The West Indies: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


(Redirected to Caribbean article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Antillas (orthographic projection).svg
Size An archipelago, 4,020 kilometres (2,500 mi) in length, and up to 257 kilometres (160 mi) wide; region contains more than 7,000 islands, islets, reefs, and cays
Population (2000) 37.5 million[1]
Ethnic groups Africans (notably Igbo, Akan, Yoruba, Fon, Kongo),[2] Native Americans (Arawak, Caribs, Tainos), Europeans (Spanish, French, British, Portuguese, Dutch), Asian (Chinese, Indian)
Demonym West Indian, Caribbean, American
Government 13 sovereign states; also, 2 overseas departments and 14 dependent territories, tied to the European Union or to the United States
Largest cities Havana
Santo Domingo
San Juan
Port of Spain
Internet TLD Multiple
Calling code Multiple
Time Zone UTC-5 to UTC-4
Central America and the Caribbean
Detail of tectonic plates from: Tectonic plates of the world

The Caribbean[3] is a region consisting of the Caribbean Sea, its islands (most of which enclose the sea), and the surrounding coasts. The region is located southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and Northern America, east of Central America, and to the north of South America.

Situated largely on the Caribbean Plate, the region comprises more than 7,000 islands, islets, reefs, and cays. These islands, called the West Indies, generally form island arcs that delineate the eastern and northern edges of the Caribbean Sea.[4] These islands are called the West Indies because when Christopher Columbus landed there in 1492 he believed that he had reached the Indies (in Asia).

The region consists of the Antilles, divided into the larger Greater Antilles which bound the sea on the north and the Lesser Antilles on the south and east (including the Leeward Antilles), and the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, which are in fact in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cuba, not in the Caribbean Sea.

Geo-politically, the West Indies are usually regarded as a sub-region of North America[5][6][7][8] and are organized into 27 territories including sovereign states, overseas departments, and dependencies. At one time, there was a short-lived country called the Federation of the West Indies composed of ten English-speaking Caribbean territories, all of which were then UK dependencies.

The region takes its name from that of the Carib, an ethnic group present in the Lesser Antilles and parts of adjacent South America at the time of European contact.[9]



The word "Caribbean" has multiple uses. Its principal ones are geographical and political. The Caribbean can also be expanded to include territories with strong cultural and historical connections to slavery, European colonisation and the plantation system.


Beach in Tobago

The population of the Caribbean is estimated to have been around 750,000 immediately before European contact, although lower and higher figures are given. After contact, genocide and disease led to a decline in the Native American population.[11][12] From 1500 to 1800 the population rose as slaves arrived from West Africa[13] such as the Kongo, Igbo, Akan, Fon and Yoruba and immigrants from Ireland, Britain, Italy. France, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark, although the mortality rate was high for both groups.[14]

The population is estimated to have reached 2.2 million by 1800.[15] Immigrants from India, China, and other countries arrived in the 19th century.[16] After the ending of the Atlantic slave trade, the population increased naturally.[17] The total regional population was estimated at 37.5 million by 2000.[1]

Puerto Cruz beach in Margarita Island, Venezuela

The majority of the Caribbean has populations of mainly Africans in the French Caribbean, Anglophone Caribbean and Dutch Caribbean, there are minorities of mixed-race and European peoples of Dutch, English, French, Italian, and Portuguese ancestry. Asians, especially those of Chinese and Indian descent, form a significant minority in the region and also contribute to multiracial communities. Many of their ancestors arrived in the 19th century as indentured laborers.

The Spanish-speaking Caribbean have primarily mixed race, African, or European majorities. The Dominican Republic has mixed majority of African, European, and Native; Puerto Rico and Cuba have a European majority. The mixtures are those who are primarily descended from West Africans, Native Americans, and Spaniards.

Trinidad and Tobago has a multi-racial cosmopolitan society due to the arrival of the Africans, Indians, Chinese, Syrians, Lebanese and Europeans. This multi-racial mix has created sub-ethnicities that often straddle the boundaries of major ethnicities and include Chindian and Dougla.


Indigenous tribes


Spanish, Italian, English, French, Dutch, Haitian Creole and Papiamento are the predominant official languages of various countries in the region, though a handful of unique Creole languages or dialects can also be found from one country to another.


The largest religious groups in the region are: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Rastafari, Santería, and Voodoo among others.

Geography and climate

The geography and climate in the Caribbean region varies. Some islands in the region have relatively flat terrain of non-volcanic origin. These islands include Aruba (possessing only minor volcanic features), Barbados, Bonaire, the Cayman Islands, Saint Croix, The Bahamas or Antigua. Others possess rugged towering mountain-ranges like the islands of Cuba, Dominica, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Saba, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Saint Vincent, Guadeloupe, and Trinidad & Tobago.

The climate of the region is tropical but rainfall varies with elevation, size and water currents (cool upwellings keep the ABC islands arid). Warm, moist tradewinds blow consistently from the east creating rainforest/semidesert divisions on mountainous islands. Occasional northwesterlies affect the northern islands in the winter. Winters are warm, but drier.

The waters of the Caribbean Sea host large, migratory schools of fish, turtles, and coral reef formations. The Puerto Rico trench, located on the fringe of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea just to the north of the island of Puerto Rico, is the deepest point in all of the Atlantic Ocean.[18]

Hurricanes, which at times batter the region, usually strike northwards of Grenada, and to the west of Barbados. The principal hurricane belt arcs to northwest of the island of Barbados in the Eastern Caribbean.

The region sits in the line of several major shipping routes with the man-made Panama Canal connecting the western Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean.

