Historical relationship between class colour and culture in the caribbean

Colour and contemporary society in the Caribbean - Persée

historical relationship between class colour and culture in the caribbean

It has been suggested that many Caribbean societies have no history of their own but . the descendants of Africans, and of the relation of those forms to the structural colour-class system and to the fact that there seemed to be a close relatio. Caribbean Studies notes Module 1 Caribbean society and culture Location of Within this historic; context has arisen a multiracial society with marked . Social Institutions are organized relationships among people which In China, white is a colour of mourning while in western societies it is black. Caribbean identity and social formation. Part 3 STRATIFICATION IN this time was still influenced by race, class, colour, wealth and gender. When there is a failure of certain parts of a culture to keep up with the others, of its long history of rebuffing or refusing European values and norms, and robustly.

It is interesting to note their vote is given to the Roman Catholic, Portuguese political party. The Amerindian in Guyana does not attempt to compete for status in the society. Both his ethos and his lack of economic initiative inhibit such activity. At the present time the approximately 20, Amerindians in a total population ofdo not directly affect significantly the colour class system which has evolved in Guyana. Events in recent years have tended to focus attention on the communal strife of East Indians and Africans in Guyana.

historical relationship between class colour and culture in the caribbean

There has been a tendency to neglect the function of the European element in this ethnically diverse society. Historically, separateness has been maintained as it is in Jamaica. This new alignment is almost entirely due to the hostility of the East Indians towards both Black and coloured people.

The European element, whose traditional superiority has been challenged by political events, has adopted an equivocal role in the new Guyana. The Portuguese, who number nearly 8, formed part of the former coalition government. The Anglo-Saxon group, who constitute a little over 3, have tended to remain aloof. Some part of them, the sugar interests, are inclined to lend their support to the East Indian leaders, despite the latter's communist orientation, owing to their almost total reliance on East Indian labour.

While both European groups maintain their position at the apex of the colour class system, those of Anglo-Saxon descent are inclined to despise the Portuguese. Such attitudes are in part attributable to the fact that the former are historically associated with the ownership of land whereas the Portuguese are descended from indentured labourers who came from the Azores and Madeira in the nineteenth century. The apparent xenophobia of the Anglo-Saxon for those of Latin origin may be another factor in the situation.

Two other minorities in the Caribbean — the Chinese and Lebanese — remain very largely outside the general colour-class structure described. Both are the results of nineteenth century immigration. The Chinese came to the West Indies as gardeners and agricultural labourers. These were not occupations which absorbed them for long. Shopkeeping, particularly grocery stores, provided them with the necessary commercial outlet.

Today, almost every village and settlement throughout the area has a Chinese- owned and operated grocery store.

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The communities have prospered and many large enterprises are operated by Chinese in Jamaica and Trinidad. Intermarriage with other ethnic groups in the past has been minimal but in recent years this pattern has been modified. The marriage of Chinese girls with fair coloured men — but not with Negroes — has begun to occur in Jamaica since Independence.

Trinidad has a longer tradition of this type of marriage, and Chinese girls have favoured male spouses more Negroid than would be thought acceptable in Jamaica. The Chinese while maintaining exclusiveness in the past did not extend this to religious sector. The greater part of the Chinese communities has adopted one or another form of Christianity, with a bias in favour of Roman Catholicism. The contemporary association of political power with the black and coloured in Trinidad and Jamaica has assisted this process.

If the present trend continues, and there are no substantial reasons why it should not, the ethnic separateness of the Chinese in their two major areas of settlement in the Caribbean, Jamaica and Trinidad, will gradually diminish. The Lebanese, or Syrians as they are called in the Caribbean, are sharply distinguished in behaviour from the Chinese.

Originally their occupation in the West Indies was that of itinerant salesmen or pedlars. Through ingenuity and thrift they laid the foundations for extensive commercial undertakings.

Today they are prominent in a number of industrial and commercial fields. Although they are Christian, religious affinity has not facilitated intermarriage with the coloured population. If a suitable spouse is not to be found in one of their West Indian communities recourse is had to the Lebanon. This reliance on endogamy as a method of preserving ethnic identity is characteristic of Lebanese communities all over the world. The West Indian situation can be exactly paralleled by that in West Africa.

Coloured women may be taken as concubines, but very rarely as brides. There are signs that these attitudes are being modified as the new political structure in the Caribbean develops.

