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CARIBBEAN. The Caribbean is generally thought to include the Greater and Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, as well as the mainland French Guiana, Guyana (formerly colonial British Guiana), and Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana) in South America, and the Central American nation of Belize (formerly British Honduras). It is a geographic nexus between Old and New Worlds, and as such has been global since its inception as a region. Boasting no distinguishable population of direct pre-Columbian descendants apart from a small Carib community in Dominica, its inhabitants are otherwise composed of a highly diverse ethnic and cultural mix of descendants from the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia.

Spain was the initial colonizer of the entire Caribbean, but contiguous Spanish settlement in the Caribbean was limited largely to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. Still, one should talk of the Caribbean as a region distinct from Latin America. The Spanish Caribbean islands have been shaped by experiences similar to those of their non-Spanish neighbors. While their cultural connections to Latin America are apparentin language, culture generally, and perhaps in political philosophytheir Caribbean experience of slavery, plantation agriculture, and the rise of peasantries accord more with the Antilles. It is food (sugar in particular, but also coffee, cocoa, citrus, spices, and bananas), and not language that culturally unifies the Caribbean as a region historically.

Caribbean food, like the people who have come to inhabit the region, is not homogeneous, nor can we accurately talk about an indigenous diet without accounting for the effects of the Columbian conquest of the Americas. There were indigenous American food plants and tobacco, but there were also scores of new cultivars, from Africa, Europe, and Asia, as well as domesticated animals, which played a major role in the constitution of the region after 1492. But these two categories were not, however, isomorphic with the categories of domestically consumed and exported categories of post-conquest Caribbean food products. Instead, there are two categories of Caribbean food that better account for its history as a region. One encompasses those products that are responsible for constituting the region through a transatlantic system of trade. These products shape the way in which the region is defined by European and North American tastes. The other includes products grown as a direct response to the rigidities of this global system through culturally elaborated alternative systems of production, exchange, and consumption.

Repopulating the Region: Foundations of Exploration and Imperialism

Before the seventeenth century, the rights of Spain and Portugal to have colonial monopolies were established by several papal decrees issued in the fifteenth century. Inter Coetera of Pope Calixte III in 1456 gave Portugal the right to colonize lands "discovered" while circumnavigating Africa on South Asian exploration. Later bulls, for instance Inter Coetera II of Alexander VI in 1493, affirmed Spanish rights to colonization west of the Azores. Colonization rights, as conveyed by God's earthly representative, were in effect divided hemispherically. The 1493 Tordesillas Treaty, for instance, recognized Portuguese colonization rights up to 270 leagues west of the Azores, thus establishing Brazil as Portuguese but the rest of what is now regarded as the Caribbean and Latin America as Spanish (Mudimbe, 1995).

A common denominator in Spanish and Portuguese colonization should be noted. Rominus Pontifex, a papal bull of Nicolas V in 1454, is explicit that the central mission of colonization was proselytization. Non-Christians could be dispossessed of their lands under the doctrine of terra nullius (no man's land) or even killed for resisting conversion to Christianity. In fact, as Valentin Mudimbe has documented well in his study of these papal instruments, "if [colonial subjects] failed to accept the 'truth' and, politically, to become 'colonized,' it was not only legal but also an act of faith and a religious duty for the colonizers to kill the natives" (Mudimbe, 1995, p. 61). The grounding of New World colonization by the Spanish in such a religious dictum is responsible in part for the violent character of transatlantic contact, both in the Caribbean region and in mainland Latin America. Disease (particularly smallpox), genocide, and enslavement eliminated most of the indigenous populations of the larger settled islands by the end of the sixteenth century. Beginning in the seventeenth century, settlements by other European nations had a similar effect on the smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles. Today, only the small eastern Caribbean island of Dominica boasts any bona fide "Carib" Indian population, amounting to no more than two thousand persons.

Spanish settlements had been established, mainly on the islands of Hispaniola and Cuba. A production system using Amerindian slave labor was attempted, but after subsequent failures, some slaves were imported from Africa. Still, within seventy-five years, these settlements had become largely peasant-oriented and insular. Spain had turned its attention to the mainland of Latin America, pursuing a policy of resource (particularly gold) extraction. In the early seventeenth century, various European nations began to challenge Spain's monopoly on colonization in the Americas on the grounds that many of the islands claimed by Spain were not, nor had they ever been, occupied by Spain. British, French, Dutch, Danish, and Swedish explorers began to settle the smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles. Though the colonizers differed, there was one common trait on these newly settled landsthe plantation.

The Sweet Taste of Colonialism

Columbus's inadvertent happening onto the Americas in 1492 is responsible for a shift of Europe's center from thalassic (focused on the Mediterranean Sea) to oceanic (focused particularly on the Atlantic) (Mintz 1991, p. 112). McNeill has noted the impact of this shift on Europe:

The principal historical impact of the American food crops, I suggest, was that they undergirded Europe's rise to world dominion between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. No other continent of the Old World profited so greatly. That was because Europe's climate, and especially its comparatively abundant rainfall, fitted the needs of the American food crops better than anywhere else, except China; and in China rice was so productive that the new crops had less to offer than potatoes and maize did in Europe" (McNeill, 1991, p. 52).

The Peruvian potato, for instance, was extraordinarily important to Europe, as it produced four times the caloric intake of rye bread. Potatoes never replaced grain completely: they do not store nearly as well as grain. But the efficient use of acreage is credited with population booms in Germany and Russia and the quick adoption of industry each experienced.

The constitution of an Atlantic epicenter is reflected not merely in the exchange of commodities between the Old and New Worlds. It is defined by the manner in which the demands made by Europe's growing populations were accommodated. Taste is essentially what defined the Caribbean as a region. The Caribbean provided a hospitable climate for the cultivation of sugar cane, particularly on the flatter, drier islands of the Antilles and coastal South America. The Spanish had initially developed sugar cane production in Cuba in the seventeenth century (Ortiz, 1947) but had not taken an interest in the mass production of the product. British colonization in the sixteenth century began to exploit sugar cane production using existing regional techniques, as well as methods learned from the Dutch occupation of Brazilian sugar estates. French interest in sugar production quickly followed and was equally influential by the eighteenth century. What was most significant about sugar was not the growing pancolonial interest in the cultivation of another New World commodity, but its rapid transformation from a luxury item to a sweet, tempting product demanded by a growing European working class: "as sugar became cheaper and more plentiful, its potency as a symbol of power declined while its potency as a source of profit gradually increased" (Mintz, 1985, p. 95).

Production of sugar in the Caribbean multiplied to keep up with metropolitan demand. The need for a cheap source of physical labor led to the forced relocation of at least five million African slaves to the Caribbean during this same period. Revolts, slave maroonage (flight from plantations followed by the establishment of communities in remote terrains), and other forms of resistance both on the slave ships and in the colonies did little to slow European expansion of the sugar industry. In fact, at the time that Western Europe began to industrialize in the late eighteenth century, the importation of slaves to the Caribbean, particularly to the French colony of Saint-Domingue on the western third of the island of Hispaniola, was at its highest. Saint-Domingue was so valuable a colony to the French that at the Treaty of Paris they ceded their entire claim to Eastern Canada (now Quebec) in exchange for retaining it, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. During a protracted conflict of 1791 to 1803 in this colony, which in 1804 would be declared the republic of Haiti by revolting slaves, France and England both endured enormous military losses. France lost nineteen generals, including Leclerc, the husband of Napoleon's own sister Pauline, in the conflict. The "unthinkability" of losing the Haitian Revolution helps explain the silence on the subject in West European and American historiography (Trouillot, 1995). It was the profitability of Caribbean sugar colonies that had shaped the military and economic might of Europe generally and of France and England in particular.

Following the loss of Saint-Domingue, France retracted its New World interests, selling its remaining North American claims to the newly formed United States under the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Britain's interest in sugar cane production declined along with global prices in the late nineteenth century, as beet sugar production proved more profitable. Prior to its contraction, however, the British employed a number of labor management devices aimed at reducing the costs of labor on their plantations. Between the end of apprenticeship in 1838 and 1917, about 500,000 East Indians were brought, mainly as indentured laborers, into the Caribbean (Williams, 1970, p. 348). The cultural influence is particularly strong where the concentrations of Indians were highest, in Trinidad and Guyana. Chinese laborers were brought, particularly to Cuba. Javanese were brought to Surinam, and African indentured servants to the French West Indies as well.

