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How Tobago got its name

Monday, July 29, 2013

In conquest, naming is a symbolic part of taking possession. And few Caribbean islands today retain their original Amerindian name—Jamaica being an exception, Haiti another—albeit for the whole island. There are different stories about the name “Tobago.” Some say Tobago is of Amerindian origin. Others note it as a Spanish word. The archaeologist Arie Boomert adds stories of pre-Columbian names for Tobago such as Urupaina and Aloubaéra too. 


In the Kali’na (Carib) language spoken by Amerindians of Trinidad, Tobago, and the Orinoco Valley, Urupaina meant “big/large snail,” while the name Aloubaéra comes from the Amerindians of Dominica and Martinique and was first recorded by French missionaries. They noted this was the name Amerindians gave Tobago.


One explanation offered for why both groups used these names for Tobago connects to an Amerindian myth who’s central character is a monstrous snake. Alloüebéra or Oloubera, was the name some Amerindians groups gave to the snake. 


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