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Early History of the Caribbean

The entire Caribbean has a rich and varied Early History. While many people know that Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Caribbean, what most of you do not don’t know is that the Caribbean Islands had an interesting history well before the Columbus’ arrival. In fact, the first people to live on the Caribbean Islands were tribes of people called the Arawaks and Caribs.

While life was initially peaceful, by the time Columbus arrived, the Arawaks and Caribs had been at war for many years. The Arawaks were a skilled tribe known for weaving baskets and trading crops, while the Caribs were known as a more war like people who pillaged villages for supplies and slaves. The Caribs were also excellent weapons makers and skilled makers of pottery.

Both tribes caught and ate marine life, they also routinely ate lizards, snails, turtles, and birds as well. Every day’s catch would be added to a pepper pot, which was a stew that simmered and cooked for weeks. Today, pepper pots are still a native Caribbean dish.

The Colonial Era

Every one of the islands that make up the Caribbean was at one stage a colony of a European empire.

Soon after the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the Caribbean in 1492, both Portuguese and Spanish ships began claiming territories in the region. These colonies brought in gold, and so other European powers, most specifically England, the Netherlands, and France, hoped to establish profitable colonies of their own. The Spanish, who came seeking wealth, enslaved the native population and rapidly drove them to near-extinction. To supplement the local labour, the Spanish imported African slaves. Other European powers established a presence in the Caribbean after the Spanish Empire declined. The Dutch, the French, and the British followed one another to the region and established a long-term presence. They brought with them millions of slaves imported from Africa to support the tropical plantation system that spread through the Caribbean islands.

Today, the influences of these different cultures can still be felt in the Music, Dance, Food, Language and even in the currency of specific islands.


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