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West Indies

West Indies

The importation of Africans into the Caribbean area as slaves began in the sixteenth century but expanded greatly after 1640 when the islands became a major source of sugar and workers were needed for the plantations. Most of these people came from the various tribes along the coast of West Africa from present-day Senegal to Nigeria. The white planters looked upon Africans with disdain and developed the opinion that they had no religious life, that they were at best bearers of a set of heathenish superstitions. Such was not the case. While a few of the Africans were Muslims, the majority were followers of the West African religious system, which with relatively minor alterations from tribe to tribe pervaded the area from which the slaves were taken.

The West African system acknowledged a supreme divine power but found its more personalized expression in the various deities responsible for the harmonious operation of the natural world. In the West Indies the major deities included Shango, Ogun, and Eshu (in Trinidad) and Legba, Erzulie, and Damballah (in Haiti). The Haitian deities (loas ) were of two varieties: those of African origin (Rada) and those of Haitian origin (Pétro). Rites were constructed for both.

There was also a belief in fate, which to a large extent determined the course and eventual destiny of the individual. A person's future could be seen through divinatory practices. Also, by propitiating the messenger to the Gods, who carried words of the individual's fate, that fate could be altered to one more favorable. The religion was led by priests and priestesses (variously termed in the different islands), who performed the rites for the higher deities; medicine men, who dealt with lower evil spirits (the cause of disease and harm to individuals); and sorcerers, who were supposed to attack tribal enemies but sometimes, for a price, attacked individuals with their magical powers. The sorcerer (obayifo ) worked clandestinely at night. People wore amulets to protect themselves. The priest supplied the amulets and often worked to counter the effects of the sorcerer.

In Africa, this religion permeated tribal life. Religious practice included obeah (magic ), "possession" of certain people by the deities (similar to mediumship), and communication with and guidance from ancestor spirits.

In the New World, such religion was at best distasteful to the European understanding; it was often despised by the ruling elite. However, some of the planters did not hesitate to make use of obeah to manage the workers. To prevent theft of crops, for instance, they sometimes adorned trees around the edge of a banana or orange grove with miniature coffins, old bones, bottles of dirty water, and other obeah objects. Then the workers would not enter and steal. As late as 1908, a case of obeah was reported in a Jamaican journal:

"The cause célèbre at Half-way Tree Court, Jamaica, recently, was the case of Rex V. Charles Donaldson for unlawfully practicing Obeah. Robert Robinson, who stated that he was a laborer

living at Trench Pen, in the parish of St. Andrew, stated that on Tuesday, the 8th ult., he was sitting down outside the May Pen cemetery on the Spanish Town Road. He was on his way from work, and had a white handkerchief tied around his head. He was feeling sick, and that led him to sit down. While there sitting the prisoner came to him. He did not know the man before, but he began by asking him what was the matter. Witness replied, 'I am well sick.' The prisoner said, 'No, you are not sick; you havetwo ghosts on youone creole and one coolie.' Witness told the prisoner to go away and was left. He next saw prisoner on Wednesday 9th. He came to him at Bumper Hall, where he was working, and he said to him, 'Man, how you find me here?' 'Oh,' replied the prisoner, 'if a man is in hell self I can find him; I come for you to give me the job?' Witness then inquired, 'What job?' and accused told him he wanted to 'take off the two ghosts.' He would do it for £25, and he 'killed' for any sum from £25 to £50. He had worked for all classeswhite, black, coolie, Chinese, etc. Witness said he did not give him any 'good consent' at the time, but reported the matter after the accused left to Clark and Wright, two witnesses in the case. Clark told him he must not scare the man but go home. On Thursday, the 10th, the defendant came to him at his yard at French Pen. The accused told him he would come back to him to take off the ghost. He also told him to get a bottle of rum and 5s. He (witness) consented to the arrangement. The defendant began by taking off his jacket. He then opened his 'brief bag' and took out a piece of chalk. The accused then made three marks on the table and took out a phial and a white stone. The phial contained some stuff which appeared like quicksilver. He arrayed his paraphernalia on the table. They consisted of a large whisky bottle with some yellow stuff, a candle, a pack of cards, a looking-glass, three cigarette pictures, a pocket knife, etc. The accused also took out a whistle which he sounded, and then placed the cards on the table. He then asked for the 5s. which was given to him. He placed the coins on the cards around a lighted candle. The pint of rum which he (witness) had brought was on the table and prisoner poured some of it into a pan. He went outside and sprinkled the rum at the four corners of the house. Accused came back in and said, 'Papa! papa! your case is very bad! There are two ghosts outside. The creole is bad, but the coolie is rather worse. But if he is made out of hell I will catch him.' The prisoner then began to blow his whistle in a very funny waya way in which he had never heard a whistle blown before. He also began to speak in an unknown tongue and to call up the ghosts."

