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Culture of the Caribbean

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Culture of the Caribbean

Culture of the Caribbean
This article is part of a series
Caribbean identity
Caribbean nationalism
Royal symbols
National symbols
Cultural protectionism
Multiculturalism in the Caribbean
Ethnic diversity
Immigration history
Official bilingualism
Spoken languages
Architecture · Art · Cinema
Cuisine · Festivals · Humour
Literature · Media · Music
Politics · Religion
Sports · Television · Theatre
Cultural diversity by region

Caribbean culture is a term that explains the artistic, musical, literary, culinary, political and social elements that are representative of the Caribbean people all over the world. The Caribbean's culture has historically been influenced by European culture and traditions, especially British, Spanish and French. Over time, elements of the cultures of the Africans and other immigrant populations have become incorporated into mainstream Caribbean culture. It has also been strongly influenced by that of its linguistic, economic, and cultural neighbor, the United States.

Caribbean governments have influenced Caribbean culture with programs, laws and institutions. They have created corporations to promote Caribbean culture through media, such as the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and promote many events which would promote Caribbean traditions.

Caribbean culture, like that of most countries around the world, is a product of its history, geography, and political system. Being a collection of settler nations, the Caribbean has been shaped by waves of migration that have combined to form a unique blend of customs, cuisine, and traditions that have marked the socio-cultural development of the nation.

Development of Caribbean culture

Caribbean culture is a product of its history and geography. Most of the Caribbean territories were inhabited and developed earlier than European colonies in the Americas, with the result that themes and symbols of pioneers, farmers, and traders were important in the early development of Caribbean culture. The British conquest of the Caribbean in 1759 brought a large Francophone population under British rule, creating a need for compromise and accommodation, while the migration of United Empire Loyalists from the Thirteen Colonies brought in strong British, Spanish, French, African and even Dutch influences.

Although not without conflict, the Caribbean's early interactions with First Nations and indigenous populations were relatively short lived, compared to the experience of native peoples in the United States. Combined with relatively late economic development in many regions, this difficult history has disallowed Caribbean native peoples having any strong influence on the national culture, even destroying their remaining identity.

Bilingualism and multiculturalism

French Caribbean, Spanish Caribbean, Creole language and Patois's early development was relatively cohesive during the 17th and 18th centuries, which allowed Francophone culture to survive and thrive within the Caribbean.

Multicultural heritage is enshrined in many islands. In parts of the Caribbean, multiculturalism itself is the cultural norm and diversity is the force that unites the community. Although officially a quarter of the Caribbean population is English-speaking, the largest group is attributed to Spanish speakers (due to the inclusion of mainland Caribbean states), some 22% speak French while only 1% speak Dutch. However, though the Caribbean today is linked with 59 living languages[1] these are not spoken in the "insular Caribbean", but on what is referred to as the "continental Caribbean".

In the French islands, cultural identity is strong, and many French-speaking islanders commentators speak of a French culture as distinguished from English Caribbean culture, but some also see Caribbean as a collection of several regional, and ethnic subcultures.

While French Caribbean culture is the most obvious example, Spanish influences have allowed survival of non-English dialects; however, the influence of Ulster immigrants to Barbados has had the effect of minimizing Irish influences in the Caribbean's culture, and highlighting British influences instead, until the 1980s. The Caribbean's Pacific trade has also brought a large Chinese influence into Trinidad and other areas.[2][3][4][5][6]

Caribbean identity

The palm is the symbol most associated with Caribbean identity.

Primary influences on Caribbean identity trace back to the arrival, beginning in the early 17th century, of French settlers, English settlers and the Spanish settlers. First Nations played a critical part in the development of European colonies in Caribbean, from their role in assisting exploration of the continent, the sugar trade and inter-European power struggles to the creation of the Afro-Caribbean people. Through their art and culture, First Nations and African descendants continue to exert influence on the Caribbean identity.

The question of Caribbean identity was traditionally dominated by three fundamental themes: first, the often conflicted relations between English and French stemming from the French imperative for cultural and linguistic survival; secondly, the generally close ties between the English Caribbean and the British Empire, resulting in a gradual political process towards complete independence from the imperial power and, finally, the close proximity of the English-speaking Caribbean to the military, economic and cultural powerhouse of the United States. With the gradual loosening of political and cultural ties to the United Kingdom, in the 20th century immigrants from European, African, Caribbean and Asian nationalities have shaped Caribbean identity, a process that continues today with the arrival of significant numbers of immigrants from non-British or French backgrounds, adding the theme of multiculturalism to the debate. Today, the Caribbean has a diverse makeup of nationalities and cultures and constitutional protection for policies that promote multiculturalism rather than a single national myth.

