You are on page 1of 9

CARIBBEAN STUDIES NOTES

IMPACT OF SOCIETAL INSTITUTIONS ON CARIBBEAN PEOPLE


In order to minimize conflicts, a society needs to agree on certain arrangements social
institutions. Social institutions (may be analysed according to functionalist, Marxist and
interpretive views) are the set of values and beliefs of a society which direct the lives,
interactions and thoughts of the people. Social change is brought about when dominant and
peripheral (or marginal) institutional ideas and beliefs compete with each other over time.
Each institution becomes tangible and concrete through the organisations that members create to
fulfil these ideas and beliefs. Non-adherents are also part of an institution; they form an opposing
or peripheral group.
Socialization is the process through which the cherished ideas and beliefs of one generation
become the cherished ideas of the next. Based on values, norms arise. The status of a person
decides his/her role according to institutional beliefs about how such a person should act.
The Family
The social institution of the family represents the cherished ideas and beliefs that people have
about rearing children and socializing them into the norms of their society. African families are
mainly matrifocal (the mother is the centre of the family) while Indian families are historically
patriarchal (rule of the father). In patriarchal families, matrifocal elements may occur.
During colonial rule and today, the nuclear family was and is seen as the ideal to which the
society should aspire. The other types of unions were diagnosed as disorganized families or
unstable unions which are inferior to the nuclear family. This led to the acceptance of gender
stereotypes with the male being breadwinners and authority figures and the women being
homemakers and caregivers.
Theories explaining the presence of multiple family forms:
African retentions Matrifocal households are typical of West Africa where polygamy
is commonly practised.
Slavery Marriage was rare (European laws and sanctions discouraged marriage),
cohabitation was irregular and life was unpredictable, so that stable families could not
develop. Children (whether of two slaves or a slave and her master) remained with their
mothers.
Economic thesis The variety of family forms is found mainly among the poorer
classes. Mothers are willing to get involved in sexual relationships for financial help.
However, they seek several successive relationships, not a burdensome one.
Gender inequality What gives men the feeling of power and control is a life outside of
marriage. Thus, they may have outside families and relationships.

In the Caribbean, the extensive network of kin constituted the family, not the household. The
practices of ritual godparenthood and fictive kinship show the importance of kin in different
types of Caribbean family, especially Christian families. Cooperation, support and caring for
family members are normal parts of family life, including the practice of child shifting. Some
pieces of land are known as family land whereby ownership is by all family members and can
be used by various members according to needs. Extended families are common among Indian
households as these previous indentured labourers did not experience strong attempts to muzzle
their cultural traditions and practices as did the African slaves.
The family provides the function of reproduction, socialisation and economics and financing and
love and a sense of belongingness. From the conflict perspective, it can be seen that labour has to
move to where employment is located, leaving behind the extended family. The exploitation and
oppression of workers leads to the oppression of their families. It also facilitates the sexual
division of labour (men work outside and women stay home). It is argued that the assigning of
roles through institutional values has led to family oppression, abuse and violence.
Impact of family on Caribbean society and culture:

Individuals The family performs a function of social stability. Individuals are taught
certain values as they are expected to carry these traditions on. The family is the earliest
source of education and socialisation to a certain extent takes place here. Different family
members experience the institution in different ways e.g. the eldest son and a daughter in
an Indian home. The structure of the family influences those for whom one has respect,
ones code of conduct and ones ideas of gender relations.
Groups
o African families The kinship network among these are strong. Relatives and
close friends are expected to help each other in times of need, creating a huge
support network. People in the diaspora send money back home or sponsor
family members to become new migrants in the metropole.
o Muslim families Polygamy is practised, according to Islam. It increases the
complexity of the notion of kin and the extended family in Caribbean society and
culture. However, this is not widespread in the Caribbean. The dominant ideas
and beliefs that privilege a nuclear family marginalize those groups who do not
follow such norms.
o Women Women are seen primarily as mothers and caregivers. They also usually
work outside the home. These institutional ideas are responsible for gender
socialization.

Institutions
o Family Although the nuclear family has long been privileged as the ideal form
of family, the institutional ideas of family are more accepting of different
families. The idea of the nuclear family has now expanded to include singleparent families, same sex families and reconstituted families.
o Education Educators continually call for parental involvement as it is known
that a childs academic success is based largely on support received at home.
o Religion It is from the family that members learn about religious practices. It is
the responsibility of the family, for example, to get a Christian child baptised and
to take him/her to church. The extent to which the family engages in religious
activity will affect the religious perceptions of its members. If the elders of the
family are of different religions, children may either be socialised into one,
neither or both.

