Discuss the contributions of the various ethnic groups to Caribbean society

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The history of the Caribbean is rich with adventurous tales, blended cultures, and natural diversity. The impact of colonialism and slavery can still be seen in many of the island cultures today; so much so, in fact, that travellers often note a sense of living with the near-tangible history that permeates the region. Knowing the history of the Caribbean region goes a long way toward understanding its people. Each island has a unique cultural identity shaped by the European colonialists, the African heritage of slaves, and the enduring legacies of the native Indian tribes. This rich history and its lasting influence are set against a backdrop of crystal clear waters and perpetual sunshine.

Although not largely written about, Caribbean culture has arguably been preserved more by the authentic voices of “intuitive scholars”: artists, farmers, merchants, and traders educationally deprived, perhaps, but quite learned in the cultural heritage of the island nations. They are the region’s best oral historians and cultural preservationists. The Caribbean lifestyle is undoubtedly a product of its tropical setting. The music, architecture, attitudes and customs have all, in some way, been shaped by the physical landscape and climate. The cultures of the Caribbean countries are a blend of colonial mainstays and pervasive influences by major ethnic groups of the region such as East Indians and Africans.

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The contribution of the various ethnic groups to Caribbean cultures as being far reaching hence the need to look at each group individually. Firstly the Europeans, the 15th century was the era of rivalry in the European continent especially among the countries of Spain, France, Britain; Portugal and to some extend The Dutch. Spain led the way in the venture to the Caribbean in 1492 with the man known to the rest of the world as Christopher Columbus the (discoverer). Spain was followed by other European countries that would eventually make contribution to the Caribbean in many difference areas, examples of such areas are; food, religion, music, dress and sports. How did the European contributed to Caribbean culture in terms of their food.

According to a retrieved from http: //caribbean-guide.info/past.and.present/culture/.com. Caribbean food is a rich reminder of where today’s Caribbean people came from: island food brings together indigenous tastes of the native Arawak and Carib Indians, European colonial influences, and African flavours introduced by slaves. Sugar cane that would eventually see the exploitation of African was introduced to the Caribbean by Christopher Columbus in the 1500s. Sugar cane was to become one of main economic player in the Caribbean up until the 1900th. According to an article retrieved from http://eouropeanfood.About.com Guide. Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean around 1492 and introduced Spanish influences on Latin Caribbean cooking. Other Europeans followed the Spanish in colonizing the islands and brought their culinary trademarks. Some of the ingredients the Spanish and Europeans introduced include: coconut, chickpeas, cilantro, eggplant, onions, garlic, oranges, limes, mangoes, rice and coffee. It didn’t take long to discover that rum could be made from fermented cane juice. This is one contribution that the Caribbean enjoys the benefit especial Jamaica which is main producer of rum in the Caribbean. In addition to food the Europeans also contributed in the dance and music. The history of Caribbean music begins with the Native Americans, the first inhabitants of the islands. Traditional tribal music which featured percussion instruments developed but perished along with most of the Native Americans in the 1600s. Subsequent Caribbean music emerged as a result of new relationships between African slaves and European settlers. The settler communities, as opposed to the plantation towns, attracted large numbers of very different people and harboured a very lively music culture.

According to an article retrieved from http://www.caribbeanedu.com. Caribbean Music encompasses a diverse variety of musical styles and traditions from Caribbean countries. The styles range anywhere from traditional folk genres such as the Puerto Rican Aguinaldo and Jamaican mento to more contemporary music such as salsa and reggae. Most music of this region combines features of music from Africa with features of music from the West. This combination began with the European colonization and slave trade but still continues into the present. Two of the dances that have become a part of the Caribbean culture are; Quadrille and Maypole. According to http://darrensylvester.beep.com Quadrille was developed in France during the 18th century as a court dance for Napoleon, the Quadrille was brought to England, and then introduced to the colonial Caribbean during the early 19th century, providing entertainment on social occasions for planters. The Maypole is usually a tall wooden pole made out of bamboo, but recent, local manifestations include steel or even plastic. It has its genesis in European (Germanic) countries and is normally an integral part of the celebrations associated with Midsummer festivities and rites, spring and more recently, May Day or May 1. In Jamaica, the British introduced the dance to the enslaved Africans during the 19th century who, as is customary, added their own interpretation, movements and instruments.

The Europeans also contributed to the culture of the Caribbean in the area of religion. According to an article retrieved from http://caribbean-guide.info/past.and.present. The earliest European “discoveries” in the Caribbean were made by men who were Roman Catholic. Since then, Catholicism has been the dominant religion of much of the Caribbean. Both the Spanish and French were Catholic, while many of the British immigrants, usually from Ireland, also followed the faith. Dutch Catholics came to the islands as well. It has also being suggested by Mohammad. J, Lochan. S et.at (2004), that while some countries were dominantly catholic some were predominantly Anglican over time many other denomination as follows. Secondly the contribution of the Africans, it is the view of many historians that this ethnic group has made the biggest contribution the Caribbean. Firstly let look at their contribution in in food. According to an article retrieved from http://EzineArticles.com. Once the Europeans brought Africans slaves into the region, the slaves diet consisted mostly of food the slave owners did not want to eat. So the slaves had to be inventive, and they blended their traditional African foods with staples found on the islands. The Africans introduced okra, callaloo, fish cakes, saltfish, ackee, pudding and souse, mangos, and the list goes on. Most present day Caribbean island locals eat a present diet that is reflective of the main ingredients of original early African dishes, and includes cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, plantains, bananas and corn meal. African men were hunters in their homeland, and often away from home for long periods of time. They would cook spicy pork over hot coals, and this tradition was refined by the early slaves in Jamaica. The technique is known today as “jerk” cooking, and the secret involves a slow meat cooking process. Jamaica is famous for jerk chicken and pork, and you’ll find jerk all over the island.Old African culture and customs influence much of the religious worship, artistic expression, rhythmic dancing, singing and even ways of thinking in the Caribbean.

