• APEX

Although “Apex” is not the name of a district but the name of an oil company that operated in Fyzabad, this oilfield was so popular that even to this day people speak of Apex — which is no more — as if it had been a geographical area.

Of course it did cover a geographical area, which was the extent of the oilfield. But people who lived on the outskirts and those who grew up there regarded their home as Apex.

What added to the fondness for Apex was the allure of the oilfield itself. From the time Apex was established in 1920 this oilfield was at the apex of all the oilfields in Trinidad. In the early days of oil exploration its record was outstanding. Indeed, writing of the position of the several early oil companies in 1921, George Higgins says in his A History of Trinidad Oil: “Active exploration was started by some of these new companies. Anglo-Trinidad Oil Company at San Francique, Uroz at Piparo and Charuma, British-controlled Oilfields at Williamsville and Oropouche, British Union at Tabaquite, Poole Syndicate at Rio Claro, Iëre Oil at Barrackpore, Globe Oilfields at Otaheite, and Petroleum Options at Thick (Village). The most outstanding of the newcomers was, however, Apex (Trinidad) Oilfields, which was registered in 1919.”

By the 1930s Apex was making so much profit while maintaining low wages that it faced a rebellion of its workers and for this rebellion it blamed “the agitator,” a man it described as one Uriah Butler.

This rebellion came to its fiery point in 1937, and it is history how it changed the scene. Most of the changes in oilfield regulations and worker conditions, in overtime, in wages, etc., have been because of those riots at Apex, or rather, at Fyzabad. But Apex, as a special home to many, as a home not necessarily involved with oilfield life, but as just another village — this character seemed to have endured, and not only endured, but to have made a bigger impact than the oil company.

Apex (Trinidad) Oilfields lasted for 40 years until it was acquired by British Petroleum in 1960, and during those years it flourished, giving its workers one of the highest standards of living of those times. In its latter days its Intermediate Government School at Fyzabad became a celebrated institution. It was headed by the poet Harold Telemaque, one of the finest schoolmasters of his day, and one who seems to have drawn national interest to the school.

Copyright NALIS, 2008


Arima, Trinidad’s third largest town in size and importance, was founded on the banks of the Arima River. Its name means "water." After the Cedula of Population of 1783 it became not only the home of the Arima natives but also of those from Arouca, who were transferred there by Governor Chacón so that their lands could be given to French immigrants. The settlement was made a mission by Governor Chacón in 1786, and was laid out that year. The year 1786 was special for Arima because it was the 200th anniversary of the Peruvian Amerindian saint, Santa Rosa de Lima, and that year Chacón dedicated the Roman Catholic church of Arima to the saint, making it the church of Santa Rosa de Lima.

Arima ceased to be a mission around 1838, the period of the abolition of slavery. Economically, Arima is known as the home of cocoa, and because it was such a heavy producer of the crop, a Trinidad Government Railway line was established in 1876 between Port-of-Spain and Arima with the important objective of bringing Arima’s cocoa into Port-of-Spain, and passengers too, of course.

Arima, the proud north central town of Trinidad, is the island’s third town both in size and importance. It is approximately 18 miles east of Port-of-Spain, and economically, it had always been of special significance. For until the revenue from Trinidad’s oil industry superseded agriculture, it was regarded as the home of the crop which, with sugar, was the economic mainstay of the island — cocoa. Indeed, bringing the cocoa grown in and around Arima into Port-of-Spain was the main reason for the establishment of one of the vital means of transport, and this will be referred to later.

Arima, which is the Amerindian name for water, appears to have been a tiny village on the banks of the Arima River when Capuchin missionaries from Spain arrived in 1757. They visited the little settlement and built a mission church there for the conversion of the Amerindians. Then after the passage of almost 30 years the mission fell into neglect, and on the advent of new governor Don José María Chacón in 1784 the mission was revived and its ramshackle church rebuilt. On completion of the new mission church a distinguished honour came to Arima: the year 1786 was the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Peruvian saint, Santa Rosa de Lima. Rosa of Lima was not only the first Amerindian to be made a saint but the first saint of the New World. And so to mark the anniversary Governor Chacón dedicated the mission church to this saint, making her the patron saint of Arima.

The year 1786 was during the period when there was a Spanish Cédula of Population, which meant there was an influx of settlers, mainly French planters and their slaves. Governor Chacón was careful to keep non-Amerindians out of the mission, but in order to give land to the settlers he cleared the Amerindian population out of places like Tacarigua and Arouca and settled them at Arima, granting their land to the newcomers. Whether the Amerindians saw this as unfair or not, it was clear they had no voice.

Arima was now laid out properly for the first time, and the man in charge of this work was Manuel Sorzano. Everything at the mission was managed strictly, and in accordance with the rules of a governing Cabildo set up for the purpose. But all these things disappeared following the British capture of Trinidad in 1797.

It was not until the appearance on the scene of the fourth British Governor of Trinidad, Sir Ralph Woodford, that Arima came into the reckoning again. Woodford, who arrived here in 1813, was certainly the man who set the tone and character of Arima, and instilled in its native population the pride of an important, independent and unconquered people. It was through his love of Arima that many of the native festivals were revived, and he himself journeyed to Arima to take part in the festivities. They were always happy to see this Governor who they knew as Gouverneur Chapeau Paille (Governor Straw Hat) and he brightened those jolly Amerindian days by establishing horse racing, and also taking part in the Amerindian festivals of fruit and flowers, held on Santa Rosa Day, August 31.

However, the mission of Arima fell into neglect after Sir Ralph Woodford died in 1828. Neither of the two governors following directly after Woodford —Lewis Grant in 1831 and George Fitzgerald Hill in 1833 — were interested in the upkeep of an Amerindian mission aimed at conversion to the Roman Catholic faith, which was a faith they did not profess. So the mission died just about the time of the abolition of slavery in 1838. Yet the customs Woodford had introduced, such as the Santa Rosa horse races, as well as the crowning of a Carib Queen, remained popular festivities in the little town.

And having mentioned Santa Rosa Day, nearly fifty years after Woodford’s death, Arima witnessed an event which took note of its growth and importance as an economic force. The date was Thursday, August 31, 1876, Santa Rosa Day, when because of the heavy crops of cocoa in and around the area - a matter which had led to persistent calls for an adequate means of transport to cope with this — the government established the Trinidad Government Railways.

At that point the system was a line of railway running from Port-of-Spain to Arima. A report in the Port-of-Spain Gazette said: "The trains were run up and then down, and the greatest regularity was observed. The three last trains were late but that was only to be expected. Altogether, the government and the railway officials are to be congratulated on the success of the opening." This was a railway to bring the cocoa into town, as well as to transport the passengers in all the districts between Arima and Port-of-Spain.

If Arima was becoming important through its heavy production of cocoa and because of its railway, then it was not surprising that Queen Victoria, who must have heard so much about it from the various governors, had great pleasure in granting it the status of a royal borough. The governor who must have spoken about it most of all was Sir William Robinson, who presented his portrait to the council chamber of Arima around 1886. He was governor of this colony from 1885 to 1890, and he seemed to have had a special love for this former mission. So it was not surprising that Queen Victoria conferred the status of a royal borough on Arima in 1888. (Incidentally, Sir William was the first governor of Trinidad and Tobago, the Union having been effected in 1889).

