Earlier this week, I heard a bit of a radio discussion about the findings of the 2011 Population and Housing Census. The conversation going on was about the lowered percentage of Africans and Indians and the increase in the mixed category. They also talked about the methodology; how the census-taker was obliged to record the answers given, whether or not they seemed accurate—this was all in the context of ethnicity—and I was surprised at the level of cynicism by the hosts.
The issue was that if a man looked obviously African and said he was Indian, should the census-taker accept that. It made me smile.
All my life, people have doubted that I am Indian; from smallhood, I was called "dougs", and even today, people assume I am mixed. It is not uncommon at all. How many people we know have names that cause confusion? How many people do we find it harder to place in terms of their racial composition? This is one of the defining qualities of Trinidad.
The census has thrown up many interesting figures which must whet the appetites of researchers.
In just the area of ethnicity, the CSO's Director of Statistics, Dave Clement, said the country is becoming an increasingly mixed population as there had been a 2.3 per cent increase in this group. The figures, collected during the period from January 9 to May 31, 2011, say that 35.4 per cent of the population is East Indian and 34.2 per cent of African origin, with the mixed population standing at 22.8 per cent and rising. Those first two figures were somewhere in the mid-forties at the last count, and practically neck and neck. But it has been obvious for a long time that soon, the largest ethnic group is going to be the one described as mixed.
The Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development, Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie, who launched the survey, thought the findings established Trinidad and Tobago as a "a nation of ethnic minorities".
"The group classified as mixed is 22.8 per cent, and of these, 7.7 per cent are what we refer to as douglas, and 15.1 per cent are mixed but not Indian/African mix. All other ethnic groups totalled 1.4 per cent, and 6.2 per cent of the population did not declare an ethnicity," Tewarie reportedly said.
He also cited figures for Tobago that said 85.2 per cent of the population was of African descent, with 8.5 per cent mixed and 2.54 per cent Indian.
The data gathered in a census is generally used for planning; and one imagines the report will be studied carefully by various interest groups.
Given the ethnicity figures and the indication that the mixed group is the one that is increasing, it would be interesting to see how it affects the politics of the country, long defined by tribalism and ethnic demarcations.
Of the mixed group, only 7.7 per cent come from an Indian-African mixture; other mixtures were twice that number. Overall, that this group is the only one that is increasing tells us something about what we might look like another decade from this census. For those with the capacity to look ahead, it would be a good time to rethink the practice of appealing to ethnicity to make up the belly of political support.
There was another element of the report that I found intriguing. It is common to find that people are living longer around the world, and maybe less so, but not surprising, that the youths are in decline, but T&T has had an almost indiscernible population increase. Although the country stands at 1,328,019, which is its highest recorded population, it is apparently growing at a mere crawl.
"In the period under review, the decade between 2000 and 2011, the population of Trinidad and Tobago grew by only one-half per cent, one tenth of a percentage point more than the decade before. We have 65,653 more people in 2011 in Trinidad and Tobago than we had in the year 2000," Minister Tewarie is quoted as saying on the Government website. He was also reported to have said that this decline could indicate that the populace was being more careful in its family planning choices, having fewer children.
It so happened that just a couple of days before the launch of the census report in February, the findings of a study done by the Trinidad and Tobago IVF and Fertility Centre were shared with the public.
The findings revealed that 34 per cent of T&T males have a low sperm count, and for some perspective, apparently, the international average is between 17 and 18 per cent.
The study was conducted between 2009 and 2011 and analysed 663 sperm samples and found that local men with no sperm at all (9.4 per cent) were twice the international average (4.49).
The Guardian report by Zahra Gordon quotes Dr Catherine Minto-Bain, who worked on the study, as saying there are some known factors which could affect sperm. "Diets high in saturated fats and alcohol, nicotine and marijuana abuse", wrote Gordon, were named as some.
All those elements are deeply entrenched in our culture and no signs suggest that they will go away. What it means for the future, perhaps our researchers can tell us. Certainly, the next census will have intriguing patterns to show.