Historical groupings

Political Evolution of Central America and the Caribbean from 1700 to present

All islands at some point were, and a few still are, colonies of European nations; a few are overseas or dependent territories:

The mostly Spanish-controlled Caribbean in the sixteenth century

The British West Indies were united by the United Kingdom into a West Indies Federation between 1958 and 1962. The independent countries formerly part of the B.W.I. still have a joint cricket team that competes in Test matches and One Day Internationals. The West Indian cricket team includes the South American nation of Guyana, the only former British colony on that continent.

In addition, these countries share the University of the West Indies as a regional entity. The university consists of three main campuses in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, a smaller campus in the Bahamas and Resident Tutors in other contributing territories.

Modern day island territories

Islands in and near the Caribbean

Continental countries with Caribbean coastlines and islands

The nations of Belize and Guyana, although on the mainland of Central America and South America respectively, are former British colonies and maintain many cultural ties to the Caribbean. They are members of CARICOM. Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast, often referred to as the Mosquito Coast, was also a former British colony. It maintains many cultural ties to the Caribbean as distinct from the Pacific coast. Guyana participates in West Indies cricket tournaments and many players from Guyana have been on the West Indies Test cricket team. The Turneffe Islands (and many other islands and reefs) are part of Belize and lie in the Caribbean Sea. The nation of Suriname, on the mainland of South America, is a former Dutch colony and also a member of CARICOM.


The Caribbean islands are classified as one of Conservation International's biodiversity hotspots because they support exceptionally diverse ecosystems, ranging from montane cloud forests to cactus scrublands. These ecosystems have been devastated by deforestation and human encroachment. The arrival of the first humans is correlated with extinction of giant owls and dwarf ground sloths.[19] The hotspot contains dozens of highly threatened species, ranging from birds, to mammals and reptiles. Popular examples include the Puerto Rican Amazon, two species of solenodon (giant shrews) in Cuba and Haiti, and the Cuban crocodile. The hotspot is also remarkable for the decimation of its fauna.



Caribbean societies are very different from other western societies in terms of size, culture, and degree of mobility of their citizens.[20] The current economic and political problems which the states face individually are common to all Caribbean states. Regional development has contributed to attempts to subdue current problems and avoid projected problems. From a political economic perspective, regionalism serves to make Caribbean states active participants in current international affairs through collective coalitions. In 1973, the first political regionalism in the Caribbean Basin was created by advances of the English-speaking Caribbean nations through the institution known as the Caribbean Common Market and Community (CARICOM).[21]

Certain scholars have argued both for and against generalizing the political structures of the Caribbean. On the one hand the Caribbean states are politically diverse, ranging from communist systems such as Cuba toward more capitalist Westminster-style parliamentary systems as in the Commonwealth Caribbean. Other scholars argue that these differences are superficial, and that they tend to undermine commonalities in the various Caribbean states. Contemporary Caribbean systems seem to reflect a “blending of traditional and modern patterns, yielding hybrid systems that exhibit significant structural variations and divergent constitutional traditions yet ultimately appear to function in similar ways.”[22] The political systems of the Caribbean states share similar practices.

The influence of regionalism in the Caribbean is often marginalized. Some scholars believe that regionalism cannot not exist in the Caribbean because each small state is unique. On the other hand, scholars also suggest that there are commonalities amongst the Caribbean nations that suggest regionalism exists. “Proximity as well as historical ties among the Caribbean nations has led to cooperation as well as a desire for collective action.”[23] These attempts at regionalization reflect the nations' desires to compete in the international economic system.[23]

Furthermore, a lack of interest from other major states promoted regionalism in the region. In recent years the Caribbean has suffered from a lack of U.S. interest. “With the end of the Cold War, U.S. security and economic interests have been focused on other areas. As a result there has been a significant reduction in U.S. aid and investment to the Caribbean.”[24] The lack of international support for these small, relatively poor states, helped regionalism prosper.

Following the Cold War another issue of importance in the Caribbean has been the reduced economic growth of some Caribbean States due to the United States and European Union's allegations of special treatment toward the region by each other.

United States effects on regionalism

The United States under President Bill Clinton launched a challenge in the World Trade Organization against the EU over Europe's preferential program, known as the Lomé Convention, which allowed banana exports from the former colonies of the Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific states (ACP) to enter Europe cheaply.[25] The World Trade Organization sided in the United States' favour and the beneficial elements of the convention to African, Caribbean and Pacific states has been partially dismantled and replaced by the Cotonou Agreement.[26]

During the US/EU dispute the United States imposed large tariffs on European Union goods (up to 100% on some imports) from the EU in order to pressure Europe to change the agreement with the Caribbean nations in favour of the Cotonou Agreement.[27]

Farmers in the Caribbean have complained of their falling profits and rising costs. Some farmers have faced increased pressure to turn towards the cultivation of illegal-drugs which has a higher profit margin and fills the sizable demand for illegal drugs in other parts of North America and Europe.[28][29]

European Union effects on regionalism

The European Union has also taken issue with US based taxation extended to US companies via the Caribbean countries. The EU instituted a broad labeling of many nations as tax havens by the France-based OECD. The United States has not been in favor of shutting off the practice yet, mainly due to the higher costs that would be passed on to US companies via taxation. Caribbean countries have largely countered the allegations by the OECD by signing more bilateral information sharing deals with OECD members, thus reducing the dangerous aspects of secrecy, and they have strengthened their legislation against money laundering and on the conditions under which companies can be based in their nations. The Caribbean nations have also started to more closely cooperate in the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force and other instruments to add oversight of the offshore industry.