The issue of Caribbean identity remains under scrutiny, perhaps more than the identity of the people of any other modern nation. .[7][8]

Cultural protectionism in Caribbean

Cultural protectionism in the Caribbean has, since the mid-20th century, taken the form of conscious, interventionist attempts on the part of various Caribbean governments to promote Caribbean cultural production and limit the effect of foreign, largely American, culture on the domestic audience. Sharing a large border and (for the majority) a common language with the United States, the Caribbean faces a difficult position in regard to American culture, be it direct attempts at the Caribbean market or the general diffusion of American culture in the globalized media arena. While the Caribbean people try to maintain their cultural differences, they must also balance this with responsibility in trade arrangements such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

One of the national symbols of Caribbean, the parrot is depicted on the Caribbean money and was on many Caribbean postage stamps


Official symbols of Caribbean include the parrot, palm, and the shell. Many official symbols of the country such as the flags of Caribbean have been changed or modified over the past years in order to "Caribbeanize" them and de-emphasise or remove references to the United Kingdom. For example The Cayman Islands now uses National Symbols that include their indigenous* Parrot, Silver Thatch, Palm and the Wild Banana Orchid.[13]

Symbols of the monarchy in Caribbean continue to be featured in, for example, the Arms of Caribbean and armed forces. The designation "Royal" remains for institutions as varied as the Royal Caribbean Police, though with the unification of armed forces into the Caribbean Forces, the Royal Caribbean Air Force and Royal Caribbean Navy ceased to exist. However, certain Caribbean Forces Land Force Command (army) units carry "Royal" titles, Caribbean Forces Maritime Command vessels are still styled "HMCS".


The works of most early Caribbean painters followed European trends. During the mid-1800s, Caribbean painters have developed a wide range of highly individual styles. The arts have flourished in Caribbean since the 1900s, and especially since the end of World War II in 1945.

The Washington Organization of American States (inaugurated in 1976) houses one of the oldest 20th-century art collections representing the Caribbean. For example one exhibit showcased works included two important pieces by women artists of the Caribbean: El vendedor de andullo (Tobacco Vendor), 1938, by modernist Celeste Woss y Gil of the Dominican Republic, and an oil painting entitled Marpacífico (Hibiscus-Marpacífico is the name used in Cuba for the hibiscus flower), 1943, by Cuban modernist Amelia Peláez. There have even been a rare selection of prints by Haitian artists such as Castera Bazile, Wilson Bigaud, Dieudonné Cedor, Jacques-Enguerrand Gourgue and Gabriel Lévêque, that have not been exhibited since they were part of a traveling exhibition in 1948.


Caribbean writer Andrew Salkey, author of ''Hurricane'' Children's novel.

Caribbean literature is often divided into Spanish, French and English-language literature, which are rooted in the literary traditions of Spain, France and Britain, respectively. However, collectively this literature has become distinctly Caribbean. Caribbean literature, whether written in English, French or Spanish, often reflects the Caribbean perspective on nature, life, and the region's position in the world, Caribbean identity is closely tied to its literature. Caribbean literature is often categorised by region or island; by the status of the author (e.g., literature of Caribbean women, Europeans, Asian peoples, and Irish Caribbeans); and by literary period, such as "Caribbean postmoderns" or "Caribbean Poets Between the Wars".

Caribbean authors have won numerous awards. Mark McWatt won Best First Book Award in the 2006 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the Caribbean region for his work of fiction Suspended Sentences: Fictions of Atonement.

A selection of poetry and fiction produced in the Caribbean during the 19th and 20th centuries and be searched at "Caribbean Literature".[14][15][16][17][18][19]


The music of the Caribbean reflects the multi-cultural influences that have shaped the Caribbean. The first historical figures to influence Caribbean musicians were from the South Americas and to some degree Africa. Nevertheless, the Caribbean's first peoples, the Spanish, the French, and the British, have all made large contributions to the musical heritage of Caribbean as well. Since Spanish explorer Columbus arrived and established the first permanent Caribbean settlements, the islands have produced their own composers, musicians and ensembles. From the 17th century onwards, the Caribbean has developed a music infrastructure that includes church halls, performing arts centers, record companies, radio stations and television music video channels. The music has subsequently been heavily influenced by American culture because of its proximity and migration between the two regions.

