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 depth of race relations in her native country. These three authors, if used with the correct emphasis, can help explore the ideas of identity that exist within the Caribbean.
In his article, Sidney Mintz quotes M.G. Smith in saying the, “differences of habitat, economy, population composition, political history, and status are the most useful general guides in a preliminary subdivision of the wider area.”(Mintz p.19) Mintz actually wants to take this severe classification even further to emphasize on the “societies of the islands themselves.” Mintz explains that the societies of the islands are very similar in structure. He refers to the nine features of “Caribbean regional commonality.” This list, while somewhat condensed here, is essential to Mintz’s argument:
1) lowland, subtropical, insular ecology;
2) the swift extirpation of native populations;
3) the early definition of the island and a sphere of European overseas agricultural capitalism.
4) the development of different social classes based primarily on physical differences.
5) the continuous interplay of plantations and small-scale yeomen agriculture;
6) the introduction of massive amounts of “foreign” populations as a lowest class;
7) the absence of...