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 UNIT 4: Session I: National and Cultural Heritage of the Caribbean.

Unit 4, Session I, provides look at the Caribbean natural and cultural environment the context of our community development process. It establish the framework and sets the tone for meaningful resource assessment activities to follow using techniques, tools and skills described in Section II and III.

The unit discusses:
1. The natural heritage of: forests, woodland, arable land through to wetlands and coastal areas; rivers, lakes, sea, air and atmosphere; flora and fauna.
2. The cultural heritage and historic significance of personalities, institutions, language, food, music dance and drama; buildings, fortification, monuments.

1. To introduce alternative approaches to assessing community resources/needs.
2. To develop appreciation of the value and worth of natural and cultural resources.
3. To create a Caribbean perspective and context for the study of Community Development.


Environmental Education Series: 36
Chapter VI: Some Environmental Issues and Problems
UNESCO-UNEP International Environmental Education Programme
Joyce Glassgow, Ruby King, Pam Morris
University of the West Indies

Activities: None

 UNIT 4: Session 1: Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Caribbean

National Heritage
Originally most Caribbean Islands were covered with forests, woodland and mangroves. Much of this has been removed to make way for planting crops especially sugar, banana, citrus and coffee, for buildings, and for mining of bauxite, oil, gold and other minerals. The trees have been used for timber or for firewood.

Much of the original ecosystems have been modified by human economic activities to the point of danger to natural system being able to regenerate themselves and future generation to sustain themselves. The water cycle has been disturbed resulting in the reduction of rainfall and in many cases even drought.

People, both residents and visitors, respect the beauty of the Caribbean Islands, love to experience the beautiful landscape, rivers and beaches, and, miss them when they are away. Jamaica boasts the majestic Blue Mountains range, Antigua 365 beaches and Dominica 365 rivers. Then, there is the volcano of Monsterrat, the Harrison Cave of Barbados, the Pitch Lake of Trinidad, and the Tropical Forrest of Guyana. Each island has its own characteristics and rich heritage heavily influenced and shaped by its own history, economic, social, political and cultural experiences.

Whether for its aesthetics or practical application to the protection and preservation of the natural and human ecosystems, development processes must of neccesity, safeguard these important feature of life so that they continue to exist, improve and multiply even as humans use them to satisfy their needs.

Communities can seek the support of governments to protect their assets. For example, steps were taken to protect Blue Hole (Jamaica) a premier attraction. It is a very deep lagoon which is always very blue, hence the name. It is surrounded by steep hills, and removal of vegetation from the hillside results in erosion and the slipping of debris into the water. The Tree Preservation (Blue Hole, Portland) Order of 1976, prohibited the cutting down, topping, lopping or willful destruction of trees in the area, without the consent of the Parish Council. The Blue Hole is to be preserved for the people of Jamaica as a whole. The flora and fauna has to be protected too.

Removal of forests destroys the natural habitat of wildlife because of the elimination of their natural habitat. This is more pronounced in islands more than mainlands. For example, wild life in the islands have been severely reduced exacerbated by uncontrolled hunting. On the mainland countries, Guyana and Belize, the hinterland remains undeveloped and the animals, some of them rare species of the tropical forest, go to and fro across oceans.

Territories seek to protect endangered species by by making it illegal to kill certain species declared as such. Other species are protected by limiting the period of the year when hunting may take place, and limiting the number that may be caught each day. The bird population of the Caribbean varies as the time of year. Some birds migrate here from North America to pass the winter. Some islands have birds that are endemic. Both Jamaica and Dominica have chosen national birds, Sisserou Parrot and Doctor Bird respectively, that are only found in these territories.

Protection of flora is best done by keeping an area intact in its natural state. The earliest known forest reserve in the western hemisphere was in Tobago in 1765. Scientists considered it important to maintain the full range of genetic diversity. In the passage below, Thomas Lovejoy explains the importance of trying to ensure that all species of plants continue to exist.