Education
Education is concerned with socializing members of society into the norms, values, knowledge
and skills that a society deems important (functionalist perspective). Informal education (primary
socialization) refers to the learning about living and surviving in society into which one was born
while formal education (secondary socialization) refers to the transmission of knowledge and
skills in social organizations such a schools. It is concerned with what the young should know
and how learning should take place. (pg 109)
Education may be seen as providing order, rational ways of behaving, equal opportunities to
betterment, a socially approved rite of passage and a means of accessing extrinsic rewards.
It may also be seen as a source of conflict (only the more privileged will reap rewards), a source
of low self-esteem resulting from failure and a method of increasing inequities.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Under slavery, formal education was largely for the children of the Europeans. Education
for the enslaved was limited to religious education (from the Spanish).
The 1834 Emancipation Act ensured that through the Negro Education Grant that
elementary schools (education was not expected to go further than this) would be built
throughout the British Caribbean.
o Only the elements of reading, writing, arithmetic and a little geography were
offered.
o The Bible was the main text.
o The curriculum was steeped in English values, songs, poems, stories and customs.
The history and culture of other ethnic groups were not considered as there was
the strong feeling that only deeper understanding of western culture could help us
to develop into a modern nation.

A few secondary schools which charged fees were established. They were based on
English grammar schools and a classical curriculum. The elites sought to block the
former enslaved and their descendants from accessing secondary education.
Some persons (mostly males) who attended these schools were able to attend British
universities and became involved in efforts at decolonization.
Education became a means of social mobility.
The idea was that only children who are bright and show aptitude for academic work
should be educated at the secondary level and beyond, leading to the advent of Common
Entrance exams.
The institution of education is intertwined with that of religion, as there is great
competition to gain access to high-achieving dominational schools.

Two less dominant ideas about education are that:

Students with disabilities should be educated with everyone else so that they can be
integrated into society.
Schools are dangerous places for children and foster a hatred for learning among students
and a disability to think critically. Those with this idea home-school their children.

PURPOSES OF EDUCATION

Aftermath of slavery
o To the British to inculcate British values and customs to make governance easier
o To the colonised a means of social mobility
In contemporary society
o A differentiating function whereby young people were characterised according
to academic ability and placed in different types of schools in order to organize
their opportunities and life chances
o Social cohesion and harmony enabling the people of a society, especially a
plural society, to come together as they would have all experienced a common
curriculum
o As a means of economic development the inculcation of human capital with
skills and knowledge would eventually lead to the production of an educated
workforce and economic development
o As the means and end of human development people could be given the
opportunities, via education, to develop themselves; this belief includes the
inclusion of all, a Caribbean focus of the curriculum and the learning via
interaction with students

IMPACT OF EDUCATION ON SOCIETY AND CULTURE

Individuals For bright students or those who result in the formation of intelligentsia,
the institution of education has worked. They would have acquired social mobility and
thereby obtained job security, possibility of promotion and the tag of respectability.
However, for underachievers (for various reasons), the institution of education has
engendered feelings of low self esteem and very little is put in place to re-orient the
student who has left school without credentials.
Groups Students of the middle- and higher classes are more rewarded in the academic
world. This is because they possess the necessary cultural capital e.g. linguistic
competence to succeed in the school environment. Cultural capital results from exposure
to many experiences such as travel, technology and extra-curricular activities which may
be limited to those of lower socio-economic groups.
Institutions The institution of education has long been intertwined with that of religion.
The first serious attempts at the provision of education in the Caribbean were by
denominational schools. They are seen as elite schools where only the very talented are
accepted. The role they play in socialisation, that is, in the provision of values is also seen
as important to parents. State schools, therefore, are seen as inferior as there is no
emphasis on any one religion or on especially talented students.

