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`Mrs. N.


Caribbean Studies 2015

Module 1

The Many Caribbeans

Past paper question:

Discuss the view that the political and the geographic definitions are the most suitable in
identifying the region.

A discussion requires a dual positioned approach with pros and cons. This therefore starts
with you agreeing that these may be applicable but that there are issues and that means
there is a need to look at all possible definitions to find the most suitable one or combination
of definitions.

There are several ways to define the Caribbean, these include:


The Geographic definition has 2 components

a) The Caribbean Basin with the Caribbean Sea

b) The lines of latitude and longitude

Geographically it is defined as an archipelago between the North and South American

continents, east of Central America stretching from the Florida panhandle to Venezuela. The
key factor is the Caribbean basin as demarcated by the Caribbean Sea, where territories are
washed by the Caribbean Sea. These include the Greater and Lesser Antilles, mainland
territories of Central America e.g. Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, Honduras, even part of Mexico,
as well as Colombia and Venezuela.

It consists of the sub-regions of the Greater and Lesser Antilles. The Greater Antilles is made
of the larger islands to the north whilst the Lesser Antilles is made of a chain of smaller
volcanic islands. The Lesser Antilles is further sub-divided into the Windward and Leeward
islands, a colonial definition from Spanish occupation, later retained by the British.
The Windwards are:

St. Lucia
St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Martinique & Guadeloupe

The Leewards are:

St. Kitts
British Virgin Islands

This only exists in name as ALL territories are affected by the North East Trade winds.

There are issues with this geographical definition using the Caribbean Sea and Basin:

This would include areas not seen as Caribbean such as Venezuela, Columbia, Costa
Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, and Mexico because they have coastlines on the Caribbean
This would exclude areas not washed by the sea but considered Caribbean such as
Belize, Surinam and Guyana as well as Barbados further out in the Atlantic
It excludes the Bahamas

b) Lines of latitude and longitude using

60 degrees west to 90 degrees west of Greenwich for breadth and from the equator 5 degrees
north to 25 degrees north or 30 degrees north to include Bermuda. 23 1/2 degrees North is
more apt (Tropic of Cancer).
The latitudinal boundaries of the Caribbean are
usually given as: 5 to 25 or 30 degrees north

Sticking to a geographical location leaves no scope for countries with a common history of
colonization and the emergent society and culture, as well, man changes the landscape to suit
his needs.

The geological definition

The geological definition uses what lies below the surface. The earths crust which lies
beneath the continents and oceans is not continuous but broken into pieces called crustal
plates. (refer to plate tectonics in another session). These portions or plates are not static but
move. Where the plates meet are called boundaries. The crustal plate upon which our region
rests is called the Caribbean plate. It is bordered by the Cocos, North America, South America
and Nazca plates.
The movements at the plate boundaries
create earthquake and volcanic activity.
There are volcanic islands in the Lesser
Antilles as a result e.g. Grenada, St.
Vincent, St. Lucia, Montserrat and

This seismic activity has influenced

Caribbean society and culture from
farming on volcanic slopes to tourism
based on volcanic landscapes. It also
impacts how our people live and cope
with natural disasters.

The issues associated with this definition include:

The plate extends over into the Pacific Ocean

The plate underlies part of South America, the territories of which are not seen as
It includes Central America
It excludes Guyana, Bahamas and Cuba

This concept is not widely embraced by Caribbean people because the geography /geology
conceptualization is not as impactful as the lived historical experiences of human activity.

Historical concept

This has to do with the language and customs of the various metropoles, the impacts of which
may go beyond the geographical confines of their borders. People in that space may:

Have a long and continuous occupation of that space

Feel a sense of belonging to that space
May have built a way of life or culture

Note Guyana, Bahamas and Barbados are in the Atlantic Ocean but their history is similar to
Caribbean Sea islands, a history of European occupation, and their systems of production with
sugar and slavery.

Language and ethnicity

Anglo-Caribbean: Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin

Islands, Cayman islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Nevis, St. Vincent,
& the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos, US Virgin Islands, Belize, Guyana,

Hispanic Caribbean: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico

Dutch Caribbean: Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, St. Maarten

French Caribbean: Haiti, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Martin

Any definition of the Caribbean is dynamic as a result of geology, geography, history and the
cultural identity and since there are exceptions no one factor could define the Caribbean. The
major defining factors therefore are common history and the Anglophonic islands, if in the
archipelago and immediate environs, providing Anglophonic.

Flaws in the historical approach:

Historians try to be accurate by rigorously studying and authenticating and dating diaries,
newspapers, private and government documents and correspondence, books, artifacts,
middens, coins etc. as evidence including other historians research. Oral histories are also
important. A challenge though is bias. When gaps in data exist, an educated logical judgement
is used to find reliability, educated guesses based on circumstantial evidence. There is no
smooth unfolding of historical time, it has been filled with turmoil and people through
millennia have had many challenges. Historians however tend to chop time into segments
that allow for ease of the discipline.

But the values, beliefs of the historian can influence how he presents history, for example the
continued reference to the Age of Discovery, suggesting that the Caribbean was unoccupied
and therefore undiscovered until Columbus. There were indigenous people living here for
millennia. This is called a Eurocentric view where only the history of Europeans is deemed
important enough to tell, or to present facts from.

There is also the Great Man theory where only the history of great figures is told and not the
story of the common folk, telling the everyday lived experiences of people. Only the stories of
kings, nobility, great heroes of the time are told.

