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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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cultural diversity
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).
  • The vast differences in the characteristics and attributes of social groups in the Caribbean stem from the traditions and activities of the different European powers that colonized the region.

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

Cultural diversity:

  • Festivals
  • Music
  • Political systems

Crop Over In Barbados

Antigua Carnival

Divali Hindu Festival of Lights

Music forms:
  • Calypso – all islands
  • Reggae – Jamaica
  • Punta rock – Belize
  • Zouk – Martinique, Dominica
  • Salsa – Cuba
  • Merinque – Haiti

The steelpan – the only musical instrument

created in the Caribbean

The political systems of the Caribbean vary from independent countries to colonies. All Caribbean countries are stable democracies that observe the rule of law and governments are changed through the electoral process.
  • However, colonial relationships persist : many independent countries retain Queen Elizabeth as Head of State. Britain, France, the Netherlands and the United States control the external affairs of some countries e.g. Montserrat, Guadeloupe, St.Maarten, US Virgin Islands, respectively.
  • Puerto Rico is an Associated State of the United States

Hybridization refers to processes of cultural and ethnic mixing to produce a new entity with elements of each of the parent influences (Mohammed, 2007).

  • Key terms:
  • Trans-culturation is the process whereby two cultures meet and mix and something with new elements and forms emerge.
  • Acculturation is the process whereby one culture is absorbed into another.
  • Creolization is the meeting and mixing of cultures to produce something new out of the fusion. This term tends to be specifically used to refer to Caribbean processes of mixing.
  • Inter-culturation refers to the cultural mixing that occurs in a plural society where elements of the ethnic groups’ cultures may be incorporated into each other’s way of life though there may be limited interaction between the groups.
racial and ethnic hybridization
Racial and Ethnic hybridization

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

specific names.


A pigmentocracy evolved and it became the norm to describe someone using their colour as a major descriptor. Persons of fairer complexion had more power and prestige in society than others.

  • Some countries have more ‘coloureds’ than others (Trinidad, St. Lucia, the French Caribbean). Some countries have two major races, black and white producing their coloured populations (Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica); others have many groups (Africans, Europeans, Amerindians, Chinese, East Indians) such that here are many varieties and combinations.
cultural hybridization
Cultural Hybridization
  • Syncretism refers to the mixing of cultural practices from different ethnic groups to create a different entity that fused aspects of the original practices e.g. religion, language, culinary arts, etc.


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.

culinary arts food roots
Culinary Arts/Food Roots
  • Caribbean culinary arts/food roots reflects its hybridized culture.

Amerindian Heritage:

  • Jamaica’s bammy and Antigua’s bamboola are based on the Amerindians use of cassava The Caribs made ‘pepperpot’ which is still cooked in Guyana and some of the islands.
  • The Caribs’s custom of cooking over an open fire has led to the word barbeque. Another Amerindian method of cooking, i.e. baking meat or fish in a charcoal pit , was combined with the barbeque to give rise to ‘jerking’ in Jamaica.
  • Other contributions – the use of dried coconut and corn (grated, boiled, roasted), our love of coconut water; spices such as hot pepper, sweet basil, allspice (pimento in Jamaica).

Spanish Heritage:

The Spanish contributed hot chocolate, avocado, marinated or

escoveitched fish, gizzada (coconut tart) and their custom of

soaking fruits in wine.

British Heritage:

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.


African Heritage:

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.

photos above
Photos Above

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

Chinese heritage.

Emphasis on vegetable cookery was strengthened by the East Indians and


culinary arts food roots1
Culinary Arts/Food Roots

Jewish and Americans Heritage:

The Jews:

Potato pancakesand cheese cake as well as the heavy use of salt and

garlic are Jewish contributions.

The Americans:

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.

african retentions
African Retentions
  • Oral traditions
  • Savings organization: (box, susu, partner hand, meeting turn)
  • Game: warri
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:

  • Music: calypso, reggae and dancehall
  • Storytelling
  • Folktales
  • Similes and proverbs

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 “