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The history of Trinidad and Tobago begins with the settlements of the islands by Amerindians. Both islands were encountered by Christopher Columbus on his third voyage in 1498. Tobago changed hands between the British, French, Dutch and Courlanders, but eventually ended up in British hands. Trinidad remained in Spanish hands until 1797, but it was largely settled by French colonists. In 1888 the two islands were incorporated into a single crown colony. Trinidad and Tobago obtained its independence from the British Empire in 1962 and became a republic in 1976.

Human settlement in Trinidad dates back at least 7000 years. The earliest settlers, termed Archaic or Ortoiroid, are believed to have settled Trinidad from northeastern South America around 5000 BC. Twenty-nine Archaic sites have been identified, mostly in south Trinidad; this includes the 7000-year-old Banwari Trace site which is the oldest human settlement in the eastern Caribbean. Archaic populations were pre-ceramic, and dominated the area until about 200 BC.

Around 250 BC the first ceramic-using people in the Caribbean, the Saladoid people, entered Trinidad. Earliest evidence of these people come from around 2100 BC along the banks of the Orinoco River in Venezuela. From Trinidad they are believed to have moved north into the remaining islands of the Caribbean. Thirty-seven Saladoid sites have been identified in Trinidad, and are located all over the island.

After 250 AD a third group, called the Barrancoid people settled in southern Trinidad after migrating up the Orinoco River toward the sea.

Following the collapse of Barrancoid communities along the Orinoco around 650 AD, a new group, called the Arauquinoid expanded up the river to the coast. The cultural artifacts of this group were only partly adopted in Trinidad and adjacent areas of northeast Venezuela, and as a result this culture is called Guayabitoid in these areas.

Around 1300 AD a new group appears to have settled in Trinidad and introduced new cultural attributes which largely replaced the Guayabitoid culture. Termed the Mayoid cultural tradition, this represents the native tribes which were present in Trinidad at the time of European arrival. Their distinct pottery and artifacts survive until 1800, but after this time they were largely assimilated into mainstream Trinidad society. These included the Nepoya and Suppoya (who were probably Arawak-speaking) and the Yao (who were probably Carib-speaking). They have generally been called Arawaks and Caribs. These were largely wiped out by the Spanish colonisers under the encomienda system. Under this system which was basically a form of slavery, Spanish encomederos forced the Amerindians to work for them in exchange for Spanish "protection" and conversion to Christianity. The survivors were first organised into Missions by the Capuchin friars, and then gradually assimilated. The oldest organised indigenous group in Trinidad is the Santa Rosa Carib Community centred in the town of Arima, although several new groups have developed in recent years.

Tobago's development was similar to other plantation islands in the Lesser Antilles and quite different from Trinidad's. During the colonial period, French, Dutch, British and Courlanders (Latvians) fought over possession of Tobago, and the island changed hands 22 times - more often than any other West Indian island.

Tobago was finally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1814. The two islands were incorporated into the single crown colony in 1888 with Tobago reduced to the status of a Ward of Trinidad until Trinidad and Tobago achieved full independence in August 1962 within the Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth II as its titular head of state. In August 1, 1976, the country became a republic, and the last Governor-General, Sir Ellis Clarke, became the first President.

In 1968 the National Joint Action Committee was formed by members of the Guild of Undergraduates at the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, under the leadership of Geddes Granger. In 1969 it was formally launched to protest the arrest of West Indian students at Sir George Williams University in Montreal.