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The French Influence on


Trinidad and Tobago.

Trinidad was never a French colonyyet France has greatly


influenced its history and culture.
This happened, of course, because of the influx of French
immigrants in the late 1700s, as a result of the Cedula of
Population (1783) inviting foreign Catholics to settle in
Trinidad. These immigrants, coming mainly from the French
Caribbean colonies, especially Martinique, and also from
Grenada Together they ensured that a fused African-French
culture would be dominant in Trinidad for many years to come
in language (French, and Crole or Patois), religion (French
forms of Roman Catholicism), the expressive arts (dance,
music, song), folklore, festivals and so on.

The sister island was a formal French colony for two periods,
1781-93, and again 1802-03. Yet French influences there were
minimal, except for a few place names.

Why the difference? During the two periods when France ruled,
hardly any French people, other than a few officials, came to
live in Tobago. The landowners, the holders of the enslaved
labourers, continued to be Britishthe persons whod been
given land grants when Tobago was formally ceded to Britain in
1763 and others whod acquired land subsequently.

They and their slaves, mostly people kidnapped in Africa and


brought on the infamous Middle Passage, and their descendants,

ensured that Tobagos culture would continue to be an AfricanBritish fusionin language (English, and Tobago English
Creole), religion (various Protestant faiths, especially the
Anglicans, Methodists and Moravians), the expressive arts
(African-British traditions of music, dance and song). The two
periods of rule by France, which didnt involve any significant
French immigration, made little impact on Tobagos culture.

Bilateral relations between the countries France and Trinidad


and Tobago have existed for about two hundred years.[1]
Currently, France has an embassy in Port of Spain. Trinidad and
Tobago is represented in France through its embassy in Brussels
(Belgium). Trinidad and Tobago also has bilateral investment
agreements with France.[2]

French influence:
It was with Trinidads settlement by people from the French
Antilles at the end of the 18th century that a large amount of
people came to the island for the first time. They brought with
them many cultural practices and tastes which were to dominate
Trinidad for the next century.

The Presidents House


The French built their ajoupas with walls of timber and roofs of
shingle. They added coings (corner stones), dormer windows,
balustrades, mansard roofs, masonry and a second storey that
protruded over the sidewalk supported by arcardes. From the
simple wooden cocoa estate house, to the lavish ornamental
great houses: all are variations on the theme ajoupa - that being
to let in the cool breeze, and keep out the rain and the sun.

Colonial history
France had colonized Tobago during the seventeenth century.[3]
France occupied the colony from August 1666 to March 1667.
On 6 December 1677, the French destroyed the Dutch colony
and claimed the entire island before restoring it to the Dutch by
the first Treaty of Nijmegen on 10 August 1678. In 1751, the
French settled colonists on the island, but ceded it to Britain in
the Treaty of Paris of 10 February 1763.[4] Nevertheless, most
"of the settlers were French, and French influence became
dominant."[5] It was again a French colony from 2 June 1781 to
15 April 1793,[6] nominally part of the Lucie dpartement of
France from 25 October 1797 to 19 April 1801, and once again a
French colony from 30 June 1802 to 30 June 1803.

Cultural legacy
By the later 1790s, the white upper class on Trinidad "consisted
mainly of French creoles," which created "a powerful French
cultural influence in Trinidad. This was expressed not only in
the widespread use of French patois...but also in the general
population's enthusiasm for the Catholic tradition of Carnival."[7]
Sean Sheehan explains further that for "about a hundred years,
the language spoken in Trinidad and Tobago was a pidgin form
of French, which was basically French with Twi or Yoruba
words included. Even today, there is a strong element of French
in Trini, and in some rural areas, people speak a language that is
closer to French than to English."[8]
Food:

The Creole influence on Trinidadian Cooking can be clearly


seen as most of our gastronomic creations have Creole roots!

Crossiants.

Callaloux - known in Trinidad was well as Martinique,


Guadeloupe Saint Lucia ect.