Another honour followed in 1908: ex-mayor, Francis Wallen, presented the borough with a Tower Clock. Wallen was mayor from 1898 to 1899 and from 1900 to 1906. Apparently Wallen felt so deeply grateful that the townfolk had to greet him as "His Worship the Mayor" for seven out of eight mayoral terms that he presented this clock-tower, commonly referred to as "The Dial," as a gift to the people of Arima. It has turned out to be the most popular point of reference in Arima, and such a well-known meeting spot, that those who say they don’t know "The Dial" cannot pretend to belong to Arima.

By this time, 1908, the Trinidad Government Railways had already pushed out easterly to its easternmost point, the village of Cunapo, now Sangre Grande, which it made its terminus in 1897. This gave Arima even more prestige as a hub of communication. It attracted more businesses, especially those dealing in cocoa such as Marlay and Company, and its earthen, sun-baked section of the Eastern Main Road could not have been more of a "beaten path" for the mule-drawn cocoa-laden carts, just as it had become a warehouse as well as a railway dispatch point for the cocoa of Sangre Grande and the rest of East Trinidad.

And it was of special significance that when cocoa prices fell dramatically in the 1920s Arima did not fall with them, and revelers could still sing the popular calypso: Arima tonight, Sangre Grande tomorrow night, testifying to the continued prosperity of the area. Even when the age of motor buses and motor lorries had come in after the First World War Arima was not to stand aside but remained the busy mart it had been since the last century. In fact, the newly established Arima Bus Company enlivened the busy Eastern Main Road between Sangre Grande and Port-of-Spain.

A general slump in the Trinidad economy in the 1930s must have taken some glint from the glitter, but when the United States forces came to establish bases here in 1941 a bright, giddy prosperity seized this north central town, despite a raging Second World War. The U.S. soldiers built a military base in nearby Cumuto, and workers crowding into Arima as a result saw its population reach nearly 10,000 by the end of the war in 1945. The soldiers themselves brought chaos to the town of Arima, and a crisis so far as its moral fibre was concerned.

Although Arima survived this it faced the 1950s and 1960s without its customary cocoa economy, for the years of the Second World War had changed this radically, and few of its young workers cared to plant or to reap. Its railway too was going, for the buses and taxis had made the railway service uneconomic. By 1968 the Trinidad Government Railway was gone, the Arima Bus Company was gone, even the grand horse-racing track, as much a symbol of the jolly Woodford days as of the then present times, was removed from the town.

But did Arima fall? In the forty or so years between then and now Arima has grown on its outskirts almost beyond recognition. In the 1960s it turned to industry, and the government’s Industrial Development Corporation set up many industries here especially around O’Meara Road. Since then housing developments such as Malabar and Santa Rosa Heights have appeared along with developments associated with Pinto Road on the east and more than one housing development on the west of the old town. Indeed this former Amerindian mission, Arima, is today as vibrant a place as it has ever been.

Copyright NALIS, 2007

Arouca is a corruption of the word "Arauca," which is the true name of the Arawak tribe and language. Although this Amerindian tribe, whose name means "meal-eaters," are said to have inhabited the entire island of Trinidad, especially the south, it is in the north, at the advent of the Capuchins missionaries of 1757, that they appear to have been noticed. For there were countless tales of the hostile Caribs making war on others, and in the opinion of some chroniclers, even devouring their enemies. But these Aruacas were of the tribe who lived on corn or maiz, or the root of the cassava plant which is better known by the Arawak word, "tamayoc." Also, unlike the war-like Caribs, they did not live a nomadic life, going from place to place making war on those they encountered, but they settled contentedly in one area.

The British came and conquered the island from Spain in 1797 but it was as many as 52 years later that in an effort to establish counties and wards in Trinidad Lord Harris defined Arouca geographically. It was bounded on the east by the Arima River, on the west by a river called Aruaca, on the north by the northern range of mountains and on the south by the Caroni River.

However, the people of Arouca had long had to move from their ancestral home. Shortly after a Cedula of Population for Trinidad came to effect in 1783, a measure which saw thousands of Caribbean French planters and their slaves enter Trinidad, Governor José María Chacón, wishing to distribute all fertile and arable land to the French planters, removed all the Amerindians from Arouca and settled them in the Mission of Arima.

Arouca progressed fast, rising in population from a few hundred people at the outset to 1,564 people in 1811. The slaves were a high percentage of this population, numbering 1,300.

Yet, 100 years later Arouca, which had seen its estates disappear, and which was now a quiet village, had only 1,777 people.

It took the years of the Second World War to shake Arouca to life again. Hundreds of people from this district sought work on the American army air base at Fort Read, Comuto, and the district itself became a haven for the United States soldiers. By the end of the war its population had grown substantially, and it showed 3,661 people at the census of 1946.

Today Arouca is a thriving village of about 8,000 people. The Trinidad Government Railway which passed through it since 1776, made quite a difference to its way of life all along the years. The railway was scrapped in 1967 but by then the Arouca area had become industrial and not many people left the area to work far afield. Today, Arouca is vibrant and self-sufficient, and although it no longer lives by agriculture which had sustained it for so long, there are opportunities all around for work, not only in Arima to the eastward nor to Tunapuna in the west, but in Arouca itself.

Copyright NALIS, 2007

Balandra got its name in 1797 just after the British general Sir Ralph Abercromby seized Trinidad from Spain. Following the conquest Abercromby sent his captain of the Royal Engineers, Frederick Mallet, to sail around the island and find out as much as he could about it. There was the need to inform the British Secretary of State for the Colonies what sort of island he had captured, because the British had had little knowledge of Trinidad. The only reason they had attacked it was because the French republicans had been striking at the British in the Windward Islands and fleeing to sanctuary in Trinidad.

This infuriated the British because Spain was neutral in that war. It led to flagrant British transgressions, forcing Spain to declare hostilities. When they did, General Sir Ralph Abercromby, Chief of the British Expeditionary Forces, pounced on Trinidad and took it.

It was therefore important to the British to know what Trinidad was like and what resources it contained, if only for the fact that when the war ended Britain would have to decide whether it would keep Trinidad or return it to Spain.

Abercromby had asked Captain Mallet to draw a map of Trinidad putting in such things as what the various settlements were called and what crops were grown there, and knowing that Trinidad was recently settled by Caribbean French planters under a Spanish Cédula, he wished to know what was the population, how much granted land was there, and granted to whom.

Mallet set out going round by the north coast and he landed at every settlement he spotted. He was so meticulous that his map shows, by anchor symbols, every landing he makes, and he gives the description of every crop, takes a census of the people, and shows every block denoting land granted to the settlers, and with the names of the settlers inscribed on the map.

Maybe it was curiosity which made him slip into a deeply-indented, lush and scenic cove, nearly half-way down on the east coast, and he met a Spanish garrison there, a garrison that may not even have known that the war had ended. He asked the Spanish soldiers what was the place called and they did not know. They said they were there simply to protect the coast. But Mallet saw some huge boats in the bay and the soldiers told him the boats came there to bring provisions from the capital, Puerto España, since there were no roads to the east coast. They were large boats and Mallet asked what type of boats were they. The answer was Balandra.

To name the place Mallet wrote on that spot on his map: “Balandra.”

Copyright NALIS, 2008

The vague date “around 1874” was the date when the first couple settled in Biche – a hunter and his teen-aged wife. Her name was Maria Gomez, or something very like it. At Rio Claro, some time in 1980, the writer was approached and told: “There’s an old woman at Biche, who I think you’d want to see. On your way back to Port-of-Spain pass through Biche. You’d want to see her. She’s 118 years old.”

