Trinidad and Tobago Independence Day is marked on August 31 every year as a day to commemorate the freedom of the nation. Trinidad and Tobago is a dual-island Caribbean nation. It is the southernmost Caribbean nation.
The first Independence Day
Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence from Great Britain on August 31, 1962. At midnight on August 30, 1962, the Union Jack (British flag) was lowered and the Trinidad and Tobago flag was raised for the first time.
Bells tolled and sirens rang out to herald the birth of the newly independent nation. This first Independence Day was marked by more than a week of festivities and events across the country from August 28 to September 05, 1962 (See: Independence Celebrations, 1962 – Programmes and Events).
Several international dignitaries were present for this auspicious occasion including the Queen’s representative Her Royal Highness Princess Royal who read the message sent by Queen Elizabeth II, relinquishing her rule.
Independence Day celebrations today
Today, Independence Day is celebrated with military-style parades held at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain and in Scarborough, Tobago. In Trinidad, the parade is inspected by the Head of State who, from 1962-1976, was the Governor General (the monarch’s representative in Trinidad and Tobago).
When Trinidad and Tobago achieved its status as a Republic in 1976, the President then assumed this role. The Chief Secretary, who is the leader of the Tobago House of Assembly, heads the Tobago parade.
After the official activities at the parade grounds, the contingents march through the streets to the accompaniment of live music played by the bands of the various forces (e.g. Police, Fire and Prison bands). Cheering spectators line the parade route creating a carnival-like atmosphere.
The evening is usually marked by the presentation of National Awards in a ceremony held at the President’s House. These awards, which were first presented in 1969, honour the outstanding achievements of citizens of Trinidad and Tobago in various fields.
Finally, this day of celebration comes to a close with fireworks displays at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain and the Port Authority Compound, Scarborough in Tobago. Thousands of people gather from early in the evening to get a strategic vantage point to view these shows.
What changed upon Independence
Prior to Independence, Trinidad and Tobago was a British colony with the Queen of England as the Head of State. Independence 1962 marked the birth of the nation of Trinidad and Tobago. This event was the final stage in a long road to self-government which progressed through the following stages:
- An early photo of the parliament chamber
- Early photograph of the Parliament Chamber
- A colony fully administered by a governor appointed by the colonial monarch (e.g. Spanish or British King or Queen)
- A colony managed by an Executive Council where some members of this council were selected by the Governor from an elected Legislative Council
- A colony with some internal self-government where political parties competed in an electoral process and a Chief Minister was selected from the party with the winning majority. The Governor then acted on the advice of the Executive Council
- A self-governing colony with elected officials including a Premier, members of Cabinet and members of the Opposition. The Governor’s executive powers were now limited
Upon Independence on August 31, 1962, the Governor, Sir Solomon Hochoy, was installed as the first Governor-General and the Premier, Dr Eric Williams, automatically became the Prime Minister. The British Monarch remained as Head of State and the Privy Council, the highest court of appeal. Some of the other changes included:
- National Emblems
- National Flag
- National Anthem
- Coat of Arms
- National Birds
- National Flower
- The Constitution
- The Defence Force
- Coast Guard
- Anthony, Michael. First in Trinidad. Port of Spain, Trinidad: Paria Publishing, 2004.
- Pollard, Gloria, and Elton Nelson. My land: A Social Studies Review for Primary and Secondary School Students and Teachers. Port of Spain, Trinidad: Charran Educational Publishers, 1982.
Independence Day Address, 1962
Dr Eric Williams delivered the following speech to the nation over the radio on August 31, 1962, the first day of Trinidad and Tobago’s Independence from Great Britain.
It is a great honour to me to address this morning the citizens of the Independent Nation of Trinidad and Tobago as their first Prime Minister. Your National Flag has been hoisted to the strains of your National Anthem, against the background of your National Coat of Arms, and amidst the beauty of your National Flower.
Your Parliament has been inaugurated by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, the representative of Her Majesty the Queen. You have your own Governor General and your own Chief Justice, both appointed on the advice of your own Prime Minister. You have your own National Guard, however small.
You are now a member of the Commonwealth Family in your own right, equal in status to any other of its members. You hope soon to be a member of the World Family of Nations, playing your part, however insignificant, in world affairs. You are on your own in a big world, in which you are one of many nations, some small, some medium size, some large. You are nobody’s boss and nobody is your boss.
What use will you make of your independence? What will you transmit to your children five years from today? Other countries ceased to exist in that period. Some, in much less time, have become totally disorganised, prey to anarchy and civil war.