French Fries

Accara- known to Trinidad, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint


Lucia, Dominica ect.

Matt- Cassava Porridge- known to Trinidad, Guadeloupe,


Saint Lucia, Dominica ect.
When we made porridge it was made either for
breakfast or dinner and was considered a complete
meal. So much so, that it was a staple for young
children growing up. When you ate a good bowl of
porridge it left you satisfied for a few hours well.
Added to that you were also getting your vitamins,
fibre and carbohydrates from a natural and
unrefined source.
Of course porridge was also cheap to make; cassava and corn
etc. was always grown in the garden or around the house, so all
you had to do was just go and dig up some cassava or pick some
corn to grate. No wonder people were healthier long time! Most
foods came straight from the plant to the plate. No
preservatives!

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Tjennt Chennette Creole


name for Guinep is known by its Creole name in Trinidad.

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Mango V - Green Mango is known by its Creole name in

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Trinidad

Matoutou- a dish made of rice and crabs is known by the same


name in Martinique and Guadeloupe.

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Kassav - Cassava Bread - known to Trinidad, Martinique,

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Guadeloupe ect.

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Zaboka - Creole name for Avacado- In Trinidad it is known by


the same name.

Music:

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All of our traditional drums with the exception of those brought


to Trinidad by East Indians HAVE CREOLE NAMES!
Tanbou Bambou = means bamboo drum in Creole, these musical
instrument is known to all Trinidadians.

Tanbou Di (talking drum) known by the same name throughout


the Creole speaking Caribbean

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Tanbou Lap Kabwit (goat skin drum) known by the same name
Tanbou Bl (belair drum) The drum and the dance are known to
ALL TRINIDADIANS.
KALINDA (Trinidad's traditional stick fight songs) most are
sung in Creole

Belair songs (most sung in Creole)

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Chak-Chak
Creole name for Maracas this name is known an used by ALL
TRINIDADIANS to describe the instrument

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Dance:
Bl (Belair)
Contique
Quadrill
Lancer
Kalinda
Vals

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Djouba
Bamboula
All of them are known and danced in Trinidad and other creole
speaking islands.

Language
To most people who do not speak the language it is known
simply as a Patois Trinidad was discovered by Christopher
Columbus in 1498 during this third voyage to the new world, it
was reported that he landed on the southern coast of the island
near present-day Moruga, when he landed he saw three hills and
named the island La Trinidad meaning The Trinity; true
colonization of the island by the Spanish began in the following
century and it remained a Spanish colony until it was captured
1797 by Sir Ralph Abercrombie, the island was officially ceded
to the British in 1802 by the Treaty of Amiens.
It was during the Spanish colonial occupation, that the Creole
language as spoken in Trinidad was born. History tells us that
even though the Spanish kept the island for two hundred years

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unchallenged, they, for various reasons were not able to develop


the island along the usual patterns of European colonial
occupation, and as such Trinidad remained the most
undeveloped colony in the Caribbean; by the middle of 18th
century Trinidads population was about two to three thousand,
comprising of some Spaniards the remainder of the native
population that survived Spanish invasion and a few Africans
who were imported to work on the plantations.
The Spanish realizing this, proclaimed the cedilla de poblation
which invited any catholic subject on good terms with the
Spanish crown, to settle in Trinidad on the condition that they
swore absolute loyalty to the Spanish and obeyed the Spanish
laws for governing the colony; the Spanish also gave many
incentives to lure settlers to the island, including exemption
from taxes for ten years and grants of land to set up plantations.
It was reasoned that settlers from the more populous French
islands should be given first preference over others because they
were catholic and already has expert knowledge in planting
different varieties of sugar cane.
Settlers coming from Martinique, Grenada, Saint Lucia,
Dominica, and Guadeloupe flooded the island by the thousands
bringing their slaves with them and setting up plantations, these
French speaking people overran the island; they built roads,
buildings, villages and towns. They also acquired positions of
prestige in the government and took up and active role in the
governance of the colony, soon their numbers and influence
surpassed that of the original Spanish colonists and in essence
La Trinidad became La Trinity an unofficial colony of
France.