Interestingly enough the small Jewish communities of the West Indies, which are mainly of Sephardic origin, have in the course of time intermarried with the coloured population.

Today, although nuclei of Jewry exist, the bearers of Portuguese-Jewish names such as Lopez, Cardozo, Rodriguez, Delapenha are frequently indistinguishable from the ordinary coloured population. The attitude of the African and coloured element in West Indian society towards the Chinese and Lebanese is compounded of envy at their success, and disgust at their origin.

The European may prefer their company to that of African, but not to that of fair coloured people. No one whishes to imitate them. No one wishes to become like a Chinese or a Lebanese in the way one wishes to become more like a European. Their historic position, bolstered by endogamy, has been to one side of the mainstream of the society.

But this, as has been suggested, is a position which is undergoing modification. In the English speaking Caribbean the Anglo-Saxon has long dominated the social scene.

His power and prestige in the heyday of slavery was unquestioned. Emancipation marked the beginning of his economic decline but his impress upon the society had been so great that his power was largely unaltered. Political power remained his domain until the late war. In addition it must be remembered that the law, education, the economic structure, and political system were all his artefacts.

The " white bias " in the society has to be seen not only in terms of emulation of the European as an individual, but also in terms of association with the whole metropolitan power structure in Britain. He is suffering rejection from the source of all his values. Not all Anglo-Saxons, however, in the Caribbean are possessed of wealth and education.

There is in fact a category of poor whites. In Barbados they are known as Red Legs, and are reputedly descendants of indentured labourers in the seventeenth century.

Many are employed as minor officials and policemen. Barbados is the only area in the British Caribbean which possesses white policemen. In Jamaica such individuals, irrespective of origin, are known as Germans. There was in fact a German immigration from the Rhineland in the middle of the last century.

It was not a successful enterprise, many of the peasant settlers dying of malaria and dysentery. Their descendants have persisted as a poor white enclave in the parish of Westmorland. They have insisted on a rigorous endogamy. In the past, one outlet for the females of this group was as the concubines of wealthy coloured men in the capital. The acquisition of such concubines gave prestige to the individual in the eyes of his peers. Interestingly, the existence of poor whites has not affected the functioning of the white bias.

All ethnic groups unite in their disparagement of this group. From the Negro and coloured group there emanates a kind of resentment at these people for being what they are — if they are white they should have the wherewithal to maintain their status. On the other hand deep confusion is caused in the same sections by whites of low economic status from outside the Caribbean. Soldiers are a typical example. From the point of view of the middle class coloured person their status was uncertain, yet they were associated with the mother-country, and therefore desirable.

The average West Indian is not versed in the intricacies of the English language as an indicator of class. The contemporary situation in the British Caribbean represents a number of changes in the classical pattern of a society dominated by a recognition of its " white bias ".

historical relationship between class colour and culture in the caribbean

These can all be attributed to the political and economic changes following on the end of the war 5. Today Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, and Barbados are all independent countries.

In all these countries the political supremacy of the European has vanished. One interesting result of this political deprivation of the white has been his acceptance of the situation with no attempt to create a Rhodesian type situation, where a European minority attempts to deny to the mass of the mass of the population any voice in government.

The White West Indian has no identity except in terms of the Caribbean. In the economic sector the European is still dominant. American, Canadian and British interests between them control banking, insurance, oil, bauxite, and much of the sugar industry. To a lesser extent this is true of the banana industry. Minor industries, such as cement in Jamaica, are in the hands of local white and coloured individuals.

Thus there is a balance between the two sectors, political and economic, which may help to explain the smooth passage of political power from the European to the black and coloured.

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The historical policy of the British had been to use the coloured people as a bulwark against the black masses. The more lightly coloured were admitted to reasonably high office, and the ranks of government service were open to them.

Today all colours are to be found in government departments. Interestingly enough the latent racial hostility between black and coloured has rarely been openly expressed either in overt social or political terms. Political parties of all kinds have had to rely on the support ot the black masses.

The only attempt in recent years to organize a party on purely black racial lines — that of Miliard Johnson in Jamaica at the time of the election — proved abortive, the party receiving hardly any votes. This apparent refusal to allow race to dominate politics cannot be interpreted as a display of political acumen on the part of the black Jamaican electorate. It should be more rightly regarded as a contemporary manifestation of the society's " white bias ". A parallel exists in terms of the Labour Party in Great Britain.

The Party draws mass support from the working classes. Amongst these there is a strong distrust of the intellectual.