By the mid-nineteenth century, Cuba emerged as the dominant sugar producer in the Americas. Cuban reintegration into sugar production had begun following the British occupation of Havana in 1762 and the concomitant massive importation of slave labor into Cuba by enterprising merchants. Sugar production in Cuba essentially demonstrates an adaptation of the plantation system to a transition from mercantilist to capitalist interests in the New World. American merchant interests in the Cuban sugar industry developed throughout the nineteenth century and serve to explain, in part, American military intervention in the Cuban-Spanish War in 1898.

American military and financial involvement in Cuba thereafter typifies the manner in which foreign tastes shape the Caribbean's definition as an area in the twenty-first century. Rather than merely serving to satiate the European taste for sugar, the region has been used to satisfy new tastes: for sun, sex, and sin. The elimination of tropical diseases from the Caribbean by the early twentieth century, coupled with the devastation of Europe during World War I, made the Caribbean an attractive tourist destination. Casinos, brothels, and beaches were set up specifically to pander to North American and European interests.

A foreign traveler to the Caribbean is likely to come into contact with a broad range of dishes professing to be authentic in character. Most food produced for tourists reflects the particular tradition of transatlantic shipping from which these contemporary relations emerge: imported goods today compared to the dry provisions of the colonial period; Bacardi, yet another imported rum consumed over locally produced brands. Even the origins of the Daiquirí come from a drink that was consumed on slave ships to prevent scurvy: it was the name of the place where soldiers from the United States first tasted it (Ortiz, 1947, p. 25). As much as Europe's addiction to sugar defined the Caribbean culturally as a region from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, so too does this new addiction affect it today. Even the concept of a Caribbean nation itself must endure the hungers of North American college students on spring breaks, en route to a "Bacardi Nation" that has petitioned for United Nations membership (Cohen, 1998).

Biting Back: Local Food Economies

Perhaps the most contentious debate among contemporary scholars of the Caribbean concerns the origins of the region's cultural influences. Many argue that African cultural influences define the region culturally (Herskovits, 1990; Brathwaite, 1993). Others have suggested the rigidities of the colonial system were so severe as to preclude the survival of any culture (Frazier, 1966). But one thing can be said about the Caribbean over any other region of the world. The Caribbean embodies all of the elements of what we today might call globalization: rapidity and movement of labor and capital; the amalgamation and negotiation of diverse and worldly cultural influences; and integral development of technology and communications. This, however, should not imply that the region is more culturally manufactured than other regions of the world, or that the late establishment of formal national or regional identities (beginning with the failed West Indies Federation from 19581962) is reflected in a lack of cultural distinctiveness. A few scholars have correctly noted that the Caribbean is best defined culturally through processes negotiated by its own inhabitants, and not determined by the mere movement of one or another traits from Europe, or Africa or Asia, to the region (Mintz and Price, 1992; Scott, 1991).

Inasmuch as the plantation system sought to define its inserted inhabitants in the Caribbean region as a monolithically defined production matrix, there were responses in the production, exchange, and consumption of food. Plantation owners were required by the late seventeenth century to provide rations to their slaves, but these tended to be inadequate. Slaves responded by establishing their own provision grounds adjacent to the plantations, on which they grew a wide range of products, not only for their own consumption but for sale as well (Mintz, 1978a; Mintz, 1978b; Gaspar, 1991; Mintz,1995). So important were these provision grounds that some even revolted to keep them. The 1831 abolition of the Sunday market for the barter and exchange of slave-produced goods in Antigua sparked uprisings and the burning of several plantations (Gaspar, 1991). During the early years of the Haitian Revolution, "the leaders of the rebellion did not ask for an abstractly couched 'freedom.' Rather, their most sweeping demands included three days a week to work on their own gardens and the elimination of the whip" (Trouillot, 1995, p. 103).

Often the surplus of these gardens was sold in slave markets, some reaching off-island destinations. Though the available historical record seems unwilling to acknowledge the fact, slaves were, in a strict sense internationally mobile. Market women ("hucksters" in the Eastern Caribbean, "higglers" in Jamaica, "Madan Sara" in Haiti) would traffic agricultural products both in local markets and to other islands in the region, either individually or through third parties. An eighteenth-century soldier's diary establishes that nonproduce, even manufactured itemsincluding textiles, "syrup beer and a country drink called mawbey" (Aytoun, 1984, p. 28)are being exchanged in local markets in the small Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica by these market women, and legitimated through the payment of an often hefty fee to their owners. The ability of the market women to meet this fee (rumored to be as much as a dollar and a half a weekan immense sum by the standards of the day) in cash payments suggests that slave markets were significantly broader than the historical record has typically suggested. Dry goods such as rice, wheat flour, beans, corn, and salted meats we know were imported, both from Europe and the United States, except during interruptions caused by the American Revolution. Similarly, a number of agricultural products were being cultivated on provision grounds: "ground provisions" (tubers, including yams, potatoes, dasheen, tannia, eddoes), citrus, bananas and plantains, breadfruit, cassava (the flour of which is used to make farina), and various herbs, used as a spice, for medicinal purposes, and in Obeah, Voudun, and other Afro-Caribbean religious ceremonies, particularly as a poison against slavemasters and in rebellions.

Until emerging national governments established and enforced customs regulations in the 1960s, the regional circulation of agricultural produce and dry provisions remained primarily a locally constituted economy. Ascendant merchants and entrepreneurs following emancipation began to formalize the importation of dry and canned goods in particular. Local agricultural products continue to have symbolic meanings that reflect the historic articulation of ground provision production with the transatlantic plantation system. In islands where certain agricultural products are abundant, it is not uncommon to see surpluses of certain productsbananas and breadfruit are common in the Eastern Caribbean for instancegiven away rather than sold. Land, no matter how small in area, has enormous meaning "as a symbol of person-hood, prestige, security, and freedom for descendants of former slaves in the face of plantation-engendered land scarcity" (Besson, 1987, p.15). The South Asian and Far Eastern contemporary cultural and cuisine influencesfor instance in the curry dishes, such as the roti associated with Trinidad, Guyana, and Jamaica but abundant through the Caribbeanare in fact the result of colonial responses to labor shortages on plantations following emancipation. British emancipation implemented a four-year period of apprenticeship designed to reorient slaves to wage labor. Yet freed slaves continued to demonstrate a stronger desire to work provision grounds.

An interesting case in which the attachment to provision grounds and transatlantic production intersect involves the emergence of the Eastern Caribbean banana economies from the 1950s onward. Bananas, produced mainly in Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, and Grenada, were under exclusive license for sale to Britain during this period. Farmers, most of whom were cultivating plots of no more than a few acres, were required to produce exclusively for sale in British supermarkets in exchange for guaranteed markets. Trouillot has noted the reluctance of Dominican banana farmers to diversify their production cycles because of the symbolic qualities that bananas impart: "We can always eat our fig" was the response. While still green, bananas are a starch, and thus an excellent carbohydrate source. Green bananas (or "fig") are frequently used in local Caribbean cooking, as a porridge, used with other ground provisions in a stew (bouyon ), or even used in certain festive cooking dishes, for instance in sankouche (with salted codfish, Creole, and curry seasonings). Bananas require about nine months to come to fruition, and the comparisons to a child's gestation period are sometimes invoked in the care of banana plants.

Gobbling Globalization and Globalization Gobbled

Despite an ideological commitment to local produce, and the proactivity of some small-scale producers, Caribbean tastes are hardly defined by some kind of peasant ethic or veneration of local products. Tubers, once key carbohydrates in the Caribbean diet, are declining in importance. And while even the most prototypical of Caribbean dishes have always to some extent been the product of a Creolization (blending) of locally grown products with imported items such as salted codfish, rice, and flour, imported items, particularly canned items, are gaining as status symbols. Former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley once lamented: "How can we build agriculture if our middle class believes it will surely rot if it can't buy tin mushrooms from abroad?" (Manley, 1988, p. 37). Monetary remittances from Caribbean persons living and working in more lucrative wage employment in Europe, Canada, and the United States has a long tradition in the Caribbean, and has been responsible for infusing cash into these economies. More recently, the remittance of actual packaged food products is becoming more prevalent (Palacio, 1991).

