Knowing the history of the Caribbean region goes a long way toward understanding its People. Each island has a unique CULTURAL identity shaped by the European colonialists, the African heritage of slaves, and the enduring legacies of the native Indian tribes. This rich history and its lasting influence is set against a backdrop of crystal clear waters and perpetual sunshine. The majority of the caribbean islands were once called the West Indies and this lifestyle is undoubtedly a product of its tropical setting. The music, architecture, attitudes and customs have all, in some way, been shaped by the physical landscape and climate. The cultures of the Caribbean countries are a blend of colonial mainstays and pervasive influences by major ethnic groups of the region.Barbados, a former British colony, retains enough British traditions to be called “Little England.” Antigua, while offering a more laid-back attitude, still observes old British customs. On the other hand, Jamaica retains few of the colonial customs, relies heavily on pre-colonial heritage and is passionately self-sufficient. Jamaica also boasts a successful democracy and maintains a peaceful existence in the Caribbean. It’s residents run the gamut from staid English aristocrats to vibrant Rastafarians. Aruba, once a Dutch possession, only retains slight Dutch influence today. The U.S. Virgin Islands, purchased from the Dutch in 1917, mainly have an American feel with a few lingering elements of Dutch culture. The Dominican Republic’s capital of Santo Domingo is a city teeming with two million people whose past is riddled with political turmoil. Haiti occupies the western three-eighths of an island it shares with the Dominican Republic and was named Saint-Domingue by France before the Revolution that lasted a decade. Puerto Rico has spanish and american influences throughout the island and it is one of the US territories. Guadeloupe remains a French possession. There are some African influences there, but French customs, culture, and language prevail.
There are many regional dialects spoken solely by island natives in the Caribbean. The most common is Patois, a melding of English, African words, and the existing language. A location-specific language is Papiamento, a combination of African, Dutch, English, French, Portuguese and Spanish in Aruba. Creole languages are nearly two hundred years old and came about during the first slavery era in the Caribbean. Creole is a “patois” language that is a varied combination of African syntax and European lexicon, or words. It evolved out of necessity, as slaves had to communicate with the European plantation owners. Derivations include French Creole, with regional dialects in Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Dominica & French Guyana; Papiamento, a Dutch, Portuguese, English and African blend; and English Patois in Jamaica.African Heritage
Old African culture and customs influence much of the religious worship, artistic expression, rhythmic dancing, singing and even ways of thinking in the Caribbean. Spiritual practices such as Obeah in various parts of the West Indies, Santeria in Cuba, Voodun in Haiti, and Rastafari in Jamaica are all African-influenced spiritual movements that have Caribbean origin but a worldwide following. Reggae music and jerk cooking are also African-inspired gifts to the world from the Caribbean. In the Eastern Caribbean, Soca & the limbo dance ritual has its roots on the slave ships that came to the colonies on the horrific “Middle Passage.”
Music and Dance
Music has been central to Caribbean culture since the days of slavery, when it was a mode of mental survival and a form of recreation. Today there is a unique Caribbean soundtrack; it plays on city streets, in homes and at special festivals – at Carnival, people tirelessly dance for days. It is characterized by a natural, easy rhythm and multiple ethnic influences, particularly the African drum beat. More on caribbean music Here.
Dancing everywhere in the Caribbean is an energetic melding of lower-carriage movement, shuffle-stepping, and swaying hips. There is a complex cultural blend to be heard in nearly every musical style found in the Caribbean. In Trinidad, Indian sounds round out the melodies of Calypso, while in Cuba and Puerto Rico, the Latin beat feeds the salsa rhythm. The vocal styles of modern rap can be heard throughout Jamaican dance halls.Regional Culinary Styles
A blend of ethnic influences, Caribbean food is a rich reminder of where today’s Caribbean people came from: the cuisine of the islands brings together indigenous tastes of the native Arawak and Carib Indians, European colonial influences, and African flavors introduced by slaves. Seafood is a natural specialty of the islands, but the Caribbean’s rich soil bears many treats as well.
Deciding on the perfect island getaway isn’t difficult for travelers who know what they’d like to get out of their vacation. A bit of research will help you find an island that meets all of your requirements and may even exceed your expectations. This little knowledge of the Culture can ease your mind and make your decision to book that Island vacation quickly. Then, the only thing left to do is to decide what to wear. . .
- Photos are a Google Find.