An Introduction into: The History Behind Culture and Identity in the Caribbean

Broadly, culture can be defined as a way of life that is specific to a group of people. More precisely; culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.” (Samovar and Porter, 1994)

In attempting to understand cultural identity we first define identity. A person’s identity is formed through the perception of his or her own sense of self; of who they are. An individual’s cultural identity is then characterized by their feeling of recognition and belongingness to a group and influenced by the larger experience of cultural manifestations.

To understand the culture and identities that have formed in the Caribbean, we refresh our memory on the historical details and contexts that have shaped our lives today.  The Caribbean islands are distinctive, in that, our unique culture was formed as a result of the European conquest, the colonial period of the Slavery, Indentureship and migration.


The European, specifically and firstly,Spanish led expeditions re-discovered our already inhabited islands of the Caribbean. In the year of 1492 onward they met “uncivilized” tribes and strived to achieve for them a more “civilized” way of life. This eventually led to their complete conquest of the islands and the genocide of the first peoples, killing most, if not all of the natives. The start of plantation driven economies in the 1780’s saw the forced migration of African slave labour. Chinese labourers were noted to have arrived as early as 1803.  After emancipation in 1834, Africans embraced their freedom leaving voids within the plantation workforce. This defficiency was then addressed by the introduction of Indentureship “employing” East Indians and another wave of Chinese labours and immigrants. (NALIS) Portuguese migrants were noted to have settled in the Caribbean from as early as the 15th century. Another wave arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries for religious and economic reasons. The last group of immigrants to note was the Syrians and Lebanese in 1904. They came from then Great Syria, to escape religious prosecution and economic adversity and had come, as some of the Portuguese and Chinese did, of their free will. (Danielle Biaz, 2010.)

Remnants of the different group’s cultures are still present within today’s Caribbean societies. Cultural facets that were once exclusively attributed to specific races and ethnicities have now been assimilated and acculturated, forming for Caribbean people a new culture and resulting in our unique cultural identity.

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Stay tuned in our next post we introduce to you aspects of our Caribbean culture and ways in which Globalization has affected them.

Don’t forget to comment and ENGAGE us!


– Leah Elbourne


Standford  University. Culture: Everything, we as a people, are. Accessed March 3, 2015. Identity Formation. Accessed March 3, 2015.

“The Chinese in Trinidad and Tobago.” The Chinese in Trinidad and Tobago. Accessed March 3, 2015.

Biaz, Danielle. “Lebanese, in the Caribbean Sea..” This Is Beirut. May 19, 2010. Accessed March 3, 2015.


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