Trini Phrase: Tabanca


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Tabanca, tabanka, tabankca, tobanca (n) (Grenada, Guyana, Trinidad): A painful feeling of unrequited love from loving someone who does not love in return, especially someone who was once a lover or spouse.

Tabanca is a cultural concept that holds great significance in the folklore of Grenada, Guyana, and Trinidad. It represents the feeling of unreturned love and heartbreak that can consume a person entirely. This blog post explores the origins and meanings of tabanca, how it is expressed in language and art, and its overall cultural importance.

The Origins of Tabanca 

The word “tabanca” has no reliable derivation, but some possibilities have been proposed. One such possibility is the Kikongo word “Tabaka,” which means to sell out or buy up completely. However, the exact origins of the word still need to be clarified.

Despite the lack of a clear etymology, tabanca is a powerful concept that has endured through generations. It is a feeling of intense pain and heartbreak that arises from unrequited love or the loss of a lover or spouse. It is a complex and multifaceted emotion that has inspired music, poetry, and other forms of artistic expression.

Tabanca in Language 

Tabanca has had a significant impact on the language of the Caribbean, particularly in Trinidad and Tobago. The term is commonly used in Calypso music, often associated with heartbreak and unrequited love.

Every day is a complaint
She want to burn down Port of Spain
And if ah raise meh hand at all
You surprise to hear how she will bawl
It’s the same behaviour
Mama yo, butt likе fire
Ah can’t take it no longer
You know ah nеarly dead with tabanca

For example, in the song “A Sailor Man” by Sparrow, the lyrics say, “It’s the same behaviour, Horn like fire, I longer, You know I nearly dead with Tabanca.” The words express the intensity of the feeling, which can be overwhelming and all-consuming.

As a result, Tabanca is also often used in conversation to describe a person who is very infatuated or passionately in love. It is a word that captures the depth of emotion that people feel while in the throes of an intense romance.

Tabanca in Art and Culture 

Tabanca has been a rich source of inspiration for artists and writers in the Caribbean. Emotion has been captured in music, poetry, visual art, and other forms of artistic expression.

One example of tabanca in art is the painting “The Tabanca Series” by Trinidadian artist LeRoy Clarke. The series consists of a collection of images that explore the themes of love, loss, and heartbreak. The paintings are vivid and evocative, capturing the intense emotion of tabanca powerfully and movingly.

Caribbean writers, like Derek Walcott, often explore the theme of lost love and unrequited feelings in their literature. Walcott’s “Love After Love” encourages readers to find hope and start anew, even in the midst of despair.


Tabanca is a complex and powerful emotion that has played a significant role in the culture and folklore of Grenada, Guyana, and Trinidad. A feeling of unrequited love and heartbreak can consume a person’s entire being. Despite the lack of a clear etymology, the word has endured through generations and has become a rich source of inspiration for artists and writers in the Caribbean.

Tabanca is an emotion deeply felt and powerfully expressed in music, poetry, and art. It captures the depth of human experience and reminds us of the universal nature of love and heartbreak. Yet, in the end, tabanca is a reminder that even amid pain and heartbreak, there is always the possibility of hope and new beginnings.


Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage by Richard Allsopp

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