"There are basic aesthetic and moral arguments to be made for the conservation, but, there are also very strong scientific ones in terms of biological resources. Within the last two or three years, a primeval species of wild maize was discovered in Mexico which holds the potential for transforming growing maize - our third most important grain - into a perennial agriculture which would save in terms of soil erosion and of energy. The world is considerably better off because the Mexican hillside where the wild maize was found had not already been turned into an ordinary maize field".

There are important public service benefits that accrue to us from nature, benefits to which each species, each animal and each plant involved in the total ecosystem is contributing. New live forms evolve as nature takes its own course. Humans can facilitate the maintenance of balance in the ecosystem by less interference, maintenance of watersheds by forest, reduced pollution of rivers, lakes and oceans, and the promotion of the availability of air for all by maintaining the the composition of the atmosphere.

The diversity of Caribbean wild life, plants and animal, natural geological and geographical feature, and the prevailing all year climatic conditions makes it attractive for students and researchers. Beyond the sky, sea and sun, the Caribbean is a haven for scholars who seek after rich and diversity ecosystems for study.


1. Identify several cultural expressions which are manifested throughout the Caribbean region and the impact each has on community development. List them below.




2. How have musical forms been influenced by religion in the Caribbean? Write a short paragraph to indicate this.

3. List below ways in which Art and Music are blended with Caribbean cultural forms.

Check your answers against the infromation provided in this unit.

Cultural Heritage
Societies are distinguishable by their cultures. Culture is a dynamic phenomenon. It changes through innovation, creativity, inventions, and cross cultural influences, stimulations, and adaptation. Culture means the accepted way of thinking, feeling and acting in society, and the interrelationship and organization of these ways. Culture is learnt from being a part of the group.

The cultures of the English-Speaking Caribbean countries have much in common, though each territory has unique features. The commonality are the direct result of the common origins in Africa, experience of slavery and colonization. The Caribbean experience was unique in the world because its indigenous peoples did not survive for long and so their cultures have played little part in our heritage. Even in the mainland countries of Guyana and Belize, where they still live today, Amerindians confined themselves to the interior and had little to do with the coastal colonies. Our cultural heritage, therefore, stems largely from European and West African migrants and the circumstances of colonialism and slavery invested European culture with status while African culture was disregarded and every attempt made to eradicate it.

Elements of the West African culture endured. As the slaves adjusted to their new environment their diverse traditions and previous experiences were brought into play and blended with aspects of the planters' European culture to form a creole culture. Contact between Europeans and Africans in field and factory, and especially in the great-house, led to cultural cross-fertilization and some African traits crept into the Euro-oriented culture of the whites.

The creole cultural mix also includes elements from the cultures of later migrants from India, China and Lebanon, and a few Amerindian traits such as the names of indigenous plants and animals. In Trinidad and Guyana where East Indians are as numerous as blacks, the Indian culture is a stronger element than in the other territories. In Belize the Amerindians (Mayas), Mestizos (a mixture of Spanish and Maya), and Garifunas (a mixture of Carib and African), have their own distinct cultures in many aspects but share some features of the common culture. In Dominica and St. Lucia the European influence is French as well as English.

The separate cultures of the whites and blacks in the Caribbean persisted for centuries but the barriers were gradually broken down by the developments in the twentieth century of black pride and of nationalism. The rejection at first of African culture, was not surprising since African history was largely unknown and the stigma of slavery seemed the only heritage of black people. By the 1960s, however, Marcus Garvey and his works had stimulated pride and self-worth in many black people; knowledge of African history and the glories of the great West African empires was being disseminated; information about African countries and contact with their citizens were available; blacks everywhere were becoming more self-assertive and proud of their blackness, several black countries including four Caricom ones, became independent.