One of the most important associations that deal with regionalism amongst the nations of the Caribbean Basin has been the Association of Caribbean States (ACS). Proposed by CARICOM in 1992, the ACS soon won the support of the other countries of the region. It was founded in July 1994. The ACS maintains regionalism within the Caribbean on issues which are unique to the Caribbean Basin. Through coalition building, like the ACS and CARICOM, regionalism has become an undeniable part of the politics and economics of the Caribbean. The successes of region-building initiatives are still debated by scholars, yet regionalism remains prevalent throughout the Caribbean.

Regional institutions

Here are some of the bodies that several islands share in collaboration:



Favorite or National dishes

See also


  1. ^ a b Table A.2, Database documentation, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) Population Database, version 3, International Center for Tropical Agriculture et al., 2005. Accessed on line February 20, 2008.
  2. ^ Defining Creole. Oxford University Press US. 2005. p. 379. ISBN 0195166701. 
  3. ^ Pronounced /ˌkærɨˈbiːən/ or /kəˈrɪbiən/. Both pronunciations are equally valid; indeed, they see equal use even within areas of the Caribbean itself. Cf. Royal Caribbean, which stresses the second syllable, and Pirates of the Caribbean, which stresses the first and third. In each case, as a proper noun, those who would normally pronounce it a different way may use the pronunciation associated with the noun when referring to it. More generic nouns such as the Caribbean Community are generally referred to using the speaker's preferred pronunciation.
    Spanish: Caribe; Dutch About this sound Caraïben ; French: Caraïbe or more commonly Antilles
  4. ^ Asann, Ridvan (2007). A Brief History of the Caribbean (Revised ed.). New York: Facts on File, Inc.. pp. 3. ISBN 0816038112. 
  5. ^ Standard Country and Area Codes Classifications (M49), United Nations Statistics Division
  6. ^ North America AtlasNational Geographic
  7. ^ "North America" Atlas of Canada
  8. ^ "North America". Britannica Concise Encyclopedia; "... associated with the continent is Greenland, the largest island in the world, and such offshore groups as the Arctic Archipelago, the Bahamas, the Greater and Lesser Antilles, the Queen Charlotte Islands, and the Aleutian Islands."
  9. ^ "Carib". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 2008-07-11. Retrieved 2008-02-20. "inhabited the Lesser Antilles and parts of the neighbouring South American coast at the time of the Spanish conquest." 
  10. ^ Background of the business forum of the Greater Caribbean of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS)
  11. ^ p. 486, A Population History of the Caribbean, Stanley L. Engerman, pp. 483–528 in A Population History of North America, edited by Michael R. Haines and Richard Hall Steckel, Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0521496667.
  12. ^ Stacy Goodling, "Effects of European Diseases on the Inhabitants of the New World", Millersville University
  13. ^ The Sugar Revolutions and Slavery, U.S. Library of Congress
  14. ^ pp. 488–492, Engerman.
  15. ^ Figure 11.1, Engerman.
  16. ^ pp. 501–502, Engerman.
  17. ^ pp. 504, 511, Engerman.
  18. ^ Uri ten Brink. "Puerto Rico Trench 2003: Cruise Summary Results". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2008-02-21. 
  19. ^ North American Extinctions v. World
  20. ^ Gowricharn, Ruben. Caribbean Transnationalism: Migraton, Pluralization, and Social Cohesion, Lanham: Lexington Books, 2006. pp. 5
  21. ^ Hillman, Richard S., and Thomas J. D'agostino, eds. Understanding the Contemporary Caribbean, London: Lynne Rienner, 2003. pp. 150
  22. ^ Hillman, Richard S., and Thomas J. D'agostino, eds. Understanding the Contemporary Caribbean, London: Lynne Rienner, 2003. pp. 165
  23. ^ a b Serbin, Andres. "Towards an Association of Caribbean States: Raising Some Awkward Questions", Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs (2004): pp. 1
  24. ^ Hillman, Richard S., and Thomas J. D'agostino, eds. Understanding the Contemporary Caribbean, London: Lynne Rienner, 2003. pp. 123
  25. ^ The U.S.-EU Banana Agreement See also: "Dominica: Poverty and Potential". BBC. Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  26. ^ WTO rules against EU banana import practices
  27. ^ No truce in banana war
  28. ^ World: Americas St Vincent hit by banana war
  29. ^ Concern for Caribbean farmers
  30. ^ CAIC
  31. ^ "CANTO Caribbean portal". Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  32. ^ "Caribbean Educators Network". CEN. Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  33. ^ "Carilec". Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  34. ^
  35. ^ "Caribbean Regional Environmental Programme". Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  36. ^ "Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism". Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  37. ^ "Official website of the RNM". Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  38. ^
  39. ^ "University of the West Indies". Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  40. ^ "West Indies Cricket Board WICB Official Website". Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  41. ^

"Diversity Amid Globalization" 4th edition. Rowntree, Lewis, Price, Wyckoff.

Further reading

  • Develtere, Patrick. 1994. "Co-operation and development: With special reference to the experience of the Commonwealth Caribbean" ACCO, ISBN 9033431815
  • Gowricharn, Ruben. Caribbean Transnationalism: Migraton, Pluralization, and Social Cohesion. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2006.
  • Henke, Holger, and Fred Reno, eds. Modern Political Culture in the Caribbean. Kingston: University of West Indies Press, 2003.
  • Heuman, Gad. The Caribbean: Brief Histories. London: A Hodder Arnold Publication, 2006
  • Hillman, Richard S., and Thomas J. D'agostino, eds. Understanding the Contemporary Caribbean. London: Lynne Rienner, 2003.
  • de Kadt, Emanuel, (editor). Patterns of foreign influence in the Caribbean, Oxford University Press, 1972
  • Knight, Franklin W.. The Modern Caribbean. na: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
  • Kurlansky, Mark. 1992. A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny. Addison-Wesley Publishing. ISBN 0201523965
  • Langley, Lester D. The United States and the Caribbean in the Twentieth Century. London: University of Georgia Press, 1989.
  • Maingot, Anthony P. The United States and the Caribbean: Challenges of an Asymmetrical Relationship. Westview P, 1994.
  • Ramnarine, Tina K., "Beautiful Cosmos: Performance and Belonging in the Caribbean Diaspora". London, Pluto Press, 2007
  • Serbin, Andres. "Towards an Association of Caribbean States: Raising Some Awkward Questions." Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs (2004): 1-19. (This scholar has many articles referencing the politics of the Caribbean)

