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Trinidad & Tobago - People

Trinidad and Tobago is populated by one of the most diverse mixtures of races found anywhere in the world. These people have a history of peaceful coexistence, each with a deep patriotic feeling for Trinidad and Tobago, and a desire to promote nationalism. It is home to some 1.3 million people, primarily of African or East Indian descent. These groups each make up approximately 40 percent of the population, with people of Chinese, Lebanese and European descent and those of mixed ethnicity making up the balance.

Trinidad and Tobago comprises a unique mix of races and cultures that can be traced back to Africa, India, Europe, the Middle East and China. The influences of the native American Indians are also prominent features of local culture. The people of Trinidad and Tobago are mainly of African or East Indian descent. Virtually all speak English. Small percentages also speak Hindi, French patois, and several other dialects.

Trinidad has two major folk traditions: Creole and East Indian. Creole is a mixture of African elements with Spanish, French, and English colonial culture. Trinidad's East Indian culture came to the island beginning May 30, 1845 with the arrival of indentured servants brought to fill a labor shortage created by the emancipation of the African slaves in 1838. Most remained on the land, and they still dominate the agricultural sector, but many have become prominent in business and the professions. East Indians have retained much of their own way of life, including Hindu and Muslim religious festivals and practices.

The dominant ethnic groups were those of African (referred to as blacks) and Indian (known as East Indians) descent; the 1980 census revealed that nearly 80 percent of the population was almost evenly split between the two groups. Only 1 percent of the population was classified as white, and the pure Chinese element represented no more than 0.5 percent of the population; the remainder comprised mixed racial and ethnic elements, including small numbers of Portuguese, Syrians, and Lebanese.

Blacks by and large had adopted the European way of life. Although East Indians considered themselves culturally superior, blacks maintained a slightly privileged position in society because of their earlier arrival. Status within this group was determined by the shade of one's skin. The lightest-toned blacks traditionally were associated with the elite members of the social hierarchy.

Although East Indians represented the largest nonblack element in contemporary society, they were still accorded an inferior status and maintained their own social and religious customs. In the 1980s, East Indians made some strides at becoming more influential members of society, including accession to ministerial positions in government. Nevertheless, complete interaction with blacks still had not occurred. Ethnic and cultural characteristics remained complicated components of society. Although a stratified social structure was passed on from the British, the society was not defined strictly along class lines. Numerous studies have demonstrated that Trinidadians have consistently differentiated themselves and their place in society based on their ethnic affiliation. To the extent that well-defined economic class distinctions may be made, there was a distinct lack of cohesion within each class. Although the major ethnic groups were represented in all classes of society, an informal ranking was also common within each class.

Generally, blacks attained a preferred position at all levels within the stratified class framework, which led to a disunity in class structure. For example, it was observed that the protests of 1970, which were designed to force change throughout society, were unable to unify black and East Indian elements. In fact, the failure of the Black Power movement, as it became known, to effect more sweeping reforms was attributed in part to an inability to mobilize other segments of the population.

There are six years of compulsory education starting at the age of six. Primary school comprises seven years and secondary five, with cycles of three and two years. Some 89 per cent of pupils complete primary school (2009). The school year starts in September.

Tertiary institutions include the St Augustine campus of the regional University of the West Indies (UWI), which also has main campuses in Barbados and Jamaica. At St Augustine, UWI offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses in agriculture, education, engineering, humanities, law (the Hugh Wooding Law School), medical sciences, sciences and social sciences. The University of Trinidad and Tobago was established in 2004 and includes the Eastern Caribbean Institute of Agriculture and Forestry. Other tertiary institutions include the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts; and Polytechnic Institute, which provides adult education in the evenings and shares premises with the Sixth Form Government School. There is virtually no illiteracy among people aged 1524.

Public spending on health was three per cent of GDP in 2012. Traditionally good services have suffered somewhat from reductions in public expenditure. Some 94 per cent of the population uses an improved drinking water source and 92 per cent have access to adequate sanitation facilities (2012). Infant mortality was 19 per 1,000 live births in 2013 (61 in 1960). In 2012, 1.6 per cent of people aged 1549 were HIV positive.

After 1930 mortality rates were drastically reduced by improved health and sanitation facilities. This caused the annual population growth rate to surge to an average of nearly 3 percent until 1960, a level that was for the first time considered detrimental to social development. The first privately run health clinic was established in the late 1950s, and initial efforts to enact a comprehensive family planning program were enormously successful at reducing population growth. By 1967 a nationally funded family planning program had been organized under the Ministry of Health, and the National Population Council coordinated both private and public clinics. By the late 1970s, about 95 percent of the female population was aware of contraceptive alternatives, and average annual population growth was reduced to slightly above 1 percent. As contraception became commonly accepted, family size shrank from an average of six children in the 1950s to fewer than three in the early 1980s.

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Page last modified: 23-05-2017 15:48:43 ZULU