The retention of land, particularly for agricultural purposes, by small-scale producers and plantations alike, continues to be under threat, not just by hurricanes, agricultural diseases, and declining prices for many agricultural products, but by a growing nonagricultural sector. Plantations have declined in importance through most of the Caribbean during the last century, and, accordingly, many former estates have been sold off. Supplementing one's wages on a plantation with the maintenance of a provision garden has thus become increasingly difficult. Golf courses, mining expeditions, and hotel development not only acquire or degrade land, but draw Caribbeans into low-paying service-sector wage positions, making them "a stranger in we own land" (Pattullo, 1996). As labor has gradually been drawn out of the agricultural sector, and land for gardens is increasingly abandoned, sold, or not maintained, many Caribbean people have become increasingly reliant on wages in a highly volatile and unstable service sector to buy these packaged, imported food items.

Local cuisine in some ways has become increasingly foreignized, not merely by the inclusion of foreign products in Caribbean diets, which has always occurred in varying degrees, but through substantial changes in the ways in which Caribbean fare is internationally recognized. Foreign investment interests increasingly appropriate local cuisine for commercial purposes. Hotels throughout the Caribbean are notorious for hiring European chefs to cook "authentic" Caribbean dishes, which are often flashy reinterpretations or fusions of Caribbean fareaccras (fried codfish) are marked up as much as ten times in price in foreign owned restaurants for the mere addition of tartar sauce. And the local dishes historically consumed by Caribbean people are likewise affected by these changes. Fried chicken is now ubiquitous, so much so that Kentucky Fried Chicken is the only franchise on many of the more sparsely populated islands. The longest lines in any Caribbean capital will be at the fast-food chains. Locally, Ovaltine has far more cachet than the Blue Mountain Coffee of Jamaica sought by upper-class American consumers. And apart from national celebrations in which folk recipes predominate, most celebrations throughout the Caribbean are overcome by, as some complain, "rum and coke and smoke," the smoke being from the barbecue.

Despite the dramatic changes to Caribbean food through the postwar period of modernization and international development, local responses to these changes continue to be informed by an ongoing process of Creolization. Foreign phenomena continue to be incorporated into local dishes. Peleau (a specifically Creole dish, but ostensibly the same rice and beansbased dish found throughout the Caribbean) was once regarded in the Eastern Caribbean as a dish that usually included fish. Declining fishery production and the rapid growth of frozen chicken imports have changed the content but not the underlying Caribbean form. Caribbean food has established its distinctiveness historically by creatively and strategically incorporating diverse elements into a localized answer to the rigidities imposed by foreign consumer demands.

See also Africa; Banana and Plantain; Central America; France; Fruit; Iberian Peninsula; Potato; South America; United States: African American Foodways.


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Jeffrey W. Mantz

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The Caribbean


The British Empire that ended in the twentieth century began at the very end of the sixteenth century with chartered commercial ventures in the East Indies to secure tropical spices and cotton cloth. Peace then allowed further private ventures into the Caribbean (which was called the West Indies) in the early seventeenth century; these expanded into settlements to grow further high-value tropical crops, initially tobacco, later cotton and indigo and then, from the 1640s, sugar cane. With the spread of the plantation economy in the Caribbean after about 1650, the need for cheap labor helped support a booming slave trade. England's new North American colonies then found a ready market for their lumber and foodstuffs.


The Caribbean islands consist primarily of three major groups: the Bahama Islands, including the Turks and Caicos islands, the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico), and, southeast of Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles (Leeward Islands, Windward Islands, Barbados, Trinidad, and Tobago). European colonization of the Caribbean islands started after Christopher Columbus landed on several of them in the 1490s and claimed the entire area for Spain. Foreign traders were also excluded. From the mid-sixteenth century, English ships' captains began to participate in the highly profitable smuggling trade that supplied the Spanish-American settlements and continued into the late 1570s. Then, as Europe's Counter-Reformation became increasingly bitter, Caribbean voyages, on which captains threatened local officials with violent attacks before they commenced trading in order to allow the officials to claim overwhelming force, became ventures for both commerce and raiding. These targeted the Spanish plate fleets as they traversed the Caribbean as well as local coasting traffic. English, French, and Dutch all participated. The institution of a grudging peace in the early seventeenth century allowed the resumption of the earlier smuggling trade. England, France, and the Netherlands all began establishing their own colonies in the Caribbean in the 1620s and 1630s.

The first year-round British settlements in the region were in South America; these were established to grow tobacco in the first decade of the seventeenth century in the Amazon delta and later along the coast of Guyana. None lasted long, each one being expelled by Spanish forces. The mixed motives for these early settlementswith planters hoping to grow lucrative tropical crops and ship captains seeking havens for contraband deals with Spanish colonists, as well as courtiers' profit-taking and the conflicting objectives of European policieswould all complicate the region's subsequent development.

The British settlements in the Leeward Islands (Anguilla, Barbuda, Dominica [which became part of the Windward Islands in the nineteenth century], Saint Christopher's, Nevis, Antigua, and Montserrat) and Barbados in the Windward Islands, proved in the 1620s and 1630s more permanent than those earlier footholds on the South American mainland. Colonies were founded in St. Kitts in 1623 and in Barbados in 1627. Settlers from St. Kitts expanded onto Nevis in 1628 and Antigua and Montserrat in 1632. These island colonies got their start in part because they were established when Spain was preoccupied in European wars, although local Spanish forces still staged some successful attacks. Another reason was that these islands were mostly uninhabited, since the indigenous Carib tribes had been enslaved a century before or had fled to the Windward Islands (Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, and the Grenadines) where they defended their independence, and the Spanish had neglected the Leewards and set up colonies primarily in the Greater Antilles.

After the English began settling the islands as plantations, West Indian havens offered operation bases for seamen engaged in smuggling or in raiding Spanish towns and ships. In the early 1660s, some of the buccaneers on Tortuga, off Hispaniola, moved their operations to the recently won English colony of Jamaica (taken from the Spanish in 1655), where, besides bringing in sorely needed cash, their ships helped deter Spanish attacks. In the Bahamas, which were first settled by the English in 1646, pirates operated until the 1720s.

Early colonial populations on the islands were shaped by economic downturns and high death rates. Agricultural colonies such as Barbados began growing tobacco as an export crop, but, after the tobacco boom collapsed Barbados's planters, leaving them with only poor-quality tobacco to sell, they turned to experimenting with cotton, then with indigo. However, during the 1640s these commodities became early casualties of Britain's civil war, with the market for imports collapsing. The planters then welcomed Dutch merchants who gave easier credit, had access to shipments of slaves from West Africa, and helped teach them how to process sugar. The resulting "sugar revolution" transformed Barbados's society. Sugar promised a profitable crop, but setting up a sugar estate demanded sizable initial outlays for labor to gather the crop and for machinery to process the canes. Large estates benefited from economies of scale while small plantations could no longer compete. Large-scale planters then found it cheaper to buy out their neighbors than clear virgin land.

Whatever the crop, labor remained a pressing issue. From the first, planters aimed to control their workforces. They restricted their indentured servants' mobility, punished them for time lost to pregnancies or running away, and limited appeals against even the worst masters. These harsh "customs of the country" underlay the slave codes that were developed to deal with a type of property not discussed in English case law. To secure workers, the planters would grab whomever they could find. These included African slaves purchased from passing ships and some enslaved Native Americans. In the first stages of settlement, narrow profit margins left little room for extensive slave purchases. The early planters used white workers. Unemployment in Britain and Ireland during the 1630s produced a succession of English, Irish, and some Scots willing to mortgage their future labor in exchange for a passage to the West Indies and the hope of a new start at the end of their service. During the 1650s, prisoners of war or survivors from failed uprisings provided more field hands. However, during the late seventeenth century, recruitment shrank as Britain's demographic growth slowed, pushing up the price for individual contracts, while the cost of acquiring slaves from Africa fell. African slaves then comprised increasing proportions of the work gangs. These social transformations took place on different islands at different times. Barbados was generally the path-breaker while the Bahamas were spared the introduction of large-scale sugar estates.

