Summertime, when the livin’ is easy.
The perfect description of my time in Trinidad for a week of warm air, freshly picked mangoes and curried chicken. Adding in the wedding festivities with steel drums beating in the background of a barbeque where the twinkle lights hung low from the pink house whose warm yellow light glowed from the kitchen. White teeth grinning as the next pina colada is pouring into a glass and the bellowing laughter bouncing off the side of the white fence resting on the greenest grass I have ever seen. “Good night everyone!” someone bellows from the steps of the lit porch.
Trinidad and Tobago, much like America, were colonized by Christopher Columbus, who sought to exploit the people who had lived there as well as use the land and its rich soil for monetary gain. What you might not know is that these islands were originally inhabited by the indigenous Carib and Arawak Indians. It wasn’t until slavery was introduced that Africans taken from their native homelands were forced to work Trinidad’s land for the British whose slave trade started in 1797, and the country became predominantly African. It was then in 1845 that indentured laborers from India were also brought into the mix — bringing with them their religious customs. In 1866 laborers from China immigrated to Trinidad and merchants from Lebanon and Syria later came in the 1900s. Though the history is dark and unmistakably horrendous, Trinidad has one of the most diverse populations of people, food, festivals and holidays all over the world.
Looking from the outside as a resident of the United States, I think it’s easy to think that America is one of the only places that face a history of exploitation and injustice. However, anyone willing to look a bit deeper into the history of many modern-day countries can see that systems of oppression were used to mobilize those who had guns in their hands and identified themselves as superior. If there is one thing I think many of us suffer from, it’s that we think there aren’t other people who share our experiences of being abused by people who had power, simply because our experiences occurred in a different way than the experiences of those who came before we did. I want to draw attention to the fact that there is much more to unite these atrocities that many of us faced than what creates division between us in America and with colonized countries across the face of the Earth.
Despite this terrible past, one of the amazing things that resulted from these atrocities is the food. Knowing there is such a rich cultural element within the country’s history, there is no surprise that its food would reflect these features, from the curried chicken served to me at the wedding barbeque to the roti I scooped up my collard greens with and then dipped into my sweet yams. Roti and curried chicken are both traditionally a part of Indian cuisine, and because these dishes are such an integrative part of Trinidad and Tobago’s African heritage, these dishes reflect the history of India and Africa. Doubles, or the Caribbean street-food sandwich made with a flatbread called bara and then filled with curried chickpeas, was one of the most popular foods that everyone raved about during my time in Trinidad. In fact, doubles are so popular in Trinidad that the bride and groom arranged for the “Doubles man” to make an appearance at their wedding to hand the delicious treat out to their wedding guests! I have to admit: Upon trying one, I wasn’t sure what I was in store for and I was definitely not disappointed.
Trinidad and Tobago also have some of the best Chinese restaurants because, like their Indian roots, they also have a rich history of Chinese immigrants who brought their food over to the country. This is combined with the mangoes growing on every tree that were so juicy that if they fell from a tree, they would most likely splatter over the hot pavement. The cuisine of any country is a direct reflection of its history and culture, and Trinidad’s food is definitely an unforgettable experience that reveals how much history can truly affect the composition of a country.
There is no doubt that food is a reflection of tradition and culture, but if there one is an event that ties together food and tradition, it is the celebration of a wedding. My family’s friendship with the groom is what brought us down to Trinidad in the first place, and getting to know the place where one of our oldest friends grew up was really breathtaking. Much of the ceremony was taken from traditions found here in America; just as we took from English tradition, so does Trinidad. However, some things that are unique to Trinidad were in the details of the reception. The steel drum, the national instrument of Trinidad, is often played at celebrations, like the family barbeque I attended days prior to the actual wedding. Mixing in the modern songs like the Weeknd’s “I Feel It Coming” and Rihanna’s “Work” while keeping to the tradition of festivity around the joyous event of a wedding, the steel drums are something that is as unique as Trinidad. The wedding cake is just as unique, made from a traditional batter of fruit cake and then soaked in rum that was a little stronger than I originally anticipated, it was a definite change from the traditional wedding cake I’m used to in America.
The one thing that stood out most to me was the dancing at the end of the night. Much like the weddings I’m used to attending that never fail to play songs like the “Electric Slide,” Trinidad also has music that is unique, originating in the ’70s, called soca. Originating from the insertion of steel drums into the base of the song and the mixture of reggae and the similar upbeat melody of many of the pop songs we hear on the radio, the soca music at the wedding was truly special. Dancing to the beat most of the night definitely made me feel the connection that many Trinidadians have to the music that has been unique to their lives, and I found that to be the highlight of my trip.
So, as the last song played, all I had left to say was “goodnight” to the beautiful experience I had in a country that had shown me so much love and to the people that made me feel like family during my stay in their home.