No attention was paid to the age given for of course it could not be. Nevertheless one passed through Biche. At Biche, in an elegant little house, there she was, the old woman lying on a bed. She looked very ill but she was very lucid. She said, “Of course I am 118 years old.”

The next comment was, “Since you have no birth certificate, can you tell me something to make me know you are 118 years old?”
She rambled on but then she said she could not think of anything.
“Who was the Governor at the time?”
“Don’t know. I wasn’t interested in those people.”
Then after some silence she said, “One thing I remember. When I was about 18, me and me husband went to Arima to see me parents. There was a lot of noise, like the knocking of old iron. I asked what was that, and they told me the government was building a railway.”

That was enough. The Trinidad Government Railway to Arima was established in 1876. If what she said was true she went home to Arima when she was 14! In that case she would have been 118 in 1980.

As suggested by the name “Biche,” a Patois term for wild beasts such as deer or lappe, it was an area for hunters. In that period hunters wandered to what would be considered today extremely far, but even so, to walk from Arima to Biche would have been unrealistic. One would not know what route the hunters took, nor from where they came, but it would seem the best way to get to Biche in those days was by using the Nariva River at the Cocal and getting across the northern Nariva Swamp.

Today, Biche lies by road on what was certainly one of the hunters’ tracks – at least from Sangre Grande. By the turn of the century it was the only recognized village in the “wilderness.” But in a government big road-making programme of 1928-1929 the Cunapo-Biche Road was extended to Rio Claro, bringing the light of day to tiny settlements like Cushe and Charuma.

However, even as late as 1950 Biche was a straggling little roadside village, with the never-failing Chinese shop, and a few dwelling houses. Then it was almost unknown to the rest of Trinidad but by the next decade it shot into prominence by the most unlikely means – a horror story. The villain of that story was Mano Benjamin, who carried out a crime that shook the nation by its ghastliness and cruelty. Mano, who earned the title “the Beast of Biche”, spent several years in prison for his crime. He died in 1998.

Biche has recovered, and has grown enormously between then and now, and is quaint and prosperous-looking. Strange prosperity, because, looking around, one confesses there is no visible sign of where the good times have come from. Agriculture? Maybe. What one can see is that this straggling village of yesterday is now a vibrant, even picturesque, little place, an “oasis” on the Cunapo-Rio Claro Road. It became prominent enough to have a modern Junior Secondary School by the turn of this century – the 21st – but the school has been condemned and is locked in controversy.

There are attractive shops for garment as well as groceries, a few well laid out streets, and a lot of people. The population in 1950 was around 400. Now in 2007 it’s population is around 4,000.

Copyright NALIS, 2007


No other Trinidad village has a history quite the same as Caigual, the village created by "Zabeth," St Rose Phillip and James McQueen. Very few have risen so fascinatingly and have had such an uneventful decline and fall. Yet the chief characters are strong and real, and if in the end their work came to naught for no other reason than times had changed and the modern electric lamps had drawn its young people like flies to a candle, well let us say it was a pity Caigual took so long to acquire the same bright light. But of course that was not the full reason. What about the years of the United States bases? Yet the story of Caigual is the story of grit and courage and cooperation, as well as being a family story, unique amongst the villages of Trinidad.

Caigual, a little village about eight miles from Sangre Grande (but not as the crow flies!) is among the least-known of the villages in Trinidad. Yet Caigual was at one time more prominent than Sangre Grande, which one might call the capital of East Trinidad today. Proof of Caigual’s prominence can be seen by a look at any of the Trinidad maps of the 1920s. These maps would show Caigual as a distinct dot, while neither the name "Sangre Grande" nor the long established name, "Cunapo," may appear.

Firstly, where is Caigual, and how does one get to it? If one is on the Eastern Main Road at Sangre Grande then to find Caigual one has to travel easterly, bearing right at the Police Station to keep on the Eastern Main Road, proceed on to Sangre Chiquito, and as one crosses the little bridge out of Sangre Chiquito turn left along the road which is sign-posted by the road-sign you were hoping to see: Caigual Road. Five miles along Caigual Road you come to the village of Caigual, which today, in the first decade of the 21st Century, is absolutely a lifeless and dying settlement.

Caigual began its story as a village as the 20th Century began, and its birth as well as its development came as a result of the enterprising St Rose Phillip, and his mother, Elizabeth Roberts, who were determined to plant cocoa and share in the fortune which this crop was bringing to that region.

It was most likely in 1893 that Elizabeth Roberts applied for a Crown Grant, and we know that this was approved and that St Rose set about clearing the acreage of land that we know today as Caigual Village. The grant acquired by Elizabeth Roberts was a parcel of land of nearly 29 acres, and it was a portion of this that she gave to the young St Rose and which he straight away brought under the axe and the cutlass.

Following St Rose Phillip and his mother into this new area were five others: Sabino Alcala, James McQueen, Lolo de Lisle, Juan Gomez, and Louis St Rose. The track ran over about five miles into the area which bore the native Amerindian name of "Caigual," presumably the name of a bird. St Rose, after felling the high woods and clearing the land, planted corn and hill rice as well as other vegetables, while the cocoa plants grew. Bordering his own and his mother’s land on the eastern side was the grant belonging to James McQueen, who happened to be his step-father. He cleared his step-father’s land also, and these two grants were to be the village of Caigual.

Caigual’s central savannah, which in later years became a recreation ground for the village folk, was in that period thick woods, and a haven for wild game. According to St Rose, here he caught the biggest deer he had ever seen.

As was seen, other families besides Elizabeth and McQueen had bought up crown lands offered for sale in the area, and their estates, together with the estates of Elizabeth Roberts, known as "Zabeth," and of James McQueen and St Rose Phillip, gave life and substance to the settlement.

Before the end of the 19th century Caigual, with its young cocoa trees and open spaces shook with the yells of little voices and with the sound of pattering feet. Most of these families were linked to Zabeth, either through a son or daughter. The heroine of the village was always Zabeth, reputed to have come from Africa many years after the abolition of slavery. She was full of dynamism, resourceful, hard-working, and was never dependent on any one. She bought the crown grant with the money she worked for, and probably bought McQueen’s as well.

What remains of her home can still be seen deep in the Caigual cocoa plantation, a plantation that is now all but abandoned. She was friend, counselor, adviser, bush medicine woman, and even provider for a great number of people. She brought with her from Africa many of the bright aspects of African culture, rituals like Shango and Bèlè, and this set the stage for many a lively evening at Caigual. She had seven children and her son, St Rose, had ten—so they not only created the village but worked hard on populating it!

By 1910 the place was already bubbling with life, although there were few facilities and conveniences at Caigual, and, of course typical of those days, absolutely no means of transport. One had to walk the seven or eight miles to Cunapo and sometimes the 24 miles to Arima, in order to get to a shop or store. There were no schools for the children within miles. Around 1912 a man called Rowe opened a private school in the village, charging what was considered the exorbitant fee of 12 cents a month. Because Caigual had a number of young children he managed to get more pupils than he could cope with. But with the village growing fast and Mr Rowe’s school becoming more and more inadequate, the villagers pressed the authorities to build a school — but in vain. In 1916 the people of Caigual decided they would have to build the school themselves and several proprietors of the district came together and contributed material as well as agricultural produce to make it possible to construct the building. And one of the founding settlers, Israel Thomas, is said to have given the land. The villagers, being practically all Roman Catholics, called the School Caigual R.C, and all that the Catholic School Board had to do was to provide a teacher. Later in 1916 the Caigual R.C. School was opened. The first schoolmaster, L.N. Daly, had 40 children on roll.