New settlements provided new opportunities. Groups of colonists had leap-frogged out from St. Kitts to the other Leeward Islands in the 1630s. After the Surinam settlement was captured by the Dutch, the planters in Barbados helped promote settlement in South Carolina. In 1647 a religious split in the Bahamas pushed a puritan group to establish a settlement there, while in 1651 proroyalist planters in Barbados established new plantations on the South American mainland along the Surinam River. An expedition sent out from England secured a footing in Jamaica in 1655 and the ousting of Jamaica's last Spanish holdouts in 1661 gave the newly restored king of England an excuse to retain the island. Later, in the 1680s, Jamaican merchants encouraged timber cutters on the coast of Central America (today's Belize). Local initiatives shaped English settlements in the West Indies through to the 1690s.

Natural disasters hampered development across the Caribbean during the late seventeenth century. Hurricanesa term that English readers did not encounter until the mid-seventeenth centuryfurther harmed the islands' fragile ecosystems, which had already been damaged by various droughts and floods and by erosion due to land clearance. In the 1670s, a blight wiped out Jamaica's cacao plantations. Earthquakes and fires destroyed several towns and plantations. In the 1680s, yellow fever became prevalent, making a region already susceptible to outbreaks of other diseases still more inhospitable. By the 1690s yields were falling in the older settled islands.

Wars compounded the damage. As Britain fought conventional wars in Europe with the Netherlands and France, vicious local campaigns took place where governors allied with Carib warriors or undertook raids to seize slaves and burn plantations. Few major slave uprisings occurred, but all slaveholding societies feared that one such uprising might succeed and spread. The elaborate conspiracies discovered in almost every colony demonstrated how real the threat was. Defenses proved costly: erecting coastal fortifications, building barracks, paying garrisons of European regulars, and requiring frequent militia service from free resident males drained island economies. Some churches were built, but few schools were established. Successful planters who had initially sent their daughters "home" to England for an education now sent their sons back too, and planned to become absentees themselves.


The social structures that were hammered out by 1690 shaped the region for the next century. Although punitive labor laws and slave codes received little revision, a number of other changes occurred. Changes in the islands' populations were the result of the higher than average death rates from yellow fever among European groups, the reduced opportunities faced by European immigrants after planters claimed land reserves and, above all, the increased numbers of slaves imported after the inefficient official monopoly on the British slave trade was ended in 1698. Most new slaves simply replaced the dead, as the region's birth rates did not sustain the population well into the nineteenth century. Because women comprised a large proportion of the field gangs, overwork kept slave reproduction rates low. In most colonies, island-born Creole populations remained a minority. Populations of free people of color also remained small and mostly urban, but their reproduction levels were higher than other groups. Among the white settlers, reproduction rates were very low and population numbers fell. The makeup of this last group altered even more after England's 1707 Act of Union with Scotland, which joined the two kingdoms into the new United Kingdom of Great Britain. This union enabled Scotland to partake of free navigation and trade throughout the entire kingdom, including the British colonies. Thus, Scots from all social levels arrived in the Caribbean during the eighteenth century.

Regional political geographies also changed, as did the priorities of British politicians. Some helped the colonists by removing former local threats. In Jamaica, a 1739 treaty with the groups of free maroons there (fugitive black slaves and their descendants) ended forty years of skirmishingand constrained slaves' options. In the eastern Caribbean, European colonization began on the Caribs' former island strongholds and grew to dominate each island. Meanwhile, threats from Europe grew. Military expeditions to the West Indies made conquest a real risk. Negotiators sometimes returned captured islands in peace treaties, but islands seized in the West Indies could be traded away for other imperial assets. After the Seven Years' War (17561763) Britain still acquired several new territories, securing Dominica, Saint Vincent, and Tobago, besides gaining Grenada in exchange for Saint Lucia. In this treaty Martinique and Guadeloupe were returned to France to end French claims to Canada. Afterward, a sizable proportion of British slave shipments to the West Indies carried slaves to the newly settled islands. Metropolitan schemes then extended further, as proposals to rein in slavery and the slave trade began to gain proponents among some senior colonial bureaucrats.

Whatever was intended, far broader social changes occurred during and after the American War of Independence (17751783). Only remarkable good fortune at the naval Battle of the Saints in 1782 allowed Britain to retain its West Indian colonies against the Americans' French and Spanish allies. The 1783 Peace of Paris that ended this war, where the British formally recognized their former American colonists' independence, also allowed the British to regain the eastern Caribbean islands seized by the French, along with the Bahamas, which the Spaniards had captured. Peace changed the British islands in the Caribbean, in part because the subjects of King George III (ruled 17601820) were forbidden to do business with their former American trading partners, and Canadian lumber and English and Irish provisions offered poor substitutes. After hurricanes flattened slaves' provision grounds, several islands endured famines. Attempts to introduce new food crops, such as breadfruit in the late eighteenth century, were impressive, but still failed to compensate for the lack of cheap American grain. The process of change continued as North American loyalists resettled across the West Indies after the war. In the Bahamas, they transformed the character of the hitherto sparsely settled archipelago. Several African Americans, free and slave, had, during this migration, encountered the evangelical revivals that had spread across British North America, and the congregations they founded then survived to transform the slaveholding societies.

In 1790 the British West Indies appeared at the height of their prosperity and influence. In the early years of the French Revolutionary Wars (17921802), Britain poured half of its total military expenditure into West Indian campaigns. The failure to acquire Saint Domingue (Haiti) and the return of most British gains in the Treaty of Amiens that concluded the French Revolutionary Wars was a watershed in British policy making. The costs of prolonged warfare on the islands' economies and on planters' profit margins further undercut the influence of the West Indies lobby. Retaining slavery no longer appeared a clear asset. At the same time, the spread of humanitarian revulsion toward slavery in Britain increasingly diverged from the West Indian colonists' stridently asserted "English" values. Meanwhile, evangelical missionaries' visits to the islands and the contacts that local evangelicals, black and white, made with their British co-religionists encouraged the circulation of harsher reports of slaveholders' brutality.

The West Indian "sugar islands" would continue to prosper in the early nineteenth century. The West Indian political lobby had sufficient influence to veto proposals that Britain retain Martinique and Guadeloupe after the wars, for fear of the competition that these islands' output would offer to the existing British colonies, although the undeveloped Dutch mainland settlements of Demerara and Esquibo (modern Guyana) were kept. But, after 1783, the defenders of West Indian slavery had lost the support of the North American planters when they argued their case to an increasingly skeptical British public. In the face of competition from "free sugar" from the East Indies and from sugar beet from continental Europe, West Indian profits declined. The debts remained. Profits from the first British empire helped to generate the capital that funded Britain's industrial revolution. Afterward, the claims offered by the West Indian planters that their brutal slave societies were "English" no longer appeared so persuasive in England. The societies that the seventeenth-century "sugar revolution" had produced still took a very long time to pass away.

See also American Independence, War of (17751783) ; Colonialism ; Dutch Colonies: The Americas ; French Colonies: The Caribbean ; Mercantilism ; Seven Years' War (17561763) ; Shipping ; Slavery and the Slave Trade ; Spanish Colonies: The Caribbean ; Sugar ; Tobacco ; Trading Companies.


Batie, Robert C. "Why Sugar? Economic Cycles and the Changing of Staples in the English and French Antilles, 16241654." Journal of Caribbean History 89 (1976): 142.

Beckles, Hilary McD. A History of Barbados: From Amerindian Settlement to Nation-State. Cambridge, U.K., 1990.

. "The 'Hub of the Empire': The Caribbean and Britain in the Seventeenth Century." In Oxford History of the British Empire, edited by William Roger Louis. Vol. 1, The Origins of Empire: British Overseas Enterprise to the Close of the Seventeenth Century, edited by Nicholas Patrick Canny and Alaine M. Low, pp. 218240. Oxford, 1998.

. Natural Rebels: A Social History of Enslaved Black Women in Barbados. New Brunswick, N.J., 1989.

. White Servitude and Black Slavery in Barbados, 16271715. Knoxville, Tenn., 1989.

Braithwaite, Edward Kamau. The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 17701820. 2nd ed. Oxford, 1978.