The Governments of the new nations encouraged unity between all races and ethnic groups, recognised a single creole culture with elements from ethnic strands, and promoted African studies to help citizens to understand the roots of a major component of the creole culture. The synthesis which is our creole culture is peculiarly Caribbean, for though the influences of other cultures are evident, Caribbean cultures were created to fit the social and physical conditions of a new environment - the plantation system. Now that we have begun to learn about our African history and culture, we are being influenced also by repeated displays of the "American way of life" through the electronic media. We, like most cultures of the world, are being pulled towards a global culture dominated by America.

It is still necessary however that we explore "the roots of our being" so that as Norman Manley once said, while "absorbing all the influences from outside" we remain "sturdily ourselves". We must know our own cultural heritage - as Marcus Garvey put it "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots".

Caribbean leaders saw knowledge of, and pride in, our cultural heritage as a strong unifying force. Norman Manley felt that it was important to preserve monuments, sites and objects of historic interest or national importance, because he had faith "in the value of everything that is rooted in our country and of everything .... that tend to unify the people and the spirit of this country". Eric Williams (1970) expressed the view that our artistic, community and individual values are not for the most part authentic but ..... possess a high import content, the vehicles of import being the educational system, the mass media, the films and the tourists". He saw this as a manifestation of psychological dependence which would intensify fragmentation and reduce local self-confidence.

In Belize too the Chairperson of the National Arts Council bemoaned the fact that because of the influence of American television stations "things Belizean are in great danger of being lost forever".

What people define as "good for eating" and how it is prepared is a feature of their culture. Caribbean food shows the influence of the eating habits of various ethnic groups, as well as the food historically provided for slaves. Yams, dasheen, sweet potatoes, coco, cassava and other ground provisions were imported from West Africa so that the slaves could grow their food; breadfruits and mangoes were brought from Asia for the same purpose. Saltfish, pickled herrings, mackerel and shad, and corn pork were also imported for the slaves while the planters' family ate fresh meat. Another import was flour and cornmeal from North America, which slaves in islands with little or no space for growing ground provisions, had to depend on for breadstuff. These items formed the basis for Caribbean cuisine.

The slaves may have been torn from their culture but the women still remembered how to cook, African-style. Fungi (Antigua) called tun cornmeal in Jamaica and cooco in Barbados is West African, fufu. Cornmeal is also used to make dokunu, a kind of pudding boiled in banana leaves. The slaves caught crabs and made a stew with dasheen leaves called callaloo - this dish is popular in the eastern Caribbean but is not traditionally Jamaican. On the other hand, ackee trees originally imported from West Africa are all over the Caribbean, but only Jamaicans traditionally defined ackees as good eating ackees with saltfish. These dishes are now eaten by Caribbean people of all classes. Dishes which were traditionally for whites only such as roast beef or cornish pastries, have been creolised by the use of numerous spices. Rice, curry, roti have been added to the Caribbean cuisine by the East Indians; Guyanese make a stew called pepperpot which is flavoured with casreep made from cassava by Arawak Indians; in Antigua and Barbuda, and in Guyana a Portugesedish named garlic pork is a Christmas delicacy.

A characteristic of many traditional dishes is that they take a long time to prepare and increasingly our lifestyles, especially in urban areas, do not leave time for long hours in the kitchen. Some dishes are, therefore, made only on special occasions, and many young people have had no practice in making them, However, recipes in Caribbean cookbooks have documented many of the dishes. Some territories have culinary art competitions which help to keep traditional foods alive and stimulate innovative dishes created from local materials. Fast-food outlets supplying American-style fried chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs are all over the region. Though they are popular, it does not seem likely that they will supplant patties in Jamaica or rottis in Trinidad and Guyana.

Food is an excellent unfixing forces. Even if they sometimes eat dishes from other cultures, Caribbean people of all classes eat Caribbean food with pride and share comments on its quality.

Buildings, Fortifications, Monuments
If we agree with Norman Manley that history is the "soul and life of the nation" then we must consider it imperative that everything in our history be researched and preserved as far as possible. We need to learn about nor only great persons and notable incidents, but also about the work of the ordinary craftsmen. We need to preserve examples of the technology and the creativity of the past.

