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The Caribbean

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The Caribbean

The inhabited islands clustered in the Caribbean Sea are an interesting study in cultural and social identity. Colonized by european powers from the Fifteenth Century, the Caribbean islands have become mixtures of cultures from Europe, Africa, and India, as well as from the original inhabitants of the islands. As a result, describing and defining the Caribbean is a much more difficult task than it appears on the surface. The norms and ideas of identity and history that exist on one island are vastly different than those that exist on a near neighbor, despite similarities in geography and history.
To better understand the differences and similarities between Caribbean islands and the people who inhabit them, a look at the works of three individuals can be of assistance. The first, Sidney Mintz, was a knowledgeable historian and well respected authority on the Caribbean. His article, titled, “The Caribbean as a Socio-cultural Area,” is based upon his efforts to create a rigid taxonomy of the Caribbean’s past and how that past affected the present. The second author, Antonio Benitez-Rojo, attempts to do the same thing as Mintz, albeit in a more modern and open-minded way, by breaking down the ideas of what makes the Caribbean the Caribbean. Benitez-Rojo uses the idea of “rhythms” to describe the connection and ideas of community that, to him, make up the idea of “the Caribbean.” The final author is not a historian or literary critic like the previous two, but she does offer perhaps the most revealing look at what life is like on a Caribbean island out of the three. Michelle Cliff is a writer from Jamaica and in her two works, Abeng and “If I Could Write This in Fire, I Would Write This in Fire,” she explores the de...


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...lf.(Abeng p.158) On the other hand, the black residents of the island feel that any presence of “whiteness” is a negative aspect as well. Clare’s friend Zoe asks her mother why Clare wouldn’t let her try on her new bathing suit, and Zoe’s mother responds, “de buckra people, dem is fe dem alone,” meaning that white people (although Clare is only partly white) can only fraternize with other white people. This division based on color is the main issue of the book, and one that is extremely relevant in Jamaica even today.

All of these pieces of writing try to define what makes the Caribbean, in all of its variations, the Caribbean. The mixing of different cultures and races over the past three four hundred years has created a geographical area that, despite looking similar from a general view, is actually extremely diverse and different when looked at from close-up.

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