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Describe the major migrations into the Caribbean that greatly impacted

Caribbean society and culture

Caribbean Society has been ever changing over time as many peoples
migrated into the region and brought with them their various cultures. Migration can
be defined as the movement of a person or people from one geographical location
to another. Culture can be defined as the way of life of a people and can be material
or non-material. Material culture is that which is tangible such as food and clothing
while non-material are behavioral factors such as societal values for example
religion. There were four major migrations that shaped Contemporary modern
society; The Amerindians, The Europeans, The Africans and the Indentured
Servants. In this essay the influence of the migrations in the molding of
contemporary Caribbean society will be examined.
The Amerindians are seen as the first aboriginal people of the Caribbean
region and were the prime inhabitants of the islands prior to Columbus arrival in
1492. The Amerindian population could be further broken down into three groups;
the Taino, The Kalinago and The Maya. Whilst the Taino resided in the Greater
Antilles and the Kalinago in the Lesser Antilles; The Maya were generally only found
in Belize. The Bering Strait Theory attempts to explain the origin of these people.
The theory shows that Amerindians migrated from Asia over to North America
across the Bering Strait during the ice age as they followed the animals for needs
such as food and clothes. Although later described as primitive by the Europeans,
all of the Amerindians groups had political, economic and social structures. For
example, the Taino had a system of hereditary succession where the leader was
known as the Cacique, similarly the Mayas leadership was also hereditary and the
head was known as the Halach Unique. On the other hand the Kalinago system of
leadership was based upon military capabilities where the most suitable was
selected and given the title of Ubutu. Additionally, all of these groups utilized
subsistence farming and had a system of barter.

In 1492 Columbus reached the Caribbean and found the Amerindian


inhabitants on the islands. At this time, countries were being concurred in the name
of Spain under The Treaty of Tordesillas which was drawn up by the Pope where
Europe saw themselves as the center of the universe. The Europeans saw the white
race as superior to all other races, additionally they believed that any colonies
developed should exist for the benefit of the mother country. Upon arrival the
Europeans immediately saw the need to exploit the Amerindians in order to obtain
their gold. The Europeans did not believe that they should work in the harsh tropical
conditions and therefore they forced the natives to mine gold for them. This came
to be known as the Repartemiento system. With debate the Repartemiento became
the Encomienda which was a re-enforcement of slavery but under the belief that
once the Indians were Christianized it could be deemed acceptable. Thus, new
laws, and religion were imposed. Families were encouraged to be married in order
for their union to be right in the eyes of God. These changes led to the development
of Resistance. Some of the Indians rebelled and others ran away. There were many
consequences of the Europeans imposition. Near Genocide of the Amerindians
came about as a result of the harsh working conditions coupled with the unknown
diseases brought with the Europeans. Additionally a process of enculturation or the
mixing of cultures and hybridization or the mixing of races began which resulted in
mixed children.
The next major migration was the African migration. The African migration is
notably the only forced migration, whereby the blacks were abducted and enslaved
thus creating a system of chattel slavery. The West Africans who were forced out of
their homes were made to endure harsh conditions on their passage to the
Caribbean and once in the region they were the property of the Europeans. As a
result they could be treated as they pleased, overworked and disposed of when or if
deemed necessary. Slavery supported the plantation economies. Slavery was
introduced when other labor systems proved inadequate. Slavery caused the rise of
racism which was the philosophy that a race is better than another thus resulting in
prejudice and discrimination. This began as the whites immediately saw themselves
as superior to the enslaved because of their differences in skin colour. All Caribbean
colonies were divided on the basis of races, then color. Race refers to the biology
make up and link to the ethnicity. The society was rigidly stratified according to

race, meaning one was both white and free, enjoying a high status or black and a
slave with no status or rights. The enslaved values were dismissed and European
values were imposed upon them, as a consequence syncretic religions came into
existence as the enslaved combined some of their religious practices with those of
the Europeans. This is seen in instances such as the Spiritual Baptist religion.
However the Blacks retained aspects of their culture in family structure where the
mother is head of the household. This is evident in the matrifocal households that
exist in the region, for example, Common law Unions and Visiting Unions.
Post-emancipation the Europeans were in search of a new workforce as many
blacks refused to work on plantations again if they could help it, thus the
Indentureship system came into play. With this system the migration of Asians
began. The East Indians, Chinese, Javanese and Madeirans migrated to the
Caribbean on 5 year contracts and brought with them their various cultures. The
Asians who came tended to establish segregation which reinforced their differences
and intensified social tension within these territories. Eastern culture such as
Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism was brought along with different aspects of dress
e.g. sari, dhoh, language e.g. Hindi, foods, and music e.g. the East Indians brought
Tasa drums which can be found in Trinidad. Within these groups there was also a
racial prejudice towards the blacks. The East Indians often refused to let their
offspring be educated so as to avoid the Christian teachings within the school. They
wished to keep their culture separate from that of the Blacks. It is this that has
resulted in Plural Societies in territories such as Trinidad and Tobago.
It is evident therefore that there were four major migrations which have
shaped contemporary Caribbean society. The first was the Amerindian migration
across the Bering Strait where the inhabitants consisted of the Taino, Kalinago and
Maya. The second migration was that of the Europeans which saw the genocide of
the Taino population in the Caribbean due to harsh working conditions and foreign
diseases without cure. Afterwards came the African migration where blacks were
forcibly taken from West Africa and brought to the Caribbean to work on plantations.
In this instance African culture and European culture began to merge as the
Europeans imposed their values and the blacks tried to maintain theirs in what little
ways they could. For example, this resulted in religions such as Spiritual Baptists,
Shango and Voodoo. Finally, post emancipation east Indians, Chinese, Javanese and

Madeirans migrated to the Caribbean on contracts to work for the Europeans, and
after the contracts many of them remained and retained their culture forming Plural
Societies in territories such as Trinidad and Jamaica to a lesser extent.