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The population of Trinidad was further increased by the


importation of thousands of slaves directly from Africa to work
on the new plantations since the slaves brought over from the
French Islands were soon found to be inadequate. As soon as
they arrived in Trinidad the slaves were culturally suppressed for
fear of revolt, these slaves interacted with the creolized slaves
that they met on the island. The slaves born in the Caribbean
spoke Creole which was the spoken language of the slaves in the
French Antilles.
The Creole language was learnt by the new slaves in order to
communicate with their masters as well as the other slaves, they
combined Creole with their own languages and a new variant of
the language was beginning to emerge. This Creole was also
heavily influenced by Spanish which is also spoken in Trinidad
and also influenced by the lexical items from the Carob
language, all of these linguistic influences helped to make the
language unique and native to this particular island.
When the British took the island in 1797, they encountered a
complex culture that existed nowhere else in the Caribbean; the
island was a Spanish colony with a French, Creole and Spanishspeaking population, Creole became the common language of
the different communities of people who all spoke different
languages. From 1797 until 1962 the British ruled, they tried
their best to stamp out the overwhelming Franco-CreoleHispanic influence but were largely unsuccessful until the early
part of the 20th century; when the use of Creole, Spanish and
French began to decline; the British attacked the Creole culture
by passing laws against anything that did not conform to their

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definition of culture.
These very laws, rooted in linguistic and cultural discrimination
eventually led to the Cannes Brules riots in the late 1800's.
Soon thereafter Creole was superseded by English and its Creole
counterpart and today there remains very few places where
Creole is heard regularly. One of these villages in Paramin
which also has a strong Tradition of Spanish speaking, another is
Blanchisseuse and a remote village called Morne Carbite.
Creole is spoken elsewhere, but the number of Creole speakers
in these areas is very small. In terms of comprehension of
Trinidads Creole with that of the other islands, Trinidads
Creole is most closely aligned with the Creole of Martinique
since slaves and French Creole whites from this island were in
the majority during the formative years of Trinidads Creole.
Speakers of Trinidads Creole are also able to communicate with
Creolophones from Guadeloupe, Marie Glante, Saint Lucia,
Dominica, and Saint Martin and to some extent Haiti. Creole is
the language spoken in these islands and it unites us all.
Creole not a dialect of French and monolingual Francophones
cannot understand the language, It is a language with its own
grammar, syntax and orthography which makes it distinct from
French or any other language it may resemble; the notion that
Creole is an inferior language is a colonial inference and is not
based on linguistic fact.
Concerning vocabulary, 90% of the words come from French
while the remaining words come from various African languages
Spanish, Carib, Hindi, Portuguese, Chinese, English and Arabic.

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Hindi and Arabic words entered the language when Hindu and
Muslim indentured laborers came to the island in the 1840s.
The impact of Hindi, Chinese and Arabic on the language is very
small because by the time these laborers arrived on the island
the Creole language had for the most part evolved into its
present from and had less need to borrow lexical items from
other languages.
English influence on the language is growing and most words
borrowed from English describe modern concepts and
inventions. Presently the language is being taught to some
elementary school students in Paramin, these classes have been
very successful and there are plans to introduce courses in other
areas with an existing Creole speaking population. There is also
a Creole course offered at UWI.