There is much to admire in old buildings. For example, the beauty of the craft work, and the ingenuity of the technicians who achieved so much without the equipment and materials taken for granted today. It can be noted that the architectural designs developed from mere imitations of European buildings through modifications to the creation of a Caribbean style. An examination can be made of the wattle and daub (gaultay in Dominica) construction of walls, and the thatching of roots which was West African technology used by the peasants. Great Houses should not be considered irrelevant just because European slave owners lived there, for they are part of our history, and viewed from another perspective, display the craft of the Africans who built them. In addition, contemporary architects can learn from eighteenth century buildings techniques for keeping a building cool without air-conditioning - knowledge which should be used to slow down the depletion of fossil fuels.

The fortifications spread all over the Caribbean are indeed evidence of European, rather than Caribbean wars, but they are important for our understanding of the value then attached to our countries - the massive fortress on Brimstone Hill in St. Kitts is a good example. Fortification also provide hands-on experience for students who can simulate the strategies used. English Harbour in Antigua and Port Royal in Jamaica, both well known, were dockyards where ships were prepared for battle and repaired afterwards.

Monuments commemorate significant events and the lives of notable persons. They show that at the time of their erection the events or person were highly valued, teach succeeding generations about the contribution to nation-building made by the event or persons, and keep the contribution fresh in the memory of citizens. Sometimes values change and new monuments are substituted for older ones. For example, in Jamaica a statue of Bustamante replaced one of Queen Victoria - the Queen's statue has been placed in a less prominent position.

Monuments may be statues or structures of any shape or size. They usually have a plague describing the reason for commemoration. In colonial days, monuments usually honoured white people: planter class, professionals or English officials. For example, there is a statue of Sir Walter Rodney in the square of at Spanish Town (Jamaica) which commemorates the Battle of the Saints (1782). Since Independence, statues have been made of those who led the fight for freedom, for example, in Jamaica six official National Heroes, all black or coloured; in Guyana Coffy, who led the slave rebellion in Berbice, and whose memorial is consecrated to the Struggle for Freedom elsewhere.

Events or persons may also be memorialized by naming places, highways, buildings, schools, airports etc. after them. In Antigua a street has been named Prince Klass Street after Coromantee slave who organised an insurrection; there are at least five airports in the Caribbean named after former Prime Ministers.

Guyana has an unusual monument. As part of the move towards a unified nation, the President arranged for Wai Wai Amerindians to come from the interior to build a huge traditional Amerindian building in Georgetown. This cone-shaped, palm-leaf-thatched structure is used for Government receptions.

Finally, tombstones may be monuments. They provide valuable information not only about historically significant figures like Thomas Warner, the founder of the first permanent English settlement in the West Indies but also about the life of ordinary citizens. The preservation of historical artifacts, the building of monuments, the marking of places of historical interest or national importance, al serve to create an environment which reminds us of our cultural heritage, and promote attitudes of conservation rather than senseless destruction in the name of progress.

Music, Dance and Drama
Calypso, Soca and reggae are indigenous to the region and are part of our cultural identity. However, we should not ignore our rich cultural heritage of folk songs, music, dance and drama. All territories have folk songs which the slaves and early freed men and women sang as they went about their work, or relaxed in their free time. many songs were created by the singers and like today's pop music, were a commentary on whatever was happening at the time. Folksongs are called by different names, for example, benna in Antigua, chante mas in Dominica, mento in Jamaica.

Our musical heritage also includes European music, especially choral church music. Many of the territories have national choirs whose repertoires include classical European music and local folksongs. This is one way to ensure that folksongs are kept alive; another way is to teach them in schools; and, a third is to use them in community social activities.

Our heritage in dance is also hybrid. Dances like quadrille and polka are European in origin but have been creolised by Caribbean rhythm - the traditional instruments of Africa - drum and fife. There are dances of African origin such as Brukins in Jamaica, which is a social dance, and Shango in Trinidad which is religious. It is thought that some of the African dances which have survived were brought into the region by the few African immigrants who arrived after emancipation.

