By: Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq.
Trinidad’s Pitch Lake is a world wonder. It is the largest and richest source of natural asphalt. The lake contains approximately 10 million tons of asphalt, spans 100 acres, and is approximately 250 feet deep. For reference, that is about 2 times larger than Grand Central Station and deeper than the height of Cinderella’s castle at Disney World.
The Amerindian word for asphalt was “piche.” Scientifically speaking, Pitch Lake is located at the intersection of two faults. When the oil at the intersection rises, and the sun evaporates the lighter elements in the oil, the heavier elements remain and form the asphalt. Kerosene and oil also have been harvested from the Pitch Lake.
Legend says that a local tribe was celebrating a victory against a rival tribe. However, in the midst of their celebrations, they began to cook and eat the sacred hummingbird. God allegedly punished the group by opening the Earth and creating the Pitch Lake to swallow their souls. God left the Pitch Lake as a reminder to others of the tribe’s terrible sin. Local villages believe this legend because Amerindian artifacts and bones were found preserved (due to the asphalt) near the lake.
The Europeans first learned of the Pitch Lake when Sir Walter Raleigh visited the island in 1595, around the time he was looking for El Dorado. The natives took Raleigh to the lake and he used the asphalt to caulk his ship. The asphalt was “most excellent,” in his opinion, because it did not melt in the sun like the Norwegian asphalt.
In 1887, an American businessman secured a 42-year monopoly on the lake. Thus, many of the first asphalt roads in New York City, Washington D.C., and other eastern U.S. cities were paved using the asphalt from Trinidad’s Pitch Lake. However, much of the Pitch Lake’s profits went abroad to a foreign investor and not to the local Trinidadian population.
Like Trinidad's Pitch Lake, recent oil finds in the Caribbean warrant heightened scrutiny from Caribbean nations to ensure that foreign investors (1) engage in corporate social responsibility, and (2) avoid taking advantage of the developing nations. This can be achieved with increased education of history, diplomatic relations, and legal rights (including contracts and trademarks).
MDGR LAW is committed to helping protect brands with trademark applications, trademark office actions, contracts, and various civil litigation matters.
Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. is of Trinidadian and Guyanese descent. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, a minor degree in History, a minor degree in Criminology, and a Juris Doctor degree.
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