Caribbean Culture

Being the first land discovered in the New World, the Caribbean is a much different place today than it was in the late 15th century. As the native population was decimated by disease, European countries needed to maintain a strong workforce to tend to the plantations. The African slave trade brought more than 5 million native Africans to the Caribbean, creating a sort of neo-Africa. This importation of Africans is what defines Caribbean culture today, but the blending of European culture with African culture makes it unique.

Religion is one of the places where we begin to see the blending of African and European cultures. There is a very strong influence of Western-African religions in the Caribbean, but they are often mixed with Christianity. The most widely practiced religions in the Caribbean are Voodoo (Haiti), Santeria (Cuba), and Obeah (Jamaica). The impact of these religions on Caribbean culture is very significant and taken seriously. Dictators in the Caribbean were known to hire Voodoo priests to scare off government opposition.

Since multiple European countries colonized the Caribbean, it is no surprise that there are four dominant languages. These are Spanish (25 million speakers), French (10 million), English (6 million), and Dutch (0.5 million). It is worth mentioning, however, that within Caribbean countries, different variations of the dominant languages have arisen. Even completely new languages have emerged. For example, Paipamento, a language that blends Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and African, is widely spoken on the island of Aruba. Another example of a new language form is French Creole, or patois, and it is spoken in Haiti.

The most distinguishing aspect of Caribbean culture that is recognized around the world is its music. The Caribbean is the home of reggae, calypso, meringue, rumba, zouk, and many other musical forms. Today, the rhythmic music has roots in both African and European culture. The upbeat drum rhythms are an African influence, while the forms of melody and verse are distinctly European. A unique instrument to arise from the Caribbean is the steel drum pan. In the 1940s, oil drums discarded by an American military base in Trinidad were pounded with sledge hammers. This created a concave surface that produced different tones. Famous musicians that came from the Caribbean include Bob Marley, Celia Cruz, and Juan Luis Guerra.

The Caribbean is a truly magnificent place to experience the blending of multiple cultures. Here, you can be witness to how human creativity has shaped and blended very different customs into a unique culture in a world of its own.