The Caribbean has produced a variety of internationally successful performers and artist. These individuals are honoured at The Awards, recognizing Caribbean achievement in popular music.In addition, the Caribbean is home to a number of popular summertime folk festivals. The Caribbean has also produced many notable composers, who have contributed in a variety of ways to the history of Western classical music.

There are the Anthony N Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence (ANSCAFE) launched in October 2005 to awards in the Arts (and other areas). Up to 2010, they were made biennially, but as of 2011, the awards will be made yearly in ceremonies in Trinidad. Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham (late President of Guyana) facilitated the first Caribbean Festival of the Arts (CARIFESTA) in 1972 in Georgetown, Guyana.

Caribbean theatre

The Caribbean has a thriving stage theatre scene. Judy Stone writes: "In addition to the conventional drama of social realism and the yard theatre, the range includes popular farce and roots theatre, musical folk theatre, pantomime, community theatre, Jamaica’s Gun Court theatre, political theatre, church theatre, children’s theatre, storytelling, the street theatre of Carnival and carnival theatre, calypso theatre, theatre of ritual, and the poetic theatre of St Lucia’s Derek Walcott. There is also a considerable body of dramatic work written for film, television and radio. Cuba, in particular, has a comparatively vibrant film industry."[20] Theatre festivals draw many tourists in the tourist months. As an example - Ruprecht[21] argues Creole Theatre would take one on a tour to a chain of islands in the Caribbean, and he offers an analysis of the contemporary Creole theatre of the Caribbean and of the work of some of the playwrights associated with Creole theatre, such as Frankétienne and Cavé in Haiti, José Exélis and Arthur Lérus in Guadeloupe, as well as Boukman and Placoly of Martinique.[22][23] The Trinidad Theatre Workshop (established in 1959).[24]

Film and television

The Caribbean film market was dominated by the American film industry for decades, although that film industry has since inception seen a prominent role for actors, directors, producers and technicians of Caribbean origin. Filmmakers from the Caribbean began to challenge Hollywood by making innovative and relevant documentary, dramas and feature films.

Some Caribbean islands have developed a small but vigorous film industry that has produced a variety of well-known films, actors, and auteurs. Also, the distinct French-Caribbean and Spanish-Caribbean society permits the work of directors to contribute very different film-forms. Some have became the Caribbean's first films to win the Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Many Caribbean people are employed in the film industry, and celebrity-spotting is frequent throughout many Caribbean cities.

Caribbean television, especially supported by the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, is the home of a variety of locally-produced shows. French and Spanish-language television, is buffered from excessive American influence by the fact of language, and likewise supports a host of home-grown productions. The success of French and Spanish-language domestic television and movies in Caribbean often exceeds that of its English-language counterpart. Caribbean Media Awards honor the best feature broadcast placements, print and photography from Caribbean-based media outlets.

Caribbean humour

Royal Palm Estate sitcom in Jamaica.

Caribbean humour is an integral part of the Caribbean Identity. There are several traditions in Caribbean humour in English, Spanish and French. While these traditions are distinct and at times very different, there are common themes that relate to Caribbeans' shared history and geopolitical situation in North America and the world. Various trends can be noted in Caribbean comedy. One thread is the portrayal of a "typical" Caribbean family in an on-going radio or television series. Examples include a mix of drama, humour, politics and religion and sitcoms. Another major thread tends to be political and cultural satire: television shows such as Royal Palm Estate, monologuists and writers, draw their inspiration from Caribbean society and politics. Another trend revels in absurdity and musician-comedians. Satire is arguably the primary characteristic of Caribbean humour, evident in each of these threads, and uniting various genres and regional cultural differences.

In 1957, mento artist Lord Flea stated that: "West Indians have the best sense of humor in the world. Even the most solemn song, like "Las Kean Fine" ("Lost and Can Not Be Found"), which tells of a boiler explosion on a sugar plantation that killed several of the workers, their natural wit and humor shine though."[25]


The sporting culture of Caribbean is different from that of many other countries. Compared to any other nation, Caribbeans prefer a unique set of sports that are imported from the United Kingdom or home-grown — namely cricket and football. In the Caribbean, football means British football or what is sometimes called soccer around the world. The newly formed (2009) Caribbean Awards Sports Icons (CASI) are based on accomplishments made over the last 60 years (1948–2008), for these who have made their mark in the various fields of sports.

