Jamaican Culture And Society Essay

2957 words - 12 pages

Jamaican Culture and Society

I. Introduction- Retracing the Remnants of Colonialism:

When discussing and analyzing contemporary Caribbean culture one must not fail to acknowledge the dreadful legacies of colonialism and imperialism. Contemporary Caribbean society, politics, and economics thinly veil the ramifications of a colonial and hegemonic past. Due to the remnants of colonial institutions such as slavery and the plantation system, the Caribbean has experienced a range of negative societal effects, namely the consolidation of a unifying cultural identity. The demise of colonialism in the Caribbean did not mark the end of social stratification based on racial and ethnic divisions. The prevailing racial distinctions and hierarchy that characterized colonialism via the institution of slavery have historically thwarted any systematic attempt to create a distinct national cultural identity. Thus, this study of the Jamaican culture and society will intimately relate racial ideologies and social class structures in order to illustrate the dynamics of the Jamaican cultural identity crisis.

II. The Emergence and Implications of a Social Caste System:

The post-colonial period in the Caribbean posed the challenge of creating nation states with thriving societies that would meet the desires and destinies of their inhabitants. Jamaica, which recently attained its independence from Great Britain in 1962, was indeed no exception to this challenge. In fact, Jamaica, like many of its Caribbean counterparts, "had an inordinate difficulty in creating and maintaining a strong, cohesive national sensibility" (Knight, 307). The difficulty of creating a cohesive national identity initially emerged in the post-emancipation period in Jamaica. It was essentially during this period of the Crown Colony system in Jamaica, in which Great Britain remained the sovereign rule in Jamaica that the social caste system was born.

This social caste system evolved as a product of the "historical antecedents of slavery, the plantation system, and colonialism" (Nettleford, 28). The practice of social stratification evident in this early Jamaican society was essentially based on race distinctions. The essence of slavery and the plantation system rendered "whitedom" as the civilized faction of society and "blackdom" the primitive faction of society. Franklin Knight, in his discourse on "the genesis of a fragmented nationalism" in the Caribbean, renders the image of a social triangle in order to demonstrate the utility of such a social caste system that is derived from slavery and the plantation system. This social triangle, which is divided into three segments, suggests that the white settlers of European descent made up the smallest percentage of the population in Jamaica, yet they held the highest social, political, and economic status of all inhabitants. The middle tier of this triangle, and consequently the second largest faction in society, represents the free...

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