History of the Caribbean

History of the Caribbean

For hundreds of years the Caribbean islands were inhabited by three main indigenous tribes – the Arawaks, the Ciboney and the tribe that gave the island its name: the Caribs. When Christopher Columbus became the first European to land on these shores, the history of the Caribbean took a dramatic turn. Spain originally claimed the entire region as its own. This pleased neither the islanders who lived there, nor the other major European powers. Within a few years, bloody battles raged over the Caribbean islands, with France, Spain, England, Netherlands and Denmark all claiming various islands as their own. Meanwhile, the tribes native to the islands were being annihilated. As the people were wiped out, so was their way of life, thus the culture of Caribbean people changed forever. With the onset of slavery on many of the islands, the native cultures were replaced with those carried over from Africa. Mixed with the imperial European forces, this new Caribbean culture was ever-changing.

Eventually the fighting stopped and most of the islands settled down. Though slavery still ravaged the the sugar and coffee plantations, most of the warring stopped, as each of the European powers carved out their own cultures on their respective islands. This began the splintering of cultures amongst the islands, as even the differences between neighboring islands such as St. Lucia and Barbados began to differ in small but significant ways. Many of the islands retain carefully preserved plantations and monuments to the many battles – in fact, the colonial Europeans did a wonderful job throughout the years of upkeep in regards to historical sites and architecture, allowing the new amalgamation of cultures that defines Caribbean culture to live on to this day.

Much of the history of the Caribbean is reflected in the traditional music and food of the region. Original Caribbean cuisine has its roots in not only imperial foods, but in the odd recipes crafted by the early African slaves. Their attempts to recreate dishes from their homelands were tempered by the ingredients they had at hand – the main diet of slaves consisted of whatever their masters didn’t want. Thus many of the spices native to the Caribbean islands made their way into simple, African dishes.

Caribbean music history is equally rich with tradition. Calypso, reggae, soca, zouk and many similar styles were each born in the islands of Trinidad, Jamaica, and Haiti. Their continuing popularity is a testament to the resiliency of the culture of the Caribbean culture.

Nowadays, many of the islands have either won their independence or are part of their invading countries in name only. Some the islands have become commonwealths of the United States. Others like Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti are entirely self-sufficient. This has splintered the culture of Caribbean people even further, as many of the islands continue to stake out new identities as they forge past their imperial pasts and into the future.



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