Although the official language of Trinidad & Tobago is English,


there exists within the population a group of people who speak
Kwyl. This language has had a profound effect on the speech
patterns of all Trinidadians from the moment it emerged on the
island to the present time. To most people who do not speak the
language, it is known simply as a Patois most people are of
the view that Kwyl is not a legitimate language and simply a
vernacular of the French language, it is also a sad fact that most
Trinidadians do not realize that Kwyl is an increate part of
their culture. Trinidad was discovered by Christopher Columbus
in 1498 during this third voyage to the new world, it was
reported that he landed on the southern coast of the island near

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present-day Moruga, when he landed he saw three hills and


named the island La Trinidad meaning The Trinity ; true
colonization of the island by the Spanish began by 1507 and it
remained a Spanish colony until it was captured for the British
in 1797 by Sir Ralph Abercrombie, the island was officially
ceded to the British in 1802 by the Treaty of Amiens. It was
during the Spanish colonial occupation, that the Kwyl
language as spoken in Trinidad was born.
History tells us that even though the Spanish kept the island for
three hundred years unchallenged, they, for various reasons were
not able to develop the island along the usual patterns of
European colonial occupation, and as such, Trinidad remained
the most undeveloped colony in the Caribbean ; there are many
reports by people who visited the island under Spanish rule.
Many of these reports tell of native Indians running wild doing
as they pleased and also of the very poor and almost nonexistent
infrastructure ; the problem in Trinidad was dire indeed, so
much so that by the late 18th century Trinidads population was
about two to three thousand, comprising of some Spaniards the
remainder of the native population that survived the Spanish
incursion and a few Africans who were imported to work on the
plantations. Trinidad was a colony ripe for take-over by another
European power ; the Spanish realizing this, proclaimed the
cdula de poblacin which invited any catholic subject on
good terms with the Spanish crown, to settle in Trinidad on the
condition that they swore absolute loyalty to the Spanish and
obeyed the Spanish laws for governing the colony ; this
proclamation was procured by Philippe-Rose Roume de SaintLaurent. The Spanish also gave many incentives to lure settlers

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to the island, including exemption from taxes for ten years and
grants of land to set up plantations.
It was reasoned that settlers from the more populous French
islands should be given first preference over others because they
were catholic and already had expert knowledge in planting
different varieties of sugar cane. Settlers coming from
Martinique, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Dominica, Saint Vincent,
Guadeloupe, Nevis, Haiti and Louisiana flooded the island by
the thousands bringing their slaves with them and setting up
plantations, soon the wild appearance of Trinidad began to
change rapidly as these French speaking people inundated the
island ; they built roads, buildings, villages and towns. They also
acquired positions of prestige in the government and took up and
active role in the governance of the colony, soon their numbers
and influence surpassed that of the original Spanish colonists
and in essence La Trinidad became La Trinit an unofficial
colony of France. The population of Trinidad was further
increased by the importation of thousands of slaves directly
from Africa to work on the new plantations since the slaves
brought over from the French Islands were soon found to be
inadequate, most of the 22,482 slaves on the island at this time
spoke only Creole.
As soon as they arrived in Trinidad the slaves were culturally
suppressed for fear of revolt, these slaves interacted with the
creolized slaves that they met on the island. The Creole
language was learnt by the new slaves in order to communicate
with their masters as well as the other slaves, they combined
Kwyl with their own languages and a new variant of Kwyl
was beginning to emerge. This Kwyl was also heavily

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influenced by Spanish also spoken in Trinidad and by the lexical


items from the Carib language, all of these linguistic influences
helped to make the language unique and native to this particular
island.
When the British took the island in 1797, they encountered a
complex culture that existed nowhere else in the Caribbean ; the
island was a Spanish colony with French, Kwyl and Spanishspeaking population, Kwyl became the common language of
the different communities of people who spoke different
languages ; by the British takeover of 1797 more than 80% of
the islands population spoke French or Creole. From 1797 until
1962 the British ruled Trinidad ; they tried, through legislation
to eradicate the overwhelming Franco-Creole-Hispanic
influence but were largely unsuccessful until the early part of the
20th century ; when the use of Kwyl, Spanish and French
began to decline. The use of French and Spanish in school was
now illegal and the use of Creole was discouraged. Soon
Kwyl was superseded by English and today there remains
very few places where Kwyl is heard regularly. One of these
villages is Paramin which also has a strong Tradition of Spanish
speaking, others are Blanchisseuse, Morne La Coix, Toco,
Avocat, Bourg Mulatress, La Lune and Brasso Seco in these
villages, one may find children under the age of ten speaking
Creole and this is true for many other villages in northern and
southern parts of the island ; this is because most of the French
planters who arrived chose to settle in these areas of the island.
It is also in these villages that one clearly sees evidence of
Trinidads French Creole past in terms of food, dance and style
of dress. In former times, Creole was widely spoken in the rural