External links

Coordinates: 14°31′32″N 75°49′06″W / 14.52556°N 75.81833°W / 14.52556; -75.81833

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

THE WEST INDIES, sometimes called the Antilles, an archipelago stretching in the shape of a rude arc or parabola from Florida in North America and Yucatan in Central America to Venezuela in South America, and enclosing the Caribbean Sea (615,000 sq. m.) and the Gulf of Mexico (750,000 sq. m. in area). The land area of all the islands is nearly 100,000 sq. m., with an estimated population of about 62 millions; that of the British islands about 12,000 sq. m. The islands differ widely one from another in area, population, geographical position, and physical characteristics. They are divided into the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and Porto Rico), and the Lesser Antilles (comprising the remainder). The Lesser Antilles are again divided into the Windward Islands and Leeward Islands. Geographically, the Leeward Islands are those to the north of St Lucia, and the Windward, St Lucia and those to the south of it; but for administrative purposes the British islands in the Lesser Antilles are grouped as is shown in the table given later.

Missing image
Missing image
Table of contents


The West Indies are the summits of a submerged mountain chain, the continuation of which towards the west must be sought in the mountains of Honduras. In Haiti the chain divides, one branch passing through Jamaica and the other through Cuba, the Cayman Islands and the Misteriosa Bank. In Das Antlitz der Erde, E. Suess divides the Antilles into three zones: (1) The first or interior zone, which is confined to the Lesser Antilles, is entirely of volcanic origin and contains many recent volcanic cones. It forms the inner string of islands which extends from Saba and St Kitts to Grenada and the Grenadines. The western part of the deep-cleft island Guadeloupe belongs to this zone. (2) The second zone consists chiefly of Cretaceous and early Tertiary rocks. In the west it is broad, including the whole of the Greater Antilles, but in the east it is restricted to a narrow belt which comprises the Virgin Islands (except Anegada), Anguilla, St Bartholomew, Antigua, the eastern part of Guadeloupe and part of Barbados. (3) The third and outermost zone is formed of Miocene and later beds, and the islands which compose it are flat and low. Like the second zone it is broad in the west and narrow in the east. It includes the Bahamas, Anegada, Sombrero, Barbuda and part of Barbados. Geologically, Florida and the plain of Yucatan may be looked upon as belonging to this zone. Neither Trinidad nor the islands off the Venezuelan coast can be said to belong to any of these three zones. Geologically they are a part of the mainland itself. They consist of gneisses and schists, supposed to be Archaean, eruptive rocks, Cretaceous, Tertiary and Quaternary deposits; and the strike of the older rocks varies from about W.S.W. to S.W. Geologically, in fact, these islands are much more nearly allied to the Greater Antilles and to Central America than they are to the Lesser Antilles; and there is accordingly some reason to believe that the arc formed by the West Indian Islands is really composite in origin. Although the three zones recognized by Suess are fairly clearly defined, the geological history of the Greater Antilles, with which must be included the Virgin Islands, differs considerably from that of the Lesser. In Cuba and Haiti there are schists which are probably of pre-Cretaceous age, and have, indeed, been referred to the Archaean; but the oldest rocks which have yet been certainly identified in the West Indies belong to the Cretaceous period. Throughout the Greater Antilles the geological succession begins as a rule with volcanic tuffs and conglomerates of hornblende-andesite, &c., in the midst of which are intercalated occasional beds of limestone with Rudistes and other Cretaceous fossils. These are overlaid by sediments of terrigenous origin, and the whole series was folded before the deposition of the next succeeding strata. The nature of these Cretaceous deposits clearly indicates the neighbourhood of an extensive area of land; Bay 'v1 ' ? 0 F l oBimini 1.

Missing image

W 7/6° - - Great Abaco I. nncl bl e yr ou?1 rb ra I, bss Cay Towne soP nt ett?

+ ?

d ?

ri::5J ss?,a”.

20 lslaltdS - ? ---- _ ?gierra M n1 C.SataCra2 ??

?a ? Ca manerocBrq ?, o ?

o Caytnan(Br.) Pa °ere ,e? A?00 Yt.




Scale, I:10,000,000

English Miles

0 20 4 0 So r20 060 200 240


St. Lucia

nit r e



C Ar°y4` 9 ? 01P C eris e Bay ----- ? tp i 0, 0 C' o i t  ? ? P a G t s-.,?/,,,,,,,: c?). ????.l0 Y ?; ? 4 v C on ??

