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The oldest evidence of human activity on the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago dates back to 5,000 BC. The first settlers in Trinidad and Tobago are reported to have been two Amerindian tribes known as the Arawaks and the Caribs, though new research has provided alternate accounts.

Trinidad and Tobago’s recorded history begins in 1498 when the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus first landed on Trinidad’s south coast, naming the island in honour of the Holy Trinity. After claiming the island for Spain, he sailed through the Grand Boca where he sighted Tobago in the distance.

It was at least 30 years before Spain showed any official interest in Trinidad as other prospects were more profitable. It was largely ignored until 1530 when an attempt was made to settle the island. Being in the backwaters of the Spanish Empire the local population was neglected. True colonisation of Trinidad did not occur until the late 18th century, when the Spanish King issued the historic Cedula of Population, intended to attract immigrants to the island in an effort to make Trinidad more profitable. The terms of the Cedula, proclaimed in 1783, offered free grants of land to citizens of any land friendly to Spain, provided that they were Roman Catholic. The terms allowed French planters and their slaves to emigrate from the French colonies.

In 1797 the British, who were at war with the France and Spain, conquered Trinidad during the Caribbean unrest that followed the French Revolution. Trinidad was formally ceded to Britain in 1802. During the first five years of British rule, the number of sugar estates increased markedly and for the next century Trinidad became a typical British sugar colony with its fortune following the price of sugar.

A decade after slavery was abolished, the British government gave permission for the colonies to import indentured labourers, which brought Chinese and East Indians to Trinidad.

Tobago existed separately from Trinidad for centuries. It was named Bella Forma when sighted by Christopher Columbus on his third voyage but its present name came about as a result of the tobacco cultivated by the original Carib population. Tobago was fought over by the Dutch, French, Spanish and British as well as settlers from Latvia well into the 18th century, but for most of the 17th and 18th century Tobago was a haven for pirates. The British finally acquired Tobago permanently in 1814, after several previous attempts. In 1889 Tobago was united with Trinidad to become the Colony of Trinidad and Tobago in an effort to economise on government expenses and to solve the economic problems of the islands. Later in 1899 it became a ward of the colony, thereby losing its local assembly which was not reinstated until 1980. Subsequently, Britain ruled Trinidad and Tobago as a crown colony until 1956.

In the early 20th century oil replaced sugar as the major export. Trinidad and Tobago had been profoundly changed by World War II. For the first time since British annexation, the islands were widely exposed to another foreign influence, mainly the United States. As a result, by the end of World War II, many Trinidadians had become accustomed to a higher standard of living. After the war independence seemed inevitable and as a precursor Britain tried a brief political experiment called the British West Indian Federation.

This attempted to unify the various islands under one political and economic umbrella but internal tensions soon surfaced and the group split. Led by Dr Eric Williams Trinidad and Tobago became an independent member of the Commonwealth on August 31, 1962. Later, on August 1, 1976 Trinidad and Tobago became a presidential republic within the Commonwealth.