Religion
The common idea and belief across most religions is that there are sacred elements which should
govern our lives, as opposed to the profane things of this world. Religion includes:

The prescription of ideal behaviours


Collective worship involving rituals and ceremonies which impact on the afterlife
Reverence of a supernatural body or teacher

Religion often has to contend with secular values practices and behaviours which seek to
promote non-religious ideas.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Religion is seen as having the function of preserving order and social cohesion by engendering
unity and social solidarity (especially if part of a mainstream religion). It helps members to feel a
sense of belonging, to provide support and guidance, and to create a community of believers of
certain values. Marxists see religion as an illusion which prevents people from really
experiencing the inequities, discrimination and oppression that are inherent in society. The
interpretive perspective of religion looks at how an individual interacts with god and a church.
Through syncretism and hybridization, the subjugated Caribbean people mainly Amerindians
and Africans recreated the social institution of religion. Their conversion to Christianity was an

interpretive activity whereby the subject people adopted the religion but hybridized many of its
forms and practices with their own.
Caribbean people accepted membership into one of the major religions of Europe or one of the
Protestant religions, whose leaders came later as missionaries. Countries where the Spanish and
French were dominant have a dominant Roman Catholic Church.
Religion is influenced by the stratified nature of society. The upper classes attended and still
attend mainstream European churches. Dual membership was common among the poorer
groups. Poorer groups tend to find meaning, comfort and solace in religions that are alternatives
to those of upper classes. Roman Catholicism was the first European religion to be brought to the
New World as Spain and virtually of Europe in the fifteenth century were Catholic. In the
introduction to the 16th century, England broke away forming the Anglican Church (where the
monarch was head of the church). Eventually Protestant Churches (in these, except Anglicanism,
the monarch was not head) were formed in Europe after continuous criticism of the Catholic
Church.
In the aftermath of emancipation, there was a full flowering of syncretic religions that had their
first genesis under slavery. Grassroot religions were strong but their practice made the colonial
authorities uneasy.

In slavery days, obeah was outlawed because of its association with the slave resistance.
The Spiritual Baptist Prohibition Ordinance of 1917 prevented practising of Spiritual
Baptism in Trinidad. It was eventually repealed in 1951 and 30 March is celebrated as a
national holiday Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day. The Anti-Shaker Ordinance of 1912
was also passed in St. Vincent.

The institution of religion (especially in the form of syncretic religions) has always held strong
resistant elements that were opposed to colonialism. Africans religions included emphasis on
drumming, singing, chanting, shouting and invoking the spirit world. They considered rivers,
forests and the sea to be sacred places.
Rastafarianism was formed in the 1930s in Jamaica with roots which lay in Myal and Revivalism
traditions and the philosophy of Marcus Garvey. It is a millenarian movement which has belief
that Jah will personally reign on Earth, in Ethiopia in the end times and save his chosen people.
Rastafarianism calls for introspection about our absorption into mainstream capitalist values.
The influx of indentured labour brought Hindus to Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname. In Trinidad,
the different Hindu sects (e.g. Sanatan Dharma) own schools today. Many Hindus converted to
Presbyterianism owing to the efforts of the Canadian Mission who went as missionaries into the
sugar estates in the nineteenth century. They also founded schools and a teachers college.

One dominant idea of religion in the past was that Christianity could be an asset in bettering
yourself.
Muslims were also imported as indentured labourers and relatively few were converted by the
Canadian Mission. The Indian Muslim community is being widened to include African converts.
In Trinidad, the different Muslim organizations (e.g. Trinidad Muslim League) own and manage
schools. The Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, a black Muslim group, was responsible for the 1990
uprising.
In the latter years of the twentieth century, Evangelical, Fundamentalist and Pentecostal faiths
came from the US. The conversion to these faiths represented resistance to colonialism in the
rejection of mainstream Christian churched. They focus on emphasis on personal morality and
salvation and a rejection of the secular world.
Religion helps members to feel a sense of belonging, to provide support and guidance, and to
create a community of believers of certain values which help them to live ethical lives; helps
them to resist oppression (for example, in colonialism); and provides an opportunity to better
ones social opportunities through acceptance of the dominant religion.
IMPACT OF RELIGION ON CARIBBEAN SOCIETY AND CULTURE

Individuals Individual women are oppressed whether by laws that govern reproductive
health, behaviours, aspirations or dress.
Groups Religion can help groups to maintain solidarity and keep their traditions alive
in the face of globalizing western culture. For example, the Garifuna of Belize still
practise some original West African traditions.
Institutions The justice system is largely based on dominant religious beliefs. For
example, the laws of an Islamic society may be harsher than those of the Caribbean
society as they follow Sharia laws. This is especially so in theocracies. In addition,
Bahais find it extremely complicated to function in a nation state as they believe in one
global society.
Religions may keep families together where the members are of religions which ban
divorce.
As discussed earlier, many elite schools are denominational schools where the institution
of education meets the institution of religion.
Religion has the potential to generate conflict. This is possible based on those ideas that
do not tolerate or recognise other religions or privilege the religions of dominant groups.
There is also within-group diversity whereby groups have different beliefs such as the
Charismatic Movement in the Roman Catholic Church.