Missing image
Missing image
Missing image




Missing image
Missing image
Missing image
Missing image

o c 3 ??c P s 0b0.. n0 g ,:,?Raggedl. ?. " a1 b a9 t?, Castle/.;co' 001 dC CayVerde Mrra p oruos Ic an Ca?oo ¢9e %?Qe - Dan=Danish.  ? }'en?? y 4 ° - For the whole island of Cuba map S. , 1 ? ? i°s µ5l .PasS Cails Is o Ybe :::er s le/ a Great a I nagua l. y 90. r ?C c ? s P? v.,40.‘+ 'y,alf 1 t J a!7 +? 1'nP` C C5 50g S V?s0 ? ? b¢ 6,1 ,$. 40 P 4 ?r t St.Marc 24 Barbados Pt.l ' Bridgetown Railways -?* Capitals._ ..___...° %_or Br. = British. Fr.=-French. Out.= Dutch. Scale, s 30 Layou Dominica Roseau Q ? i aB 1 fe 1g tt adeloupe(Fr.) Mo tserrat(Br.) ry - 'La Ie f. - Les.'arie Galante (Fr.) Samtes Po e rtsmouth Dominica (Br.) r E G NS, Scale. 2,60,000 English Miles N St. Vincent Ch3teauBelair C O Calliaqua h Bequia

?1Cannouan ..  a?(/nion) 445", Olsle Ronde Gouyave o CO E. M10nt „i 

ierr '1? .Martini ue rant (Fr.) aiisr er 41 Enf CQ Castries' St.lucia tn Vieu 0.4 Barbados (sr.) Bridgetown 4 Trinidad St, Vincent(L;r.) in n  ??1 PIQa aivr? 'fi' Grenada (Br ) t. G eorges 12 Cotner, ne Scale, n:4,000,000 Grenada 5 3 Tobago do e pa o' Los.Roq ues BlnnpuillaQ  :;Jd Orchilla l. ' Herl anos ` ` ' trs Tasd:gos c: ?  ?

Margarital Tori?a s r l 4 e e r - Tobago (Br,) Cgof Trinidad (Br.) nt s G but during the succeeding Eocene period and the early part of the Oligocene, a profound subsidence led to the deposition of the Globigerina chalks and white Radiolarian earths of Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti. The Greater Antilles must at this time have been almost completely submerged, and the similar deposits of Barbados and Trinidad point to a similar submergence beyond the Windward Islands. In the middle of the Oligocene period a mighty upheaval, accompanied by mountain folding and the intrusion of plutonic rocks, raised the Greater Antilles far above their present level, and united the islands with one another, and perhaps with Florida. A subsequent depression and a series of minor oscillations finally resulted in the production of the present topography.

The geology of the Lesser Antilles is somewhat different. In some of the islands there are old volcanic tuffs which may possibly be the equivalents of the Cretaceous beds of Jamaica, but volcanic activity here continued throughout the Tertiary period and even down to the present day. Another important difference is that except in Trinidad and Barbados, which do not properly belong to the Caribbean chain, no deep-sea deposits have yet been found in the Lesser Antilles and there is no evidence that the area ever sank to abysmal depths.

In the foregoing account the chronology of R. T. Hill has been followed; but there is still considerable difference of opinion as to the ages and correlation of the various Tertiary deposits and consequently as to the dates of the great depression and elevation. J. W. Spencer, for example, places the greatest elevation of the Antilles in the Pliocene and Pleistocene periods. Moreover, chiefly on the evidence of submerged valleys, he concludes that practically the whole of the Caribbean Sea was land and that a complete connexion existed, by way of the West Indian bridge, between North and South America.' The mineral wealth of the islands is not remarkable. Gold, silver, iron, copper, tin, platinum, lead, coal of a poor quality, cobalt, mercury, arsenic, antimony, manganese, and rock salt either have been or are worked. Asphalt is worked to considerable advantage among the pitch lakes of Trinidad. Opal and chalcedony are the principal precious stones.

Climate.-As in most tropical countries where considerable heights are met with-and here over 15,500 sq. m. lie at an elevation of more than 1500 ft. above sea-level-the climate of the West Indies (in so far at least as heat and cold are concerned) varies at different altitudes, and on the higher parts of many of the islands a marked degree of coolness may generally be found. With the exception of part of the Bahamas, all the islands lie between the isotherms of 77° and 82° F. The extreme heat, however, is greatly tempered by the sea breezes, and by long, cool, refreshing nights. Frost is occasionally formed in the cold season when hail falls, but snow is unknown. The seasons may be divided as follows. The short wet season, or spring, begins in April and lasts from two to six weeks, and is succeeded by the short dry season, when the thermometer remains almost stationary at about 80° F. In July the heat increases to an extent well nigh unbearable. No change occurs till after a period varying from the end of July to the beginning of October, when the great rainfall of the year begins, accompanied by tremendous and destructive hurricanes. This season is locally known as the " hurricane months." The annual rainfall averages 63 in. These storms arise in the Atlantic and towards the east. For a day or two they follow a westerly course, inclining, at the same time, one or two points towards the north, the polar tendency becoming gradually more marked as the distance from the equator increases. When the hurricanes reach latitude 25° N., they curve to the north-east, and almost invariably wheel round on arriving at the northern portion of the Gulf of Mexico, after which they follow the coast line of North America. Their rate of speed varies considerably, but may be said to average 300 m. per day among the islands. The usual signs of the approach of the cyclones are an ugly and threatening appearance of the weather, sharp and frequent puffs of wind, increasing in force with each blast, accompanied with a long heavy swell and confused choppy sea, coming from the direction of the approaching storm. December marks the beginning of the long dry season, which, accompanied by fresh winds and occasional hail showers, lasts till April. The average temperature of the air at Barbados, which may be taken as a favourable average, is, throughout the year, 80° F. in the forenoon, and about 82° in the afternoon. The maximum is 87°, and the minimum 75°.

Flora.-The flora of the islands is of great variety and richness, as plants have been introduced from most parts of the globe, and flourish either in a wild state or under cultivation; grain, vegetables, and fruits, generally common in cool climates, may be seen growing in luxuriance within a short distance of like plants which only attain perfection under the influence of extreme heat, nothing being here required for the successful propagation of both but a difference in the height of the lands upon which they grow. The forests, which ' See E. Suess, Das Antlitz der Erde (Wien, 1885; Eng. trans., Oxford, 1904); J. W. Spencer, " Reconstruction of the Antillean Continent," Bull. Geol. Soc. Amer., vol. vi. (1895), p. 103 (Abstract in Geol. Mag., 18 94, PP. 44 8 -45 1): see also a series of papers by J. W. Spencer in Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc., vols. lxvii., lxviii. (1901, 1902); R. T. Hill, " The Geology and Physical Geography of Jamaica," Bull. Illus. Comp. Zool. Harvard, vol. xxxiv. (1899).

