Portuguese in Trinidad


Portuguese in Trinidad

Is one or more of your family names Abreu, Affonso, d’Andrade, Cabral, Camacho, Carvalho, Coelho, Cunha, Farinha, Fernandes, de Freitas, Garanito, Gomes, Jardim, Lourenço, Luz, Mendes, Mendonça, Netto, Nunes, Pereira, Perneta, Pestana, Pinto, Quintal, Rezende, Rodrigues, Sabino, dos Santos, de Silva, de Souza, Teixeira, Vieira or Xavier, to name just some of the 100+ Portuguese surnames in Trinidad and TobagoThen your roots are probably in the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira.

Most of the names live on but, for the most part, the language has not. What happened to the language among Luso-descendants of Trinidad and Tobago/Portuguese Trinbagonians is our question.

Madeira is an island chain in the north Atlantic off the coast of Morocco, and 1,076 km from Portugal to the north-east, and 5,168 km from Trinidad to the south-west (click on photo for original source and copyright).

Portuguese groups reportedly came to both Tobago and Trinidad as early as the 17th century: a group arrived in Trinidad in the 1630s, and those who went to Tobago included Sephardic Jews in the 1660s. In the 19th century, other Portuguese were in Trinidad in 1811. Azoreans came in 1834 (the first Portuguese to come as labourers to the Caribbean), and some Madeirans left for Trinidad not long after. See a historical timeline here.

No doubt descendants of Jewish marranos (those Jews who had been forced to officially convert to Christianity centuries before) would have been among the Azoreans and Madeirans. A number of surnames, e.g, Carvalho, da Costa, Henriques, Nunes, Pereira and de Souza, are associated with a Jewish Portuguese (Sephardic) heritage, whether the families know or not. The names also belong to non-Sephardic Portuguese with no Jewish background.

The roots of the modern Portuguese community in Trinidad and Tobago are in the Madeiran migrations of the 1846-1848 period. Madeira had been suffering harsh economic and socio-religious conditions in the 19th century. The Madeirans of 1846 included separate groups of Catholics and Protestants. They fled their homeland in search of economic relief (Catholics) or a religious haven (Presbyterians) or both.

Madeirans emigrated to various locations throughout the then-British Caribbean as labourers and religious refugees, particularly to Guyana, St Vincent, Antigua and Trinidad. The 19th century Portuguese community of Guyana was 10 to 15 times bigger than Trinidad’s, and had a significant impact on that country.

Madeiran emigration to Trinidad took place over 140 years, from 1834 up to 1975, albeit in unsteady waves and in varying concentrations. For example, the main periods appear to have been 1846-1848 and then the 1920s and 1940s which saw renewed emigration from Madeira (not only to Trinidad, but via Trinidad to Aruba and Curaçao because of the refineries there). A few also came from continental Portugal, in both centuries, from areas such as Porto and Lisbon.

Madeirans continued to come after 1846 because of chain migration, joining relatives and contacts who had built a new life and a new community for themselves. Chain migration of families also took place among Portuguese descendants coming from Guyana, St Vincent, Antigua, St Kitts and other territories. Many came because of family and business connections and partnerships here. Most of these descendants were already English-speaking by the end of the 19th century and onwards.

Onomastic Legacy

Perhaps the best-known and most widespread aspect of the Portuguese linguistic legacy is family surnames. Some surnames also became street and other place names where the Portuguese settled, in villages and towns all over Trinidad. The largest communities were those that settled in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando, as well as Arima, Arouca and Chaguanas. Later some Portuguese went to Scarborough and other places in Tobago.

George Cabral and de Freitas Streets, St James, Port-of-Spain © Jo-Anne S. Ferreira 2012

The spellings have been mostly preserved (the pronunciations vary), except in cases of anglicisation, hispanicisation, and gallicisation.

Anglicised names include versions such as da Breo for d’Abreu, and Tesheira for Teixeira, which better reflect pronunciation for English speakers (the names d’Abreu and Teixeira are still more common than the anglicised versions). Govia and Jardine are other examples of re-spellings that reflect Madeiran pronunciation as perceived by English speakers (these two are more widespread than the original Gouveia and Jardim, respectively). With regard to changes in names, pronunciation, spelling and even translation, a lot depends on when the immigrant came and under what circumstances.

Some (sur)names were translated into their English equivalents, like Francis (Francisco) and John (João). Intense anglicisation took place regularly in the USA and other Anglophone places where Portuguese immigrants settled.

While Portuguese and Spanish do have names in common (like Araújo/Araujo, (de) Castro, Franco, Garcia/García, Gregório/Gregorio, de Jesus/de Jesús, Miranda, Pacheco and Salazar, among others), some Portuguese names became hispanicised, Spanish-looking or sounding, such as Fernandez, Gomez, Marquez, Rodriguez and others. The Presbyterian Mendes (whose ancestors came in the 19th century) pronounce their name like Mendez, and some Catholics (whose forebears came in the early 20th century) pronounce their name like Menz. (Camacho also took on the Spanish pronunciation, losing the “sh” sound represented by the .)

The name Xavier became gallicised or Frenchified in pronunciation, with the sounding like /z/ instead of the “sh” sound (as in Teixeira).

