Gordon K. Lewis

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Main Currents in Caribbean Thought


"For the Caribbean, composed as it is of some fifty or more separate and different island society, is of such variety and complexity that . . . From the very beginning of its history in the late fifteenth century there has been various confusion concerning the definition, both geographical and cultural of the Caribbean region."

pp. ix,x,1.

The Problem

"the island outskirts of the legendary Cathay." so thought Columbus even at his death.

"a new cultural puzzle continued, in the sense that the peoples and cultures of the Caribbean archipelago were indiscriminately mixed up with the romantic idea of the New World of the Americas as a whole."

For example the most famous, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe

stories portrayed the Antilles as the place of cannibals, El Dorado --as the city of gold--, and lairs of heroic pirates

Today the stories remain portraying the region as a tourist's paradise.

"...a set of island in the sun full of sun, sand, and sex."

p. 1.

The confusion about Caribbean identity....

  1. A backward area in need of modernization (westernization)
  2. A part of the African Diaspora
  3. The persistence of Creole, European and Asian subcultural influences
  4. "American Meridionalis1 " or the midribs of the Americas
  5. "it was in the Caribbean 'sugar islands' that the agro-social system of slavery developed into its fullest and most harsh form."
  6. Site of an engineered northwest passage (Panama Canal)
  7. Isles of contention: Greater and the Lesser Antilles
  8. Tropic archipelago stretching from the Guiana's to Yucatan linking the Amazon to Mexico.


Political fragmentation grew out of:

Conquest and the Columbian exchange as ecological imperialism

Colonization, and the Manila galleons -- trade from Asia to Mexico, transhipped via Acapulco to Vera Cruz, galleons then to Havana, the staging ground for transfer by sea to Cadiz, Spain.

Slavery, and the triangular trade -- trade from Africa to Brazil and the West Indies and thence throughout the Americas. Importation of molasses (from sugar) and rum to North America and to Europe in exchange for guns to sell in Africa for slaves. Beginning in April 1502 the first slaves from Africa came to Hispaniola.

Sugar monoculture, mining and export trade -- commerce in gold and silver to Europe to buy silks, spices, and precious goods from Asia

racial and ethnic "admixture" in the creation of Creole & Criollo society-- trade in slaves from Africa meant a mixture of ethnic strain among African tribal groups and between these classes of people:

  • Mulatto; the children of a European & the African union.
  • Mestizo; the children of Amerindian & European marriage or union.
  • Mustee; the children of mixed ethnicity; corrupted from mestizo
  • Zambo, zambaggoa or Cafuzo, or lobos; the children of Amerindian & African parents.


recolonization and resistance

Colony, a small group of people of the same ethnic descent surrounded by often people of a very different or even hostile ethnic groups. The island of Saint Martin has colonial Dutch and Colonial French residents in a largely Afro-Caribbean population.

Empire, the dominant ethnic and cultural elite preside over many different and dependent or conquered cultures that share some but not all the characteristics of the dominant ethnic elite. Puerto Rico is a dependency of the United States empire.

Thus resistance comes from the subordinate groups against both colonists and imperial symbols of authority where they persist. Haiti's slave population resisted French rule and eventually revolted in 1791 against French planters and succeeded in defeating french forces in November 1803. This was the first successful revolution against French imperial rule that made Haiti an independent republic on January 1, 1804.

The United States did not support the Haitians' independence movement, but sided with Napoleon and the French Empire and its French-speaking colonists of European extraction.



This huge change, then is the time frame, or temporal sequence in which the area must be seen to be best understood as a doorway to the European conquest of the twin Americas and the Mediterranean sea of the new world.


The Caribbean was the crucible of European, Renaissance and Enlightenment ideas transformed in the harsh light of ecological conquest and human bondage; here in the gateway to the Americas, we re-discover an ultimate mixing ground, where cultural fusion happened from European, Asian, African and Amerindian lineages. They fused and fought on this testing ground for democratic values, creating a staging area for invasion, and co - creating places that remind us of the recurrent illusion of what we were and what we may become by forgetting the past.

meridionalis, [ Latin ] for southern of the south as opposed to septentrionalis, for northern.

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