By the 1920s and 1930s Caigual had grown into an extremely lively and popular village, thriving fast, feeding fat on the prosperity of its cocoa, and being a sort of focal point for people all over Manzanilla ward, and beyond. It became well-known for the bright cricket matches in its savannah; for its school concerts and dances — which attracted people from near and far — and it also became known for its vibrant community spirit, and this was not surprising, considering the spirit of its pioneers. It is not by accident that on a map of Trinidad printed around 1929 Caigual Village is shown as a prominent centre — the largest of that area — while places like Cunapo, fast becoming known as Sangre Grande, are practically unmarked.

It was the 1940s that sent Caigual reeling. When the free-spending United States soldiers came to Trinidad in 1941 agriculture and such occupations were doomed. For who would sweat in the cocoa fields to earn a dollar when the Yankees were sharing out these notes at their bright and shining military bases? In fact people did not care whether they were on the bases or not or what they did to earn American money, and people from all over the country, including teachers and other professionals, left whatever they were doing to join the crowd seeking work at the American bases. Many of these "respectable" people ended up driving "Pontiac." In this case "Pontiac" was not the famous car, but a Yankee shovel.

What also gave the death-blow to Caigual in that period was the extension of electricity to Sangre Grande, without the facility penetrating further. The young people of Caigual definitely did not want to be kept in the dark any longer. The population of Caigual fell steadily and, as was said, today this one-time vibrant place is not much more than a ghost village. (Electricity reached Caigual in 1985, long after the damage had been done.)

There are many things which have survived in this heroic village. The descendants of Zabeth and of her son, St Rose Phillip, are very much there. Much of the cocoa planted in the early days, are in evidence, and many trees like breadfruit, chataigne, and grapefruit; and root-crops like tannia, dasheen, and yam, still flourish, although some flourish in vain. The story of Caigual is the story of hard work, glory, and decayed splendour, within the period 1894 to the opening of the 21st century.

Copyright NALIS, 2007


A fine Carenage for ships! Yes, that was what they must have thought of it, but that was not the place that is the Carenage of today because it certainly would not be anything of the sort. The Carenage of today lies nearby, though, and may well have been named for the people and by the people that came here from that storied Martiniquan city of St Pierre, destroyed by Mont Pélé in 1902.

Although St Pierre, Martinique, was a bright, dashing city for the times, with its opera house and other luxuries, the St Pierre that was settled just a little north of the carenage was a poor straggling village which seemed to have been kept together mainly by a common bond amongst its people, a common religion, and the Grace of God.

But in the mid-nineteenth century St Pierre, now called Carenage, rose to such high esteem that it received one of the earliest ward schools and one of the first post offices.

The village that is today called Carenage was not originally "the fine carenage for ships" that one finds just half a mile to the northwest of it. It was to that deeply-indented bay the French-speaking seamen gave the name "Le Carenage" the word "carenage" referring to the careening or cleaning of ships. Often when ships left Port-of-Spain after unlading, and especially when unlading messy cargo, they were brought to this bay, tilted on their sides, and careened. By the end of the 18th century this bay was well recognised as the careening place, or, since the language was mainly French and French Patois, it was well recognised as Le Carenage.

Flowing into this bay was a river, naturally called La Rivière Carenage, and Carenage was the name given to the whole valley through which it flowed. This valley extended across the northwest peninsula to the northern coast and following the entry of settlers in the late eighteenth century, this fertile strip was granted out as estates. At the time of the British conquest of Trinidad in 1797 the Valley of Carenage was covered with sugar-cane, coffee, and cotton. There were ten sugar mills here, and five distilleries to produce rum. The incoming British also counted five coffee mills in this area, and 18 mills for the cotton crops.

There were no lack of labourers, and figures of the time show that there were 607 slaves, and 131 free people of colour. There were 64 whites who comprised the 19 families who owned the estates of Carenage Valley. Some of the names were Dert, Dumas, Ozelet, Bodin, Rochard, Simon, and Mercie.

Many of those proprietors were French settlers from Martinique, of which the capital was that extraordinary city called St Pierre. It was no doubt because of this capital city that not far southwest of the careening place was a tiny village called St Pierre. This village remained long after the ill-fated St Pierre was destroyed by the volcano Mont Pélé in 1902. Indeed, this village can be seen as "St Pierre" on most Trinidad maps of the 1920s and 1930s. However, the French name, St Pierre, has been translated to the English one of St Peter. But the name "St Peter," was mainly associated with the Roman Catholic Church, which was dedicated to the saint. But the village, being so near to "the fine carenage for ships," slowly but surely St Pierre took on the name of: Carenage.

It is not certain whether the Roman Catholic church dates back to before 1826, but its earliest record was made in that year. Considering that French immigrants began arriving in 1785, a date such as 1826 for the church may not be considered outlandish. A new Church of St Peter was built in 1832.

In 1849 Lord Harris made the village and its environment the Ward of Carenage. Even though the end of slavery in 1838 reduced its importance as a producing centre of significance and as a gateway to extremely fertile territory, Carenage remained a key district, perhaps the most important west of Port-of-Spain. Indeed, in 1851, the year an inland postal service was inaugurated in Trinidad, Carenage was one of the first places to get mail. The mounted policemen carrying letters called here on the very first day of the service, Monday, August 14, 1851.

Carenage also got one of the earliest of the primary schools to be set up. These schools, called ward schools since they were run by the wardens, were established by Ordinance in 1851, but came into being only a few at a time. Statistics for 1862 show that the school at Carenage had 111 students on roll.

And even so, this was a time when Carenage was a poor, struggling village, the descendants of the "cedula" people surviving mainly by the fish of the sea. This was also the perfect period for the priest, Abbé Poujade, to show his resilience and love for the poor, his toughness and self-sacrifice, and his freedom from fear in the face of adversity. Because of his remarkable spirit he left his name behind: Abbé Poujade Street. Among his works is the chapel on the waterside and the statue of St Peter facing what became St Peter’s Bay.

Carenage never really grew into a large village and at the census of 1881 could not have had more than a few hundred people. But we do not know, because the census officials gave statistics for the whole ward, which amounted to 1,239. Although Carenage was primarily a fishing village and had 116 fishermen at the time, it did not turn its back on agriculture, for approximately 150 persons were listed as tilling the soil.

The only big thing to shake up Carenage came in March 1941, the date during the Second World War when the United States forces came to Trinidad. This event saw Carenage spring to life, and the district knew what could be described as "the best of times mixed with the worst of times." The villagers attained their peak population of 2,000 in 1941, no doubt because of fascination with the soldiers. For Carenage was so near to the United States Naval Base at Chaguaramas —a matter of just about three miles — that it became a village of recreation and entertainment. Overnight one had to deal with a boom town, having clubs and bars springing up all over the area. Vice flourished and normal family life was in chaos. Even though the American presence hastened on health measures such as the fight against mosquitoes, and other benefits such as the introduction of electricity, the losses were a lot greater than the gains.

Of course Carenage lost its giddiness and its glitter when the Second World War ended in 1945. Yet being on the only road to strategic Chaguaramas it retained much of its importance. For Chaguaramas remained a crucial area, as can be seen by the Americans keeping some staff and many installations there more than 20 years after the war. This was mainly to resist the Trinidad government’s opposition to the lend-lease treaty which gave the United States the base areas for 99 years. In 1960 the Americans agreed to withdraw in stages and in 1962 the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment were able to take possession and set up themselves in old U.S. Army barracks there.

