ABout Tobago: Tobagonians - The Inside View
An introduction to the people of Tobago, from the perspective of a Tobagonian
Henry Iles Woodcock, Chief Justice of the Island in the 1860's, wrote in his book "A History of Tobago" and I quote:
"I cannot deny myself the pleasure of bearing witness to the kind of friendly feeling which prevails among the inhabitants of Tobago. I know no place where complexional prejudices less prevail. It has been truly said by Dr. Channing that "of all parties, those founded on different social relations are the most pernicious. From this evil Tobago is happily free".
Statistical surveys will inform you that Tobago's population of 55,000 residents is made up of 90% of African origin with the other 10% representing all the other races on earth. So, if you want to know about the Tobagonian, don’t look for race or ethnicity; look for where in the island(s) he comes from. Those who come from around Scarborough (the capital town) vs those from Delaford, Speyside, Charlotteville (Windward); those from Castara, L'Anse Fourmi (Northside); vs those from Canaan, Bon Accord (Bottomside or Westside). You will also find Tobagonians who want you to know who they are by the dialect they speak. But, do not expect the real Tobago dialect from those who come from around the main centre - Scarborough. Then consider the fact that so many older "Gonians" (like myself), 60 years and over, talk of the Tobago they used to know and the younger generation who have lost the Tobagonian way.
The Tobagonian way was: As a cluster of small communities, families within them took care of each other's families. When women cooked, it is always said that there was sufficient for the "unseen guests". The unseen guests could be grandparents, Godparents, or any other old villager. You must remember that there were few telephones, if any, so visitors were expected to drop in unexpectedly.
Those who worked the land did something called "len han", a kind of co-operative farming which lessened the burden especially on men who had younger families, or those who did not have extended family. (No one must be hungry).
When there was a death in the community, a conch shell was blown throughout the villages to inform the people. In the spirit of co-operation, the community rallied around the bereaved to build the coffin, to cook, clean and generally to remove the burdens of the bereaved family. Harvest celebrations, (a sort of religious thanks-giving), christenings, weddings were all community affairs. And when guests leave, they were given a "parting gift".
Now-a-days, the young Tobagonian by-and-large mimics a city-type sophistication. Independence of family, of the individual is the norm. Children may not know relatives beyond uncles and aunts and perhaps first cousins. However, the people of Charlotteville, the remotest community on the north-eastern Caribbean side of the island, still say with pride that they have not lost the Tobagonian way. They say that if you want to know what Tobago was like-- "come to Charlotteville"" !!!!!!!! But Castara, Parlauvier, L'Anse Fourmi, Delaford, Speyside........ they will all make a similar claim.
Notwithstanding my ramblings above, you will find the Tobagonians in general are a deep but warm people. You respect them and they respect you in turn. You befriend them and you have a friend for life. He/she is willing to share whatever little he/she has and looks for nothing in return.
Because in most instances the Tobagonian owns land he/she inherited from the foreparents, there is a keen sense of pride that permeates the Tobagonian being. And this pride of person has allowed him to be at peace with himself, with others and with everything around him.
The last two surveys that were done in which outgoing tourists were interviewed went like this, in part:
- Why did you choose Tobago for your holiday? Answer : For sand, sea and sun 65%
- What did you like most about Tobago? Answer: The people 85%
No one up to now, has not been able (in my view) to ably describe or put the positive vibrations about the people of Tobago into realistic marketing jargon. But then, maybe it is something that should be left as is, so that whosoever comes to the island can "experience" the feeling of the people and return home, leaving with only pleasant memories, while leaving only footprints on the sands.
Carlos B Dillon, a born Tobagonian