Portuguese surnames can be recognised and identified by the following spellings, among many others not listed here (e.g., some names beginning with <J> and <Qu>):

  • <ei>, as in Caldeira, Correia, Ferreira, Figueira, de Freitas, Gouveia, Madeira, Noreiga, (d’)Oliveira, Pereira, Pinheiro, Ribeiro, Reis, Teixeira and Vieira;
  • <ou>, as in Gouveia, Lourenço and de Souza/de Sousa (the Spanish equivalent, where applicable, is , e.g., Sousa and Sosa);
  • <ão>, as in Brazão and Serrão;
  • <ç>, as in Gonçalves (which became Gonsalves, but the <s>  is now pronounced as /z/ instead of /s/), Mendonça and Lourenço;
  • <x>, as in Teixeira and Xavier ( in Portuguese has the “sh” sound in English);
  • <lh>, as in Carvalho, Coelho and Magalhães;
  • <nh>, as in Castanheiro, Cunha, Farinha, Pinheiro, Saldenha and Sardinha (equivalent of Spanish );
  • <al>, as in Cabral, Leal and Quintal
  • <es>, as in Alves, de Caires, Chaves, Fernandes, Gomes, Gonçalves/Gonsalves, Henriques, Lopes, Marques, Mendes, Menezes, N(i)eves, Nunes, Pires, Rodrigues and Soares (where there are equivalents in Spanish, the Spanish spelling is usually , although Portuguese has had the spellings as well);
  • <s>, as in Affonso, Alfonso and Dias (same comment re: Spanish above; some Portuguese names with are Cruz, Ferraz and Luz, etc.)
  • <d’>, and ,  as in d’Abreu, d’Andrade, d’Oliveira, d’Ornellas, da Costa, da Cruz, da Silva, dos Santos and dos Ramos (da and dos both mean ‘of the’).

Some spelling differences have to do with changes in Portuguese orthography over the years. For example, Souza belongs to the older spelling system, and Sousa belongs to the newer system (like Rezende ~ Resende and Menezes ~ Meneses). Vasconcellos is the older form and Vasconcelos is the newer (like Ornellas ~ Ornelas). The older forms survive in the Americas, including Trinidad and Tobago, and elsewhere. They tell a story of the related era of arrival.

Portuguese surnames are mentioned in various calypsos, such as those mentioning (J.J.) Ribeiro, (Eduardo) Sá Gomes and (Albert) Gomes. Sá Gomes was born in São Pedro, Madeira and was a pioneer of calypso recordings, and Gomes was a staunch defender of calypso and steelpan. Calypso, of course, was in Patois and in English.

Portuguese characters with their Portuguese names and surnames also appeared in skits and plays, for example, the 1905 “Portuguese Shop in George Street”, and the 1992 “Ah Wanna Fall”, which featured  Pharoah’s “Portuguese (or Potogee) Dance”, an imitation of Portuguese speech (listen to it here).

Portuguese in the Home

Historically, the picture of Portuguese language use in Trinidad was quite different from today’s scenario. The language was in regular use both inside and outside of the home in the latter half of the 19th century up to the first half of the 20th century. In most Portuguese-descended families today, very little of the Portuguese language is remembered.

In the Trinidadian Portuguese community, especially in the second half of the 20th century, acquiring Portuguese had become difficult for children, especially where the only fluent speaker of Portuguese was an immigrant father who worked almost 12 hours each day outside of the home to support his family.

The women spent the most time with their children at home, so acquiring Portuguese was somewhat easier if mothers or other female family members were Madeiran-born and fluent Portuguese speakers.

Luso-Trinidadian or Portuguese Creole mothers themselves who spoke more English often only had partial competence in Portuguese (“semi-speakers”). In such cases, mothers were unable to pass on their parents’ language to their children, but many did pass on aspects of cuisine and other aspects of culture.

If the children did become speakers or semi-speakers themselves, this was often the result of a strong relationship with an aunt, grandmother or, in very few cases, close family servants who migrated with their employer’s families.

Marriage to a spouse who spoke English, whether of Portuguese or other ethnolinguistic background(s), usually swung the household language in the direction of English.

If the Portuguese-speaking spouse was the wife, it was possible for the children to learn Portuguese, as did happen. In these cases, the surnames were not Portuguese, since naming practices and customs in English-speaking contexts are normally patrilineal (except where hyphenated in some cases).  Since mothers often pass on their culture, the family linguo-culture would indeed be Portuguese-influenced, so the Portuguese influence in Trinidad and Tobago actually extends far beyond a mere count of Portuguese surnames.

What is remembered by families today mostly falls into the general domains of food, religion and taboo words. Some individuals recall some greetings, proverbs and song fragments (including the Portuguese national anthem for those whose ancestors emigrated after 1890).

Food and drink names include (there were at least three restaurants that featured one or more of the following):

  • bacalhau (“cod” or “saltfish” or “salted fish”);
  • bolo de mel (a well-known Madeiran molasses cake) – the name is often mistranslated into English as “honey cake”. “Honey” is mel or mel de abelha, literally “bee honey.” Bolo de mel is made from mel de cana (literally “cane honey”) which is “sugar cane syrup” or “molasses,” itself a word derived from Portuguese melaçoBroas de mel are also made with molasses. Madeira has played a very important role in sugar cane production since 1425 and has its own rum;
  • carne vinha d’alhos (“garlic pork” – click for J. Wayne Quintal’s article on garlic pork);
  • cebolas de escabeche (“pickled onions”; escabeche meaning “pickle” also gave us ceviche and Jamaican escoveitch);
  • malassadas (Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras pancakes or donut holes);
  • Madeira wine;
  • and more.
Christmas Bolo de Mel (Madeiran Molasses Cake) (click on photo for original source and copyright)
wayne's garlic pork 3
Carne Vinha d’alhos and Cebolas de Escabeche * Christmas Garlic Pork and Pickled Onions * Courtesy and Copyright J. Wayne Quintal 2012
Carnival (pre-Lenten) Malassadas (click on photo for original source and copyright)

Both taboo words and religious references are remembered by relatively few. One taboo word, which is a curse, raios te partam (meaning “damn you”), is probably the origin of rash-patash (or raish-patraish), the pejorative name for Portuguese in Trinidad at one time (not all agree that it was a pejorative name, however). Another theory has it that raspa o tacho “scrape the pan” (or “dregs”) is the origin of this name.