One identified bias is that of the Kalinagos (or as we erroneously called them the Caribs
another bias of European historians, using names that they chose and not necessarily what
the tribe called itself) being savage, warlike and brutal cannibals. They did practice
cannibalism but not as an everyday sustaining meal. They practiced it after battles to honour
their dead enemies, believing that when they consumed a piece of him they were honouring
him and absorbing his skill and strength. This was based on the fact that they believed they
became what they ate. This extreme cannibalistic tendency myth was perpetuated by
Europeans in an effort to justify enslaving, annihilating and chasing them out of St. Vincent.

The historians also presented the Tainos (erroneously called the Arawaks) as laid back and
extremely docile, almost sheepish as they were slaughtered by the Kalinagos. But historical
facts show they resisted in several ways, both against the Kalinagos and the Spanish.

Their biases/misrepresentations caused the following

Reference to the indigenes as Indians because Columbus thought he was in India

we are also called the West Indies

The challenge to Caribbean historians therefore is to revisit our history and present it
accurately and also without biases.

The political Caribbean

The Caribbean as one entity under CARICOM is yet to be realized, as there is much
fragmentation as a result of varying political arrangements:

Republics head of state is a President

Communist Cuba embraces communism which is the opposite of capitalism. Here

the state owns and operates all public services, agriculture and industry. There is no
private ownership instead the state owns the means of production land, labour and
capital. Resources are distributed according to needs. This system is disapproved by
the US who is only now revisiting sanctions placed on Cuba in the 1960s
The Co-operative Republic of Guyana is at a stage preceding communism socialism.
It operates as a socialist cooperative where transformation of the countrys
institutions will eventually result in all members owning and sharing in the means of
Haiti first Black Republic in the region from 1791 that has moved from colony to
dictatorship to US Protectorate and today, fragile democracy
Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica are also republics with a President as Head of
Commonwealth members are countries which were former British colonies still
opting to keep strong ties with the metropole.
Barbados and Jamaica though independent recognize the British monarch as their
Head and have a Governor General as the Crowns representative.
Dutch colonies the Dutch monarchy is the Head of State for the ABC Islands
Some are colonies of Britain example Montserrat, British Virgin Islands, Turks and
Caicos, Anguilla, Bermuda* and the Cayman Islands.
Some are Departments of France example Martinique, Guadeloupe and
dependencies such as St. Martin and French Guiana or Cayenne

*Bermuda with its key location in the mid-Atlantic (shipping and trading) has been a
British colony since 1609 making it the oldest of British colonies. There was
enslavement practiced but as sailors, traders and tradesmen.
Citizens are full British citizens,
Are the 3rd richest country in the world with no unemployment/income tax
Approximately 41% of the population is white from Scottish/English/Portuguese
descent as owners of the most productive land and assets, and 59% are Black.
Tensions exist between the groups.
Bermuda is an associate member of CARICOM and some argue no need to be a
member as they already are the 3 rd richest country, also concerns exist on the influx
of Caribbean people to the island if they become a full member
Little ties exist between the rest of the Caribbean and Bermuda and citizens go to
Britain and the US for university education
The territory is an offshore tax haven for US and UK companies thus making them
vulnerable in globalized settings

Constitutional arrangement Head of state Country

Independent country Republic President Dominica, Trinidad &Tobago,

Guyana, Surinam, Cayenne, Haiti,
Cuba (Communist)

Independent country Queen Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas,

Barbados, Jamaica, Belize, Grenada,
Monarchy British
St. Vincent

Independent country Queen Curacao, St. Maarten, Aruba

Monarchy Netherlands

Associate statehood-insular President Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands

area USA

Department President of Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin,

France St. Bartholomew

Dutch municipalities Queen Neth. Aruba, Bonaire, Saba, St. Eustatius

UK dependencies and crown Queen Br. Turks & Caicos, Anguilla, Montserrat

Diasporic Caribbean

The term is used to describe the distribution of ethnic groups in countries far from their
countries of origin. The African diaspora in the Caribbean refers to the descendants of
the persons plucked out of Africa and enslaved for sugar cultivation from the 1640s.
Africans were also taken to North, Central and South America, as well as Europe.

Their descendants also migrated out of the Caribbean to Panama at the turn of the 19 th
century for employment in the construction of the Panama Canal, to the United Kingdom
and the United States in the 20th century. This was known as the Caribbean Diaspora. The
process continues today. The result is a community of persons from Caribbean origins
operating in the metropolitan centers whilst maintaining Caribbean culture in foods and
festivals. Some are entrepreneurs of restaurants, roti and doubles shops, Carnival bands,
are promoters of Reggae concerts, chutney and Parang shows and sport events. Diasporic
Caribbean people also assist in sponsoring youths back home in sports and education in
the US.

There are sometimes challenges as ethnic, sometimes racial conflicts may arise with
discrimination. Some therefore may downplay their Caribbean roots to fit in discreetly.

Intra Caribbean Diaspora

People have been migrating to other Caribbean territories from their home territory. For
example the movement of Guyanese to Trinidad, Antigua, St. Lucia and Bahamas in
response to depressed socio-economic conditions. Haitians also move across to Santo
Domingo where tensions often erupt along racial/ethnic lines. They also migrate to
Puerto Rico and Bahamas. (More on this will be done in Module 1 # 2.)

The term Diaspora really originated in reference to the dispersal of the Jews around 587
BC with the destruction of the temple. In modern academic and sociological referencing
though, the term is now applied to the dispersion of any ethnic group under forced
The term extra-regional refers to any area outside a defined geographical and political
space with notable influence on business and socio-political processes.