Recently a Caribbean friend triggered a flurry of wayward thoughts. Wondering why there are such differences between the various Caribbean islands and, for instance, Brazil …
After all, the first inhabitants of every one of the islands in the Caribbean and Brazil (not to mention all of the America’s) were indigenous “Indians.” Yes, a plethora of variations speaking many different languages but of relatively similar cultures. And later in every case, populations were enriched by enslaved Blacks from Africa.
So why, for instance, does the ambiance of Jamaica differ so much from St. Thomas and St. Thomas from St. Kitts and all completely different from Brazil? It may be a simplification, but it would seem, to the visitor at least, besides the differing geography of each place its feel traces back to which European power was its Colonial Master. (Photo is a tram to Paradise Point on St. Thomas.)
- Brazil is my favorite place so I may be biased, but I recognize and respond not only to the pervasive sensuous influences of Africa, but also to its mirroring of Portugal, by virtue of language, frou-frou architecture and Catholic cathedrals at every turn. (Yes, I also loved my travel in Portugal!)
- On the other hand, St. Kitts reflects a multi-pronged heritage from Spain, France and Britain, today offering the tourist the recreated “Sugar Train” winding its way up and past narrow streets, simple cottages, small farms and discarded sugar stacks.
- And, although St. Thomas has long been a U.S. Virgin Island, from the moment my cruise ship docks, there can be no doubt that it was the Dutch who early on laid claim to this beautiful land and its blue-blue waters viewed spectacularly from an aerial tram.
- As to Jamaica, the largest Caribbean island and most geographically diverse, there is no denying that despite the fact that Columbus landed on its shores and Spain claimed it until 1655, it maintains a decidedly British flavor. Although this is definitely leavened by its history of pirates, buccaneers and the Maroons — so-called runaway slaves, whose descendants to this day maintain autonomy.
And then the music — well, I just discovered mento, Jamaica’s folk music that laid the groundwork for ska and reggae (listen below). So I guess now what remains is for me to continue traveling, absorbing and ruminating. And I welcome all ideas and comments.