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Yet the leadership of the party is almost entirely dominated by middle class individuals. Class here plays the role of colour in the West Indies. The black man is not sure that he possesses the requisite qualities for leadership.

The working man is unsure of his capabilities for the same purpose. It is not suggested that Jamaican government at the present time is controlled by coloured people to the exclusion of the black but that in the political battles which led to independence, and in the ensuing period, Jamaica has been led by men of colour. It is possible that this pattern will change with further adjustments in the colour values system — the island now has a black Prime Minister.

These are manifestations in what can be termed the public sector. In the private sector of relationships between individuals, the picture is somewhat different. Here the " white bias " has undergone some modification. Near-white individuals sensitive to political developments assert that they are as coloured as anyone else — an assertion unthinkable fifteen years ago. There is an awareness on the part of such people that the future may very well be dominated by the black man.

On the other hand, all colour groups continue to accept the idea of the basic inferiority of the black. This affects social relationships irrespective of the social and the economic background of the individuals concerned 6.

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The equation of the black person with the raw-chaw, that is uncouth, individual is deeply embedded. The observer new to the Jamaican scene might easily conclude, after visiting a number of official cocktail parties, that colour was irrelevant. Experience of the domestic scene would rapidly alter his views.

The public role of hail fellow well met does not progress into the home. The increasing prominence of black people in public life has forced fair, coloured or high brown people to open their homes to some extent to them.

But this will be on specially selected occasions. Where choice can be exercized exclusion is still the rule. This is apparent in terms of marriage. Marriage is regarded not only as a means of fulfilment of love and the foundation of a family, but also as a means whereby social status in terms of colour can be improved. In most cases to know a man is to know the colour of his wife.

Every male strives to acquire a wife fairer than himself. This is not so much to enhance his own status, though this is clearly one factor in the situation, but to ensure that his children will begin life at a higher level in the colour hierarchy.

Some black professional men debarred by their colour from attempting to marry so-called Jamaican whites have contracted marriages with European, as distinct from Anglo-Saxon, women. In contemporary Jamaica their children will undoubtedly command more respect than themselves. Intellectual life centred at the University endeavours to overcome the " white bias ". This is not completely successful. Expatriates, coloured people and Africans may be united in terms of intellectual discourse but there are numerous tensions, which occasionally erupt, amongst the different groups.

The coloured individual is prepared to ignore colour in terms of his colleagues but is not prepared to disregard it in terms of marriage and social groupings outside the University. The situation of the black lecturer from outside Jamaica brings out this point. Little discrimination is exercised by his colleagues on the campus but he experiences difficulty in finding entry into the society he would like in Kingston. There his colour is the criterion, not his intellectual background.

The situation in Barbados differs in many respects from that in Jamaica. This has to be seen in terms of the fact that of the major centres of population in the British Caribbean, Barbados alone has not developed a significant coloured minority. Up to the war it could be said of Barbados that its society approximated more to conditions during the period of slavery than any other in the West Indies excluding the Bahamas.

This was partly due to the size and topography of the island. After emancipation, the freed slaves had no alternative but to accept wage labour on the estates. This was in immediate contrast to Jamaica where numerous settlements away from estates were created by ex-slaves.

The Barbadian white has always regarded the country as an extension of England. In some respects this is an attitude which invests the black Barbadian. The atmosphere of plan- tocracy which lingered on effectively until the war engendered a rigid colour bar which was accepted by all Barbadians.

The arrival in the postwar years of universal suffrage upset white political domination. Today the island on the verge of independence is guided by the hand of a typical black Barbadian. It has been a traumatic experience for the whites, but there has been no serious attempt to combat the rise of the black man. If there had been more astute politicans on the European side the improbable could have occurred, as it has in the Bahamas, where the extension of the franchise led to the victory of the European party at the polls.

A decision which was only narrowly reversed in later elections. Public manifestations of the colour bar no longer exist in the island. Hotels, long the preserve of ex-patriates from all over the West Indies attracted by the mildness of the Barbadian climate, are now open to all. At receptions and cocktail parties black and white are perfectly at ease. Black political heads of government departments direct the work of white subordinates.

Although such changes can be parallelled in Jamaica from a Barbadian viewpoint they have been much more radical. Partially because of the operation of the colour bar, the infinite colour graduations of Jamaican society do not exist in Barbados.

