Independence Day in Trinidad and Tobago is celebrated on August 31 each year. The day commemorates the day in 1962 when Trinidad and Tobago proclaimed independence from Britain.
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Trinidad was originally a Spanish colony until 1797, when it was captured by the United Kingdom. Tobago was a Dutch colony as early as the 16th century, but has been ruled by Britain, France, the Netherlands and the Duchy of Courtland over the years.
After the Treaty of Amiens between the United Kingdom and the French Republic in 1814, the islands were officially ceded to Britain. Initially, the British ruled Tobago separately, but during the 19th century, began controlling the island under the Windward Islands government.
In 1816, Black American Baptist ex-soldiers settled in Trinidad after being promised developments by Governor Ralph Woodford. During this time, even the most basic amenities were non-existent.
During the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria’s rule, many descendants of the soldiers were unhappy with the lack of assistance they were receiving. Reverend Robert Andrews, who was increasingly upset about bad road conditions in Trinidad, broke protocol by writing not to Governor Sir William Robinson, but to Queen Victoria.
In 1888, Queen Victoria instructed Robinson to appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the problems in Trinidad, although she initially dismissed the letter from Reverend Andrews. In 1889, the Colonial Office determined that Tobago, whose sugar industry had collapsed in 1884, could no longer sustain itself and decided to combine the two islands as one colony, creating Trinidad and Tobago.
The landscape of the area changed when oil was discovered in South Trinidad. The first oil well was drilled in 1857, the first in the world, but the industry did not explode until 1910 when Trinidad exported 125,000 crude oil barrels. By 1936, Trinidad was the leading oil producer in the British Empire.
The focus on oil, however, caused other factors of the economy to be neglected, including farming and manufacturing. There were rumblings as early as 1937 that Trinidad and Tobago wanted to be independent, but the outbreak of World War II made that difficult. In 1946, a general election took place under a partial franchise, but it was still a limited democracy as only half the seats were elected and the other half appointed by the governor.
A new nationalistic party was formed in 1956, the People’s National Movement, headed by Dr. Eric Williams. The party won 13 of 24 seats in the elections that year. In 1958, Jamaica, Barbados and the British Windward and Leeward Islands formed the Federation of the West Indies. Trinidad and Tobago became independent on August 31, 1962, three months after the federation collapsed due to the withdrawal of Jamaica as well as Trinidad and Tobago.
Celebrations and Traditions
Independence Day is a widely celebrated public holiday in Trinidad and Tobago. Schools, offices and banks are closed as are many businesses. There are military parades, open-air performances and award ceremonies throughout the country.
Many churches offer special services and there are many carnival-type festivals designed to celebrate the independence of Trinidad and Tobago. At night, many areas host fireworks displays as well.