The first responsibility that devolves upon you is the protection and promotion of your democracy. Democracy means more, much more than the right to vote and one vote for every man and every woman of the prescribed age. Democracy means recognition of the rights of others.
Democracy means equality of opportunity for all in education, in public service, and in private employment–I repeat, and in private employment. Democracy means the protection of the weak against the strong. Democracy means the obligation of the minority to recognise the right of the majority. Democracy means the responsibility of the Government to its citizens, the protection of the citizens from the exercise of arbitrary power and the violation of human freedoms and individual rights. Democracy means freedom of worship for all and the subordination of the right of any race to the overriding right of the human race. Democracy means freedom of expression and assembly of organization.
All that is Democracy. All that is our Democracy, to which I call upon all citizens to dedicate themselves on this our Independence Day. This is what I meant when I gave the Nation its slogan for all time: Discipline, Production, Tolerance. Indiscipline, whether individual or sectional, is a threat to democracy. Slacking on the job jeopardizes national income, inflates costs, and merely sets a bad example. The medieval churchmen had a saying that to work is to pray. It is also to strengthen our democracy by improving our economic foundations.
That democracy is but a hollow mockery and a gigantic fraud which is based on a ruling group’s domination [of] slaves or helots or fellaheen or second class citizens or showing intolerance to others because of considerations of race, colour, creed, national origin, previous conditions of servitude or other irrationality.
Our National Flag belongs to all our citizens. Our National Coat of Arms, with our National Birds inscribed therein, is the sacred thrust of our citizens. So it is today, please, I urge you, let it always be so. Let us always be able to say, with the Psalmist, behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.
United at home in the common effort to build a democratic Nation and ostracize outmoded privileges, let us present to the outside world the united front of a Nation thinking for itself, knowing its own mind and speaking its own point of view.
Let us take our stand in the international family on the basic principles of international rectitude. When our time comes to vote, let it always be a vote for freedom and against slavery, for self-determination and against external control, for integration and against division.
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Democracy at home and abroad, the symbol of it is our Parliament. Remember fellow citizens, we now have a Parliament, we no longer have the colonial assemblies which did not have the full rights of a Parliament of a sovereign country. The very name “Parliament” testifies to our new Independent status. By the same token, however, we at once become the object of comparison with other Parliamentary countries, inside and outside the Commonwealth.
This is a consideration which involves not only the Members of Parliament but also the individual citizen. The Members of Parliament have the traditional Parliamentary privileges guaranteed in the Constitution. The Speaker, the symbol of the power of Parliament, has his status guaranteed in the Order of Precedence. We shall soon have a Privileges Bill protecting and prescribing the powers of Parliament itself. Measures are being taken to establish the responsibility of Parliament in the field of external relations.
The Constitution recognises the position of the Leader of the Opposition and the normal parliamentary convention of consultation between Government and Opposition are being steadily developed and expanded. The Constitution itself, Independence itself, represent the agreement of the two political parties on the fundamental question of national unity. The ordinary citizen must recognise the role of the Parliament in our democracy and must learn to differentiate between a Member of Parliament, whom he may like or dislike, and the respect that must be accorded to that same Member of Parliament ex-officio.
I call on all citizens from now on to accord the highest respect to our Parliamentary system and institutions and to our Parliament itself.
Democracy, finally, rests on a higher power than Parliament. It rests on an informed and cultivated and alert public opinion. The Members of Parliament are only representatives of the citizens. They cannot represent apathy and indifference. They can play the part allotted to them only if they represent intelligence and public spiritedness.
Nothing has so demonstrated in the past six years the capacity of the People of Trinidad and Tobago than their remarkable interest in public affairs. The development and expansion of that interest is the joint responsibility of the Government, the Parliament, the political parties and relevant civic organisations.
Those fellow citizens, are the thoughts which, on my first day as Prime Minister, I wish to express to you on Independence Day. Your success in organising the Independence which you achieved will exercise a powerful influence on your neighbours with all of whom we are likely to have close associations in the next few years, the smallest and nearest, as part of our Independent Unitary State, the larger and more distant as part of the wider and integrated Caribbean community. Problems of difficulties there will be. These are always a challenge to superior intelligence and to the strength of character.
Whatever the challenge that faces you, from whatever quarter, place always first that national interest and the national cause. The strength of the Nation depends on the strength of its citizens. Our National Anthem invokes God’s blessings on our Nation, in response to those thousands of citizens of all faiths who demanded God’s protection in our Constitution. Let us then as a Nation so conduct ourselves as to be able always to say in those noblest and most inspiring words of St. Paul, “By the Grace of God we as people are what we are, and His Grace in us hath not been void.”
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