In the 1600’s and 1700’s, European countries began to establish colonies on the islands. They built large
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- Many of the islands are not independent, but territories such as US and British Virgin Islands, Martinique and Aruba.
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When Columbus discovered America, he actually discovered he Caribbean Islands. Today, these islands include 13 independent along with many having ties to other nations. These countries show the influence of their European history.
Columbus arrived in 1492 and thought he had reached the Indies – islands near India. Thus, he called the islands the West Indies and the natives Indians. Spain had little interest in the small islands, but the French, English, Dutch, Danish and Portuguese did.
In the 1600’s and 1700’s, European countries began to establish colonies on the islands. They built large sugar plantations and allowed the natives to work there until they were killed off by overwork or disease. They would then be replaced by Africans. This sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it!?!
Haiti gained independence from France after a slave revolt led by Toussaint-L’Ouverture in 1804. This spread the ideas of freedom and independence throughout the entire region.
By the mid 1800’s, the Dominican Republic gained independence and the US got Cuba in the Spanish American War and gave it independence in 1902. The bulk of other nations did not get independence until after World War II.
Most of the Caribbean Islands are still not independent, but are still possessions of European Countries such as Martinique and France and some are tied to countries as Commonwealths like Puerto Rico and the US.
Most of the islanders are descendants of Europeans or Africans or a mix of the two. There are some Asians who came to work on the plantations after slavery ended. Languages reflect the heritage – English, Spanish, French as well as mixtures of European and African languages. Creole in Haiti is an example, a dialect that mixes French and African influences.
The past is also reflected in the religion. Former Spanish and French colonies practice a blend of Catholicism and African blends, such as Santeria. Dutch and English areas have Protestant and African traditions as well as Catholicism.
People of the islands celebrate many holidays. One of the biggest is Carnival. Celebrated right before Lent, Carnival is marked by big parades, fancy costumes and music.
Food also reflects the past. Many of the dishes come from African / slave heritage. New food to the islands from Africa such as yams and okra are popular and souse, a dish made from pig snouts, tails and ears is popular. Slave holders getting the best of the pig would leave the remainders to the slaves. Curry form India is a popular spice.
Once a Spanish colony, Puerto Rico is a US Commonwealth. Puerto Ricans are US citizens, but do not have voting representation in Congress. Puerto Rico has gained from its link to the US, still, unemployment is high and wages low, so many come to the US looking for a better life. The idea of Puerto Rico becoming a state has been discussed several times in the past, so ….
Haiti is the western portion of Hispaniola. Port Au Prince is the capital and hub of industry, but most Haitians farm small plots. Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. The people have dealt with a string of corrupt governments, violence, poverty and political unrest creating many political refugees. Many of these refugees have come to the US.
In January of 2010, an earthquake of catastrophic proportions struck the island. It killed 230,000 and injured over 300,000. More than a million people were left homeless. Haitians are still rebuilding their homes and lives today.
The Dominican Republic is on the eastern part of Hispaniola. The capital, Santo Domingo was the first European settlement in the Western Hemisphere. Although not a rich country, it’s health care, economy, housing and education is much better than Haiti. Agriculture is the basis of the economy and tourism is growing in recent years.
Cuba is the largest and most populous country. It is located just 90+miles from the US. Havana is the capital and most important city. The Cuban government has been Communist since the revolution in 1959. The government took over all of the means of production and the US set a ban on trade with Cuba and restricted tourism by American travelers.
Today the government still controls most of the business and farms are set up as cooperatives. The government also controls the newspapers, television and radio. Those that oppose the government control of everything try to become refugees and migrate to the US. Many have become citizens
The rest of the islands of the Caribbean are small. Jamaica is the largest and St. Kitts and Nevis is the smallest – less than 1/10 the size of Rhode Island.
Exit: What European countries influence the culture of the Caribbean Islands?
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