XXVIII. 18 are numerous and wide-spreading, produce the most valuable woods and delicious fruits. Palms are in great variety, and there are several species of gum-producing trees. Some locust trees have been estimated to have attained an age of 4000 years, and are of immense height and bulk. Piptadenia, on account of its almost imperishable character when in the ground, is used as a material for housebuilding. Xanthoxylon, the admired and valuable satin-wood of commerce, is common; Sapindus finds a ready market on account of its toughness; crab-wood yields a useful oil and affords reliable timber; and tree ferns of various species are common. Pimento is peculiar to Jamaica. But it is to the agricultural resources of the islands that the greatest importance attaches. For centuries almost the whole care of the planters was bestowed upon the cultivation of the sugar-cane and tobacco plant, but in modern times, as will be seen later, attention has been turned to the production of other and more varying crops. Crops of tobacco, beans, peas, maize, and Guinea corn are popular, and a species of rice, which requires no flooding for its successful propagation, is largely produced. Hymenachne striatum covers many of the plains, and affords food for cattle.

Fauna.-The fauna of the region is Neotropical, belonging to that region which includes South and part of Central America, although great numbers of birds from the North-American portion of the Holarctic realm migrate to the islands. The resident birds, however, eighteen genera of which are certainly Neotropical, show beyond doubt to which faunal region the islands properly belong. Mammals are, as in most island groups, rare. The agouti abounds, and wild pigs and dogs are sufficiently numerous to afford good sport to the hunter, as well as smaller game, in the shape of armadillos, opossums, musk-rats and raccoons. The non-migrating birds include trogons, sugar-birds, chatterers, and many parrots and humming birds. Waterfowl and various kinds of pigeons are in abundance. Reptiles are numerous: snakes-both the boa and adder-are innumerable, while lizards, scorpions, tarantulas and centipedes are everywhere. Insects are in great numbers, and are often annoying. Among domestic animals mules are largely reared, and where the country affords suitable pasture and forage cattle-breeding is practised. Goats abound, and large flocks of sheep are kept for the sake of their flesh alone, as the climate is not adapted for wool-growing.



sq. m.







Bahamas. ... .

5,45 0

43,5 21


Jamaica. .. .




Turks Island




Leeward Islands:

Virgin Islands




St Nevis Kitts. ... .




1 2 ,774

Antigua .




Montserrat .

32 1



Dominica .




Barbados .




Windward Islands :

St Lucia .


3 8 ,55 1


St Vincent .




Grenada .


4 2 ,43 0


Trinidad.. .



Tobago.. .


171 ' 179





. .




182,024 a

St Martin (part)





St Martin (part)




Curacao. .. .




Buen Ayre .



Aruba.. .




St Eustatius .



Saba. .. .




St Thomas .




St John.. .




St Croix. ... .





Porto Rico .





Santo Domingo .




Haiti .




Cuba (and adjacent islands) .




Area and Population.-The following list of the West Indian Islands gives their area and population. Notwithstanding the ' Estimate, 1905.2 Estimate, 1906. s 1905.4 Populations of all Dutch islands are for 1908.

1910. Estimate. 1907. ---- operations of educational institutions and of large numbers of missionaries of various religious denominations, the percentage of illegitimate births among the population of the British West Indian islands remains very high - in Barbados about 54; in Jamaica, 63; in Trinidad, 59% of the general births; and 79% of the East Indian.

The population of the West Indies represents many original stocks, the descendants of which have developed variations of habits and customs in their New World environment. They may be divided into six main classes: (r) Europeans - immigrants (British, French, Spanish and in a lesser degree Dutch, Danish and German) and West Indian born; (2) African negroes - immigrants (a fast vanishing quantity) and West Indian born; (3) a mixture of Europeans and Africans; (4) coolies from India - imported and West Indian born; (5) Chinese; (6) aboriginal Indians of more or less pure descent. Of these, the people of pure African blood are in a large majority, the " coloured " race of mixed European and African blood being next in numerical importance. Under British influence the negroes of the West Indies have become British in thought and habit; and it would seem that the stimulating influence of European direction and encouragement is absolutely necessary for the future development and progress of these islands. In the republics of Santo Domingo and Haiti the negroes are left to drift along, while the French and Danish islands show no great sign of progress.

British Colonies, Government, &c. - The British West India colonies' are either crown colonies - that is to say, their government is absolutely under the control of the British Colonial Office, the official members of their councils predominating, and the unofficial members being nominated by the crown, as in the Windward and Leeward Islands - or they have a measure of representative government, as in the Bahamas, Barbados and Jamaica, in which all or part of the legislatures are elected and are more or less independent of crown control. The laws of the various colonies are English, with local statutes to meet local needs. The governors and high officials are appointed by the crown; other officials are appointed by the governor. Each governor acts under the advice of a privy council. In matters of detail the colonies present a variety of forms of government (for which see the separate articles). Federation has been widely discussed and is held desirable by many, but in view of the insular character of the colonies, the considerable distances separating some of them, and in many instances the lack of common interests (apart from certain broad issues), the project appears to be far from realization.

The only fortified places in the British West Indies are Jamaica, Barbados and St Lucia - all of importance as coaling stations. In many of the islands there are local volunteer forces. The police forces of the colonies are in the main modelled on the Irish constabulary, supplemented by rural constabulary. The force is usually officered by Europeans.

