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Wednesday, April 05, 2006 

Caribbean community and consciousness

Franklin W Knight
Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Caribbean may be defined in many ways. No one knows what exactly the indigenous inhabitants called the area where they lived. Christopher Columbus could not communicate with them and arrogantly called the region the Indies because he thought he was off the coast of India.

The Spanish would later call the area Las Indias, or Las Antillas, which the English translated as the West Indies. By the 17th century the French called their islands Les Caraibes after the natives who fiercely resisted their early colonial intrusions, or Outre Mer, the land beyond the seas.

Definitions of the Caribbean were strictly for convenience, largely imposed by those from the outside for purposes that often bear little relevance to Caribbean realities. Some view the Caribbean as the islands plus the enclaves on the mainland such as Belize, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana whose historical trajectory and societal experience were roughly similar. That is, perhaps, the most widely accepted definition of the Caribbean.

Others such as the Ronald Reagan administration in the United States created a Caribbean Basin in the 1980s that included much of Central America but excluded Cuba, the largest of the Caribbean islands. Still others see the Caribbean in terms of cultural uniformity, thereby creating a community from the Carolinas to Brazil. This definition conflates the Caribbean with tropical America.

For those living within the Caribbean, more specific locational references are not only more desirable but also more useful. The village within a parish, the city within a territory, or a specific island was certainly preferable to the larger designation of Caribbean, although that designation had some relevance and significance. Usually the resort to the larger term indicated the wish for collective or cooperative action.

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