Other popular team sports include cricket, rugby, Football (soccer) and softball. Currently, Cricket is the biggest sport in Caribbean. Popular individual sports include auto racing, boxing, cycling, golf, hiking, horse racing, skateboarding, swimming, tennis, triathlon, track and field, water sports, and wrestling. As an area with a generally warm climate, the Caribbean countries have enjoyed greater success at the Summer Olympics or Central American and Caribbean Games than at the Winter Olympics.

Great achievements in Caribbean sport are recognized by Caribbean's Sports Hall of Fame, while Trophies are awarded annually to top athlete by a panel of journalists.

Outside views

See also


  1. ^ Paul, L. M. (ed.), Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 16th ed. Dallas, Texas (2009).
  2. ^ Aceto, Michael, and Jeffrey P. Williams (eds), Contact Englishes of the Eastern Caribbean, Varieties of English around the World, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2003.
  3. ^ Solomon, Denis, The Speech of Trinidad: A Reference Grammar, St. Augustine: School of Continuing Studies, University of the West Indies (1993).
  4. ^ Corne, C., From French to Creole: The Development of New Vernaculars in the French Colonial World, London: University of Westminster Press (1999).
  5. ^ McWhorter, J. H., The Missing Spanish Creoles: Recovering the Birth of Plantation Contact, Los Angeles: University of California Press (2000).
  6. ^ Allsopp, R., Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage, with a French and Spanish Supplement, Oxford: Oxford University Press (1996).
  7. ^ Trouillot, Michel-Rolph “The Caribbean Region: An Open Frontier in Anthropological Theory,” Annual Review of Anthropology 21 (1992).
  8. ^ Premdas, R. and Williams, H., “Self-Determination and Secession in the Caribbean: The Case of Tobago”, Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism (1992).
  9. ^ Richardson, B. C., The Caribbean in the Wider World 1492–1992, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1992).
  10. ^ Knight, F. W., and Palmer, C. A., “The Caribbean” in The Modern Caribbean, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press (1989).
  11. ^ Lowenthal, D., West Indian Societies, Oxford: OUP (1972).
  12. ^ Premdas, R. R., “The Anatomy of Ethnic Conflict” in The Enigma of Ethnicity: An Analysis of Race and Ethnicity in the Caribbean and the World, Trinidad: University of the West Indies Press (1993).
  13. ^ The National Symbols: Flora and Fauna of the Cayman Islands Study Guide
  14. ^ Arnold, J. A. (ed.), A History of Literature in the Caribbean vol. I & II, Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publ. Co. (2001).
  15. ^ Fenwick, M. J., Writers of the Caribbean and Central American vol. I & II, London: Garland Publ. (1992).
  16. ^ Lanham, M. G., Caribbean Literature: A bibliography, London: Scarecrow Press (1998).
  17. ^ Dance, D. C., Fifty Caribbean Writers, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press (1986).
  18. ^ Allan, E., Anglophone Caribbean Poetry, 1970-2001: an annotated bibliography, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press (2002).
  19. ^ Airia, Cesar, Diccionáirio de Autores Latinoamericanos, Buenos Aires: Emece (2001).
  20. ^ The Continuum Companion to Twentieth Century Theatre (London, 2002).Judy S. J. Stone, "Caribbean drama", in Colin Chambers (ed.), Retrieved from Drama Online.
  21. ^ Ruprecht, Alvina Les Theatres Francophones et Creolophones de la Caraibe. Paris: L’Harmattan (2003).
  22. ^ Corsbie, Ken, Theatre in the Caribbean, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 60 pp. (1984).
  23. ^ Banham, M., Hill, E., Woodyard, G. W., The Cambridge Guide to African and Caribbean Theatre, Cambridge: University Press, 261 pp. (1994).
  24. ^ Omotoso, Kole, The Theatrical into Theatre: A Study of the Drama and Theatre in the English-speaking Caribbean, London (1982).
  25. ^ Michael Garnice (11 March 2012). "Mento Music Lord Flea". Retrieved 14 April 2013. 

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