As they marched to those barracks the people of Carenage cheered them, for of course, the glory days were already over.

An unusually heavy earth tremor hit Carenage in 1968 and rocked St Peter’s church, which was hard-hit enough to be abandoned. The parishioners struggled to raise funds for a new ultra-modern St Peter’s church. The foundation of the new church was laid in 1970 and the building was completed in 1971. But the old structure still stands, witnessing the change that has come over Carenage in 150 years.

Carenage today is still a fishing village, although fishing is carried out on a much smaller scale than before. The truth is that after the Americans left and the superficial "sweet-life" was over, the villagers of Carenage never looked towards the sea in the manner that they used to do. Nor did they return to the land. Today a great number still seek Chaguaramas, but now to work in the many new industries that have arisen there. A greater number turn to the City of Port-of-Spain, about four miles away.

Copyright NALIS, 2007


Giant cedar trees lining one of the bays of the southwestern peninsula led to early Spanish sailors naming that bay Playa de Cedros, and the coast of this bay, simply Cedros — the Spanish name for cedars.

The bay was on the northern side of the peninsula between what Columbus called Los Gallos and what became known as Punta de Cedros.

However, Cedros remained nothing more than a coast for what may have been a century and a half afterwards, for the only evidence of the area becoming settled goes back to 1785 when the Spanish Cedula of Population for Trinidad began taking effect.

That was the occasion when Catholics in general and Caribbean French planters in particular began emigrating to Trinidad, for indeed the Cedula was aimed at this group. The settlement of Cedros must have become established by 1786.

But there was no rapid development. In fact when the British captured Trinidad from Spain in 1797 only three grants of land had yet been made in the district — one to Torre, one to Consedor, and one to Quorge.

It will be noted by these Spanish names that this region in the south was still predominantly Spanish. Maybe these three planters had come across from the area of the Amerindian Mission of Siparia, about 10 miles to the northeast. Just around that time Governor José María Chacón had settled some Venezuelan royalists in the area.

One does not know if or how the planters made use of the cedars but suffice it to say those giant trees line the coast no more. The Spaniards called the surrounding region “Quemada,” the word for “burnt,” and this points to the little-recorded incident of a fire which had swept a large part of the southwestern peninsula. One knows of a burnt ranch which gave its name to the district of Rancho Quemado, but one has no idea whether this fire accounted for the cedar trees. Quemada, as a region, retained its Spanish name until 1849, when Lord Harris introduced counties and wards, during which process many Spanish names disappeared.

By this time, 1849, Cedros was in full development. The area was taken up by a number of estates, the boundaries of which ran in straight lines from the coast to the interior. Those were original grants under the Cedula of Population, and which were made even after the capture of 1797. Lord Harris named the entire region of the Bay of Cedars, the Ward of Cedros. The old settlement that had developed at the coast — no doubt the settlement established by the workers of Torre, Consedor, and Quorge — became known as Bonasse, a French word that means "easy-going."

The estates referred to made Cedros one of the most productive areas of Trinidad. After the British took over in February 1797 the British captain of the Royal Engineers, Frederick Mallett, wrote of Cedros: “The land is fit for sugar and coffee only.” No doubt he said this because these were the crops he saw in abundance there when he did a survey shortly after the conquest, but as the years went by cocoa and later coconuts were tried, and these flourished too.

In the early British days, the sugar-cane fields which the Spaniards had planted at Cedros were persisted with, but the yield was not significant, except for the production of rum. In 1811 Cedros had a population of 436, and this comprised 20 whites, 41 Free Blacks, and 375 slaves. With seven distilleries it had produced 2,260 gallons of rum that year. At that point, though, bananas were being tried out extensively.

But it was coconut that was to become the more important crop. Although by 1870 Cedros was still very much under sugar, there were several cocoa estates. The planters of coffee did not so much agree with Captain Mallet for by then coffee, as a crop, was non-existent.

Yet, generally the round-island steamer which collected produce from all around the coast to bring to Port-of-Spain could not fail to stop at Cedros. For apart from the staples like sugar and cocoa, Cedros supplied all manner of produce such as plantain, corn, fruits, and a variety of ground provisions.

At the census of 1871 the Ward of Cedros had 3,500 people, the village, Bonasse, attracting the major part of this population. Despite two unhealthy marshes close to it — the Marsh of Blanquizales to the south and the Marsh of Icaque to the southwest, the village of Bonasse maintained a health record superior to most of the other districts, showing a low mortality rate in an era when malaria was causing havoc amongst the new-born. Only places like Maracas and Caura were able to show a better record.

Bonasse was already bustling with activity in 1881. In that census year the population was 2,920, and it was a village of 784 houses and 24 shops. There were four teachers, maybe the teachers of Mr Vincent’s school. There was a small police station with four policemen, and from reports there was a busy police court. But why should that be? Didn’t the name Bonasse mean easy-going?

So far as language was concerned it was still Spanish which held sway here, although it was mainly the French who had opened estates, and although Bonasse was itself a French word. People spoke Spanish in the streets during this period, and the eminent scholar and educationist, John Jacob Thomas, said he learned Spanish at Cedros while carrying out his duties as Clerk of the Peace.

But these and many other aspects of the old Cedros have vanished without trace. Of the physical Bonasse today, the estates which had cut across in symmetrically straight lines — estates such as Mon Plaisir, Sainte Marie, Union, St John, and Perseverance — are no longer producers of sugar and cocoa. Indeed, they are no longer producers of anything — they comprise the main village. Large coconut estates which covered Cedros towards the end of the 19th Century and well into the 20th are no longer vibrant and productive, and in fact, for all practical purposes, agriculture is dead.

What plays a big part in the Cedros of today is fishing. About three-quarters of the population are involved in the fishing industry in one way or another, and this is reflected by the constant activity of fishing boats in the Bay of Cedros. Seine-fishing, once common here, has disappeared, no doubt because of the number of persons it requires, whatever the catch. Taking the place of seine-fishing are filet and trap-fishing — effective forms of fishing which require the minimum of labour, and which can be done at all times, day or night. Shrimp fishing has also come into prominence.

Although fishing in Cedros is a thriving industry, the coast is so near to Venezuela — about eight miles — that the fishermen are often plagued with disputes about territorial waters. Also, there is no doubt at all that fishermen from both sides break the sea law with impunity. Another problem caused by the proximity of the two coasts is the very serious problem of drug-running, possibly the biggest problem in the area today.

However, these considerations aside, Bonasse, simply referred to as "Cedros" by most people, is a thriving little village, well laid out, many of its streets taking the names of former estates such as "Union Street," and "Sainte Marie Street," while others recall early proprietors such as "Hughes Street," and "Gardieu Street." At least three remind of British royalty: "George Street," "Edward Street" and "King Street."

There are much fewer people in Cedros now than at the turn of the 20th Century, when its estates —especially coconut — were still flourishing. Compared with the population of 2,920 in 1981, the population in 1960 was 1,538. The present population is about 2,000.

Copyright NALIS, 2007


The home-town of a man who is probably the greatest writer in the world; the village that opened Charles Kingsley’s eyes, Chaguanas, site of the Chaguanes Arawaks is today one of the fastest-growing towns in Trinidad

The fact that Chaguanas is a thriving town today and has always been one of our bustling villages is a tribute to the past, for as far back as Spanish times it seems to have attracted notice.

It probably emerged before Spanish times, one does not know. But it is quite likely, for bearing the name of the native tribe which flourished there — the Chaguanes tribe of Arawaks — does suggest the centuries that may have passed over it.

