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Caribbean Culture and its many influencers

Rich, diverse, unique! These are some of the many words that can be used to describe Caribbean culture. How exactly has the culture of the Caribbean islands been shaped? This is a question on the minds of many. Who have been the major influencers? This is another such question and so is the question, how have they contributed to the development of the islands? These are questions that may have been asked several times. However the answers are without a doubt as interesting and mystifying as they bring with them not just a sense of excitement but also a taste of paradise!



When Archbishop Desmond Tutu described Trinidad and Tobago as a ‘melting pot’ so many years ago, little did he know that Trinidad is a microcosm of the islands of the Caribbean archipelago. This melting pot he referred was so named because of the rich infusion of multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism not just from Europe but also from India, Africa, China and North America. As we all know, Europe, India, Africa, China and North America have all been dominant powerhouses in world history. What sets North America apart from the others is that it is the ‘land of immigrants’ as it was also discovered by Christopher Columbus. More so over the last century it has maintained its position as a major force to be reckoned with not just in the Western world but also throughout the world.


The Caribbean Islands are rich and just as they are rich, they are also diverse. With African migration to the islands over 400 years ago and Indian migration occurring two centuries later, the islands continue to be shaped by the richness of both. The presence of both Africans and East Indians lies not only in the Caribbean but also stretches to the nearby South American continent in Guyana and Suriname as well as Central America and North America.


While the question of how these influencers have contributed to Caribbean culture exists the answer is evident in several ways. First of all they have brought many of their traditions that continue to be practiced to date. In their respective traditions key among them is their spirituality and this is evident from the vast number of temples and churches throughout the islands. Temples can predominantly be found in Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname but churches are seen on each of the islands, showing a strong presence of the African and European influence.


The Maracas Coastline

Ethnic wear is also very visible across the islands and this presents itself in the form of traditional wear by East Indians to visit their respective temples for worship. Traditional wear is also worn on festive occasions like Indian Arrival Day and Deepavali. In like manner African wear is worn on public holidays like Emancipation Day and Shouter Baptist Liberation Day. Further to this both the East Indians and Africans also brought with them their religious books and their musical instruments. While on one hand the East Indians brought their dhantal and majeera for example they also brought their drums like the Africans did.



Showing African Drumming

Photo Credit: Triniview.com

The good news is that if you are a ‘foodie’ you would enjoy the blend of East Indian and African foods throughout the islands. Whether it is roti or doubles, dhal and rice or a good curry you are in for a treat. Indian food is very popular and it is also much sought after. The same can be said if you are looking for a stew, callaloo (made with dasheen bush, okra, pumpkin, coconut milk and seasoning) or a pelau (an iconic dish of pigeon peas, meat or chicken that is cooked with fresh herbs, and coconut milk and flavored and colored with burnt sugar). These are some of the many tasty African foods through the islands.



The beauty of Caribbean architecture- NAPA at night


However the American influence is not to be missed. Many may ask how and this is why- in addition to the steady stream of Caribbean nationals who visit the United States of America year after year, many choose to wear popular American brands like Old Navy, Nike, Hollister, Michael Kors, Donna Karan and Tommy Hilfiger just to name a few.

Similarly American food is also quite popular across the islands. Corn flakes, buffalo wings, onion rings, cole slaw, crab cakes and mac and cheese are among the more preferred American dishes. Most of the islands have also adopted America’s fast food culture. This can be seen in the heavy presence of international food franchises that can be found in each of the islands.

In addition to this it is worth mentioning that the face of the cinema industry has also evolved throughout the islands. In years gone by there was a large audience following the Indian movie industry and the Chinese movie industry but over the years this has shifted significantly. Now the focus is on the Hollywood movie industry and more recently, Nollywood.



A view of the yachts

Based on this, yes, the Caribbean culture has been shaped to a large extent by its heavy migrant population. They have all had a part to play! That part in essence has shaped it into being the ‘melting pot’ of cultures and races living together with respect and appreciation for one another.

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