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villages as well as the cities and towns ; it was possible to find


monolingual Creole speakers especially in the northern part of
the island, now all speakers of Creole are bilingual speaking
both English and Creole.
Creole is spoken elsewhere, but the number of speakers in these
areas is very small. In terms of comprehension of Trinidads
Creole with that of the other islands, Trinidads Creole is most
closely aligned with the Creole of Martinique since slaves and
French Creole whites from this island were in the majority
during the formative years of Trinidads Creole. Speakers of
Trinidads Creole are also able to communicate with
Creolophones from Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante, Saint Lucia,
Dominica, and Saint Martin and to some extent Haiti.
Creole is the language spoken in these islands and it unites us
all. Creole is not a dialect of French and monolingual
Francophones cannot understand the language, Kwyl is a
language with its own grammar, syntax and orthography which
makes it distinct from French or any other language it may
resemble ; the notion that Kwyl is an inferior language is a
colonial inference and is not based on linguistic fact.
Concerning vocabulary, 90% of the words come from French
while the remaining words come from Yoruba, Husa, Igbo,
Akan, Spanish, Carib, Hindi, Portuguese, Chinese, English and
Arabic. Hindi and Arabic words entered the language when
Hindu and Muslim indentured labourers came to the island in
the 1840s. The impact of Hindi, Chinese, Portuguese and
Arabic on the language is very small because by the time these
labourers arrived on the island the Creole language had for the
most part evolved into its present from and had less need to

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borrow lexical items from other languges. The influences of


these new languages and cultures are reflected most strongly in
the vocabulary used to describe the food and other aspects of the
new cultures that these people brought to the island especially if
descriptive words did not exist previously. The language was
also learned by these new immigrants for the purpose of
communication. English words entered the language after
Trinidad was made a colony of England ; English words are
used to describe the modern world and modern inventions of the
twentieth century and beyond. Despite the increasing importance
of words derived from English, most Creole speakers will agree
that the use of English words is to be avoided whenever possible
; borrowing from French seems to be more accepted because
Creoles lexical base is French.
Although in contemporary times less the ten percent of the
population continues to use Creole as a regular means of
communication, the language and has continued to have an
impact on the English that is spoken here. There are hundreds of
words in current use that can be traced to both French and
Creole, It is imperative that a conscious effort be made to
preserve and document our unique variety of Creole for the sake
of future generations for fear that it will pass into extinction.
There is hope that the language can be brought back from the
edge of extinction, in some areas of the country there are calls
for the revival of the language. Slowly, the people of Trinidad
are beginning to realize the cultural in historical importance of
this language and the connection that they share with other West
Indian islands were the Creole language more dominant. As it
stands today, the Creole language is being taught to the children
of Paramin using materials from Saint Lucia, this seems to be

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successful and the number of Creole speakers is on the rise in


this area. There are plans to do the same in other villages with an
existing Creole speaking population, with hard work and
determination it is very possible that Creole will once again take
its rightful place as the language of the people.
There are also creole speakers in Arima, Anglais, Avocat, Beau
Sejour,Biche La Lune, Blanchieusse, Gran Couva, Basse Terre,
Pierreville, Bois Jean Jean, Grand Chimen, Matlote, Lambert,
Las Cuevas ect.

References
1.

^ The Foreign Relations of Trinidad and Tobago (1962-2000). Lexicon. 2001. ISBN 976-631-0238. http://books.google.com/books?id=bg1sAAAAMAAJ&pgis=1. "The French presence in Trinidad and
Tobago dates back two centuries. It is not surprising that French influence ..."

