Festivals and Holidays
Without a doubt the largest and most spectacular of all events in Trinidad and Tobago is the festival of Carnival. Dating back to Trinidad's early European settlers, Carnival is a celebration of tradition, culture, and sheer fun. Tobago's Carnival tends to be more sedate relative to Trinidad's, which are held in the capital city of Port of Spain. Carnival's celebrations begin shortly after Christmas, and culminate in two days of non-stop, high-energy revelry prior to Ash Wednesday. Carnival Monday kicks off around 4 am with J'Ouvert, which is derived from the French "jour ouvert" or "day open." Carnival goers dressed as demons, monsters or devils, others covered in mud, oil or paint, hit the streets for a raucous good time. Carnival Monday activities continue at daybreak as the costumed "Pretty Mas" revelers join the festivities. The big day is Carnival Tuesday, when the costumes are at their most elaborate, bands battle for glory, and parades continue well into the night.
A large percentage of Trinidadians are of Indian descent—estimates place it at 43 percent—and therefore the festival of Divali is of particular importance to the island. Displays honoring the Festival of Lights can be viewed around the Trinidad during Divali, which usually falls in October or November and is a national holiday in Trinidad and Tobago.
Each year on August 1, the country celebrates the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire on August 1, 1838. (Although slavery was abolished in 1834, slaves were then entered into a six-year "apprenticeship" period, which was then reduced to four years, so most in Trinidad and Tobago consider 1838 to be the year of true emancipation.) The week prior to Emancipation Day sees the Pan-African Festival, which includes lectures, a market, concerts, and ends with the Flambeaux Procession, in which participants parade through Port of Spain with lighted torches in remembrance of the slave rebellion that preceded emancipation.
Other days of importance here include Eid-ul-Fitr, the Muslim celebration of the end of Ramadan; Arrival Day, which is observed on May 30 and commemorates the day the first Indian indentured laborers arrived on Trinidad in 1845; and Spiritual Baptist/Shouter Baptist Liberation Day, celebrated on March 30 in remembrance of the struggle of the Spiritual Baptists to have their religion recognized. The Spiritual Baptist faith, which relies heavily on loud singing, dancing and bell ringing and is a combination of African rituals and Protestantism, was banned in Trinidad between 1917 and 1951. The religion was seen an indecent, disruptive and a method of decreasing the number of people practicing traditional religions. In 1951 the ban was repealed and Spiritual Baptists were once again able to practice freely in the country in which their religion began.
The National Museum and Art Gallery in Trinidad's Port of Spain houses a collection of some 10,000 works depicting the country's history and festivals, as well as geological exhibits and pieces by both local and international artists. The Museum, which opened in 1892, was originally called the Royal Victoria Institute and now has two smaller branches in addition to the main site—the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service Museum in Port of Spain where the country's police history is on display in the former police headquarters, and Fort San Andres, the only surviving fort from Trinidad's years under Spanish occupation.
History buffs should be sure to visit the Chaguaramas Military History & Aerospace Museum, which is located on a former United States military base and covers the military history of Trinidad from the Amerindians to the present day through 12,000 square feet of exhibits and memorials.
If so much wandering has made you thirsty, visit the Angostura Rum and Bitters Museum in Laventille, east of Port of Spain. The Museum's tour includes a historic film and a tasting, but not the formula for Angostura Bitters, which was developed in 1824 by Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert and remains a closely guarded trade secret.
On Tobago, the Kimme Museum is the castle-like home and studio of German-native Luise Kimme. Kimme welcomes visitors on Sundays or by arrangement to view her work; she specializes in large scale sculptures created from oak trees and highlighting the people of Tobago and their heritage, with a particular focus on dance and ancient sculpture. Kimme also makes bronze casts from the pieces and she has drawings, paintings, relief work, and other sculptures on display as well.