Trinidad & Tobago’s Top Religious Attractions

A twin-island republic saturated with culture, tradition and respect for different religions, Trinidad and Tobago should be on your list of the world’s must see places.

Known in the Caribbean region as fun loving people with a hearty appetite for partying, religion also plays an important role in the life of many Trinbagonians.  As a multicultural nation, the islands are home to many religions including Roman Catholicism; Hinduism; Anglicanism; Evangelical churches; Muslims, both Sunni and Shiite groups, as well as African-influenced religious sects such as Shouter/Spiritual Baptists, Shangos and Orishas.

From lighting deyas (small clay lamps) and dressing in traditional Indian garb for the Hindu festival of Divali, to the giddy strains of parang, soca parang and local carols emanating from homes featuring Christmas decor; visitors might be surprised to learn that most nationals participate. For Easter, it’s the same as locals of every creed and ethnicity prepare for Easter bonnet pageants, visits to the beach, the much-anticipated Good Friday procession and goat races in Tobago.

A rare study in religious tolerance, Trinidad and Tobago is now tapping into the thriving religious tourism niche as it moves to boost tourist arrivals to the southern Caribbean nation.

Some religious festivals, such as the celebration of Divali, have already become tourist attractions in their own right. For the past five years, the Tourism Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (TDC) has aggressively marketed Trinidad’s celebration of the Hindu Festival of Lights in North America and Europe and sites such as the Divali Nagar in central Trinidad, attracts thousands of local and international visitors over 10 nights of traditional song, dance, vegetarian fare and cultural displays. There are also many pre-Divali activities, such as RamLeela, an outdoor re-enactment by villages of the story of Lord Rama and his epic battle against the evil Ravan, which are massive incentives for anyone wanting to fully experience the spirit of the Hindu Festival of Lights.

Eid-ul-Fitr, the Muslim celebration of the end of Ramadan, is a lower-key event, but it is by no means overlooked. In fact, many local families look forward to Eid since it affords them the chance to sample sumptuous sawine (a runny vermicelli and milk pudding), traditional roti (flatbread) and curried meats and vegetables. The Muslim festival of Hosay is also much-anticipated each year, for its spectacular display of drumming, duelling moons and tadjas. The four-night festival is a time of solemnity in Muslim countries, but in Trinidad and Tobago it takes on a festive and lively atmosphere. First celebrated in Trinidad in the late 1800s by Shia Muslims, the event commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein (Hussain), the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. Each night of the festival there is a procession which includes tassa drumming and large tadjas, which are pushed through the streets.  The most popular venues for watching and even participating in the processions of tadjas (mosque-like replicas which are 10-15 feet high and magnificent in design and colour) are St James and Cedros.

Another colourful procession is held on Spiritual/Shouter Baptist Liberation Day (March 30). Although a more recent national religious observance, Spiritual/Shouter Baptist Liberation Day commemorates the repeal of the 1917 Ordinance which prohibited the very vocal worship practices of the religious group and is characterised by bell ringing, exuberant shouting, joyful singing, dancing and clapping.

Trinidad and Tobago is also the birthplace of several sites of religious significance that are unique in the region, and even the hemisphere. One such site is the Dattatreya Yoga Centre which is home to the 85ft Hanuman Murti, the tallest in the western hemisphere.

Just as awe inspiring is Waterloo’s Temple in the Sea, one of Trinidad’s most celebrated Hindu shrines. The sweetness is in the story of its builder, Siewdass Sadhu, a poor indentured Indian labourer, who barred from building a temple to worship on lands owned by the colonial government, stone by stone, built his shrine in the sea.

Overlooking the plains, on which the temples sits, is the Central Mountain Range and Our Lady of Montserrat, one of the oldest wooden churches in the country. Completed in 1878, the church boasts stained glass windows made in France, hand-painted oak-framed Stations of the Cross and a wooden figure of the Black Virgin and Child.

Further south is the Mount Elvin Baptist Church, established in 1816 by the Merikens (Africans enslaved in the US who served in the British Army during the war of 1812) and considered the epicentre of the Baptist religion in Trinidad and Tobago.

Another iconic place of worship is the Iere Muslim Mosque, first constructed in 1868, it was the first known mosque to be built in Trinidad. In Tobago, St Patricks Anglican Church in Mount Pleasant, at just over 170 years, claims the distinction of being the oldest church building on the island.

To learn more about booking your religious pilgrimage to Trinidad and Tobago visit www.gotrinidadandtobago.com or contact the TDC at info@tdc.co.tt

 Photos courtesy the Tourism Development Company of Trinidad & Tobago Limited.

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