Economic Conditions

The West Indian colonies have suffered from periods of severe economic depression, though from the early years of the 10th century there has been good evidence of recovery and development. An obvious reason for temporary depression is the liability of the islands to earthquakes and hurricanes, in addition to eruptions in the volcanic islands, such as those in St Vincent and Martinique in 1902. For example, the great earthquake of January 1907 in Jamaica may be recalled, and hurricanes caused serious damage in Jamaica in August 1903 and November 1909, and in the Bahamas in September and October 1908. A treasury fund has been established in Jamaica as a provision against the effects of such disasters. It has been stated that the excessive rainfall which accompanies these storms is of great ultimate benefit to the soil.

The British West Indian colonies do not offer opportunities for ordinary labouring immigrants. Barbados is the only island where the land is entirely settled. But the settlement, planting and development of lands elsewhere involve a considerable amount of capital, and manual labour is provided by the natives 1 It is a common practice to include British Guiana with these, but the present article is confined to the insular colonies.

or East Indian coolies. Attempts to settle European labourers have been unsuccessful. The West Indian negro, as a labouring class, has frequently been condemned as averse from regular work, apathetic in regard to both his own and his colony's affairs, immoral and dishonest. In so far as these shortcomings exist, they are due to the tendencies inherited from the period of slavery, to the ease with which a bare livelihood may be obtained, and to other such causes. But for the most part the negroes appreciate their advantages under British government and are quick to assimilate British customs and ideas. Advances in the system of peasant proprietorship have brought beneficial results. The drafting of large numbers of labourers from the West Indies to the Panama canal works early in the 10th century, though causing a shortage of labour and involving legislation in some of the islands, exercised a moral effect on the natives by enlarging their horizon.

The growth of general prosperity in the British West Indies is assigned 2 " to the revival of the sugar industry, to the development of the fruit trade; to the increase in the cultivation of cocoa and cotton; to the volume of tourist travel, which swells year by year; and to such local developments as the boom' in Trinidad oil." It was pointed out in the Report of the Royal Commission on Trade Relations between Canada and the West Indies (Cd. 5369, London, 1910) that " the geographical position of the West Indian Colonies must always tend to throw them under the influence of the fiscal system either of the United States or of the Dominion of Canada. Attempts have been made from time to time to obtain for these Colonies special advantages in the markets of the United States.. .. The Colonial policy of the United States has now finally stopped advance in that direction," and the connexion with the Dominion has therefore become of paramount importance. The Dominion government admitted the West Indies to the British preferential tariff (25% under existing duties) in 1898. The percentage was raised to 3311n 1900. In 1903 the duties imposed on bounty-fed beet sugar in the United States, which had opened the market there to West Indian sugar, were abolished, and a surtax (since removed) was placed on German imports into Canada. Both acts enhanced the value of the Canadian market to the West Indies, while that of the American sugar market was further reduced when in 1901 sugar from Porto Rico began to be admitted thereto free of duty, and when special terms were extended to sugar from the Philippine Islands and Cuba in 1902 and 1903 respectively. The Canadian connexion was thus largely instrumental in saving the sugar industry in the West Indies. from severe depression, if not from the actual extinction foreseen by a Royal Commission in 1897. This commission pointed out, in particular, the danger which threatened those colonies where sugar provided practically the sole industrial and commercial interest. On a recommendation of this commission the Imperial Department of Agriculture was established in 1898, its cost being met from imperial funds. It is under a commissioner with headquarters at Barbados. Its functions are to maintain and supervise botanical and experimental stations, to establish agricultural schools, arrange agricultural teaching in other schools, create scholarships, and issue publications. The department has been largely instrumental in establishing new industries and thus relieving many islands from dependence on the sugar industry alone.

The negotiations for commercial relations between the West Indies and Canada began in 1866; in 1872 proposals for steamship subsidies were accepted. The Commission of 1909 recommended that the governments should continue to subsidize a service, for which they suggested various improvements. In 1901 a line of subsidized steamers had been started between Jamaica and England, but this contract expired, and the mail contract was determined in 1910, and recommendations were put forward for a steamship service between Canadian and West Indian ports with improvements additional to those recommended by the Commission. It may be added that the I In The Times of May 24, 1910, where, in an imperial supplement, a number of articles on the West Indian colonies appear.

Commission also made recommendations for the reduction of the high cable rates between the West Indies and the United Kingdom.