Brown, Christopher L. "Empire without Slaves: British Concepts of Emancipation in the Age of the American Revolution." William & Mary Quarterly 3rd ser. 56 (1999): 273306.

Buisseret, David. "The Process of Creolization in Seventeenth-Century Jamaica." In Historic Jamaica from the Air. 2nd. rev. ed. Kingston, Jamaica, 1996.

Buisseret, David, and Steven G. Reinhardt, eds. Creolization in the Americas. College Station, Tex., 2000.

Cateau, Heather, and S. H. H. Carrington, eds. Capitalism and Slavery Fifty Years Later: Eric Eustace WilliamsA Reassessment of the Man and His Work. New York, 2000.

Craton, Michael, and Gail Saunders. Islanders in the Stream: A History of the Bahamian People. Vol. I, From Aboriginal Times to the End of Slavery. Athens, Ga., and London, 19921998.

Gaspar, David Barry. "'Rigid and Inclement': Origins of the Jamaican Slave Laws of the Seventeenth Century." In The Many Legalities of Early America, edited by Christopher L. Tomlins and Bruce H. Mann, pp. 7896. Chapel Hill, N.C., and London, 2001.

Geggus, David Patrick. "The Enigma of Jamaica in the 1790s: New Light on the Causes of Slave Rebellions." William & Mary Quarterly 3rd ser. 44 (1987): 274299.

Greene, Jack P. "Changing Identity in the British Caribbean: Barbados as a Case Study." In Colonial Identity in the Atlantic World, 15001800, edited by Nicholas Canny and Anthony Pagden, pp. 213266. Princeton, 1987.

Higman, Barry William. Montpelier, Jamaica: A Plantation Community in Slavery and Freedom, 17391912. Kingston, Jamaica, 1998.

O'Shaughnessy, Andrew Jackson. An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean. Philadelphia, 2000.

Pares, Richard. Merchants and Planters. Economic History Review Supplement, no. 4. Cambridge, U.K., 1960.

Pulsipher, Lydia Mihelic. Seventeenth-Century Montserrat: An Environmental Impact Statement. Historical Geography Research Series, no. 17. Norwich, U.K., 1986.

Sheridan, Richard B. "The Formation of Caribbean Plantation Society, 16891748." In Oxford History of the British Empire. Edited by William Roger Louis. Vol. II, The Eighteenth Century, edited by P. J. Marshall, pp. 394414. Oxford, 1998.

. Sugar and Slavery: An Economic History of the British West Indies, 16231775. Barbados, 1994.

Watson, Karl. The Civilised Island: Barbados, A Social History, 17501816. St. George, Barbados, 1979.

Watts, Arthur P. Une histoire des colonies Anglaises aux Antilles, de 1649 à 1660. Paris, 1924.

Watts, David. The West Indies: Patterns of Development, Culture and Environmental Change since 1492. Reprint. Cambridge, U.K., 1987.

James Robertson

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The Caribbean


From roughly 1500 to 1800, France was far more important as a Caribbean imperial power than is commonly recognized today. Its economic and military might were effectively lost in 1804, when the most important French Caribbean colony, Saint Domingue, became the independent nation of Haiti. Today France retains a handful of territories from its early modern New World empire, and the largest of these islands became full-fledged French departments after 1948.


Like England, France established no Caribbean colonies until the early seventeenth century. But its importance as a naval power in the region began in 1523, when pirates from Normandy captured Spanish treasure ships. Such attacks were the greatest threat to the Spanish Caribbean in the first half of the sixteenth century, culminating in the sacking of Havana in 1555. Yet Spain's imperial vigilance held off the French for nearly a century, ensuring that the kingdom's first Antillean colony would only be founded in 1625. In that year the Norman nobleman Belain d'Esnambuc formally established a French colony on Saint Kitts. This tiny island served as a seedbed for further settlements until coming under full British control in 1713.

In 1635 French expeditions successfully claimed the larger islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Lesser Antilles, after a delay caused partly by the hostility of resident Carib Indians. Early colonialists produced tobacco, relying on indentured servants for labor. By the middle of the 1640s about half of the five to seven thousand French colonists in these islands were serving out labor contracts. Yet by this time the price of Caribbean-grown tobacco had plummeted. From 1638 colonists were being urged to plant cotton or indigo instead of tobacco. In the early 1640s royal officials sponsored the establishment of the first sugar plantations and mills in Martinique and Guadeloupe. In the 1670s, as sugar became the primary export of these islands, planters increasingly purchased enslaved African workers, and European servants fled.

A number of these Europeans imigrated west to the Greater Antilles territory that would become France's most profitable Caribbean colony, Saint Domingue. In the early 1600s the uninhabited western coast of Spanish Santo Domingo was teeming with wild cattle. The livestock attracted a population of rootless men who sold leather and smoked meat, or boucan, to passing ships. In the 1640s French officials from Saint Kitts managed to establish their authority over these boucaniers, though it was not until 1697 that Spain formally recognized the land as a French colony. With a land area ten times larger than Martinique and Guadeloupe combined, Saint Domingue would become the Caribbean's largest slave plantation colony by the middle of the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, the colony retained a distinct identity as the most violent, as well as the most valuable, of France's New World possessions.

Other early modern French Caribbean colonies, which never attained much economic or demographic weight, include the Lesser Antilles islands of Grenada, Dominica, and Saint Lucia, all three lost permanently to Britain by the early nineteenth century. France did retain other smaller Caribbean islands, including Saint Martin, shared with the Dutch after 1648, and Saint-Barthélemy, traded to Sweden in the late 1700s and repurchased a century later. The territory known as Cayenne (today, French Guiana) on the South American mainland, was important strategically, but never developed the profitable sugar fields or fearsome slave conditions of neighboring Dutch Surinam. In 1788 Cayenne had fewer than two thousand free inhabitants and about ten thousand slaves.


By the end of the eighteenth century, France's Caribbean colonies were its most precious overseas asset, yielding roughly half of Europe's sugar and coffee, as well as large quantities of indigo and cotton. Acre for acre, by the 1750s these territories outproduced Britain's island possessions. By itself Saint Domingue generated some 75 percent of French tropical commodities. The value of these goods was multiplied by the additional commerce they generated. France re-exported half of its sugar and coffee to other European markets, allowing the kingdom to maintain a favorable balance of trade in the eighteenth century. Moreover, Saint Domingue's insatiable demand for labor helped make France the second largest slave-trading nation in the eighteenth century, after Britain. Trade with Africa and the islands fostered a variety of auxiliary industries in France, including the manufacture of cotton textiles.


France's seventeenth-century island colonies were administered by a series of unsuccessful royal companies. By the eighteenth century the secretary of the navy ruled these territories, selecting nearly all colonial officials from the royal navy and army. The crown did name prominent colonists to the socalled superior councils, which functioned as courts of appeal and legislative bodies on the model of France's regional parlements. Nevertheless, elite planters had little of the control over local taxation that characterized the British islands, with their colonial assemblies.

Established and aspiring planters deeply resented the military priorities of colonial governors, especially mandatory militia service and the trade monopoly that Versailles imposed on Caribbean trade from the 1660s. Colonists argued that militia work distracted them from their plantations. Over time they transferred the most onerous of these duties, such as the search for escaped slaves, to freeborn men of color and ex-slaves. Colonists also maintained that free international trade would greatly increase the islands' economic value to the kingdom. Unable to curb colonial contraband, by the end of the eighteenth century Versailles was beginning to loosen its mercantilist restrictions.

Although the Code Noir of 1685 established the basic legal principles of French Caribbean slave society, the colonial government left control of the slave population to individual masters. Officials ignored royal laws protecting slaves from malnutrition and torture. The Code Noir also proclaimed that ex-slaves were legally equal to other free colonists, but by the early eighteenth century racial prejudice had already become an important means of social control. From the beginning of French Caribbean slavery, colonists commonly freed their slave mistresses and mixed-race children. Such manumissions amounted to no more than 1 percent of all slaves every year. Nevertheless, over time this population of free blacks and mixed-race people grew increasingly large, wealthy, and familiar with French culture. To maintain their own French identity, in the second half of the eighteenth century, colonial judges and planters installed an increasingly rigid set of discriminatory laws, separating "white" from "nonwhite" persons.

