Caribbean Sea

views updated May 29 2018

Caribbean Sea

Defined geographically, the Caribbean Sea is the body of water surrounding the islands of the West Indies that also washes the mainland, Antilles-facing shores of Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela. As a cultural designation, the word "Caribbean" may also be used to identify not only the diverse peoples who inhabit the territory outlined above but also the population of Guyana.

The term "Caribbean" has long suffered from lack of precision. Carl O. Sauer put the matter succinctly: "The whole of the Caribbean area came to be known in English as the Spanish Main, including the sea. Thus, sailing to the Spanish Main became called sailing on the Spanish Main." For two decades after Columbus made landfall, what the Spaniards called the Ocean Sea was thought to be a vast, unbroken expanse lying to the west between Europe and Asia. After Balboa traversed Darién, the Ocean Sea was divided in two, with the Pacific Ocean called the Mar del Sur (South Sea) and the Atlantic, with its Caribbean indentation, called the Mar del Norte (North Sea). In the English-language world, the designation dates to the eighteenth century and is attributed by Sauer to Thomas Jefferys, whose introduction to the West-India Atlas (1775) states that "it has been sometimes called the Caribbean-Sea, which name would be better to adopt, than to leave this space quite anonymous." "Caribbean" derives from Carib, the name given to a group of people originally from mainland South America who later island-hopped their way across the Lesser Antilles, displacing other cultures as they went and raiding eastern Puerto Rico until Spanish intrusion halted their expansion.

See alsoBelize; Costa Rica; Honduras; Nicaragua; Panama.


The best account of the tragedy that befell the native peoples of the Caribbean, a bitter experience of enslavement, exploitation, demographic collapse, and cultural extinction, is Carl O. Sauer's masterly reconstruction The Early Spanish Main (1966; 2d ed. 1992.) Also authoritative is Mary W. Helms's "The Indians of the Caribbean and Circum-Caribbean at the End of the Fifteenth Century," in The Cambridge History of Latin America, edited by Leslie Bethell, vol. 1 (1984), pp. 37-58. A more controversial depiction of the encounter between natives and newcomers is Kirkpatrick Sale, The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy (1990). An enduring classic is the textbook by Robert C. West and John P. Augelli, Middle America: Its Lands and Peoples (1966; 3d ed. 1989).

Additional Bibliography

Arciniegas, Germán. Caribbean, Sea of the New World. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2003.

Britto García, Luis. Señores del caribe: Indígenas, conquistadores y piratas en el mar colonial. Caracas, Venezuela: Fundación Tradiciones Caraqueñas, 2001.

Duval, David Timothy. Tourism in the Caribbean: Trends, Development, Prospects. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Prevost, John F. Caribbean Sea. Minneapolis: Abdo Pub. Co., 2003.

Salazar-Vallejo, Sergio. "Huracanes y biodiversidad costera tropical." Revista de biología tropical 50, no. 2 (June 2002): 415-428.

Taylor, L.R., and Norbert Wu. The Caribbean Sea. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, 1998.

                                   W. George Lovell

Caribbean Sea

views updated May 29 2018

Caribbean Sea Extension of the n Atlantic Ocean linked to the Gulf of Mexico by the Yucatán Channel and to the Pacific Ocean by the Panama Canal. The first European to discover the Caribbean was Columbus in 1492, who named it after the Carib. It soon lay on the route of many Spanish expeditions and became notorious for piracy, particularly after other European powers established colonies in the West Indies. With the opening of the Panama Canal (1914) its strategic importance increased. Area: c.2.64 million sq km (1,020,000sq mi).

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