Tobago vs. Trinidad: The Eternal Showdown
Trinidad and Tobago is often portrayed in our tourism commercials as two peacefully co-existing sisters. One, fun-loving and a little raunchy, is dedicated to executive business during the day and exciting clubbing at night. The other sibling is much more serene, a kind of Caribbean flower child, preferring more eco-friendly pleasures and a calmer pace of life.
We who live here know that hidden behind that attractive truth is another, nastier reality. Trinidad is the trouble-causing, crime-attracting, hopped-up-on-liquor-and-crack diva of a big sister. And for all these years, little wallflower Tobago has had to make do with crumbs of attention, seething with resentment (albeit quietly) over all the pretty baubles (i.e. investment and infrastructure) that Trinidad gets. OMG, she’s such a glory hog!
Bottom-line: the islands are different. And their inhabitants are different. And what happens when people with differences interact? They clash, sometimes spectacularly. Both sides have considerable ammunition, and although big sis is tough, you never know what’s really swimming in all that calm Tobago beach water.
As the Trini-born child of a die-hard Tobagonian, I think I’m qualified to compile a list of the most common (and most laughable) differences between Trinis and Tobagonians. So here goes.
1. What is an acceptable noise level for a Trini may cause Tobagonians to start howling at the moon like dogs affected by ultrasounds
You know how you and your family, your brothers and their families and the whole village like to pull up on the beach, armed to the teeth not only with coolers, bamboo tents and a coal pot, but also with a young fridge speaker system? And you play Radica or Guinness and Puncheon ten times in succession at full volume? Yeah, so, if you’re in Trinidad, people will not only start to wine and sing aloud to the music, no matter their cultural background, but they’ll join you and drink out your rum. On a beach in Tobago, however, the mass exodus immediately after your arrival is not because there are jelly fish in the water.
2. Tobagonians are really laidback… to the point of being horizontal
Every year, Tobago gets screwed in the budget presentation. What they’re given for infrastructure can’t run any of the big businesses in Trinidad for a week. Administrations from before I was born have promised to build a ‘new’ hospital in Scarborough, and it’s still not finished. Ditto for the Scarborough Library. Yet the only Tobagonian who is well known for openly protesting this is not ANR Robinson, not Rennie Dumas, not Orville London but Johnny-come-lately Ashworth Jack.
Then, there’s the host of other issues such as the less-than-satisfactory efficiency of the ferry service, and lack of proper health care, that are protest worthy. Yet Tobagonians just grumble about it to themselves, under their breaths, while gardening … when they remember. Now granted Trinis can be accused of being laidback too, but you’re more likely to see a protest outside the Red House than a Tobagonian saying Maracas Beach is nicer than Store Bay.
“For the young Tobagonian adult, maturity =
getting a job + buying a piece of land + marrying the dumpling of your dreams + having young dumplings.”
3. Maturity is a relative term, right?
For the young Tobagonian adult, maturity = getting a job + buying a piece of land + marrying the dumpling of your dreams + having young dumplings. It’s traditional, but at least they voluntarily take on responsibility, the true mark of adulthood. For young men and women in Trinidad, it’s not quite so cut and dry. In fact, the young Trini adult equation look more like this: limping through UWI + trying to wheedle money for a car out of Mom + idling the day away on Facebook + posing up in front of Movietowne or Cinemas 8 + OMG is that the new Wii console/skinny jeans?
4. You don’t sound like you’re from the same country…
You would think that because Trinidad… and Tobago are technically the same country, we’d all sound the same, right? Wrong. Trinis have perfected that sing-song treble that other islanders love to hate, while Tobagonians sound much more Caribbean. Consequently, they’re accepted by the other islanders much more quickly.
I remember walking off the plane in Jamaica with a Tobagonian to attend UWI Mona. In three weeks, she was speaking fluent Jamaican patois, holding long conversations with Jamaican classmates who couldn’t speak Standard English if their life depended on it, and constantly being mistaken for a Guyanese, a Vincentian or a Bahamian. I was still waiting for my roommate/interpreter to help me navigate buying a juice box. Life is not fair.
P.S. Tobagonians are also well liked in the Caribbean because they don’t act like they have oil wells pumping in their backyards. A word to the wise is sufficient; at least I hope it is for those Trini chicks strutting all over Mona Campus in heels and designer jeans.
“Tobagonians are not good with personal boundaries.”
5. Fasness is an artform
… in Tobago. Surprised? Don’t be. From my personal experience, Tobagonians are not good with personal boundaries. It’s considered normal to insert yourself into someone else’s business and then advise them in great detail on how they should deal with their spouse, child, business or yeast infection. And once you’re connected by family or religion, you can forget that belief you once had of ‘my life is my own’. As a Tobagonian friend once told me, “Tobagonian fasness goes into overdrive on contact with church and weddings”.
Think that you’re a good maco? You’ve never opened the bride’s car door to congratulate her and have a long conversation… minutes before the ceremony is scheduled to start. In Tobago, you can coolly tell someone who is not your friend that you heard their son is gay, then ask if that’s true with a perfectly serious belief that you should get an answer. An elderly church sister asked my Tobagonian father (while in the presence of his then-fiancée, my Guyanese mother), “So you couldn’t find anybody here to marry?” (Only training and the fact that my dad changed the conversation like a champion pit stop tyre man saved that woman from a very educated cuss out). And it’s not uncommon to confide in your pastor and hear your problem become the subject of a sermon the next Sunday. Business like canal water? Check.
6. “We ah go party hard…” Donaeo
Partying hard: the one activity at which Tobagonians and Trinis excel. Trinis do have the reputation for hard wining down pat; our Carnival is considered one of the best in the world. But if you were betting that baby sis was backward, you would lose.
Casual sex and social alcoholism are national past times in both islands. Let’s not talk about what happens during J’Ouvert or Great Race weekend, ok? And if you wanted stats, the equally astronomical rates of HIV infection in both sister islands (slightly higher in Tobago) should prove my theory.
Even the so-called traditional past times in Tobago rival the raunchiest Trini club. For example, if you ever attended a bongo (part of wake activities after someone has died) you would know that the suggestive songs and dances are all about not-so-subtly encouraging the grieving relatives to (ehem) create new life. And we know all about that here in Trinidad; witness the multitude of ‘bellies’ due in October, November or December, nine months after a certain party season.
So clearly, although Trinidad may diss her lil sis, and as much as Tobago may want to dump that money-wasting crack whore and start a new life, at the end of the day both sisters will hug up, start to cry, and hopefully sleep off the Vat 19 and babash before one of them drives home… because T&T is one family. Now if only we could start acting like it.
Author bio: Desiree Seebaran is a freelance writer and publications manager who is always on the look out for the next big project. She’s written for publications like Caribbean Beat, and Who’s Who of Trinidad & Tobago, and most recently edited a children’s book. You can check out her blog dingolay-des.blogspot.com.