Portuguese Outside the Home

Outside of the home, Portuguese was used in religious circles, cultural activities and business. Portuguese shops and rum shops were on every corner of Trinidad and later, Tobago. The Portuguese shop has been depicted by a number of artists, especially by Dermot (Govia) Louison and John Newel-Lewis. Portuguese was spoken by and among shop owners and clerks for many years.

Empire Bar, corner of Prince and Henry Streets, Port-of-Spain. This bar was one of three establishments owned by Manuel Augusto da Silva, a Madeiran merchant from São Roque who manufactured Mimosa Madeira Wine, his award-winning Aromatic Bitters, and more, copyright NALIS

The last Madeiran-owned shop was probably Luis de Sousa’s shop on the NW Cor. Edward and Queen Streets in Port-of-Spain, which closed in 1994. (Subway now stands there, and has preserved the exterior of the building.)

Portuguese in the Churches


For the Catholics as a religious group, very little about language use has been recorded. It appears that the language was hardly used in public worship, except in the following instances.

Writing of 1882 to 1884, the French Dominican missionary priest, Fr Bertrand Cothonay, noted that there were two inscriptions in Portuguese above the principal altar in the Our Lady of Fatima at Laventille church. This was one of the churches where the Portuguese celebrated the feast of Assumption in honour of Nossa Senhora do Monte, Madeira’s patron saint (origins of the Laventille Devotions – see also page 98 in Collens’ 1888 book). The language was heard during the visit of the Portuguese Princess Aldegonda and her husband, the Count de Bardi, in 1886, who attended the laying of the cornerstone of the Laventille church.  Catholic Portuguese with links to Madeira still remember Nossa Senhora do Monte.

The barrister Charles Reis tells us that a priest, Rev. P. McAlinney, who spoke Portuguese fluently, delivered a sermon in Portuguese at a High Mass in 1906. It is not known if this occurred more than once. There are no available or accessible records of Catholic priests in Trinidad undertaking to learn Portuguese nor any known cases of Portuguese priests being sent from Portugal for the Portuguese community in the 19th century. As we shall see, below, this was very different for the Presbyterians who received a few Portuguese-speaking ministers, native speakers and second language learners.


Despite the size of the small Portuguese group and of the even smaller Portuguese Presbyterian group, Portuguese was one of the few of Trinidad’s many languages to be regularly used in public worship in the 19th century, at first in Greyfriars and then in St Ann’s[1] In the case of the Portuguese Protestants, the Scottish keenly understood the importance of being able to relate to the newly arrived Portuguese refugee congregation in their own language. In this, they followed the example of the Scottish and Portuguese-speaking medical missionary to the Madeirans, Dr Robert Reid Kalley.

Greyfriars Church of Scotland, before the demolition in 2014 (click on photo for original source and copyright)

The first three ministers (and associate ministers) of the Portuguese Presbyterian congregation in Trinidad were all speakers of Portuguese – a Scotsman, Rev W.H. Hewitson, who learned the language and two native Madeiran-born speakers, A.N. da Silva and H. Vieira. The latter two were specifically chosen and ordained as ministers “for the special purpose of ministering to [their] fellow countrymen” according to Rev Gilbert Earle of the St Ann’s Church of Scotland  (minister from 1917 to 1929). A South African minister, Rev D.M. Walker, appointed in 1873, also learned Portuguese, and “[f]or a time Mr. Walker preached once every Sabbath in the Portuguese tongue, he having rapidly learned the language” (Collens 1888:109).

St Ann's
St Ann’s Church of Scotland, founded and built by Portuguese refugees, recently restored (click on photo for original source and copyright)

“…such of the old Portuguese Bibles as remain are kept as mementos of a half-forgotten romance.”

Besides the ministers, there were also supply ministers, elders and deacons who were Portuguese-speaking, most of whom had come as refugees from Madeira. Earle also tells us the former practice of bilingual services was discontinued within two or three generations and “such of the old Portuguese Bibles as remain are kept as mementos of a half-forgotten romance.” In addition to the Presbyterian ministers themselves, a Baptist minister reportedly learned the language in an effort to communicate with the Portuguese, as Rev William H. Gamble tells us in 1866.

It was clearly difficult for the language to survive in the church. This is because of decreasing numbers of speakers in an English-speaking church, whose children went to English language schools in an English-official territory.

Portuguese in the Clubs

The Associação Portuguesa Primeiro de Dezembro (Portuguese Association) on Richmond Street, was founded in 1905, as the Grupo Dramático Portuguêz. There, the Portuguese language was used for official purposes, such as Association rules, minutes of meetings, magazines and notices. It was also used in cultural activities such as drama, the purpose for which it was originally founded.

The language was proudly used during some public occasions, such as the visit of the Dom Carlos in 1910 which was cause for great celebration among the Portuguese, and the visit of the Princess Aldegonda mentioned above.

Reis attributed the demise of the language mainly to the growing influence of the English-speaking Portuguese Creoles (Luso-Trinidadians), but noted that the language still maintained some of its former position at the written level at the Association.

The Association did its best to sustain and promote various aspects of Portuguese culture, not the least of which was the language. In 1926, Reis tells us that one of its aims was “to establish schools for the instruction of members and their children and by degrees to enrich the library.” In 1927, Eduardo Sá Gomes of the Portuguese Association wrote two letters in Portuguese (with English translations) to the Editor of the Port-of-Spain Gazette.  