Besides sugar, the principal products of the islands are cocoa, fruits and cotton. Cotton-growing reached importance in a very short time owing largely to the efforts of the Imperial Department of Agriculture, Sea Island seed having been planted in St Vincent only in 1903, and in that island and elsewhere (Antigua, St Kitts, Montserrat) good crops are now obtained. Grenada is almost entirely, and Trinidad, Dominica and St Lucia are largely, dependent upon cocoa. The fruit and spice trade is of growing importance, and there is a demand for bottled fruit in Canada and elsewhere. The variety of fruits grown is great; the bananas and oranges of Jamaica, the limes of Montserrat, Dominica and St Lucia, and the pine-apples of the Bahamas may be mentioned as characteristic. It must be borne in mind, however, that the islands as a whole cannot be said to possess a community of commercial interests. Even the industries already indicated are by no means equally distributed throughout the islands; moreover there are certain local industries of high importance, such as the manufacture of rum in Jamaica, the production of asphalte and the working of the oilfields (the development of which was first seriously undertaken about 1905) in Trinidad, and the production of arrowroot in St Vincent. Sponges are an important product of the Bahamas, and salt of the Turks Islands. Rubber plantation has been successfully exploited in several islands, such as Trinidad, Dominica and St Lucia. (See further articles on the various islands.) Religion. - In all the British colonies there is full religious toleration. The Church of England Province of the West Indies is divided into the following bishoprics: Jamaica, Nassau (i.e. Bahamas), Trinidad, (British) Honduras, Antigua (i.e. Leeward Islands), Barbados, Windward Islands, (British) Guiana. With the exception of Barbados and British Guiana, the Church of England is disestablished, disendowment taking place gradually, the churches thus becoming self-supporting. In Barbados the Church is both established and endowed. In the Bahamas and Jamaica disendowment is gradually taking place; in Trinidad and British Guiana the Church of England receives endowment concurrently with other religious bodies. The Windward Islands, Leeward Islands and British Honduras are totally disendowed. In all the islands, except Trinidad, St Lucia, Grenada and Dominica, the Church of England, though in all cases in a minority when compared with the aggregate of other bodies, is the most numerous of any denomination. There are Roman Catholic bishops at Port-of-Spain (Trinidad), Roseau (Dominica - for the Leeward Islands), Jamaica, British Guiana and Barbados (resident at Georgetown), British Honduras, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Haiti (archbishop and four bishops), Santo Domingo (archbishop), Cuba (archbishop and bishop), Porto Rico and Curacao. Other religious denominations working actively in the West Indies are the Baptists, Wesleyans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Moravians.


The archipelago received the name of the West Indies from Columbus, who hoped that, through the islands, he had found a new route to India. The name of Antilles was derived from the fact that Columbus, on his arrival here, was supposed to have reached the fabled land of Antilia. Columbus first landed on San Salvador, generally identified with Watling Island of the Bahamas, and several voyages to this new land were made in rapid succession by the great discoverer, resulting in the finding of most of the larger islands, and a more intimate knowledge of those already known. The importance of its latest possession was at once recognized by the court of Spain, and, as a first move towards turning the West Indies to profitable account, numbers of the natives, for the most part a harmless and gentle people, were shipped overseas and sold into slavery, others being employed in forced labour in the mines which the Spaniards had opened throughout the archipelago, and from which large returns were expected. Thus early in its history began that traffic in humanity with which the West India plantations are so widely associated, and which endured for so long a time. Goaded to madness by the wrongs inflicted upon them, the aborigines at last took arms against their masters, but with the result which might have been expected - their almost utter extirpation. Many of the survivors sought release from their sufferings in suicide, and numbers of others perished in the mines, so that the native race soon almost ceased to exist. Spain was not long allowed to retain an undisputed hold upon the islands: British and Dutch seamen soon sought the new region, accounts concerning the fabulous wealth and treasure of which stirred all Europe, and a desultory warfare began to be waged amongst the various voyagers who flocked to this El Dorado, in consequence of which the Spaniards found themselves gradually but surely forced from many of their vantage grounds, and compelled very materially to reduce the area over which they had held unchecked sway. The first care of the English settlers was to find out the real agricultural capabilities of the islands, and they diligently set about planting tobacco, cotton and indigo. A French West India Company was incorporated in 1625, and a settlement established on the island of St Christopher, where a small English colony was already engaged in clearing and cultivating the ground; these were driven out by the Spaniards in 1630, but only to return and again assume possession. About this time, also, the celebrated buccaneers, Dutch smugglers, and British and French pirates began to infest the neighbouring seas, doing much damage to legitimate traders, and causing commerce to be carried on only under force of arms, and with much difficulty and danger. Indeed, it was not till the beginning of the 18th century - some time after Spain had, in 1670, given up her claim to the exclusive possession of the archipelago - that these rovers were rendered comparatively harmless; and piracy yet lingered off the coasts down to the early years of the 19th century. In 1640 sugar-cane began to be systematically planted, and the marvellous prosperity of the West Indies began; it was not from the gold and precious stones, to which the Spaniards had looked for wealth and power, but from the cane that the fortunes of the West Indies were to spring. The successful propagation of this plant drew to the islands crowds of adventurers, many of them men of considerable wealth. The West Indies were for many years used by the English government as penal settlements, the prisoners working on the plantations as slaves. In 1655 a British force made an unsuccessful attack on Haiti, but a sudden descent on Jamaica was more fortunate in its result, and that rich and beautiful island has since remained in the possession of Great Britain. The Portuguese were the first to import negroes as slaves, and their example was followed by other nations having West-Indian colonies, the traffic existing for about 300 years. In 1660 a division of the islands was arranged between England and France, the remaining aborigines being driven to specified localities, but this treaty did not produce the benefits expected from it, and as wars raged in Europe the islands (see separate articles) frequently changed hands.


-Sir C. P. Lucas, A Historical Geography of the British Colonies, vol. ii. (Oxford, revision of 1905); C. Washington Eves, C.M.G., The West Indies (4th edition, London, 1897); A. Caldecott, B.D., The Church in the West Indies (Colonial Church Histories, London, 1898); Robert T. Hill, Cuba and Porto Rico, with the other Islands of the West Indies (London, 1898); Amos Kidder Fiske, History of the West Indies (New York, 1899); H. de R. Walker, The West Indies and the British Empire (London, 1901); J. H. Stark, Guides to the West Indies (London, 1898, &c.); A. E. Aspinall, Guide to the West Indies (London, 1907); J. A. Froude, The English in the West Indies (London, 1888); J. Rodway, The West Indies and the Spanish Main (London, 1896); Sir Harry Johnston, The Negro in the New World (London, 1910); J. W. Root, The British West Indies and the Sugar Industry (1899); Colonial Office Reports; Reports of Royal Commissions, 1897 and 1910.

<< Westhoughton

Sir Richard Westmacott >>


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address