2.

^ World trade and arbitration materials v. 11, nos. 1-3 (Werner Pub. Co., 1999), 24.

3.

^ Vincent Huyghes-Belrose, "The Colonization Of Tobago By France : Bibliographical And


Archival Material In France, Martinique And Guadeloupe," Montray Kryol (30 March 2008).

4.

^ "A Brief History of Trinidad & Tobago," Tradewinds.

5.

^ Trinidad and Tobago. Encyclopdia Britannica.


http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/605453/Trinidad-and-Tobago/54811/History. "Tobago, also
sighted by Columbus in 1498, did not have any permanent European settlement until the 18th century. Its
development as a sugar colony began when it was ceded to Britain in 1763 and continued throughout the
period from 1763 to 1814, during which time Tobago changed hands between Britain and France several
times."

6.

^ Bridget Brereton, Introduction to the History of Trinidad and Tobago (Heinemann, 1996), 27.

7.

^ Shannon Dudley, Music from behind the bridge: steelband spirit and politics in Trinidad and
Tobago (Oxford University Press US, 2008), 209.

8.

^ Sean Sheehan, Trinidad & Tobago (Marshall Cavendish, 2001), 82.

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The French
On the 24th of November, 1783, the King of Spain signed The
Royal Cedula of Population. This decree opened up the island
of Trinidad to Catholics from any country that would swear
fealty to the Spanish Crown. The effect on Trinidad was
drastic and immediate. In 1773, the population was
approximately 1,000 people of all races. By 1797, the
population had swelled to 18,627. What had been an
underdeveloped and backwater settlement, became a
significant colony in the West Indies.
The largest pool of potential colonists that fit the conditions
of the Cedula were the French, and they came in droves.
These settlers came mostly from other French colonies,
such as the French West Indies, Acadia (Canada) and
Louisiana. In his book, The History of Trinidad, E. L.
Joseph notes that the idea for the Cedula originated with a
Frenchman, and he postulates that his ultimate goal was to
take over control of the colony from the Spanish. The
influx of French settlers did just that, and the island became
a Spanish colony in name only.
The French brought with them a strong sense of community,
and managed to preserve their customs and language. Of this
group of immigrants, the whites and about one quarter of the
people of color were land owners, and their primary language
was Patois, their French Creole dialect. They were called the
"new" colonists, to distinguish them from the older Spanish
people. The older, wealthier families were an elite group.
They were white, Catholic, of legitimate birth, and an

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aristocratic family. One could also enter this group by


marriage.
These families lived in large estate houses, with many
servants and ornate furnishings. They dressed formally for
dinner, and strict manners were observed. As a result,
Trinidad rapidly became known as one of the most cultured
societies in the West Indies.
It became accepted for the French planters to have colored
mistresses. The resulting offspring were sometimes
legitimized and educated abroad by their fathers. Many of
these offspring eventually settled in the southern part of
Trinidad.
After the surrender of the colony to the British, these
French proprietors lost much of their political power, but
their plantations continued to prosper until the
emancipation of the slaves in 1834. Many accepted the
buyout offered by the British government for their slaves,
and sold their lands. When sugar fell on hard times, many
planters made a second fortune growing cocoa.
A second group of French emigrs consisted of French
noblemen that fled France during the revolution. Some came
directly to the West Indies, but many were allowed to join
British units to fight the revolutionaries. They ended up
fighting in the Caribbean battles of the 1790's, and settled in
Trinidad after hostilities ended.
Over time, the elitism of the French subsided as they intermarried with other ethnic groups. The descendants of the
French remain a significant force in Trinidad to this day,

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especially in the professions, as lawyers, doctors, and


educators.
(The information on this page was obtained primarily from The Book of Trinidad, edited by Grard A. Besson, and
Bridget M. Brereton. Port-of-Spain: Paria Publishing Company Ltd., 1991.)