The Portuguese Club was founded later in 1927. This was due to the numbers of English-speaking and English-educated Portuguese Creole children of Madeirans who did not speak Portuguese. Many felt less and less connected to Madeira, and were no longer comfortable at the Association.

In 1931, the then newly arrived Portuguese Consul, A. Lino Franco, approached the Portuguese Club with the suggestion of the formation of a Portuguese school. The matter was discussed by the Club’s Board and questionnaires were distributed to various members of the community. However, such a project was not considered feasible and the school never materialised. (The Portuguese Magnolias Hockey Club, now Shandy Carib Magnolias, came out of this Club, and is referred to as the Portuguese Club.)

Writers of Portuguese Descent

There are many writers, composers and singers of Portuguese descent, but they all use English. A Portuguese immigrant, Maria Monica Reis Pestana (1902-1996), also wrote her memoirs entirely in English.

In the area of literature, Jean de Boissière, writing around 1945, claimed that the Portuguese of Trinidad created what little there existed that was genuinely of Trinidad in the Trinidadian literary scene of the time. This, of course, was a big claim. He was referring to Portuguese Trinidadians such as Albert M. Gomes and Alfred H. Mendes (D Litt UWI Honoris Causa 1972), members of the famous Beacon group. Gomes and Mendes produced their works in English, not in Portuguese, which was the language of their parents and grandparents. Both Gomes and Mendes tried to depict Portuguese characters by reproducing English and English Creole as spoken with a Portuguese accent.

The language died as a group marker and as a natural, spontaneous means of in-group communication. Adaptation and assimilation are normal for minority immigrant groups. A few individuals and families, mostly children and grandchildren of 20th century immigrants have managed to perpetuate the language to varying degrees to this day. Those who did not come in poverty may have had the time to focus on language preservation.

Many of those who come from families that were unable to or did not preserve the language are now willing to learn – a personal language and culture reclamation venture. They are doing so whether it be via Brazilian Portuguese courses and programmes in Trinidad, or by going to intensive courses in Madeira, or both.

ISO language code: [por]

(Approximate) date of arrival: 1630; the Madeirans left for Trinidad in November 1834 onwards

Main locations: Nationwide

Approximate number of users (Madeiran Portuguese descendants): Unknown

Current status (linguistic vitality/health): Varying levels of proficiency; only alive among a few with Madeiran parents or those born in Madeira, but of increasing interest to 3rd and 4th generation Luso-Trinbagonians

Academic works:

1) Jo-Anne S. Ferreira, The Portuguese of Trinidad and Tobago: Portrait of an Ethnic Minority, St Augustine: ISER, 1994;

2) Jo-Anne S. Ferreira, “The Portuguese Language in Trinidad and Tobago: A Study of Language Shift and Language Death” (PhD thesis, UWI, St Augustine, 1999);

3) Miguel Vale de Almeida, “Ser português na Trinidad: Etnicidade, subjectividade e poder,” Etnográfica 1.1 (1997):9-31), and also An Earth-Colored Sea: ‘Race’, Culture and the Politics of the Post-Colonial Portuguese-speaking World (New York: Bergahn Books, 2004), translation of Um Mar da Cor da Terra.

Vale de Almeida  AlmeidaEarth

Work in progress: Oral history project

Novels, Short Stories and More:

  • Alfred Mendes’ 1934 novel, Pitch Lake and his 2002 autobiography (edited by Michele Levy),
  • Albert Gomes’ 1978 novel, All Papa’s Children and his 1974 autobiography Though a Maze of Colour,
  • Charles Reis’ two books on the Associação Portuguesa Primeiro de Dezembro (the Portuguese Association) (1926 and 1945),
  • Maria Monica Reis Pestana’s Travelling Memories with Tips and Jokes from 1910 to 1984 (1988, published as Monica M.P. Ries),
  • Writings by Anthony (Camacho) Milne,
  • José Ferreira Fernandes’ Madeirenses Errantes (2004), about the Presbyterian Portuguese, and accompanying documentary (in Portuguese, with some interviews in English),
  • Trinidad and Tobago Readers Book Three: Where We All Came From, a primary school book which includes the fictional story of Pedro, a Madeiran boy who migrated to Trinidad with his family,
  • and numerous 19th and 20th century accounts and writings.

Mendes A Gomes A Pestana Monica Trinidad and Tobago Readers 9789895550616


Other media: Angel in a Cage, set in 1929, the first of a planned trilogy of films by Canada-based Mary Jane Gomes (1998)

Angel 1 Angel 2

Selected vocabulary and other contributions to T&T language and our dictionary:

Both are related to Christmas festivities. (Bacalhau is Portuguese, but in Trinidad, the better known version of bacalao came from Spanish.)

Other Portuguese-origin words:  As Jean de Boissière noted, the mid-19th century Madeiran Portuguese immigrants in Trinidad were not from the same era or community of those continental Portuguese slave traders who had started to come to the Americas centuries before.

This distinction is important since the Madeirans who came as labourers and refugees were not the contributors of most Portuguese words to Caribbean languages. Those slave traders had had the monopoly on trafficking between Africa and the Americas between the 15th to the 17th centuries, and had contributed a number of well-known and widespread words found in Caribbean languages, including words such as the following:

  • molasses,
  • mustee,
  • pickney, and
  • sabi.

(Others, such as bagasse, balangene, caca, creole and mulatto, also have French and Spanish roots. All three languages belong to the Romance or Italic branch of the Indo-European family tree.)

Did you know? Lusophone, the word for ‘Portuguese-speaking’, is based on Lusitania, the old name for Portugal.