The Catholic Church was relatively unimportant as a form of social control over white society in the French Caribbean. Many of the most important religious orders, such as the Jesuits, maintained large and profitable slave plantations in the colonies. The Church's influence over colonists was strongest in the Lesser Antilles, where missionaries played an important role in early colonization. Saint Domingue was notoriously irreligious, however, and its priests were described as the most decadent in the kingdom. Many masters refused to Christianize their newly purchased slaves, citing the expense and threat to plantation discipline. As thousands of new African workers arrived each year, slaves developed new forms of spirituality, the fore-runners of modern Haitian vodou.


Despite their commercial importance to the kingdom, France's Caribbean territories were never significant population centers for French colonists. In fact, from 1650, as colonial sugar planters imported more and more enslaved Africans, many poorer colonists fled. This was less true in Saint Domingue, where poor whites could still find hillside land for farming and ranching up to the 1760s. Even here, however, cheap land became scarce with the expansion of coffee plantations into the hills after mid-century.

Whether whites had land or not, they were a distinct minority in all of France's Antillean territories. In 1788 the French Caribbean had approximately 56,000 white residents and over 693,000 slaves. A third group, the so-called free population of color, numbered roughly 32,000. By this date, many of these individuals had been born free and owned some property, including slaves. Throughout much of French Caribbean history, the wealthiest and lightest-skinned members of this group were acknowledged to be "French." However, after 1763, new racial laws categorized these individuals as nonwhites, defining them as ex-slaves, despite their birth and wealth.


In the eighteenth century, France's Antillean plantations were the most productive institutions of their kind in the Atlantic world. Because sugarcane requires over twelve months of carefully tended growth to reach maturity, but must be crushed within forty-eight hours of harvest, planters using early modern grinding and refining technology needed their own mills and boiling houses. Such investments were more profitable for larger estates, with more sugarcane to process. Saint Domingue's sugar plantations were the largest in the eighteenth-century Caribbean, employing, on average, between 150 and 200 slaves, with the largest plantations far exceeding this number. Leading Dominguan sugar growers also invested in elaborate irrigation systems, built sugar mills driven by wind and water, and developed complex crop rotations. British planters in Jamaica claimed that the French earned returns of close to 10 percent on their plantation investments. Modern calculations based on plantation records vary from 4 percent to 18 percent annual profit.

In part because of these capital improvements, many of Saint Domingue's great planters were heavily indebted to European merchants. Moreover, despite the high price of buying new Africans, many estates systematically overworked or undernourished their slaves to maximize short-term profits, causing annual mortality rates of 5 percent and higher. The brutality of French Caribbean plantation society and the wealth it generated were among the reasons that the biggest planters often left their properties in the hands of managers and returned to France. Approximately 30 to 40 percent of French colonial plantations were managed in this absentee style.

Sugar plantations were the largest and most influential institutions in Caribbean agriculture. However, the early modern French Caribbean colonies produced a number of other commodities with their own distinct plantation technologies. Coffee was the most important of these, with European demand increasing markedly around the middle of the eighteenth century. In the 1780s Saint Domingue's coffee shipments to France were as valuable as its refined sugar exports. Because this crop required far less processing and labor, it cost about one-sixth as much to establish a coffee estate as to build a sugar plantation in Saint Domingue. Other crops were accessible to planters who did not have the capital to found a sugar estate. Indigo dye was an important product in many parts of Saint Domingue and, by the end of the eighteenth century, so was cotton, though these commodities were frequently smuggled into British or Dutch markets.


The French Revolution (17891799) forever altered France's presence in the Caribbean. The issue that first destabilized Saint Domingue in 1789 was citizenship, not slavery. From 1789 to 1791, colonial men of color living in Paris convinced the revolution's National Assembly to recognize them as French citizens. In 1791, when colonial whites refused to accept the racial reforms legislated by Paris, civil war broke out in Saint Domingue, pitting whites against free blacks and mulattoes. Taking advantage of this conflict, in August 1791 slaves planned and executed a revolt that spread throughout the colony. Racial tensions prevented whites and free men of color from forging an effective island-wide army to defeat the uprising. In 1793 exslaves were still in rebellion. By this time, France was at war with Spain and England. As these enemies attacked the French Antilles, conservative colonists joined them to fight the revolution.

By the middle of 1793 the twin threats of counterrevolution and foreign invasion forced French officials to offer Saint Domingue's rebel slaves freedom in exchange for military assistance. On 31 October of that year, the French commissioner to Saint Domingue, Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, declared slave emancipation throughout the colony. On 4 February 1794 legislators in Paris, responding to this fait accompli, declared slavery illegal in all French territories. The British had already captured Martinique, but emancipation transformed Guadeloupe, where ex-slaves served as sailors and soldiers alongside whites and former free men of color, attacking foreign shipping and raiding nearby British colonies from 1794 to 1798. In Saint Domingue free colored and ex-slave officers, most notably Pierre Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture, emerged as the leading figures in the French army.

With Napoléon Bonaparte's ascension to power in 1799, and temporary peace with Britain in 1802, France attempted to restore its Caribbean plantations to profitability. In Guadeloupe a French expeditionary force killed approximately 10 percent of the population in the process of reestablishing slavery. Many of the dead were black and mulatto soldiers who had fought loyally for the republic. In Saint Domingue in 1803, however, approximately forty thousand European troops were unable to defeat the colony's former slaves. Fighting first as guerrillas, and then under the leadership of black and mixed-race generals, the ex-slaves also benefited from an outbreak of yellow fever that severely weakened the expeditionary force. On 1 January 1804, rejecting France while proclaiming their allegiance to the ideals of the French Revolution, the leaders of Saint Domingue's ex-slave armies declared their independence as the new American nation of Haiti.

See also Colonialism ; Slavery and the Slave Trade ; Sugar .


Primary Sources

Dessalles, Pierre. Sugar and Slavery, Family and Race: The Letters and Diary of Pierre Dessalles, Planter in Martinique, 18081856. Edited and translated by Elborg Forster and Robert Forster. Baltimore, 1996.

Labat, Jean-Baptiste. The Memoirs of Père Labat, 16931705. Edited and translated by John Eaden. London, 1970. Abridged translation of Nouveau voyage aux isles de l'Amérique (1742).

Moreau de Saint-Méry, Médéric-Louis-Elie. A Civilization That Perished: The Last Years of White Colonial Rule in Haiti. Edited and translated by Ivor D. Spencer. Lanham, Md., 1985. Abridged translation of Description topographique, physique, civile, politique et historique de la partie française de l'isle Saint-Domingue (1797).

Secondary Sources

Boucher, Phillip P. Cannibal Encounters: Europeans and Island Caribs, 14921763. Baltimore, 1992.

Dubois, Laurent. A Colony of Citizens: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 17871804. Chapel Hill, N.C., 2003.

Fick, Carolyn E. The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below. Knoxville, Tenn., 1990.

Geggus, David P. Haitian Revolutionary Studies. Bloomington, Ind., 2002. An important collection of articles by the foremost scholar of prerevolutionary Saint Domingue.

James, C. L. R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. 2nd ed. New York, 1963. The classic account of the Haitian Revolution and its preconditions.

King, Stewart R. Blue Coat or Powdered Wig: Free People of Color in Pre-Revolutionary Saint Domingue. Athens, Ga., 2001.

Moitt, Bernard. Women and Slavery in the French Antilles, 16351848. Bloomington, Ind., 2001.

Parry, J. H., P. M. Sherlock, and A. P. Maingot. A Short History of the West Indies. 4th ed. New York, 1987.

Peabody, Sue. "There Are No Slaves in France:" The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime. Oxford and New York, 1996.

Rogozi'nski, Jan. A Brief History of the Caribbean: From the Arawak and Carib to the Present. New York, 1992.

Stein, Robert Louis. The French Sugar Business in the Eighteenth Century. Baton Rouge, La., 1988.

