In the Caribbean island of Tobago you'll find more than swaying palms and sun-kissed beaches. When you visit this historic island, you'll enjoy a cultural feast, rich in folklore, music and dance, inspired by the African heritage of Tobago's inhabitants. Every year, from mid-July to early August, the Tobago Heritage festival moves from village to village, celebrating the island's fascinating culture, customs and traditions.
Tobago has many folk tales and superstitions unique to the island.
One such tale is that of Gang Gang Sarah, an African witch who flew to Tobago. After spending some time on the island the witch tried to return home but found she had lost the power of flight after eating too much salt. Her grave can be found in the village of Culloden.
Dance is a cornerstone of Tobago's culture. Many of the island's distinct dances, like the Reel and Jig are British in origin but with movements influenced by the Africans. Performed by a couple or group, the Reel and Jig is reminiscent of an intricate courtship dance. Speech Bands also dance, with sharp, cutting strokes of a sword the key movement. Ceremonial dances associated with the African tribes brought to Tobago as slaves are also performed.
Death is usually an unwelcome visitor, but in Tobago its arrival is celebrated in several ways. The tradition of "keeping ah wake" or vigil at the home of a deceased continues to this day in many of the island's homes.
Tobago's traditional courtship rituals include offerings of gifts to the prospective bride and a test of strength - which the young man seeking marriage must pass.
The Ole Time Wedding procession through the streets is another well loved tradition. The men dress in black top hats and tails, bow ties and white gloves, while the women wear bustle dresses, reminiscent of the 18th and 19th century, wide-brimmed hats and white gloves.
The fiddle (violin) and tambourine (made from wood and goat skin) are the main instruments utilized in Tobago's indigenous music and songs.
Speech Bands, keepers of Tobago's oral tradition, reintroduces the fiddler at the end of each verse with the words, "Drag yuh bow Mr. Fiddler!" Speech Bands give voice to issues of political and social importance, often with a humorous or satirical twist.
The island's folk songs also provide an oral history of social, political and economic events of great importance.
Spirituality also plays an important part in Tobago's culture and spiritual songs, along with gospel music, are popular on the island.