There are Portuguese descendants and communities throughout the English-speaking and Dutch-speaking Caribbean and Guyanas.

Venezuela currently has 400,000 Portuguese emigrants, and an active and vibrant community of Luso-Venezuelans and Portuguese with almost 70 Portuguese associations nationwide. There is also the Federação Americana de Luso-Descendentes (FEDEAMELUDE), for Luso-descendants of the Americas, based in Venezuela. The Embassy and Consulate of Portugal are based in Caracas, and Trinidad and Tobago has an honorary consulate, with Ignatius Ferreira as Honorary Consul.

In Madeira, there is the Centro das Comunidades Madeirenses, with its own Facebook page, serving Madeiran communities around the world. Their newsletter is full of exciting and up-to-date information about Madeira and happenings there, including intensive summer courses for Madeiran descendants (history, language, linguistics, literature and culture).

[1]  Other known ‘religious’ languages of the 19th century included Latin, Spanish, French, Hindi, Arabic, Yoruba, and probably Tamil and Telugu. In the 20th century, if not before, the list grows to include Chinese languages, Korean, and Trinidad & Tobago Sign Language and other sign languages.

Special thanks to J. Wayne Quintal, researcher and writer on the Portuguese of San Fernando, for his insightful and helpful comments.  


100 thoughts on “Portuguese in Trinidad

    1. Thanks for taking your precious time in researching the Portuguese Roots in Trinidad. It certainly made interesting reading.
      My parents migrated from Funchal, Madeira, and made Trinidad their home. I am married and live in Toronto. It’s too bad the language did not survive the generation.

    1. Thanks very much, Betty. I appreciate your comments. Feel free to let me know if there is anything else you would like to see researched. Best wishes.

  1. Very enlightening for my family and my off springs of Trini roots, also I learnt an enormous wealth of portuguese of our past ofwhich I can relate,, Thanks verry much for your enlightenment.

  2. Thanks, Darryl. I hope that we can all help to piece most of the jigsaw back together – so many questions still to answer. And yes, this is Trini history. As I will always say, the country needs not to forget any of the blocks on which it was built, no matter how tiny the block.

  3. Can you please edit your first paragraph and put the name Gomes among the other Portuguese names. The Gomes clan including Albert who was first minister should be part of the History books of our nation. Did you know that Carlton Gomes was Minister of Education? He was part of Eric Williams government.

    1. Hello amol, thanks for your comment! Sure! If you scroll down, you will also see the names Gomes and Sá Gomes mentioned 11 times. Of course, that random selection was just a third of the 100 plus names that came here. Yes, I have mentioned Carlton Gomes in my book. This short piece is about the language, and my book and other writings deal with history, culture, genealogy, people, etc. All the best, and feel free to point out anything else you’d like to see.

  4. Very informative on learning of my ancestors history my great grandmother was Joaquim and I don’t know of any of her side of the family in Trinidad, but it’s always great to know how great the Portuguese influence was in Trinidad. Thank you.

    1. Hi Nicole – you are right. The influence and impact were bigger than most think. CXC is now introducing Portuguese in the curriculum and Guyanese schools will be taking it up (because of Brazil). Imagine if this were possible even 50 years ago in Trinidad!

  5. Many thanks for this precious research. I am Luso-French myself and curious about any kind of roots around the world.

    1. Merci à vous, François. Muito obrigada – I love hearing and sharing and learning about different communities too. I got two extremely interesting books from the Librarie Portugaise et Brésilienne about Portuguese emigration to France. Always want to learn more. Did you grow up speaking Portuguese?

      1. Ola Jo-Anne. Yes, I did grow up speaking Portuguese at home and French at school and I know I am extremely lucky for this opportunity.
        Nao ha problema nenhum para partilhar informaçoes e muito mais. Com muito prazer.

  6. I found the article very interesting and informative. I had not know that the Portuguese in Trinidad originated from Madeira. I had assumed that they came from mainland Portugal. I am a Trinidadian living in the UK but with strong links to Portugal, where I go several times each year. The people I speak with in Portugal are always surprised to learn of the strong Portuguese presence in Trinidad and always surprised that I can spell their names quite easily.

    1. Hi Miriam. Yes! That is wonderful to hear. Isn’t it great that the Portuguese of T&T created language sensitivity among us? 🙂 It has happened in Guyana too.

  7. The Portuguese in Trinidad & Tobago’s can claim a half share in the country’s first British Empire and Commonwealth Games sprint gold medallist (Vancouver, B.C. Canada 1954), you might be interested to know. My mother was a Govia, one of John and Lola Govia’s 14 children who made it to maturity.
    Also, some of the many other outstanding sporting achievements of my older brother, Colin, as well as several of my uncles, including Sackie and Henry Govia, all fine footballers who represented T&T.
    Thank you for your excellent work and information therefrom.
    Kind regards,
    Michael “Mike” Agostini
    Sydney, Australia

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Mike. May I contact you when I start to write more about these achievements? Thanks again!

  8. My husband’s family name is Affonso so I found this article fascinating. My father-in-law died several years ago and my son’s generation would have no means of learning this part of their heritage.

  9. Thank you, Jo-Anne, for this first-class, wonderful report on the Portuguese in Trinidad, as well as in Guyana, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Vincent and elsewhere. I visited Madeira in 1963 while travelling to Ireland. Our ship docked in Funchal Harbour on the day when the people were celebrating the feast of Nossa Senhora do Monte. I never connected the dots re. Our Lady of Laventille with Nossa Senhors do Monte until now, but I can see the connection. I’ll email you on the matter.

