The Festival of Santa Rosa

If you live in Trinidad and Tobago, then you are probably not hearing about the Santa Rosa festival for the first time. But do you know about it’s history? Let’s dig into that.

The Santa Rosa festival is a historic event that has survived for many centuries. It is the oldest indigenous festival celebrated in Trinidad and Tobago. The festival is celebrated to pay tribute to the First Peoples of the New World and to highlight their culture to the nation and the world.

According to oral history, this celebration began over 300 years ago by the Caribs of Arima. The Caribs were American-Indian people who lived in parts of the neighboring South American coast and in the islands at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Three Caribs allegedly saw a manifestation of the Rose of Lima “Santa Rosa”, (the first new world person declared a saint by the Roman Catholic church). This happened at a time when they were resisting conversion to Catholicism. Rosa, the priests claimed, was born in Arima and taken to Peru by her parents where she dedicated her whole life to helping the poor.

Her manifestation in Trinidad led to the construction of a church in 1759 dedicated to Santa Rosa de Arima. The underground spring where the men saw her still exists to date, but is now known as Santa Rosa Heights. The community has maintained the traditional survival systems and practices including the cultivation of cassava, processing methods and other farming activities.

The Santa Rosa Carib Festival takes place in August in the week leading up to Independence Day (August 31). The ceremonies include:

  • The crowning of the Carib Queen, an elder matron of the community who performs the role of focusing on their heritage and traditions
  • A church procession and performance of some of their traditional and ritual activities
  • Smoke ceremonies and prayer
  • The preparation and purchase of cassava bread

On the last day of the celebration, the statue of the saint is beautifully arrayed and displayed to the public at the Santa Rosa RC Church. In essence, the Santa Rosa festival is the celebration of our indigenous people, history, and culture.

What is your favorite thing about the Santa Rosa Festival?

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