There is never lacking things to say about Chaguanas: the fastest growing town in Trinidad, the best place to get bargains, the most hectic and bazaar-like, and “fruitful” market town in Trinidad — all these things and more have been said.

But it is not simply for these things that one is thrilled. There is a public library at its Centre Pointe Mall, and what is special and appropriate about having this public library in Chaguanas, and also what can be said about it that cannot be said of any other library in Trinidad, is that it is in the home of one of the greatest writers in the world.

The great Chaguanas writer is of course Sir Vidia Naipaul, and if the stranger visiting Chaguanas wants to know his works, why, one has just to walk into the library and take down book after book: The Suffrage of Elvira, The Mystic Masseur, The Loss of El Dorado, Miguel Street, The Middle Passage, The Mimic Men, and, oh, yes, his most famous work, A House for M Biswas. That book is regarded as one of the finest novels in West Indian fiction. And what is interesting about it is that the library is not far from the house that Sir Vidia wrote about, for it is Hanuman House, which is in the centre of the town.

Sir Vidia, whose books can be taken down from the shelves not only in Chaguanas but all over the world, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. He also holds the Trinity Cross, and knighthood from the Queen of England.

When Vidia Naipaul was born in 1932, there was no library in Chaguanas, but even then it was a far cry to what it had been one hundred years before, when it was essentially a place of sugar-cane estates criss-crossed by donkey cart roads and mule tracks. These paths all led to the waterside where places like Felicity and Cacandee are today.

The sugar estates were flourishing, if one considered the times, but soon after that decade these estates were heading for abandonment, and were only revived because of a clipper called the Fatel Rozack. The Fatel Rozack docked at the light-house jetty on May 30, 1845, and the sugar planters might have said it was the nick of time. For African slavery, which was abolished in 1838, saw the sugar workers say goodbye to the long season of toil and tears, and this “goodbye” meant a crisis to the estates. Therefore the clipper, which had come from Calcutta in 1845, brought relief by bringing its 225 indentured workers, for through William Burnley, several Chaguanas estates — including one of his own, Woodford Lodge — benefited from having a quota of these workers.

The clipper, being the first indenture ship, again distinguishes Chaguanas.

The Chaguanas sugar estates showed quick revival, and when the famous English writer, Charles Kingsley, visited Trinidad in 1869, Chaguanas was one of the first places his friend, Governor Arthur Gordon, took him to. They left by steamer from Port-of-Spain, and as they approached the Chaguanas coast Kingsley was taken aback by the sight of mangroves. In his book, At Last — A Christmas in the West Indies, he wrote: Suddenly the mangroves opened, and the creek ended in a wharf, with barges alongside. Baulks of strange timber lay on shore. Sheds were full of empty casks, ready for the approaching crop-time. A truck was waiting for us on the tramway and we scrambled on shore…to be received…with all sorts of courtesies…and kindnesses.”

Of course, truck meant just something with seats to sit down in on the tram rails and be hauled. The tramway Kingsley speaks of was only the second pair of rails laid down in Trinidad, and it was the means by which convicts brought down the “strange timber” from a wooded area, today known as Longdenville, to the seaside at Felicity.

One of the kindnesses the Kingsley received was a good drink of rum made in the distillery at Felicity and this opened his eyes to the rich flora and fauna that was Chaguanas in those days. There he saw sugar-cane for the first time, and he wrote: “Beyond the ditches rose on either side not wheat and beans but sugar-cane, ten and twelve feet high.”

But Chaguanas was not just sugar-cane. He saw a man with a great heap of big pods before him, and no doubt Arthur Gordon told him that it was cocoa. Kingsley wrote: “I went up to him and told him that I had come from England and that I had never seen cocoa before although I had been eating and drinking it all my life.”

By that year, 1869, there was the nucleus of what is the town of Chaguanas today. But it was very small, probably with no more than one hundred sugar-cane workers. As was shown, it was not even accessible by road, and people came and went by the barges which came mainly for sugar. It was only when the Trinidad Government Railway established in 1876 that Chaguanas woke to life. The line to Chaguanas was constructed in 1880, and soon afterwards this little village became one of the liveliest points of the railway.

But it has not stopped growing. Today, as the new century begins (2007) Chaguanas is one of the fastest growing areas of Trinidad.

Copyright NALIS, 2007


Picturesque Chaguaramas, which means the palms, recalls eight things: Columbus in the Gulf of Paria, the British conquest of Trinidad in 1797, the Cedula of Population of 1783, Lord Harris, the Venezuelan War of Independence, the United States forces in World War II, the Black Power uprising of 1970, The Treaty of Chaguaramas in 1973 and 1974.

The word “Chaguaramas” is Arawak for “The Palms,” and there is evidence that it was a place of palms up to Spanish times. Strictly speaking Chaguaramas is a village, but it is also a name given to the region named for the village — the southern shore of the northwest peninsula of Trinidad. This area is washed by the Gulf of Paria and runs from Teteron, on the extreme west, to the Chaguaramas River on the east, at the point of the Tucker Valley Road. This comprised the old Chaguaramas ward with its picturesque flat seaboard and a backdrop of high mountains. At Teteron, it fronts the Islands of the Bocas (Monos, Huevos, and Chacachacare), and these, with the Five Islands, Cronstadt, Gaspar Grande, and Gasparillo, were part of the old Chaguaramas ward.

But as was pointed out, Chaguaramas is essentially a village. The first appearance of its region in the recorded history of this island was when in 1498 Christopher Columbus encountered this land he called Trinidad. Trying to find a passage out of the Gulf of Paria, he skirted the islets in the bocas (or mouths) fearful there might be reefs which might wreck his ships. Then he turned to the sunset, thinking he might find a way out, but had to return to the Chaguaramas region. Before he returned he met a friendly cacique who advised him to wait and watch for the tides. He took the cacique’s advice and on August 14, 1498, he sailed safely out of the bocas and out of the history of this land.

The second occasion Chaguaramas made history was of course in 1797 when the British seized Trinidad from Spain. The date was the 18th of February, 1797. On the evening before the battle the Spanish fleet of four vessels hid in Chaguaramas Bay— the bay outside the village of Chaguaramas, half concealed by the islet of Gasparillo, or Little Gasparee. And who can blame the Spanish admiral Don Sebastien Ruiz de Apodaca, for seeking refuge there? The British fleet was a fleet of about 12 ships-of-the-line, accompanied by frigates and other vessels. Could the Spaniards, with four ships, have had any chance of staving off the enemy? Having been exposed, the next day they had no alternative but to surrender. But before this Apodaca set fire to his ships, sending his men to shore to fight the British. But there was no fight — in fact, some of those troops fled. A section of the British invaders marched from Chaguaramas, right through to Puerto España, the Port-of-Spain of today.

Not too long before this, about 1785, Chaguaramas saw the first of the visitors under a measure known as the Cedula of Population. This measure, proclaimed in 1783, led to thousands of French Caribbean settlers and their slaves coming to settle in Trinidad under an agreement made between King Carlos IV of Spain and a French planter from Grenada, Philippe-Rose Roume de St Laurent. It was the beginning of the setting up of estates, and one of the incoming planters was Monsieur Teteron, whose wife, Madame Teteron, gave her name to the estate and settlement of Teteron, which, as was said, fronts the Islands of the Bocas.