    1. Thanks a mil, Nigel! Great to hear from you again. Got your e-mails and will be delving into the doc tomorrow! My Granny also remembered a Mt St Benedict procession in connection with Nossa Senhora do Monte – have to double check. Thanks again!

  10. Does anyone know the whereabouts of the Gomes family in the UK. I would love to be able to contact them as I grew up with the children of the Politician you speak of in your report. He had 21 children ranging from the age of 35 to a baby when I knew them.

  11. Thank you for this report. My family name is Fernandes and I found your article to be so interesting – remembering the foods and all the family names. I live now in Canada and my daughter has married into the Azorean Portuguese culture so I have been getting “back to my roots” and I speak to the in-laws about the various foods, etc.

    1. Thanks very much, and thanks for sharing, Jill! I know of a Pereira from Trinidad also married into an Azorean Canadian family. Do your daughter’s in-laws continue to speak Portuguese?

      1. my daughter’s in-laws, although they have been in Canada for almost 40 years, always speak Portuguese (and very little English), and my son-in-law also is fluent as is his brother. My grandchildren are learning both English and Portuguese.

  12. Great work, Jo-Anne. If you ever come up with some Graça in the islands, I would like to know about that. Our origin seems to the Northern Portugal town of Póvoa de Varzim. This was a main fishing area and a lot of the dwellers there were sailors. I know of several of my ancestors who sailed to Brazil, so, who knows, maybe some ended up in Trinidad or neighbour islands.

    1. Olá, António! I will definitely keep my eyes and ears open. Some names were translated and so seem to have disappeared and some families with daughters only did lose the names with our patrilineal naming practices. Would love to explore the Brazil connections.

  13. How wonderful to read this account of the Portuguese in Trinidad. There are a few living in Melbourne and indeed all over Australia that I know of. I will be forwarding the link to this historic piece. Congratulations Jo-Anne. Do you know if anyone did the same for the many other nations represented in Trinidad ? That would be great to have.
    Pat Thomas
    The Caribbean Association of Victoria – CaribVic

    1. Hello, Pat, many thanks!

      This is actually part of a language series, “Language Matters” for our 50th anniversary of independence, starting here: http://sta.uwi.edu/stan/article12.asp (the introduction). We did an introduction to the eleven Amerindian languages (http://sta.uwi.edu/stan/article13.asp), and Spanish (http://sta.uwi.edu/stan/article14.asp). Those three are in this issue: http://sta.uwi.edu/stan/archives/STANaprjune2012.pdf

      Yoruba is in this one: http://sta.uwi.edu/stan/archives/STANjul-sep2012.pdf
      Patois is in this one: http://sta.uwi.edu/stan/archives/STANoct2012dec2013.pdf
      Arabic is here: https://languageblag.com/2015/02/10/arabic-in-trinidad-and-tobago/

      And Cantonese, Bhojpuri, Trinidadian, Tobagonian, T&T Sign Language are all to follow.

      As for non-linguistic, non-language studies, there are a number of books, theses, articles, chapters and other works on nearly every ethnic and ethnolinguistic group in Trinidad: the Spanish (mainly Dr Sylvia Moodie-Kublalsingh), the French (mainly Fr Anthony de Verteuil), the Yorubas and other Africans (Prof Maureen Warner-Lewis and quite a few others), Indians (Dr Peggy Mohan on Bhojpuri, but sociological and anthropological studies by many others), Chinese (mainly Prof Walton Look Lai and a few others), the Irish (Fr de Verteuil), the Syrians and Lebanese (some links in the article above by Dr Ramon Mansoor). For Tobago, there is Dr Susan Craig-James and many, many others.

      Hope this helps!

      Best regards

  14. I lived in Trinidad for about 12 years (mid 50’s to mid 60’s) and was aware of the mixture and cosmopolitan culture, but did not fully know it full history. Thank you for enlightening me.



    1. Thank you very much for sharing, Philip. That was so interesting! I am glad you have seen your grandparents’ birth records. So nice to hear about your son. 🙂 I will drop you a line. Sincere regards

  17. Hi Jo-Anne, interesting read. I’m trying to verify whether my grandfather whose name was Sidney Gilbert was of Portugese descent as I was told by my father. I have no information about him other than my aunt saying he was called the ‘ wandering jew.’

    1. Hi Sandre, great to hear from you! Gilberto is a Portuguese name, and a lot of Portuguese names became anglicised (Francisco to Francis, João to John and others, probably more in the USA than here). I will ask around and see if anyone knows. Do you have some dates for him (like birth, etc.)? Feel free to write me at jsferreira (a) yahoo.com. Best regards, Jo-Anne

  18. Hi Joanne,

    Wonderful article! My husband’s family are Fernandes’. My father in law J.B Fernandes father came from Madeira but sadly died before my children were born and their grandmother was also of Portugeuese origin. Lovely to be able to share this information with them and for me as well.

    Keep up the good work.

    Michelle Fernandes

    1. Hello Michelle! Wonderful to hear from you. You and your family have a very rich and exciting heritage. I think JB needs his own biography – it would be wonderful to see that one day. All the best to you and yours, Jo-Anne

  19. Hi Joanne,

    Very interesting & enlightening reading, particularly your reference to the visit of the Dom Carlos and the formation of the Grupo Dramático Portuguêz, both of which I have a special interest. My family name is ‘de Montbrun’, but my mother’s family (maiden name is da Costa) is of Portuguese origin. For reasons unknown to me, my de Montbrun ancestors were very involved in the Portuguese community in Trinidad. Dr. Domingo A. de Montbrun in his official capacity as the Consul to Portugal (appointed in 1893 to his death in 1914) welcomed the Portuguese Cruiser ‘Dom Carlos I’, in Port of Spain Harbour on July 6, 1910. He was also involved in the Grupo at the ealiest stages of their formation during a Concert staged at the St. Rose’s Girls R.C. School on September 27, 1905 by the ‘Grupo Dramatico Portuguez’ in honour of the birthdays of the King and Queen of Portugal and funding assistance for a society of ladies forming a Portuguese branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I’m curious about the connection of a Venezuelan immigrant doctor to the Portuguese community in Trinidad. As far as I am aware, he did not have any family connections to Portugal. Do documents still exist from Dr. de Montbrun’s tenure as the Portuguese Consul that can shed light on the subject? .

