Characteristics of Caribbean Society and Culture. Cultural Diversity. Cultural Diversity The term refers to different ethnic traditions based on race, language, religion, customs and family practices found in one society or region (Mohammed 2007).
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Characteristics of Caribbean Society and Culture
Cultural diversity results mainly from historical factors.
The plantation system caused the influx of Europeans,
Africans, East Indians and Chinese. Each group brought
its cultural traits and values to the region.
Periods of Arrival: Europeans 1492 – 1600
(Spaniards, French, British, Dutch, Germans)
Africans 1517 – 1807, the Slave Trade
Indentured labourers 1834 – 1917: Europeans,
Portuguese (Madeirans) and Maltese, Free
Africans, Chinese, East Indians
Some areas of Caribbean life that reflect
Crop Over In Barbados
Divali Hindu Festival of Lights
The steelpan – the only musical instrument
created in the Caribbean
During the period of conquest and slavery new groups of people were
created from the sexual unions between Europeans, Amerindians and
Africans. Miscegenation was the term used describe such unions.
Persons were assigned to social positions of power and status
according to the colour of their skin. Persons of mixed race formed
another ethnic group within the society:
Mestizos – offspring of Amerindians and Europeans
Mulattoes - offspring of Africans and Europeans
Sambo – offspring of mulattoes and Africans
Quadroon – offspring of mulattoes and whites
Octoroon – offspring of quadroon and whites
Dougla – offspring of East Indians and Africans; Trini-dougla are
offspring of Chineses, Africans and E. Indians born in Trinidad.
‘Coloured’ is the more general term since all mixtures do not carry
Shango, Voodoo, Kumina, Myal, Rastafarianism are some syncretic religions
with Christian traditions and a heavy African input. Christian elements –
recognition of the Holy Spirit, use of the Bible, communion ceremony, feast
days of saints.
African elements - use of drums and other percussion instruments in
worship, dancing in worship, spirit possession and falling into trance-like
states, wearing of head-ties by female members.
Caribbean languages are based on the ‘master’ languages of Europe. They are
referred to as creole languages because aspects of the master languages were
incorporated into language forms that emerged from experiences during
slavery and colonialism. There are in the English- speaking Caribbean:
English-based patios and French-based patois. However, there are
similarities and variations in each type as spoken between countries.
The Spanish contributed hot chocolate, avocado, marinated or
escoveitched fish, gizzada (coconut tart) and their custom of
soaking fruits in wine.
The use of diary products, Christmas pudding, fruit salads and
Sweet bread (bun) are part of the British heritage.
The British soldiers and sailors brought breadfruit, blood
Pudding (black or rice pudding) or white pudding from which
blood is left out and souse.
Though planters imported food from Africa to feed their slaves, the
slaves themselves brought many of their foods to include, okra,
callaloo (spinach), taro (eddo or coco), their one-pot method of
preparing most dishes and traditional cooking utensils including the
three-legged iron pot, grater and mortar and pestle.
Seasonings such as ‘sive’, or chives, escallion, ginger, nutmeg,
pimento, and hot pepper, also came from Africa.
Dishes such as, akkra (seasoned black eye peas, pounded and fried),
foo-foo (pounded starchy root or fruit), funchi (fungee) and duckunoo
(a), (blue drawers in Jamaica, paimee in St. Lucia, konkie in Barbados,
St. Kitts and the Virgin Islands), ackee, parched dried corn beaten fine
in a mortar and mixed with sugar, known as asham or Brown George
in Jamaica, ashum in Antigua.
Bush teas and the use of ‘bush’ as remedy for ailments and diseases.
Top: Jamaica’s National Dish - Ackee and Saltfish
Left: Antigua’s National Dish – Fungee and Saltfish
Right: A popular Antiguan Dish – Ducuna and Saltfish
East Indian and Chinese Heritage:
The East Indians contributed curry, rice, roti, dahl and pelau.
The Chinese also brought heavily spiced food distinguished by being
salty, sweet, sour, gingered and hot. They introduced lettuce, cabbage,
cucumber and green beans. Foods were mainly quick fried, deep
fried or steamed. Roast suckling pig, braised chicken feet and
vegetarian foods made mainly of bean products are all part of the
Emphasis on vegetable cookery was strengthened by the East Indians and
Jewish and Americans Heritage:
Potato pancakesand cheese cake as well as the heavy use of salt and
garlic are Jewish contributions.
The N. American influences are reflected in various items of pastry
and gourmet dishes. Fast foods (hamburger, hot dog etc.) have
become staples in Caribbean cuisine.
One of the clearest link the Caribbean has to
Africa is in its oral tradition. The role of the
Griot/Jellis who passed down stories and
accounts of events of one generation to another
survived slavery and the plantation system. This
tradition is kept alive in:
The ‘box’ is a form of a cooperative pooling of earnings so
that each member may benefit by obtaining in turn and at
one time all the money paid in by the entire group on a
given time (day, week, month).
In Africa the box is most commonly called esusu. It is
called nanamei akpee (mutual help) in Ghana;
mahodisana or stokfel (pays back to each other) in South
Africa; sanduk (putting down) in Sudan. In China the box
is called hui.
Warri which means ‘house’ is of the mancala
game family and was brought to Antigua from
Ghana with the slaves. The game is played with a
board into which hollows are carved. The counters
are seeds called nickars.
Playing warri is said to develop planning, analytical
and mathematical skills as well as foster discipline.
Antiguan proverb: “If you play warri with God you
go get no seed”.
Antiguan Movie: “No Seed “