The original inhabitants of Trinidad migrated from the Orinoco River delta region of northeastern South America and probably spoke an Arawakan language. It seems likely that by the time the Spanish established a presence there in the 16th century, there was also a population of Cariban speakers, mostly on the north coast. Today a group called the Santa Rosa Caribs of Arima claims partial descent from the original inhabitants and seeks to keep their heritage alive. Tobago was settled by Cariban-speaking Indians when Europeans first arrived there.
The ethnic makeup of Trinidad is dominated by two groups, roughly equal in size: Afro-Trinidadians, descended from free Blacks who immigrated to the island and slaves brought in to work on cotton and sugar plantations beginning in the late 18th century; and Indo-Trinidadians, or East Indians, whose ancestors were primarily laborers who immigrated from the Indian subcontinent as plantation workers after the abolition of slavery in the mid-19th century. People of mixed ethnicity constitute a slightly smaller third group. Migrants from Spain and other European countries, Africa, East and Southeast Asia, and the Middle East have all contributed to the ethnic composition of the islands’ population. Although English is the official language, most people speak a creole English. A few people, mostly in rural areas, speak a French-derived creole, Spanish, or Hindi.