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The Caribbean as a cultural space

Fragmentation is what mostly describes the Caribbean. The convergence of the European countries which arrived in the New World via the insular spaces in the Archipelago brought models of domination which resulted in the implantation of societies, both diversified and identically rooted at the same time. In the latter case, the language became a reason for eliminating the possible communication channels between peoples. Nowadays, the linguistic fragmentation is still persisting as a barrier.   

But this was one of the numerous complexities characterizing the Caribbean. If all the metropolitan and cultural models, self-implemented as dominant, thus, excluding spirituality from the dominated by violence, the strategies aimed at erasing the other’s culture have failed. Notwithstanding, all of those who arrived from the four corners of the Globe although they arrived in the islands - the New World Gateway – either by their own will, by submission or illusion, have developed a new conception of individuality versus the origin community and the interest for another in progress.

Those arriving from the emerging European nations recognized themselves as European in the New World. It has been the case for the Spaniards, the British, the French, the Dutch and the Danish. The African natives from all the ethnic groups treated as slaves, scattered the seed of Panafricanism in this Atlantic area. Under the generic name of Asian or eastern, one has discovered people coming from the most remote areas of a region that stretches from India to the Pacific Archipelago passing by continental Asia.  

For 4 centuries and by running waves, this great plurality of cultures - added to the traces of the people of the origins – set the roots of settlement in the islands. Each of them brought its own while nurturing from culture as a symbolical patrimony of thinking and knowledge models getting evidence through material objects and goods. In particular it is about how to drive the society and ideology, how to symbolize the communication and formalize the social experience into knowledge systems, creations and values. That turns thus the Caribbean society into one of the utmost human experience.                        

The Europeans arriving to the New World – via its archipelago – seeking for material resources aiming to both initiate and strengthen the new production system as a substitute to feudalism, it then became imperative to turn the new territories into workshops dedicated to the European industry. The specialization of each of the Metropolitan powers in  particular production systems and commodities meant that, the West Indian workshops had to be updated for complying with both the needs of a capitalist system and the specificities of each nation.  

Then, the combination of economic and cultural factors led to the implementation of a society, different in its forms but sharing roots in islands separated by a common maritime space.  It is precisely this particular combination of diversity and identity that allows us to identify this region of the world as the Caribbean. It is also these same factors that helped to reach the consensus about the definition of its border lines.  The first confusion happened when Christopher Columbus assumed that he arrived in the Grand Khan’s kingdom in Western India. Since probably no other region in the world has been the scene of such a violent coalition for the domination of the most powerful nations in the world. Similarly, like a few other regions in the world, the Caribbean has been of great interest in terms of strategy, politics, military conflict, economics, and ideology to name some.  

Just considering the examples mentioned above, it is then possible to understand why any attempt to define the Caribbean,  implies so many difficult and varying answers. There is no other region in the world for which it is so elusive to define its area in terms of geography, history, sociology and even economy.  Observing the territories and identifying the vast number of regional entities in which the term “Caribbean” appears in their name, is sufficient enough to confirm the previous affirmation. Recording the great number of studies related to that topic would be an extraordinary task.   

Nowadays, in the academic circle, the most accepted definitions are : insular Caribbean or ethno historical, Caribbean Basin and Greater Caribbean. Each of them refers to a view point that varies depending upon the historical moment analyzed and the resulting characteristics. All these definitions are admitted within their own field of study.  

Nonetheless, a suggested definition for the Caribbean, would be to consider both its varying characteristics and its unique identity. For this reason, in the present study, the Caribbean is defined as:              

The cultural area created since the end of the XV century to serve the expansion of capitalism. Since that time it remained inserted into one of the angle of the world’s triangular economy. The unifying factor of the diversity characterizing the Caribbean is rooted into a common history. This history is related to the creation, consolidation and development of a world economic system mediated through a political andeconomic structure. This both mono export and poly import organisation is the Plantation, that produces owing to a foreign manpower – enslaved or not – in a geographical space altered by the import of floral and fauna species. This economical asset determines the political organisation to be implemented and within which the inhabitants’ rights are strongly limited by the metropolitan power. 

As the human element is imported from all the corners of the terrestrial globe the society is simultaneously resulting from exogenous economical imperatives and the amalgamation of indigenous cultures. Consequently the Caribbean society is diversified in its expression of spirituality, arts, religion, language, music, cooking, dressing, and ethnicity 

The existence of models like the economical, political, social and cultural ones linked by common roots led to the conspicuousness of the patent similarities that identify us. Resistance expressed itself through both individual emancipatory actions and collective independence. The same holds true for the intellectual expressions related to the emergence and development of nationalism, and the black consciousness as well that is evident throughout the region.  

These are the features that merged in the islands and borders territories of the southern part of the American continent. The same that makes the Caribbean a cultural space diversified yet identical, which expressing force is able to relocate its geographical space from origin into distant cities such as London, Paris, New York and Amsterdam. But it is only when we begin to turn our historical and intellectual heritage into a common and shared good that the Caribbean will definitely become rooted as a cultural space.

Catégorie : What is the Caribbean ?

Pour citer l'article : (2013). "The Caribbean as a cultural space" in Cruse & Rhiney (Eds.), Caribbean Atlas, http://www.caribbean-atlas.com/en/themes/what-is-the-caribbean/the-caribbean-as-a-cultural-space.html.



Best, Lloyd y Levitt-Polany, Kari (2008) Teoría de la economía de plantación. La Habana : Casa de las Américas.   Ribeiro, Darcy (1992) El proceso civilizatorio. La Habana : Ciencias Sociales. p. 8  

Chapters of books

Lamming, George (1999) Editor´s Note en Lamming, George (Ed.) Enterprise of the Indies (pp. vii - viii). Trinidad and Tobago : The Institute of the West Indies.  

Pérez Concepción, Hebert (2004) Introducción al Caribe en Colectivo de autores, Pensar el Caribe. Cinco ensayos de interpretación de la región Caribeña (pp. 9-82). Santiago de Cuba : Editorial Oriente.