African music has been described as "the combination of three things that are interdependent and never separated: dancing, singing, drumming"; and this is certainly true of the surviving African oriented dances and also of current pop music like soca and reggae.

East Indians in Trinidad and Guyana have their own music and dance with rhythms very different to Afro-Caribbean ones. Usually these are enjoyed only among members of the ethnic group, but at the festivals like Phagwah and Hosein, many people from other ethnic groups are present. Musicologists have observed the impact of East India tassa music on Trinidadian calypso and jazz.

Steel band drums are innovative in and indigenous to Trinidad. The music has become international, is even taught in some schools in Britain, and seems in no danger of disappearing. Our dance forms or styles can be preserved through festivals, competitions and inclusion in the school curricula and social events. Both music and dance can be retained through the use of the electronic media - audio and videotape.

Cooperative Customs
Age of collaboration and cooperation, networking.

There are two ways of cooperation used throughout the Caribbean which have been traced to African origins. One is a scheme for saving money and the other a system of getting specific tasks done.

The money-saving scheme is known as pardner, susu, bos. Participants pay the bankera specified sum of money regularly and the banker hands over the total sum to one of the group. Thus the scheme lends money also because except for the person who gets the last dra participant receive money before they have paid it in. The scheme is still used fairly widely despite the modern method of saving in a bank and receiving interest on the money.

Day work (Jamaica) and group (Trinidad) or Jolification(Nevis) or lend hand(Tobago) is a custom that is dying out. Members of a group help each other with specific jobs like reaping a field, building a house, etc., each member in turn getting a day's work from the others. The host for the day has to provide food and drink but labour is free.

These schemes are really mutual aid schemes, which are being squeezed out by the modern provision of paid services. They are part of our heritage and we need to consider the extent of their usefulness.

Except for East Indian Hindus and Muslims in Guyana and Trinidad, most Caribbean people are Christian, belonging to a wide spread of demoninations from orthodox ones like Roman Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodists, to revivalist ones where the members dance, beat drums, clap hands, shout and get into the spirit. These behaviours are African and revivalism and other cults are syncretic - a mixture of Christianity (Bible reading and hymn singing) and African (spirit possession and sacrifice).

Alleyne (1988) tells us that West Africans believe that "religion links the natural world to the supernatural world" and that living people make contact with deities through their ancestors. In addition, West Africans do not see a rigid dichotomy between sacred and secular, so dancing and shouting in the services are not sacrilegious.

With this understanding we can view revivalism, not as an aberration of Christian worship, but as part of our African heritage.

The Creole languages spoken in the Caribbean are not corruptions of English or French as was first thought. They are languages with a largely European vocabulary but with African syntax and patterns of speech. In Dominica and St. Lucia the Europeans base is French, everywhere else it is English. Depending on its history, each country has a few French, Spanish or Amerindian words.

It is necessary for us to learn standard English so we can communicate with the rest of the world, but no one needs be ashamed of creole as it provides a vehicle for vivid expression and identity, often found appropriate in certain circumstances, whether away from homeland, or for additional emphasis.

Art Forms:
Drawing, painting, sculpture, literature, music, dance, are art forms which communicate human feelings and perceptions.

Artists and artistes in the Caribbean today come from every ethnic group and have had a variety of experiences. Taken together their work reflects the mosaic of Caribbean culture. A comparison of today's art and literature with that produced at the beginning of the century shows the enormous cultural change that has taken place. In this aspect of our culture the change has been more towards being ourselves than towards global homogeneity. Outstanding examples of this are the murals of Dunstan St. Omer in St. Lucia, and the currently popular "dub poetry", an art form which reaffirms the murals tradition in Caribbean society.


1. Catalogue your impression of the themes reflected in the musical repertoire of the Caribbean islands.

2. Identify the inflences of religion on music and dance expression. List them below.

UWI-U4S1- Community Resource Assessment: Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Caribbean