Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Come Together

Magnet # 330:  Trinidad & Tobago Map and Symbols

Material:  Wood, Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

While yesterday's post may not have been exactly concerning an independence day, this one definitely is. Yep, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean is celebrating its independence from British rule.

Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover the island of Trinidad in 1498 during his third voyage to the New World.  He claimed it for Spain and by 1592, the nation had established a permanent settlement on the island. Yet the population there didn't greatly increase until 1783, when Spain offered land grants of 32 acres per person on the island to any Roman Catholics who would swear allegiance to the Spanish king and help build up the economy of the settlement.  It was settlers of French ancestry that responded the most to their invitation, often coming from nearby islands such as Haiti.  Even Protestants from Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and England were able to take advantage of the offer thanks to a loose enforcement of the law.  Before long, the island had a thriving sugar cane industry.  Its prosperity caught the attention of the British, who sent a squadron to the area with the intention of taking the area over, but the Spanish governor surrendered without a fight.  In 1802, Britain officially took control of the island and would have it for about 150 years.  Tobago, on the other had, went unnoticed by the western world until a British sea captain spotted it in 1596.  The Dutch settled the area in 1632 but their claims were challenged by the British and the French.  It passed through many hands until the British finally established control in 1814.  In 1888, Britain joined the two islands together as one colony, forming a union that has lasted to modern times.  After the economic hardship of the Great Depression, the people of the colony demanded a greater amount of participation in their government and Britain obliged, eventually making them a part of the West Indies Federation before making them an independent nation in 1962.

The first Independence Day held in Trinidad and Tobago occurred on August 31st of 1962.  At midnight, the British flag was taken down and the flag of Trinidad and Tobago was proudly raised for the first time.  Across the islands, bells tolled and sirens rang to celebrate the creation of the new country.  And the festivities spread out for more than a week - from August 28 to September 5 of that year, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago reveled in their newfound freedom.  Nowadays, the celebration doesn't last quite so long and is marked by military style parades held across the nation.  Once these are finished at the parade grounds, the participants often continue into the streets of the cities, where they are joined by live music played by the bands of official forces, such as the police and firefighters.  Eager onlookers help give the performances an atmosphere similar to Carnival.  By evening, however, they have calmed down a bit and at the President's House, a presentation of National Awards is held.  These have been awarded ever since 1969 and recognize the outstanding accomplishments of citizens of Trinidad and Tobago in various fields.  To end the festivities, fireworks displays are held, the most notable ones at Queens Park Savannah, Port of Spain, and the Port Authority Compound, Scarborough Tobago.  The festivities may be similar to those held in independence celebrations all over the world, but I'm sure that Trinidad and Tobago puts its own unique touches on it. 

Not many nations have division and unity that Trinidad and Tobago enjoy, but not all of its citizens are pleased with their union.  There are some in the smaller Tobago who have wished to free themselves from their ties with Trinidad since the early 1970s.  I, for one, hope that they can overcome these sentiments and stay together.  When combined, these two Caribbean islands have done very well working together and might not fare so well when divided and I hope this Independence Day renews their sense of camaraderie and  unity.

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