Writing last week’s Top 5 Wednesday about settings got me unexpectedly riled up when I started writing the section on the Caribbean as a setting. In case you missed it, I’ll quote the section and then build on it.
I’ll be doing a series of posts describing my experiences with life in the Caribbean and how my interaction with literature is affected by it. In this first post, I will be giving some basic background information on the Caribbean so that when I start talking more technically in later posts you won’t be too confused.
And now for the post that sparked this entire discussion:
In case you don’t know, I’m from the Caribbean. Specifically, Trinidad and Tobago. Even now, looking for an image to include in this post when I Google “Caribbean civilisation” or “modern Caribbean” all I see is images of indigenous people and Europeans and beaches, respectively. This just goes to show how misrepresented we, as a region, are. Hence the reason I chose images from my own island, which is oil and economy based as opposed to tourism, to contrast the tourist notion held by everyone. We are so much more than that and it needs to be demonstrated in our literature.
I spent the last year or so living in the U.S. and while it was an amazing experience, it was also very eye opening. A lot of people don’t know very much about the modern Caribbean besides Jamaica. Whenever I told someone I was Caribbean, they automatically I assumed I was Jamaican. And even when I corrected them and said I was from Trinidad, they asked me which part of Jamaica that was in. I had people jokingly ask me if I was a pirate, professors told me my English was very good for a non-native speaker, people asked me about Africa and Haiti, and were genuinely surprised when I told them I didn’t live on the beach nor did I go to the beach every day.
It was simple exchanges like this that made me wish that there was better representation of the Caribbean as a region in contemporary media. A simple Google search of “Caribbean characters in media” will yield a single result: Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movie series. And this has absolutely nothing to do with actual Caribbean people. “What about the sea witch Calypso?” you might ask. Well, Calypso is actually a Greek deity and her appearance as the Caribbean mystic named Tia Dalma was unique to the PoTC franchise.
The Caribbean is a region that actually doesn’t have a set definition. Depending on who you ask you will get a different answer about which countries should be included, typically when it comes to mainland countries as opposed to islands. But the basics are as follows:
Geography — the Caribbean consists of island and mainland countries (eg. Guyana)
Demographically — the Caribbean is populated by all races: African, European, Asian, (East) Indian, indigenous people, and probably some more groups I’m not aware of.
Historically and Linguistically — The Caribbean can be divided historically and linguistically by its colonising power into the anglophone/English speaking, hispanophone/Spanish speaking, francophone/French speaking, and Dutch speaking Caribbean. But each of the countries within these categories have their own languages, or creoles, which are recognised linguistically as standard languages (eg. Trinidad Standard English/TSE, or Jamaican Standard English/JSE).
Note: Two countries may be anglophone but that doesn’t mean their creoles are the same. Think of a creole as a base language (English, Spanish, French, etc) that adapts to the racial and ethnic groups present, and so each one is unique to the specific country.
Below is a video of a comedian, Majah Hype, as he demonstrates various Caribbean and an African accent. With the exception of Haiti, a francophone country, notice how different words and pronunciation are between the Grenadian, Guyanese, Barbadian (Bajan), Trinidadian, and Jamaican accents.
Because language is so different from island to island, country to country, literature is different wherever you go. In the next post in this series, I will discuss some of my experiences with Caribbean literature.
Thanks for reading, and I apologise if this comes across in any way as ranting.