    Best Regards,

    Alan de Montbrun

    1. Hi Alan

      Great to hear from you. I am very grateful to you for reposting all those interesting documents from Charles Reis and elsewhere that detail the de Montbrun connections to the Portuguese community in T&T. It is always great to have easy online access to them and to point people in your direction.

      I can ask if there are documents that still exist, but so far I have not seen or heard of any. I wonder if that kind of information would be in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (or the equivalent) when T&T was a British colony, or if the current Honorary Consul knows anything. It would be wonderful to find out more. I do know of businessmen who are honorary consuls of countries with which they have no apparent connection, other than maybe an ability to speak the language.

      Thank you again for your posts and your comments, and if I find out anything, I will be sure to let you know.

      Sincere regards

    2. Hi Alan My name is Nelly Jiménez and my son is Alan Montbrun Jiménez from Venezuela. So please excuse me if occasionally the translation is not perfect, because my English isn’t that good… I’m doing an history and genealogy of Montbrun Families I have information about your ancestors'(from Gnal. José Leandro Montbrun Zamorán 1798-1885 and particulary the immigration from Venezuela to Trinidad & Tobago in 1830 (Dr. Domingo Antonio Montbrun Otero) to Landy Montbrun Laughin 1899-1960 and his wife Grace Watson and children (Lance, Alan, Patrick, Patricia Ann and Peter) I supoose that you are son any one of them. I am very interested in how we can share information mi E-mail is vickkia@hotmail.com

  20. Very insightful and thorough…..thank you, this was very enlightening……always enjoy reading about our history

  21. Great work here. I am a lover of history and genealogy. My mother’s paternal grandparents are vincentians of mixed portuguese descent. In St. Vincent the Portuguese were referred to as ‘potoguee’ (my transliteration of vincentian creole). I also recognise the name Dos Santos as it was the surname of my great uncle on my grandmother’s side.

  22. Thanks for this article! I only got bits and pieces from my grandmother as a child. My aunt is also currently working on a family tree, so I’m quite sure this research will help a lot.

  23. Hi Jo, Nice reading as usual. Just a few words of encouragement for you to continue your fine work on the history, traditions and contributions of the original Portuguese of Trinidad and Tobago, … a relatively small group that formed such an important part of this wildly rich and proud heritage that we have in our twin-island republic today.

    1. Thanks, Wayne. Always appreciate your input. 😀 I love that “wildly rich and proud heritage” – our nation is blessed in many splendoured ways.

  24. Oh this is really so interesting. I have not read all of it. But I noticed that the Francisco name was changed to Francis my husband is from Guyana their name was changed from Francisco. Also Michael Agostini is my first cousin he mentioned my dad Sackie Govia playing soccer for T&T. Wayne Quintal is my sister in law’s brother. Xavier’s are my cousins and my brother in law is Anthony Xavier. Serrao’s are also in laws. Defreitas is cousins Gomes more in laws. My brother married a Dos Santos. My mother was a Franco her mom was a D’oliverie Camacho’s are my cousins. I think I am related in some form to almost every name mentioned. I love reading about my ancestry

    1. All of what you wrote was wonderful to read, Bernadette – glad to know that Sackie Govia is your father! Hope you enjoy the rest of the blog, and feel free to comment and contribute as you like!

  25. Really wonderful to read all of this, in addition to your book which captures so much information about the Portuguese. Even the comments here were fascinating as I saw many names I recognized and am related to through marriage. I think it is very important that the next generation knows as much as possible about the ones that went before, especially for those of us who do not live in Trinidad any more. Thank you for your dedication in documenting the panoramic role played by a significant contributor to the “Trini culture”.

  26. Thanks very much for your feedback, Wendy. I agree that we need to leave as full a picture as possible for the next generation(s), about every aspect of our T&T story. All the best to you and your family this Christmas and beyond!

    1. My sister and her family all have Portuguese passports. My family is Govia and her husband is Xavier. I know you can ask my brother in law he can walk you thru the procedure Anthony Xavier. They still live in Trinidad I live here in Canada in Oshawa you can contact me thru messenger

      1. I really don’t know myself. Do you have all the information. I will ask Anthony I know they went to Portugal as well.

      2. I would think you will need full names and place of birth. I cannot say for certain. You may have to have documents to prove that you are the great grand daughter of ……… Born in whatever year in the town of ….. Madeira
        Since I have not done it I am not sure.

      3. I was reading the blog. So much of my family comment here and I found Anne Marie Inglefield posted information on how to find your ancestors from Madeira. She listed two sites. Scroll up the blog and you should find it

  27. Hi Jo-Anne, I really enjoyed reading your excellent presentation. It brings back so many memories of peoples names and places which I know and have known. A prominent one was the Nunes family who owned a rum shop at the corner of pro Queen & Devenish Street in Arima during the mid 1950’s.
    The first place ever saw grape growing in T & T was in the front of heir home.