[The following dialogue is taken from court proceedings regarding the case.]

Mr. Lake"Aren't there a lot of you people who believe that ghosts can harm and molest you?"

Witness"No, I am not one.

" Mr. Lake"Did you not tell him that a duppy [Jamaican ghost] struck you on your back and you heard voices calling you?"

Witness"He told me so."[Continuing, witness said he had seen all sorts of ghosts at all different times and of different kinds also].

Mr. Lake"Of all different sexes, man and woman?

" Witness"Yes; any man who can see ghosts will know a man ghost from a woman ghost."

While it empowered those who practiced it, African religion had to be practiced undercover, and as a result it underwent some changes. For example, it took on an overlay of Christianity of whatever variety was dominant on the plantation. In Haiti, Voudou resulted from obeah's association with French Catholicism. In Cuba and Puerto Rico, Santeria emerged its mixing with Spanish Catholicism. In Brazil, Macumba is a result of its mixing with Portuguese Catholicism.

African-based religions gained significant favor in the West Indies because of their role underlying the various rebellions by which the slaves gained their freedom. Today, they survive in competition with the dominant Catholicism or Anglicanism. They are reemerging despite several centuries of negative writing by outsiders.

African-derived Caribbean religion entered the United States at the time of the Haitian slave rebellion in 1908 and in the years to follow. Voudou eventually became established in New Orleans and the surrounding countryside. During the twentieth century, and especially as immigration laws have eased during the last generation, numerous people have moved to America from the Caribbean, carrying their faiths with them.

Sources:

Bisnauth, Dale. History of Religion in the Caribbean. Kingston, Jamaica: Kingston Publishers, 1989.

Denning, Melita, and Osborne Phillips. Voudoun Fire: The Living Reality of Mystical Religion. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 1979.

Deren, Maya. Divine Horsemen: The Voodoo Gods of Haiti. New York: Chelsea House, 1970.

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"West Indies." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"West Indies." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Retrieved September 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/west-indies

West Indies

West Indies is the general geographical term for the many islands of the Caribbean, the largest of which are Cuba, Hispaniola (politically Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Guadeloupe, and Martinique. After Columbus' landing on San Salvador in 1492, Spain claimed the whole region, concentrating first on Hispaniola, then on Cuba and Puerto Rico. Sugar plantations were established and black African slaves introduced. The first inroads into the Spanish monopoly came when Spain, in the early 17th cent., was still struggling to put down the Dutch revolt in Europe. English settlement started at St Kitts (1623) and Barbados (1627), followed by Antigua and Montserrat (1632), Anguilla (1650), and the conquest of Jamaica in 1655 by a Cromwellian expedition. The Bahamas, claimed as early as 1629, did not receive much attention until after the Restoration. Meanwhile, France had acquired Guadeloupe and Martinique (1635), Grenada in the 1640s, and had established a foothold on the western part of Hispaniola. Dutch settlements were on Curaçao and St Eustatius in the 1630s, and the Danes, entering the race comparatively late, acquired St Thomas in the Virgin Islands in 1666 and purchased St Croix from the French in 1733. Control by European governments was necessarily fitful and the West Indies gained its reputation for piracy and buccaneering.

The 18th cent. saw incessant warfare between the colonial powers, towns repeatedly sacked, and islands taken and retaken, often for use as bargaining counters at the peace. Tobago changed hands so often that its inhabitants were said to live in a state of betweenity: at one stage, Charles II, who did not have it, granted it to the duke of Courland. Admiral Vernon became a national hero in Britain in 1739 when he sacked Porto Bello, Spain's base in Panama, at the start of the War of Jenkins's Ear. At the end of the Seven Years War in 1763, Britain retained Grenada, Dominica, St Vincent, and Tobago at the expense of France. When British sea power wobbled during the War of American Independence, the French and Spanish took Grenada, Montserrat, St Kitts, St Vincent, and the Bahamas, but had to return them at the treaty of Versailles in 1783, retaining only Tobago.