Spiritual practices such as Junkanoo in the Bahamas and Jamaica. Santeria in Cuba, Voodoo in Haiti, and Rastafarian in Jamaica are African-influenced movements that have Caribbean origin but a worldwide following. Reggae music and jerk cooking are also Africa-inspired gifts to the world from the Caribbean. In the Eastern Caribbean Soca Tradition, for example, the limbo dance ritual has its roots on the slave ships that came to the colonies on the horrific “Middle Passage. Many elements of traditional African dance can be seen in Caribbean dance forms, fusing together the elements of history and culture. Africa has a rich dance culture, and all areas of social life include dancing. Popular dances such as the Rumba, Mambo, and Samba all have roots in Africa. Other dance includes; Bongo – Trinidad, Brukin’s – Jamaica, Dinki Mini – Jamaica, Gere – Jamaica, Gumbay – Jamaica Goombay – Bahamas, Ibo – Haiti and Kumina – Jamaica Another major contribution is language; Creole languages are nearly two hundred years old. They came about during the first slavery era in the Caribbean. Creole is a “patois” language that is a varied combination of African syntax and European lexicon, or words.

It evolved out of necessity, as slaves had to communicate with the European plantation owners. Derivations include French Creole, with regional dialects in Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Dominica and French Guyana; Papiamento, a Dutch, Portuguese, English and African blend; and Patwa in Jamaica. In addition to language there is also contribution to religion, according to Norman. A, (1996) the biggest challenge (and support) to the growth of Christianity was slavery. Slaves from Africa brought their own religious and spiritual practices with them, some of which combined with Catholic practices and became entirely new religions, while some spiritual beliefs simply occurred out of sight of the white masters. Many of the Caribbean-born slaves were indoctrinated into Christianity. In fact, the end of slavery helped encourage some religious diversity in the islands. Then there are the Indians, after the abolition/emancipation of slavery the plantation owners had to love elsewhere for labour hence the encounter with India where they sorted labourer for their plantation these India were referred to indenture labourers. Indian immigration helped to enrich and diversify the culture of the Caribbean. They brought their religions Hinduism and Islam to the region along with their dress, food, dance, and cultural practices. Although they face some difficulties, they were able to practice their religion and maintain their culture to a far greater extent than was the case with Africans brought to the Caribbean during slavery. While some prejudices and misunderstanding remains, the importance of the indo-Caribbean contribution to many different aspects of Caribbean life and culture is increasingly recognized. According to Gilmore. J, Allen. B, et.al (2004). The indentured labourers who came to Caribbean brought with them their own East Indian cuisine, complete with traditional seasonings and ways of cooking. Most important of their spices were the curries. Foods such as rice, curry, mangos, roti, doubles, saheena, katchowrie, barah, anchar and pholourie have become part of the national cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. The majority of Caribbean people are immigrants and include a diverse population of Caribbean Amerindians and the descendants of African slaves and settlers, and Dutch, Spanish, British, Portuguese, Lebanese, Chinese, Danish, Asian Indian, German and French settlers. The largest ethnic groups in Anglo-Caribbean countries today are people of African, British and Asian-Indian descent.

From an evolutionary standpoint through the years the Caribbean has benefited from this melting pot of cultures, coupled with the hot tropical climate results in a warm social atmosphere, infectious to all who set foot on these Caribbean shores. Reggae, Calypso accentuates the music of the Caribbean islands, thrilling your very soul with the pulsating rhythm of the beat, putting you in the mood to comprehend the true meaning of the word “NO PROBLEM MAN”. The rich spicy jerk chickens, the rich seafood – escoveitch fish, want to tickle your pallet and arts and crafts depicting the mood of the artists, wooing the very imagination of the onlooker. All ethnic groups have made significant amount of contribution to the Caribbean to make the culture what it is today. Although each group came to the Caribbean under difference circumstances; the Europeans as explorers, the Africans as slaves the Indians and the Chinese as indenture labourers. None of the ethnic group can be over look when discussing the culture of the Caribbean.

Gillmore. J, Allen. B, et.at (2004) Freedom and Change Longman Caribbean History Carlong Publishers (Caribbean) limited.
Mohammed. J, Lochan. S et.at (2004) Caribbean Studies, Self Study and Distance Learning Norman. A, (1996) The People who came. New Edition Carlong Publisher Limited Retrieved from http://caribbean-guide.info/past.and.present/culture/.com on February 19, 2012 Spanish and European Ingredients by Hector Rodriguez, retrieved from http://About.com Guide on February 20, 2012

Retrieved from http://darrensylvester.beep.com on February 20, 2012 Caribbean-Food—A-Little-History retrieved from http://EzineArticles.com on February 21, 2012

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