Caribbean – 101: Byenvini
If you read this, chances are:
- You are Caribbean, and that, as a good chauvinist, you are interested in everything Caribbean-related.
- You don’t have the chance to be part of the first group, but you dream of coming (back) to the little bits of paradise that are the islands of the Caribbean.
In any case, I deduce that you like the concept of Plume Evasion, and I will do everything to meet your expectations. 😉
But before I get to the heart of the matter, I suggest that we do a little… refresher training. Indeed, when we talk about the Caribbean, the first image that comes to mind is a white sanded beach with translucent turquoise water, and a sunset on the horizon (that’s what you saw, huh? Admit it). And rightly so! But it is clear that the most basic facts concerning the Caribbean islands are little known to the general public. We only know the most known islands, and sometimes we can even confuse the names of some.
This lack of knowledge is surprising and alarming considering that the region receives more than 30 million visitors a year, not counting cruise passengers!
Plume Evasion’s mission is to help rectify the situation. And I’ll start with a few facts:
- The Caribbean is named after the indigenous Caribbean tribes that have traced the chain of islands from South America. They resisted the invasion by Christopher Columbus and his men and were consequently labeled aggressive and falsely accused of being cannibals. Christopher Columbus named them “Caribbean Tribe” and as time went by, the name of the region evolved to become “Caribbean.” Today, there are about 3,000 Caribes left on the island of Dominica.
- The Caribbean region is located southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland and measures about 990 miles from north to south and more than 2610 miles from east to west. It is largely made up of the ocean and the Caribbean region includes about 7000 islands, islets, reefs, and cays in and around the Caribbean Sea. The topography of the Caribbean region is varied: coral reefs, mountains, tropical forests, low-lying plantations, valleys, waterfalls, and volcanoes.
Only about 2% of the Caribbean region is inhabited, so when most people speak of the Caribbean region, they refer to about 32 countries. They range in size from 68,350 square miles for Cuba to 8 square miles for the island of Saba. Saba has the world’s shortest airstrip for commercial airlines, with a length of only 0,25 miles, one side flanked by high hills and cliffs that fall into the sea at either end.
The region is made up of the “Antilles”. The latter is divided into two groups: the Greater Antilles (in order of the size of the islands of Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic), Jamaica and Puerto Rico), and the small Antilles. The Lesser Antilles are in turn defined in two subsets:
– the Leeward Islands. These islands include the ABC islands dependent on the Kingdom of the Netherlands: Aruba, Bonaire (Netherlands), Curacao (Dutch Antilles), and the Federal Dependencies of Venezuela: Isla La Blanquilla, Isla Los Hermanos, Margarita Island, Los Roques Archipelago, Isla Los Testigos, Isla La Tortuga.
– Wind islands that include French departments and communities (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyana, St. Martin, and St. Bartholomew), St. Thomas, St. John, Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, St. Vincent, Grenadine, Margarita…..
- Other countries are also associated with the Caribbean region, mainly because of their cultural, economic, and political history. It is the island of Bermuda, located in the North Atlantic Ocean, just 665 miles from the state of North Carolina in the United States, and Belize, also located on the North American continent. Finally, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela, three independent countries located on the north Atlantic coast of South America. They are all five members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which was established in 1972 to promote economic integration and cooperation between member states.
- With the exception of Cuba, which has a one-party political system, all other countries now have two or more parties. Some are independent democracies, such as Haiti, which became the world’s first black republic and the first country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery after freeing itself from France on January 1, 1804. Others are still territories dependent on France, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
- France dependencies: Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin
- Dependences of the Netherlands: Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Sint-Maarten, Saba, Saint Eustatius
- US dependencies: Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands
- Dependences of the United Kingdom: Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Caiman Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos
- More than 42.5 million people live on the 30 main islands. Many live on large islands such as Cuba (11.4 million), Haiti (10.8 million), the Dominican Republic (10.6 million), Jamaica (2.8 million), and Trinidad and Tobago (1.3 million). In contrast, there are St. Martin with 31,500 inhabitants, the British Virgin Islands with 30,600 inhabitants, Anguilla with nearly 15,000 inhabitants, and Montserrat with 5,200 inhabitants.
- The first inhabitants of the Caribbean region came from the South American continent more than 7000 years ago and were members of the Maya, Taino, and Kalinago tribes who settled on the various islands of the Caribbean region. When Europeans began to colonize the Caribbean region, the indigenous population was decimated by disease and war. The majority of the 42.5 million people living in the Caribbean region are descendants of the 5 million West African slaves. Today you will also find other ethnic groups in the Caribbean, including Asian Indians, Chinese, Syrians, Lebanese, Jews, Portuguese, Europeans, Native Americans, as well as different mixtures and combinations that make culture and traditions very diverse. The long history of colonization by European powers, including the Spanish, English, French, and Dutch, gave rise to a diverse culture in the region. But each country has its own traditions and history.
- The Caribbean region is sometimes referred to as the “West Indies”. This term was originally used by Christopher Columbus to refer to the islands he claimed for the Spanish crown. He also thought he had arrived in India, and so named this group of islands the West Indies to distinguish it from the East Indies. The term “West Indies” was then adopted by other European colonizers so that some Caribbean countries are considered former members of the British, French, Dutch, or Danish West Indies.
- The most spoken languages are English and Spanish. In total, there are six main languages spoken, and some islands like Puerto Rico and Haiti have more than one official language:
English: Anguilla, Antigua – Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts – Nevis, St. Lucia, Sint-Maarten, St. Vincent – Grenadines, Trinidad – Tobago, Turk and Caicos and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Spanish: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico
French: Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, Saint-Barthélemy, French Guiana and Saint-Martin
Haitian Creole: Haiti
Dutch: Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, Saint Eustatius, Sint-Maarten, Suriname
Papamiento: Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao
In addition to official languages, variations of Creoles and patois can also be found on most islands.
- The plant and animal life of the Caribbean is very diverse and exceptional. There are more than 500 species of birds, including 172 species that are not found anywhere else in the world. In addition, 189 different species of amphibians, 497 species of reptiles, and 164 mammals live in the Caribbean region. There are also many coral reefs, including the Mesoamerican Coral Reef, which is the largest marine habitat in the Caribbean.
10. One of the major facts is that tourism is one of the main sectors in most Caribbean islands. Contributing more than $56.4 billion to the region, or 14.9% of GDP, it is important that visitors return to the region. Not just for the sun, sand, and sea, but for much more. The rich history, biodiversity, attractions, and cultural events of the region offer visitors who explore it an enriching experience.
Now that the basics are laid, you’re going to be able to start your journey. In the meantime, tell me what you’ve learned and how much you want to go there.
We’ll meet in a future article!