John D. Garrigus

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The Caribbean


Historiography often renders the Spanish Caribbean islands of the early modern period either as mere backwaters, the initial significance of which was rapidly overtaken by the much larger and more lucrative colonies of New Spain and Peru, or as the "Caribbean experiment," the sites where insular colonialism was first tried before being perfected on the continents. However, from the very first moment of contact the encounters and clashes between Spaniards and native peoples of the Caribbean forged the intellectual and cultural template for Spain's subsequent colonial rule in the rest of the hemisphere. Though the major colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola became the imperial periphery after the conquest and colonization of the mainland empire, they remained strategically important as a periphery that Spain nonetheless defended fiercely. Thus Spain's Caribbean colonies must be understood as integral parts of the early modern colonial system.


When the inhabitants of the Caribbean islands first laid eyes on Christopher Columbus and his men in 1492, they could not have known that they were witnessing the creation of the modern world. Nor could Columbus himself have understood the fundamental difference of the world that lay before him, as evinced in his assertion, in his famous letter of the first voyage, that Cuba was part of mainland Asia, a continent already known to Europe. The Capitulaciones de Santa Fe the contract between Columbus and the Catholic monarchs of Spain Ferdinand (ruled 14741516) and Isabella (ruled 14741504) for dividing the imagined spoils of his first voyage, which was typical in form and content to other commercial contracts of its timealso points to the extent to which the monarchs imagined a purely commercial enterprise, not the spiritual and military conquest that New World colonization would become. The necessity of this transformation quickly became apparent with Columbus's return with "Indian" slaves in tow as a gift to the queen. This act, by proving the existence not of the "human monsters" predicted by medieval lore but rather of souls thought ignorant of the word of God, immediately transformed the venture into one of colonization. It also presented a first challenge to the ways in which the world was understood, especially through the Bible, as a known, closed system. Notable among early attempts to recuperate the newly found peoples into received understandings of history include that of Hernán Pérez de Oliva. Despite having never seen the new possessions himself, he wrote a florid account of the meeting of Columbus with the Arawak cacique, 'chief', Guarionex in Hispaniola, in which both protagonists deliver stately speeches in the rhetorical style of classical Roman history writing, as exemplified by Cicero. Pérez de Oliva followed classical rhetorical style because it defined historical truth in late antiquity; eyewitness accounts from the New World would fundamentally alter this definition of historiographic authority.

The realities of cultural clash and adaptation on the new colonial ground were far more complex than anything Pérez de Oliva could imagine, and constructing eyewitness accounts of them was a much more compelling exercise for Europeans actually present in the Caribbean. The Caribbean gave rise to the first ethnographic treatise of the modern world, in Fray Ramón Pané's An Account of the Antiquities of the Indians. Pané, a friar who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage, was charged by the admiral with learning the religious practices of the inhabitants of Hispaniola. His account, in a form as garbled as Pérez de Oliva's was logical, highlights his constant struggle with cultural understanding, particularly his failed attempts to grasp the structure and function of Arawak narrative style.

These problems of cross-cultural communication were not benign; rather, they directly contributed to the enormity of violence inflicted on the native inhabitants of the new colonies. The link between the pretense of linguistic comprehension and violent conquest is present in the ritual, unique toSpanishcolonialism, of the requerimiento, 'requirement'. Conquistadores were legally bound to read this document aloud, in the original Castilian, to natives to announce the act of colonization. Once the native peoples were thus conquered, native territories would be subject to the repartimiento, the "allocation" of a cacique and his people to a particular conquistador, the abuses of which were one of the key factors in the demographic collapse of the native population. In addition, the first systems of anthropological classification of Caribbean peoples, aseitherCaribsorTaínos (known today to ethnologists as Arawaks), also set the stage for violence. While Taínos were thought docile, Caribssaid to be ethnologically distinct from Taínoswere considered fierce, wild, and subject to conquest. Peter Hulme's textual analysis of contemporary Spanish documents, however, shows that this distinction was highly fluid and selectively applied to meet the political and strategic needs of a particular moment. Indeed, one of the key traits meant to distinguish one group from the other was its reaction to conquest: those whose response was deemed peaceful could be designated Taíno, while those who showed signs of resistance risked being classified as Carib.

The combined effects of the repartimiento forced labor, population dislocation, and epidemics (particularly of smallpox in 15181519)led to the demographic collapse of the native populations of the Caribbean. Natives on Hispaniola alone, of whom Massimo Livi-Bacci estimates there were up to 300,000 before the arrival of Columbusnumbered only 60,000 by 1508; by 1520 they were well on the road to extinction. Yet while the Caribbean saw the birth of genocide and violent conquest in the Americas, it also was the source of the first colonial critiques. Bartolomé de las Casas (14741566), who would become the most passionate defender of Indians throughout the Americas, witnessed the conquest of Cuba firsthand as a colonizer before a religious conversion left him a fierce opponent of colonial abuse. While he later catalogued (and some say exaggerated) maltreatment from many colonies, it was his initial witness in the Antilles that served as the template for the moral outrage and rhetorical power that made his most famous work, Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, so influential in its day.


After the conquest of New Spain (1521) and Peru (1532), the importance of the Caribbean islands shifted: no longer the principal site of Spanish colonization, they became a colonial periphery. Although the islands had been "granted" to Spain by papal bull, rival imperial powers fiercely contested Spain's initial dominance in the New World. Although Columbus had in theory claimed all the islands he laid eyes on for the Spanish crown, in practice, significant settlement was limited to Cuba, Puerto Rico, and eastern Hispaniola, leaving many islands underdefended and open to being claimed by rival powers in the early modern period. Thus Jamaica, initially settled by Spaniards in 1509, was captured by the British in 1655, while in 1697 the western portion of Hispaniola, the island that had seen Spain's first settlement in the Americas, was ceded to France for what would become its most lucrative colony, Saint Domingue. The remaining major coloniesCuba, Puerto Rico, and Santo Domingobecame the gateway to an empire and were of enormous strategic importance to Spain as it continually fought off the English, French, and Dutch. Havana and San Juan became highly fortified cities, particularly in response to the presence in the Caribbean of British corsairs (Sir Francis Drake was defeated outside San Juan in 1595).

Though now a periphery with the shift of the center of empire to New Spain, the Caribbean colonies were still a part of the colonial system. Havana, because of its role as an entrepôt in the fleet system that lay at the heart of Spanish mercantilism, became a bustling port by the end of the sixteenth century. Because the fleets departed only twice a year, and because the Caribbean colonies were not as self-sufficient as New Spain and Peru, the islands necessarily depended on illegal trade with foreigners. The Bourbon reforms of the eighteenth century, which liberalized colonial trade within Spain and reorganized the empire's bureaucratic structure, meant a political and economic restructuring for the whole of the empire. For the Caribbean islands the Bourbon reforms marked economic growth and demographic changethe latter due to peninsular immigration and the slave tradethat would not be complete until the full flowering of the plantation societies of the nineteenth century and the return of these colonies to the center of a greatly reduced empire.

See also British Colonies: The Caribbean ; Colonialism ; Columbus, Christopher ; Dutch Colonies: The Americas ; French Colonies: The Caribbean ; Las Casas, Bartolomé de ; Slavery and the Slave Trade .


Primary Sources

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Casas, Bartolomé de las. Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. Translated by Nigel Griffin. New York, 1999.

Columbus, Christopher. The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus. Translated by J. M. Cohen. New York, 1969.

Pané, Fray Ramón. An Account of the Antiquities of the Indians. Edited by José Juan Arrom. Translated by Susan C. Griswold. Durham, N.C., and London, 1999.

Pérez de Oliva, Hernán. Historia de la invención de las Yndias. Edited by José Juan Arrom. Bogota, 1965.

"The Requirement." In History of Latin American Civilization: Sources and Interpretation, edited by Lewis Hanke, vol. 1, pp. 9395. Boston, 1973.

Secondary Sources

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Dussell, Enrique. The Invention of the Americas: Eclipse of "the Other" and the Myth of Modernity. Translated by Michael D. Barber. New York, 1995.

Fuente, Alejandro de la, César García del Pino, and Bernardo Iglesias Delgado. "Havana and the Fleet System: Trade and Growth in the Perhiphery of the Spanish Empire, 15501610." Colonial Latin American Review 5, no. 1 (1996): 95115.

Hulme, Peter. Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean, 14921797. London and New York, 1986.

Kicza, John E. "Patterns in Early Spanish Overseas Expansion." The William and Mary Quarterly 49, no. 2 (1992): 229253.