  28. hello I found this page while doing Ancestry research. I was a Hernandez, my mother a Fernandes whose paternal grandmother was a Gomes from Madeira. I was born in trinidad & Tobago but now live in canada. I am looking into the possibilty of a portugese passport for my son who is 16 and plays high level soccer, if he can get an EU passport it opens up more opportunities for him. Can you give me any info

  29. Jo-Anne, I come across your work time and again in my family history searches. So glad that someone is preserving the history there. My grandmother’s Portuguese family came through Trinidad. I wonder if you know whether any of the church records were preserved in the Catholic or Protestant churches prior to 1910? Thank you for doing this great work.

    1. Hello, Jessica!
      Thank you for your encouragement – glad to know my work is useful!
      Greyfriars’ and St Ann’s Church of Scotland have records of the Protestant Portuguese before 1910 – http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~portwestind/research/archives/st_anns_baptisms.htm – these have been microfilmed and are in the UWI West Indiana Division of the Alma Jordan Library (at St Augustine).
      I am not sure about the Catholic records though. I will try to find out.
      Best wishes

  30. Hello Jo Anne,
    I have just finished reading your fascinating research. My Grandfather, George Harold Pereira,
    was born and raised in Trinidad, and was sent to Edinburgh, Scotland, to study medicine around
    1850. He fell in love with and married an Edinburgh girl, my Grandmother Florence Steele. They
    spent their honeymoon in Trinidad, but my grandmother refused ever to return as she never
    recovered from the shock of discovering a foot-long centipede in their room! I am ashamed to
    admit that I really know nothing about my Great Grandparents, but having read your thesis, it
    seems quite possible that they were immigrants from Madeira. I would love to find out more and
    would be so grateful if you could point me in the right direction.

    Best Wishes,
    John Pereira.

    1. Hi John Pereira,

      I have your grandfather in my family tree! I believe your great-grandfather George was the brother of my great-grandmother Christine (b 1864). I am also trying to find out more about the previous generation (John Pereira and Antonia Alexander, and the prior generation Antoinette du Roi (?) and a Scotsman called Alexander, as well as the Gomez side. My g-grandfather was Joseph Gomez (b 1863).

      Isn’t it amazing to be able to find connections like this just by doing a google search!

      Regards, Jessie

    2. Hi John

      Sorry for the tardy reply. I was convinced that I had replied. How are you getting through with your research? Do you have your great-grandparents’ names?

      Looking forward to hearing from you.

      All best wishes

  31. Hi Jessie Tamas,
    My great grandfather was Joe Gomez, his wife was Christina Gomez, b 1864 so it looks like our tree is connected. I have been trying to find more information on the Gomez and Pereira side as well.
    Good luck with your search!

    1. Hello Ian,
      I have recently connected with Richard Nunes (your brother perhaps?) on ancestry.com and we are now sharing tree information. Our grandparents were siblings (Edith Edmeee Gomez and George Robert Gomez).
      Regards, Jessie

      1. Hello Jessie,
        Yes, Richard is my brother, and he has been doing most of the legwork in trying to re-construct our family tree. It’s great that you are able to collaborate with him!
        Have you seen this site: http://www.valsheppard.com/untitled-c1kfr there is a lot of great information about George.

      2. Thanks Ian, I know the site. Feel free to contact me directly (Richard has my email). Please let me know if you make any discoveries on earlier generations, prior to Trinidad.

        Best wishes, Jessie

  32. Here is a longer list:

    Abreu (d’Abreu)
    Andrade (d’Andrade)
    Caires (de Caires)
    Cambra (de Cambra)
    Castro (de Castro)
    Costa (da Costa)
    Cunha (da Cunha)
    Francisco (Francis)
    Freitas (de Freitas)
    Gama (de Gama)
    Goes (de Goeas)
    Gomes (Gomez)
    Gonçalves (Gonsalves)
    Gouveia (Govia, Goveia)
    Jardim (Jardine)
    Jesus (de Jesus)
    João (John)
    Luz (da Luz)
    Marques (Marquez)
    Matas (de Matas)
    Menezes (Meneses)
    Netto (Nettinho)
    Neves (Nieves)
    Nóbrega (de Nobriga)
    Oliveira (d’Oliveira)
    Ornelas (d’Ornellas)
    Paiva (de Paiva)
    Peiza (de Peiza)
    Pimento (Pimenta)
    Ramos (dos Ramos)
    Rezende (Resende)
    Sá Gomes
    Saldanha (Saldenha)
    Santos (dos Santos)
    Silva (de/da Silva)
    Soares (Suares)
    Sousa (de Souza)
    Vasconcellos (Vasconcelos)

  33. Hi Jo-Anne,
    My name is Faye Wells nee Fernandes and I totally enjoyed reading about the Portuguese in Trinidad. It has peaked my interest in finding out more about my Portuguese ancestry. My father was Ovid Fernandes, his father Cyril Fernandes and his mother’s full name was Maria josephina Gomes Born 28-04-1861 in Maderia, Portugal. She Left for Demerara Guyana at the age of 17 years. I am hoping to visit Maderia in September and visit places my family may have lived.

      1. Hi Faye, thanks for your message! Sharon, so sorry for the delayed response.

        Do you know Cyril’s father’s name, and where he was born? Was Cyril born in Trinidad or Guyana? It should be possible to find Maria Josephina Gomes’ information here: http://abm.madeira.gov.pt/pt/acesso-aos-documentos/arquivos/ but that site is down tonight. I will check again tomorrow.

        Sharon, I know of a similar case to yours – an applicant who has a paternal grandparent and succeeded in both Portuguese citizenship for themselves and for their under 18 child. They both had to learn Portuguese and pass an exam, and prove links to the Portuguese community in T&T. Email me at jsferreira@yahoo.com and I will give you the contact information.

        Cheers to you both, will be in touch

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