Gender and Land Rights Database

Trinidad and Tobago

Customary norms, religious beliefs and social practices that influence gender-differentiated land rights

- Marriage practices differ according to ethnicity and class, although kinship is mostly bilateral in structure. For the middle and upper classes, formal marriage with religious sanction is the norm. Legal recognition for Hindu and Muslim marriages came very late in the colonial period. In the past, East Indian women were betrothed in arranged marriages at young ages. Many Afro-Trinidadians entered into non co-residential relationships, then common-law marriages, and then, later in life, formal marriage. However, this is changing, with the age of marriage for Indian women increasing along with their propensity to enter non co-residential relationships, and the importance of arranged marriages greatly diminished (23).

- Polygamy is practiced under some of the country’s religions (19).

Traditional authorities and customary institutions

- In 1998, Trinidad was one of the first Yoruba-based communities in the Americas and the Caribbean to incorporate a formal Council of Orisha Elders among its African-derived practitioners. Those selected as Elders for the Council were leaders of Orisha shrines, the spiritual leaders of initiated godchildren, knowledgeable about the tradition, and had a good solid social reputation, that is, a good standing in the society.

At the head of the Council was the most senior Orisha priestesses in Trinidad who then selected five other members by means of spiritual divination. Currently, the Council consists of an executive committee of the original six elders, two of which are also leaders in the Spiritual Baptist faith, and a national body membership which encompassed the heads of close to three dozen registered shrines, along with various administrative personnel.

In recent years, the role of elders within the Orisha tradition has been challenged with regard to their strict adherence to religious orthodoxy, and their resistance to ritual innovation, and theological expansion.

Yoruba Orisha religious traditions emerged for the most part from communities of Africans arriving in Trinidad in the post- rather than pre- Emancipation era. Although the exact date of origin and geographical location of the first Yoruba religious community in Trinidad is not known, a significant number of Yoruba was represented among the liberated Africans that arrived in Trinidad after the 1840s. It is also known that the Yorubas settled in their own ethnic enclave as a free community of Africans in the north-eastern section of Trinidad. Today, the Orisha tradition in Trinidad, is now numbering in the tens of thousands (24).

Inheritance/succession de facto practices

- Among East Indians and upper class others, inheritance was patrilineal. This has now become more egalitarian in terms of gender. Among Afro-Trinidadians, inheritance patterns have not necessarily favoured males. There are often disputes over the inheritance of land (23).

- Informal inheritance practices are used by aging farmers to assign land parcels to the children; frequently this happens when the parents are still alive.  In some cases, these assignments are regarded as final, while in others, the assignments are not as explicit and are perceived as potentially open-ended. In many cases, heirs are in a rent-free status for several years with then likelihood, but no guarantee, that they will end up with the parcel they are currently using. major consequence of such unauthorized, informal transfers is that land users are often left without any documents or documents that are out-of-date.

In many cases, as a consequence of the ascendant’s explicit wishes or the result of death without a will, either verbal or written, land falls into the family tenure system, whereby it is held in co-ownership, or ownership in undivided shares. Generally such tenure emerges from a process of intestate succession, with claims typically becoming extremely complex and difficult to unravel after a couple generations (17).

Discrepancies/gaps between statutory and customary laws

- Although polygamous marriages are not recognized under any of the laws relating to marriage and bigamy is a crime punishable by law, it is practiced in the country. However, only one union can be registered and attain the legal status of marriage (19).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography