera Moreno Aquan serves as their Carib Queen.


Place names:

Amerindian society continues to impact our life, and is visible in our place names and cultural dishes. Some Amerindian named geographical features are Tapana (Brasso Seco), Aripo Mountains, Tamana Caves, Caroni swamp and Ortoire rivers. Other Amerindian place names include Arima, Paria, Salybia, Caura, Arouca, Tacarigua, Chaguanas, Carapichaima, Couva, Mucurapo, Guayaguayare, and Mayaro.



Lover's Bay also called Lover's Retreat, Plymouth, Tobago.  Not far from the shore is an Amerindian site and burial ground


Many of our towns, villages and roads are built on ancient Amerindian settlement sites, and this includes part of our road system. Tumpuna Road in Arima and part of the Siparia-Quinam Road are built on old Amerindian trails. . Recently it was discovered that the Red House was built on an ancient Amerindian burial site.  It is at this site that the “Smoke Ceremony” is conducted annually, it is a means of honours the ancestors at that location.


first peoples

Smoke Ceremony at Arima


Community Leaders:

Electing a Carib King or Queen developed out of the Santa Rosa Festival in the late 18th Century. They were elected for a week and presided over the festivities and solemn occasions. In the mid-19th century the position was split into two to reflect the gradual changes of the festival. Today, a ‘Carib Queen’, instituted for life, is in charge of coordinating the overall efforts for the Festival. As late as the 1880s the ‘King’, elected for life, oversaw the men’s work for the celebrations, such as the cleaning of the cemetery and the cutting of tirite palms. The palms were used in decorating the church and the bamboo poles secured the colourful flags, placed around Harris Square.

Cultural Heritage:

Today, we continue to enjoy a variety of foods of Amerindian heritage, such as barbecue, wild meat, cocoa, cassava, corn, maize and warap (a beer made from fermented cassava). The practice of how we prepare many of our cultural dishes speaks to our Amerindian heritage.  From our seasonings: chardon beni (cilantro) and roucou, to some of their craft ideas used in the kitchen. We also continue to practice their style of relaxation in using the Amerindian hammock.


Read More:

Keston McIntosh. Library Assistant I





Boomert, Arie. The Indigenous Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago from the First Settlers Until Today. Sidestone Press, 2016


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