During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, Britain added Trinidad from Spain (1802) and St Lucia from France (1814). By this time the West Indies were beginning to lose some of their economic importance to Britain, and the West Indian lobby some of its influence in Parliament. The slave trade was abolished in 1807 and slavery in the British empire in 1833. The colonial distribution did not change greatly in the course of the 19th cent. The western part of Hispaniola, ceded by Spain to France in 1697, saw a black rising in the 1790s and established its independence as Haiti in 1804: the other two-thirds of the island threw off Spanish rule in 1821, only to fall under Haitian domination, and the Dominican Republic was not established until 1844. British rule in Jamaica was shaken by a rising in 1865, and the governor Edward Eyre recalled in disgrace, but control was reasserted. As a result of the war between Spain and the USA in 1898, Puerto Rico was annexed to the USA, and Cuba was declared an independent state, though under American tutelage.

Since the Second World War, the great majority of West Indian islands of any size have become sovereign states. In 1945 only Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic were independent. In 1958 the British introduced the West Indian Federation, long an aspiration, to improve political and economic co-operation, but it rapidly fell victim to inter-island rivalries. Jamaica resented that the capital was in Port of Spain, Trinidad, 1,000 miles away, and voted in a referendum to pull out. Trinidad followed suit and the Federation was wound up in 1962. Jamaica and Trinidad then became independent, followed by Barbados (1966), Bahamas (1973), Grenada (1974), Dominica (1978), St Lucia (1979), St Vincent (1979), Antigua (1981), and St Kitts and Nevis (1983). Two of the enduring legacies of British colonialism are the use of the English language and an awesome addiction to cricket.

J. A. Cannon

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"West Indies." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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West Indies

West Indies, archipelago, between North and South America, curving c.2,500 mi (4,020 km) from Florida to the coast of Venezuela and separating the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico from the Atlantic Ocean. The archipelago, sometimes called the Antilles, is divided into three groups: the Bahamas; the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico); and the Lesser Antilles (Leeward Islands, Windward Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados) and the islands off the northern coast of Venezuela.

The British dependent territories are the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat, and the British Virgin Islands. The Dutch territories are Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire, Saint Eustatius, Saba, and part of Saint Martin. The French territories are Guadeloupe and its dependencies, part of Saint Martin, and Martinique. Puerto Rico is a self-governing commonwealth associated with the United States, and the Virgin Islands of the United States is a U.S. territory. Margarita belongs to Venezuela.

Many of the islands are mountainous, and some have partly active volcanoes. Hurricanes occur frequently, but the warm climate (tempered by northeast trade winds) and the clear tropical seas have made the West Indies a very popular resort area. Some 34 million people live on the islands, and the majority of inhabitants are of black African descent.

History

Before European settlement on the islands of the West Indies, they were inhabited by three different peoples: the Arawaks, the Caribs, and the Ciboney. These indigenous tribes were effectively wiped out by European colonists. Christopher Columbus was the first European to visit several of the islands (in 1492). In 1496 the first permanent European settlement was made by the Spanish on Hispaniola. By the middle 1600s the English, French, and Dutch had established settlements in the area, and in the following century there was constant warfare among the European colonial powers for control of the islands. Some islands flourished as trade centers and became targets for pirates. Large numbers of Africans were imported to provide slave labor for the sugarcane plantations that developed there in the 1600s.

Until the early 20th cent., the islands remained pawns of the imperialistic powers of Europe, mainly Spain, Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands. The United States entered the scene in the late 19th cent. and is the region's dominate economic influence. Spain lost its last possession in the West Indies after the Spanish-American War (1898), and most of the former British possessions gained independence in the 1960s and 70s (see West Indies Federation).

Bibliography

See E. E. Williams, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean, 1492–1969 (1970); M. M. Horowitz, comp., Peoples and Cultures of the Caribbean: An Anthropological Reader (1971); J. H. Parry and P. M. Sherlock, A Short History of the West Indies (3d ed. 1971); R. C. West and J. P. Augelli, Middle America (2d ed. 1976); D. Watts, The West Indies: Patterns of Development, Culture, and Environmental Change since 1492 (1987).

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"West Indies." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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West Indies

West Indies Chain of islands encircling the Caribbean Sea and separating it from the Atlantic Ocean, extending from Florida to Venezuela. Geographically they divide into three main groups: the Bahamas, and the Greater and Lesser Antilles. Most islands are now independent, but were formerly British, Spanish, French, or Dutch possessions. The indigenous population was killed by the colonial powers, who fought for possession of the islands. They were transformed by the introduction of sugar cane in the 17th century, fuelling the slave trade from Africa. See individual country articles

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French West Indies

French West Indies: see West Indies.

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