Knight, Franklin W. The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism. 2nd ed. Oxford and New York, 1990.

Livi-Bacci, Massimo. "Return to Hispaniola: Reassessing a Demographic Catastrophe." Hispanic American Historical Review 83, no. 1 (2003): 351.

Phillips, William D., Jr., and Carla Rahn Phillips. The Worlds of Christopher Columbus. New York, 1992.

Rabasa, José. Inventing A-M-E-R-I-C-A: Spanish Historiography and the Formation of Eurocentrism. Norman, Okla., and London, 1993.

Seed, Patricia. Ceremonies of Possession in Europe's Conquest of the New World, 14921640. Cambridge, U.K., 1995.

Wagenheim, Olga Jiménez de. Puerto Rico: An Interpretive History from Pre-Columbian Times to 1900. Princeton, 1998.

Javier Morillo-Alicea

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Caribbean, The

Caribbean, The


The Caribbean lies at the heart of the Western hemisphere and was pivotal in Europes rise to world predominance. Yet the islands that once marked the horizon of the Wests self-perception, as well as the source of its wealth, have been spatially and temporally eviscerated from the imaginary geography of Western modernity. The physical incorporation and symbolic exclusion of the Caribbean from the imagined time-space of modernity has made certain ideas of the West viable, and they must therefore inform any effort to describe the Caribbean within the social sciences. Since their inception, the social sciences have used non-Western places as counterfoils for Western modernitythey have been viewed as backward or traditional places against which processes of modern progress, urbanization, industrialization, democratization, rationalization, individualization and so on could be gauged. Yet the Caribbean has never fit easily into such dichotomous visions of the world, for it was always a product of modernity and was in many ways postmodern avant la lettre (before it existed). The anthropologist Sidney Mintz has argued that the Caribbean was the first part of the non-Western world to endure an era of intensive Westernizing activity. Thus, the Caribbean oikumenê became modern in some ways even before Europe itself; while the history of the region has lent to it a coherence not so much cultural as sociological (Mintz 1996, p. 289).

Mintz supports a processual definition of the Caribbean as an oikumenê (ecumene, or inhabited land), a historic unit that is an interwoven set of happenings and products (Mintz 1996, p. 293). Franklin Knight likewise argues that the sum of the common experiences and understandings of the Caribbean outweigh the territorial differences or peculiarities (Knight 1990, p. xiv). The geographical region includes the islands of the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, and the Bahamas, as well as the coastal areas of Central and South America that have been politically and culturally linked to the Caribbean by processes of colonization, plantation development, and migration. It is also sometimes extended to include far-flung diasporas, especially in Europe and North America. While there are quite distinct traditions of study linked to areas such as the British West Indies, the French West Indies, or the Spanish Antilles, there has also been an increasing amount of comparative and cross-regional research. And while there are differences in the study of dependencies or colonies versus independent states, the Caribbean as a whole can be understood as being marked by complex and uneven processes of imperial decline, postcolonial nation-building, and regional integration.

Above all, the Caribbean was constituted by the global mobilities of colonization, slavery, and the transatlantic plantation system. With the rise of the sugar plantation complex the region was marked by the displacement of indigenous peoples by those arriving from northern and southern Europe, eastern and western Africa, and, later, the Indian subcontinent, China, and the Levant. Being more deeply and continuously affected by migration than any other world region, the essence of Caribbean life has always been movement. The very idea of this dispersed and fragmented region as a single placeand its naming and contemporary material existenceare constituted by mobilities of many different kinds, including flows of people, commodities, texts, images, capital, and knowledge. Thus, the Caribbean exists at the crossroads of multifaceted networks of mobility formed by the travels of both people and things, as well as by those people and things that do not move. Alongside the work of capitalist expansion and contraction associated with commodities such as tobacco, sugar, coffee, rum, salt, cotton, indigo, and, later, bananas and tropical fruit, the Caribbean has also been indelibly shaped by the work of imagination and culture-building over the past five hundred years.

Creolization is one of the crucial elements of Caribbean culture building, conceived as a process of indigenization, hybridization, and contested creation and construction of culture out of fragmented, violent and disjunct pasts (Mintz 1996, p. 302). Later, the arrival of Caribbean migrants in the metropoles such as London, New York, Toronto, and Miami allowed for the emergence of new kinds of pan-Caribbean identifications, arts movements, musical amalgams, and cultural events like Carnival. This region, more than any other, has long been at the forefront of transnational processes through its uprooted people, Creole cultures, and diasporas traveling across the world. It thus became central to the theorization of transnationality, diaspora, and postmodernity in the 1980s, and to the subsequent emergence of Black Atlantic studies and world history in the 1990s. Social scientists studying globalization turned to Caribbean theoretical concepts such as transculturation, creolization, and marronage to describe contemporary global cultural processes, even while they ignored some of the historical specificity and nuances of these concepts within Caribbean studies.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the region is enmeshed in complex mobilities, including circuitous migrations of people and diverse cultures; transnational flows of capital investment and financial services; technologically mediated flows of information, communication, and intellectual property; and unpredictable global risks and threats to security (e.g., drugs, diseases, criminals, hurricanes). These new mobilities and immobilities, both intra- and extra-Caribbean, are transforming the nature, scale, and temporalities of families, local communities, public spaces, governance structures, and individuals commitments to a specific nation. Caribbean mobilities and moorings are paradigmatic of the complex rescaling of urban, national, and regional space. Daily practices of commuting, accessing goods for consumption, moving through public spaces, and communicating with the diaspora help to perform the presences and absences, the proximities and distances, that inform the lived experience of spatiality in the Caribbean and its transnational diasporas.

Global risks associated with criminal activities, terrorism, environmental disasters, and other security issues are also producing new modes of surveillance and the governance of local mobilities within and outside of the region, with significant impact on forms of belonging and exclusion, of connection and disconnection. Thus, Caribbean societiesand the idea of the region as a wholeare being rescaled and respatialized by changes in the infrastructure of transportational and informational mobility, and cultural practices of travel and migration. Understanding exactly how the contemporary Caribbean is being both demobilized and remobilized, and both deregulated and re-regulated, within the processes of urban, state, regional, and global restructuring can enable social scientists to move beyond the imagery of states as spatially fixed geographical containers for social processes, and to question scalar logics such as local-global. Thus, a rethinking of the processes that are remaking the Caribbean in the twenty-first century will be crucial to advancing the social sciences approach to area studies and global studies in ways that finally move beyond its Eurocentric origins and assumed forms of territoriality.

SEE ALSO Colonialism; Creolization; Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean; Rastafari; Sociology, Latin American


Basch, Linda, Nina Glick Schiller, and Constance Szanton Blanc. 1994. Nations Unbound: Trans-national Projects, Postcolonial Predicaments, and Deterritorialized Nation-States. Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach.

Benitez Rojo, Antonio. 1996. The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective, 2nd ed. Trans. James E. Maraniss. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Kempadoo, Kamala. 2004. Sexing the Caribbean: Gender, Race, and Sexual Labor. New York: Routledge.

Klak, Thomas, ed. 1998. Globalization and Neoliberalism: The Caribbean Context. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Knight, Franklin W. 1990. The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mintz, Sidney. 1996. Enduring Substances, Trying Theories: The Caribbean Region as Oikumenê. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2 (2): 289310.

Sheller, Mimi. 2003. Consuming the Caribbean: From Arawaks to Zombies. London: Routledge.

Mimi Sheller

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CaribbeanEritrean, Ghanaian, Himalayan, Malayan, Tigrayan •Actaeon, Aegean, aeon (US eon), Augean, Behan, Cadmean, Caribbean, Carolean, Chaldean, Cyclopean, empyrean, epicurean, European, Fijian, Galilean, Hasmonean, Hebridean, Herculean, Ian, Jacobean, Kampuchean, Laodicean, lien, Linnaean (US Linnean), Maccabean, Mandaean (US Mandean), Medicean, monogenean, Nabataean (US Nabatean), Orphean, paean, paeon, pean, peon, Periclean, piscean, plebeian, Pyrenean, Pythagorean, Sabaean, Sadducean, Sisyphean, skean, Tanzanian, Tennesseean, Terpsichorean, theodicean, Tyrolean

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