Justice System
The justice system refers to the ideas and beliefs in a society about protecting and preserving the
rights and obligations of citizens. The social organization of justice consists of the:

Political framework Citizens entrust power to their representatives to make decisions


Legal framework Development of a system of laws that are fair to all parties
Judicial framework Implements laws by ruling on conflicts over rights, fairness and
justice

The notion of basic rights of humans by virtue of being human is only a recent idea. Europeans
did not regard others as having the same rights as they did and other groups did not regard each
other as equals. The protection of human rights was brought to the fore after the Second World
War and is done to promote justice, fairness and social stability. The United Nations was also
created and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has guided the
constitutions of many Caribbean countries.
THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT
1. The Europeans came as conquerors and saw themselves as superior to and having more
rights than the indigenous people already in the Caribbean. This was shown in the form
of the 1512 Laws of Burgos which facilitated the encomienda. While the Spanish crown
made provision for the fair treatment and education of the indigenes, the colonists
ignored these. They saw the native as an enslaved person.
2. Under slavery, Africans did not have any rights and were regarded as chattel. The
Europeans, by virtue of being white, were responsible for them and held all power over
them. Laws made related to the treatment of the enslaved population the conditions of
being a slaves and the punishments meted out for different crimes. Provisions were made
for basic care of the slaves, but these were left largely up to the planters. The Assemblies
who enacted laws was made up of the planter class and sought to control and subdue the
slaves and uphold the rights and privileges of the planter class. There were strong
sanctions against any group or person attempting to introduce alternative ideas of
freedom or education for the Africans.
Religious groups, especially non-conformist missionaries, sought to convince the planters
to give the Africans religious instruction and basic reading and writing teachings. This
was largely unsuccessful but, after slavery, other religious groups were bent on restoring
some human rights (better living and working conditions) to the African population.

3. The 1791 Haitian Revolution led to the establishment of the first independent country of
the Caribbean in 1804. A succession of black and mulatto leaders enacted laws

guaranteeing freedom and equality of all citizens. The rights of the Haitian people,
however, were ignored by the political elite, who controlled the judiciary. The social
institution of justice was once again dominated by fear and intimidation.
4. In the rest of the Caribbean, after emancipation, the coloureds and blacks eventually won
some representation in the colonial assemblies. At independence, Caribbean countries
adopted forms of the Westminster Model of Government. It is believed however, that we
work the British system of justice which we have adopted in the interests of certain
political parties and ethnic groups.
*In 3 and 4, dominant ideas still tended to favour the Europeans.
Caribbean justice systems are inherited from that of the English but the administration of these
differs from the rhetoric. Practices are fraught with self-interest, discriminatory features and
fraud.
Functionalists understand the justice system as important in preserving social order and stability.
Thus, being far and equitable in our dealings with each other should ensure that discontent is
minimized in the society. Marxists view the economy as the reason for entrenched inequities as
capitalism stratifies the population. Those who wield power are those whose interests are
dominant and seldom receive the full brunt of the law when caught wrongdoing. Interpretive
sociology focuses on how people are experiencing living in a society as citizens but not enjoying
the same rights as others, and what strategies they use to cope with, or overcome, the inequities.
IMPACT OF THE JUSTICE SYSTEM ON SOCIETY AND CULTURE

Individuals The law accommodates itself to cultural differences. It becomes a


customary law. The justice system impacts individuals differently depending on whether
they follow statute laws or customary laws.
Groups Young people are subject to certain restrictions based on age but are also
protected by certain laws and conventions. There is also a system of compulsory
retirement at 65 years, 55 in Guyana.
Institutions Today, incidences in the family or domestic crimes may be taken to the
justice system. This has come about to protect and preserve the rights of women in
families dominated by patriarchy. In an attempt to ensure fairness between the genders,
the justice system has somewhat succeeded in perpetuating the stereotypes and myths of
both men and women. National legislation has had to be enacted to prohibit atrocities and
discriminatory practices.