Cultural Identity in the Caribbean


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.

Barbados, a former British colony, retains enough British traditions to be called “Little England.” Antigua, while offering a more laid-back attitude, still observes old British customs.

On the other hand, Jamaica retains few of the colonial customs, relies heavily on pre-colonial heritage and is passionately self-sufficient. Jamaica also boasts a successful democracy and maintains a peaceful existence in the Caribbean. Its residents run the gamut from staid English aristocrats to vibrant Rastafarians.

Aruba, once a Dutch possession, only retains slight Dutch influence today. The U.S. Virgin Islands, purchased from the Dutch in 1917, mainly have an American feel with a few lingering elements of Dutch culture.

The Dominican Republic is largely underdeveloped except in the capital of Santo Domingo, a city teeming with two million people. It is a sparsely populated, mountainous country whose past is riddled with political turmoil.

In contrast, nearby Puerto Rico is the most modern island in the Caribbean. Spanish and American influences are apparent throughout this island abounding with high-rises and traffic. Guadeloupe remains a French possession. There are some African influences here, but French customs, culture, and language prevail.