(It seems that it was in Madame Teteron’s own time that one of the big episodes of the Venezuelan War of Independence began, when Santiago Mariño recruited men from the Teteron estate, and invaded Guiria, on the Venezuelan mainland, giving rise to a substantial “patriot” offensive in eastern Venezuela).

It was Governor Lord Harris (1846-1854) who, establishing counties and wards in Trinidad (1849) as an aid to development, defined and established Chaguaramas. Judging from the fact that the name is Arawak, it seems obvious that there was an Arawak village there. Indeed it may have been settled since pre-Columbian times for when Columbus and his men were at the Islands of the Bocas in 1498 there was evidence of people around.

Nothing of great importance happened at Chaguaramas from Lord Harris’ time until 1941, when the British, in a desperate need for war armament, leased Chaguaramas along with other areas of Trinidad to the United States Government for use by their military. In a huge Lend-Lease Agreement, in which they leased the sites for 99 years, they paved the way for United States forces to “occupy” Trinidad, building bases and carrying out war exercises.

Following the end of World War II Chaguaramas became a symbol and a rallying point for thousands of people who wanted the United States government to give up Chaguaramas. In the years leading up to the Federation of the West Indies (which came in 1958) the name “Chaguaramas” became a war-cry, for the Americans refused to give it up, and a “March in the Rain,” in 1960, led by Premier Eric Williams, and calling on the United States government to give up Chaguaramas was an emotional high point of the times.

However, in 1967 the United States authorities gave up some of their holdings, promising that in 10 years they would give up the rest and free Chaguaramas.

This was duly accomplished.

But we have to go back seven years to see the most emotional, crucial, and critical moment in the history of Chaguaramas. It happened in March, 1970, just a few weeks after the country was in the throes of protest following racial incidents taking place mainly in North America, and of course that which was happening at home. It appears that the resignation of one of the ministers and the government’s response to it, sparked off the trouble, but it accounted for mutiny in the army, and a crisis which almost led to the fall of the government. For a faction which had sided with the protest got the upper hand, and was marching on Port-of-Spain, when the leader of the Coast Guard shelled the hill, disrupted the road, and stopped the progress.

If the events of Chaguaramas at that time stood for disunity, then four years later the word “Chaguaramas” stood for unity when the Caribbean Common Market agreement (CARICOM) was signed there. This agreement is also known as the Treaty of Chaguaramas. It was signed on August 1, 1973, and the signatories were: representatives of Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica and Guyana; and the signing was completed when on August 1, 1974, representatives of Antigua, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, St Lucia, and St Vincent put their hands to the document.

¹ Apart from armament 50 old destroyers were supplied.

Copyright NALIS, 2008


Charlotteville lies near the north-eastern tip of Tobago, but westerly on a deeply indented bay called Man-of-War Bay. The village is bordered on the eastern and southern sides by a wall of high mountains, which virtually cuts Charlotteville off by land, transport-wise, and much more so with radio communication. Radio communication is easier with other islands such as Barbados and Grenada than with the rest of Tobago, and of course, Trinidad.

Looking up from Man-of-War bay to the high wall of lush, green mountains, the area looks forbidding, yet it was to this point to which some of the earliest of European settlers came.

The first of these came in 1633 when a Dutchman called Jan de Moor financed an expedition which arrived in this bay and tried to settle. It is said that the newcomers made peace with the Caribs, and if that is so, then most of the Tobago settlers of the period would have liked to know how that was done! But the fact remains that they were able to settle there, only to be driven off shortly afterwards by other European soldiers of fortune.

It could well be that the Caribs who lived in this section of Tobago were more peaceful than the rest, for another batch of settlers arriving in this bay in 1639 were able to settle. However, early historical records of the Charlotteville area leave much to doubt. One can look back with confidence only to the mid-nineteenth century when the place had long taken on the aspect of a village. At this point of time the two principal estates were Charlotteville estate and Pirate’s Bay estate, both under sugar. In 1865 the Turpin family bought both these estates and combined them into one holding. It is this holding, about 11000 acres in extent that is the essential Charlotteville today. (Pirate’s Bay, incidentally, is the name given to a certain section of Man-of-War Bay, based on tales of pirates coming ashore to bury treasure).

As a whole, Charlotteville’s deeply indented harbour has not only been an attraction to settlers and pirates but has played a great part in the development of the village. Because the settlement has been so inaccessible by land that there has been a great reliance on the sea, although to what extent one is not sure. Handily for the settlers, Man-of-War bay is a natural deep-water harbour, for it allowed those early warships to come right up to shore. Of course the bay has been a kind of high road for all manner of small boats, and has provided the fishing grounds for which this village is famous. But as a waterway it has not been used much, surprisingly enough, but maybe there are good reasons for this.

There have been a lot of earthen tracks in this part of Tobago and it is one of these tracks that is the present precarious roadway that leads to what is now Speyside, on the other coast. If one is coming to Charlotteville, just before this mountain road descends into the village there is Fort Campbelton, an early British fort which protected the settlement by commanding the entrance to Man-of-War Bay. By the turn of the 20th century Charlotteville was already recognized as one of the principal villages of Tobago — even though it had only one street. This street led straight from the waterfront towards the hills. The first crop introduced here was sugar, but by the 1920s this crop had changed to cocoa. Cocoa was successful, and in bringing prosperity it drew more people to Charlotteville — although this meant the population was just a few hundred by 1931.

The village grew steadily throughout the 1930s and by 1946 it had 277 households and 1,360 people — perhaps as a result of many Grenadians coming in. In agriculture, cocoa was king but a good rival was the fishing industry, which had grown enormously. In general, agriculture flourished, but this literally went with the wind during destructive Hurricane Flora of 1963.

But Charlotteville is still a bustling village, and one of Tobago’s prettiest. It remains comparatively inaccessible and maybe that is why it is so charming. But one dreams of Man-of-War Bay and maybe if vessels leave that harbour and stream out to Scarborough or to Port-of-Spain (and stream back of course), many would get a chance to see this wonderful place.


  • National Archives random documents on Tobago estates.
  • Henry Iles Woodcock: Tobago

Copyright NALIS, 2007


In the second half of the 19th century the Cipero River, which originates in the Central Range and empties its waters in the Gulf - south of San Fernando - influenced much of the region. This was because of the sugar-cane trade of the time. A great number of the estates lying along the course of the Cipero River used the waterway as a means of getting their sugar-cane as well as their crude sugar and molasses to the river mouth, where lighters and schooners would be waiting to transport the produce. When in 1859 William Eccles introduced the first railway in Trinidad as a means of further assisting cane farmers to get their produce to the seafront, the point to which the produce went was also the point at which the Cipero was crossed and was known as the Cipero Cross. Lighters and schooners came into the mouth of the Cipero to receive their cargo.

Although the Trinidad Government Railway came to Trinidad in 1876 it was not until 1882 that it came to San Fernando, and when it did, the Cipero Cross was well established. And of course the San Fernando line was a terminus, for the railway came to the San Fernando wharf and stayed right there. It was not until 1913 that it moved further south, this time on its way to a new terminus: Siparia. That was when the passenger train service was introduced to the southwestern areas. This meant there had to be a new crossing over the Cipero Cross. Instead of referring to it as the crossing over the Cipero Cross, they shortened it by saying: “Cross Crossing.”

The area beyond the crossing and at the mouth of the Cipero River was where the little vessels came to collect whatever produce there was: sugar-cane or molasses or lump sugar. Here was where it had to be “embarked,” and therefore the area became known as the “embarcadere.” This little area appears to have been owned by the Colonial Company (proprietors of Usine Ste Madeleine) who sent its produce down the Cipero River.