But hair straightening and bleaching powders are as popular as they are in Jamaica. In Barbados the ' white bias ' takes the form of excessive emphasis on a Victorian form of education which lays great store on a knowledge of the classics. The most important school for boys in the island is an exact model of an English public school. Bright black boys have in the past imbibed all the virtues and vices of this type of education.

This school plays a much more significant part in the moulding of the Barbadian persona than its equivalent in Jamaica. But even here things are changing this bastion of Englishry now has its first coloured, albeit light coloured, headmaster. Barbados and Jamaica are alike in that Negroes and coloured people constitute the bulk of the population. As we have seen the ' white bias ' operates in different ways in the two islands.

Trinidad is in an entirely different category. These descendants of immigrant indentured labourers have monopolized certain occupations — oil workers, taxi drivers, agriculture on the estates. Unlike Jamaica, where the East Indian has remained much as he was originally, in Trinidad he vies with the Negro in the professions, and is much more prominent in business.

Eric Williams, controls the government. They still, however, remain at the apex of this extremely colour-conscious society. In Jamaica the criteria used to evaluate ' colour ' include skin texture, hair texture, and features in addition to actual colour. Thus a fairly dark individual with ' good ' hair and features will rank higher than a fairer person with ' bad ' hair and features.

The Trinidadian criteria, however, place the greatest emphasis upon actual colour. This may possibly be due to the presence of the large dark-skinned, East Indian minority. Again, in Jamaica there has always been a considerable degree of public mixing on the part of the different colour groups. This has not occurred in Trinidad. Social life amongst the middle classes was, until comparatively recently, almost entirely dominated by clubs. Each shade in the society had its appropriate club.

Endless discussions centred upon the eligibility of an individual's colour to gain him admission to one club or another.

historical relationship between class colour and culture in the caribbean

Acquisition of considerable wealth might offset the darkness of colour. There is a complex cultural blend to be heard in nearly every musical style found in the Caribbean.

The vocal styles of modern rap can be heard throughout Jamaican dance halls. Native Culture Most of what we know about the earliest inhabitants of the islands comes via word-of-mouth. Relatively little of their culture was recorded during the settlement period.

He even noted the fairness of their trades with the islanders they met on Hispaniola. Thieves were slowly pierced with a pole or pointed stick until they died. In fact, much gold was imported from South and Central America as trade items. However, because the native people saw no special importance for the gold, they traded it for beads and other trinkets from the Spanish. They themselves did not wear much clothing, and unmarried girls were most often nude. Typical clothing was made from palm leaves, flowers, and short cotton skirts.

Although these huts may seem frail, they could hold up to hurricane-strength winds, meaning islanders wouldn't have to replace their homes after a bad storm. Cotton production was just beginning, and Cuba and Hispaniola traded with Jamaica for cotton, sometimes in bright colors, for their hammocks. Most often a cacique's hut would be rectangular instead of circular, differentiating this leader's home from the others. However, their foods influenced the meals of the Spanish settlers as well.

Seafood - particularly shellfish and fish - cassava, maize, and fruits made up a majority of their diet. Birds, iguanas, and manatees would also have served as meals for the islanders, with salt and pepper as the most important seasonings. Cassava and maize were distilled into potent drinks. Children were mainly in charge of keeping birds from taking the crop. Hunting was also important, and the islanders had a number of ways to hunt birds. Waterfowl were entrapped in the most complicated method - hunters would float downstream, hidden, and drown birds in a special sack designed for the purpose.

Meanwhile, fishing was often carried out by the help of remora, sucker fish, in a method so effective they could land manatees and sea turtles. Special occasions, such as the marriage of a cacique, were appropriate times for these dances. The teams would hit the ball with many parts of their body but could not use their hands. Scoring was based on when the ball hit the ground. From time to time, different villages even played against one another in this game.

They did have a creation myth, and a supreme god and goddess, but their primary interaction with the spirit world seems to have been through zemis. The word zemi, however, could refer both to spirits or their carved images - and even certain items believed to have magical powers. However, since they were wood carvings, few zemis still exist. The priests often encouraged the people to believe that some of these zemis could speak, and the zemis were celebrated in festivals.

While priests were healers, zemis were often considered to be the cause of many illnesses. Their food and words are the most important and lingering influences on Caribbean culture. The culture of the Caribbean has grown and taken shape because of the people whose voices have been heard throughout generations. You can learn more about any of these various topics by clicking on one of the links below.