Cross Crossing has been popularly known by that name ever since 1913, and “embarcadere,” the site used as a wharf, has always been known as “embarcadere,” a French term. The area has remained as “embarcadere” long after the lighters, the railway, and the sugar-cane business has gone, and some of the ruins of the old installations are left dreaming of hectic days.

Today, Embarcadere is a much bigger area than the original old embarcadere. Indeed, one can look at today’s Embarcadere as a little district of San Fernando.

Copyright NALIS, 2007


Comuto, which is named after a tributary of the Caroni called the Rio Comuto, had no existence as a settlement until the turn of the 1900s. In that period large areas of inland Trinidad were losing forested land to the rapid spread of cocoa—and coffee, to some extent. By 1900 there appeared to be sizeable coffee plantations surrounding a little settlement of workers on the banks of the Comuto River.

The large-scale cultivation of cocoa moved slowly into the Comuto area in the 1870s and 1880s. In 1881 the Government set out to build the Comuto Road, and forming a junction with it, the roads to Tumpuna and Caratal. A large area around this junction was in the Ward of Tamana, and here at this point, at the settlement to which was going to be called “Comuto,” came the warden to establish his headquarters.

Naturally, other planters and labourers gathered in this area giving the junction the appearance of a village. But in that period, 1900, the roads were in a deplorable condition, and being earthen, were always threatened by the bush. There was always an acute problem of obtaining pure water, as the rivers were polluted. Another problem was the lack of schools for the children of the labourers. In his report for 1900 the warden, Harris Harragin, could write: “Schools are wanted in the districts of Tamana, Talparo, and Comuto. The streets are a serious problem. I had to refrain from visiting these new villages as the schools are unopened and uncared for. Pure water is a problem in these parts.”

This central Trinidad village developed huge cocoa and coffee estates, such as La Prosperidad in the early part of the century, but still for all that it was virtually unknown. The outbreak of the first European war in 1914 met it wild and green with cocoa and coffee plantations and with its surrounding forests. There were two houses at the junction of its main road, and one of these houses still exists today.

Between 1914 and 1921 Comuto grew significantly, for from just a few families in 1914, it had a population of 388 at the census of 1921. However it stagnated, for ten years later (1931) it could show only 577. This loss of momentum could be only due to the fact that cocoa suffered an island wide decline in the 1920s. The decade that followed was also a quiet one for Cumuto, but from that juncture, 1941, the district sprang to life.

This event was the coming of United States soldiers to build bases in Trinidad  and from April 1941, when axe-men started clearing the Comuto-El Mamo forests for the construction of a military base, Comuto and its people got caught up in a whirlwind. There was a sudden change in the tempo of life as people crowded in from the surrounding areas to work on what was widely known as “The Comuto Base.” The Comuto people were absorbed on the base, too, and Comuto, as an agricultural district was erased from the Trinidad map. The American soldiers swarmed into the village, bringing to it dazzling entertainment but not leaving it with a good character. The impact of the American days was so great that in 1946, one year after the war had ended, the population of Comuto village was 2,320.

After the war, Comuto never returned to being the sleepy agricultural village it was. Its workmen, used to big paydays, sought work in the oilfields rather than return to the land. Yet, the absence of the big times did not check its progress. It emerged into the 1950s and 1960s as a hub of communication for the central areas, and being close to the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway it became a key transit point to villages hitherto remote — places like Guatapajaro, Four Roads Tamana, Las Lomas, Talparo, and Coryal.

Although one might say, disparagingly, “People don’t go to Comuto; they just pass it by,” this is not strictly true, although, admittedly, there is not much to draw the visitor. But it is a fine place, with a gentle terrain, and thanks to the flashy years no longer can one say, like Warden Harragin in 1900: “The streets are a serious problem. I had to refrain from visiting these new villages…”

The district has been going through a period of exciting development in building, and although in Comuto itself there is no obvious sign of this wealth, incredibly enough an old resident said, “It’s the money from the American days. People saved up and now they are building houses.”

But could this be true!

Copyright NALIS, 2008


The word “Cunupia” is almost certainly a corruption by the Spaniards of a native Arawak word, and at the time it emerged it applied to a roadway, the Conupia Road, which formed a junction with the Chaguanas tramway road — which became part of the Southern Main Road. Although this tramline was laid down by William Eccles in 1856 it was only in the 1870s it became important, running from a mangrove-wharf on the coast of Felicité sugar estate to a convict depôt at Longdenville, a depôt established by Governor J.R. Longden. Afterwards, the road linked up with a royal road on the bank of the River Caroni.

The stretch of the Conupia Road lay across the Caroni savanna and was very much prone to flooding and swamp. The road was built some time after Lord Harris established Counties and Wards in 1849, thus setting the scene for the opening of sugar estates in that region.

It was decades later that the village of Cunupia appeared on this road. For example, the elaborate ordnance survey and estate map of 1871 shows no village such as Cunupia. As early as 1853 we notice a Constable Ames George watching over the Cunupia area, and that a cutlass man called St. Hilaire Bonair had the job of cleaning the Caroni Savanna Road. Unless this was the same “Conupia Road,” then the Conupia Road was not recognized.

Change came fast in the 1870s when a bid to extend cocoa plantations brought the crop into this area giving rise to the little settlement of “Cunupia” that we know today. But even so, up to 1883, no village called “Cunupia” was recognized by maps, although it doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. At this time, the whole Ward of Lower Caroni had little more than a thousand people.

A group of Africans on the Conupia Road seems to have been the cause of the building of an Anglican chapel in Cunupia in 1884, and shortly afterwards a chapel school was established as the first school in this district. The Catholics in the settlement had to wait five more years. Their first Catholic chapel was erected in 1889, and following this came the first school for Catholic children.

It was around that very period that East Indian workers from the sugar estate on the banks of the Caroni, came to Cunupia. Incidentally the estate was called Caroni, and had its little sugar mill, even making its own Caroni rum. These people who had moved away from the sugar-cane estate seemed to have been attracted by the swampy areas in the Cunupia region, no doubt seeing the opportunity to plant rice. They settled in a place that came to be called Alligator Village, on the borders of the Cunupia cocoa plantations.

In order to educate the children of these East Indians, the Canadian Mission to the Indians opened a school here in 1895. Yet Cunupia must have been very small, for the three schools together could not muster 100 children.

The year 1898 woke up Cunupia when from a point called Cunupia Farm the authorities, who had extended its railway system to San Fernando in 1882, decided to send a line through the Caparo Valley to Tabaquite to assist the cocoa planters. The railway station at Cunupia was called Jerningham Junction — for the governor of the day, Sir Hubert Jerningham.

By the end of the century Cunupia was not only a recognized village but a prosperous one.

In the 1920s this area grew very fast. Alligator Village was now the heart of the district and grew from 549 in 1921 to just over 1,000 in 1931. In that very year, 1931, the government built its own school to house all the children and shut down the others.

Prosperous Cunupia declined in importance when the railway line from Jerningham Junction to Tabaquite was closed in 1965. In the 1980s it further declined because that era meant the end of all industries. The youth of Cunupia, shunning agriculture, as is the trend, find jobs away from home — in Chaguanas, Curepe, St Joseph, Arima, everywhere else but in the village of alligators, or near the old Cunupia Farm, where their fathers rode the train from Jerningham Junction, or where their grand-fathers worked in the sugar mill on the Caroni river.

Copyright NALIS, 2008