Our Culture

Our culture – our languages religions, festivals, art forms, values, customs, sports  and other forms of self expression –  is a dynamic one. Shaped by the  historical experience of our people, our faiths and our creativity, it continues to be fashioned by our creative energies and other influences

Our languages  are part of the legacy of the various civilisations from which our ancestors came. For  many member states, the English Language is a major unifying factor. But it is an English that is complemented by French and Spanish, as well as African and Indian expressions. In Dominica and Saint Lucia, English co-exists with a French-based creole/kweyol, while in Haiti a similar creole co-exists with French. Other members such as  Jamaica and Guyana, in addition to standard English, an English-based dialect has evolved.  In the case of Guyana, this dialect (Guyanese creole is  based on geographical location and race and ethnicity. In Suriname, in addition to Dutch, Sranatonga, a Dutch-based Creole, is widely spoken. In some communities, in Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname for example, Hindi is spoken. Among the descendants of our indigenous peoples their original languages, as well as variations are still spoken. These include Arawak, Wai Wai and Makushi, and in Belize, Garifuna and Mayan languages.

Our religions

Our religions  are diverse with practices reflecting our multiple origins. Christianity is the dominant faith in our Community while Hinduism and Islam also have a significant following particularly in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. In the countries with longer histories of French and Spanish colonialism, Roman Catholicism is the dominant faith, whereas in those countries with a strong British influence, Anglicans and Methodists have been historically predominant. Recently, however, non-traditional Christian groups have increased in significance. African religious traditions continue to find expression through Voodoo, Pocomania and Orisha. The Spiritual Baptists have also wedded African traditions with Christianity. Rastafarianism, which is closely liked to Ethiopian history and developed into an identifiable belief system in Jamaica, has spread throughout the region. There has also been an increasing tendency towards inter-faith observances and activities.

Festivals and celebrations

Festivals and celebrations give us the opportunity to showcase our creative energies. As in other parts of the world, many of the Region’s festivals and celebrations are associated with events of religious significance. Carnival, for example, one of the powerful symbols of our culture, has its origins in Europe and Roman Catholicism and has been heavily influenced by African traditions.

Originally a two-day celebration held immediately prior to the Lenten season and most famously in Trinidad and  Tobago, Carnival is now held at different times of the year in different countries throughout our region and beyond. In some places it also takes place over a longer period. Even those member states that do not celebrate a traditional Carnival have festivals that are increasingly influenced by it, for example, Crop Over in Barbados, Junkanoo in The Bahamas, Mashramani in Guyana and Owruyari in Suriname.

Through the influence and energies of our diaspora in North America and Europe, the Caribbean carnival has also become a major festival in several metropolitan centres. These include London’s Notting Hill Carnival, Toronto’s Caribana, New York’s Labour Day Carnival, Washington DCs Carnival and the Miami Carnival.

Christmas and Easter are Christian commemorations celebrated region-wide, while the Hindu festivals of Diwali and Phagwah and the Muslim observances of Eidul- Fitr and Eid-ul-Azah are prominent in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. Our Community also observes festivals related to harvest, fishing and historical events.

Our diversity also comes together richly in the creative arts where the genius of our people is very vividly displayed. CARIFESTA, the Caribbean Festival of the Arts, is a most outstanding demonstration and reflection of this creativity. First held in Guyana in 1972, this festival showcases the full spectrum of Caribbean culture   Our Community has also produced art forms that are unique and artists with superlative talents, many of whom have won international acclaim. This has been especially so in the fields of literature, music, art, and dance.

In the field of literature

In the field of literature, our Region has produced a number of truly outstanding writers. Among these are: Jan Carew, Martin Carter, Edwige Danticat, Lorna Goodison, Wilson Harris, C.L.R. James, George Lamming, Edgar Mittleholzer, Vidiadhar Surajprasad (V.S.) Naipaul, who was awarded  the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, Jean Rhys, Samuel Selvon, and Derek Walcott, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. These writers have all used their varied Caribbean experiences as a vehicle to express their creative genius.


Historians: Through their chronicles and analyses, historians such as Jacques Adelaide, Roy Augier, Hilary Beckles, Kamau Brathwaithe, Carl Campbell, Lisa Goveia, Douglas Hall, Neville Hall, C.L.R. James, Keith Laurence, Woodville Marshall, Lucille Mathurin-Mair, Mary Noel Menezes, Walter Rodney and Eric Williams have played equally important roles in capturing our varied experiences.

Entertainers: Our Region has also given birth to many famous entertainers in the field of music. These include singers such as  the late Arrow (Alphonsus Cassell), Buju Banton, (Mark Anthony Myrie) Harry Belafonte, Beenie Man (Anthony Moses Davis), Calypso Rose (McCartha Lewis), Jimmy Cliff, Eddy Grant, Alison Hinds, the late Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts), Ophelia Marie, the late Robert ‘Bob’ Marley, Andy Palacio, the late Sundar Popo, David Rudder and the Mighty Sparrow (Slinger Francisco, OCC). They also include musicians such as Sel Duncan, the Merrymen, Byron Lee, Mungal Patasar, Ernie Ranglin, and Arturo Tappin. Outstanding performers of classical music such as Winifred Atwell and Jocelynne Loncke, pianists, as well as Jill Gomez and Willard White, opera singers, also join the stellar personalities in the field of entertainment.


Music:  Calypso and Reggae are the rhythms most identified with our Region, having been born of our varied Caribbean experiences. Reggae music originated in Jamaica while Calypso, the music of Trinidad and Tobago pre-dated Reggae as a musical form. Both Calypso and Reggae are sung and played not only regionally but internationally. Their lyrics are traditionally based on topical concerns and events. Across our Region, there are other indigenous musical forms. These include Spouge from Barbados, Punta from Belize, Zouk from Haiti, Danceball from Jamaica, Fra Fra from Suriname and Chutney from Trinidad and Tobago.

The Steel Pan: A particularly unique and outstanding creation of our region, is the steel pan, which originated in Trinidad and Tobago. ‘Pan’, as we call it, is known and played throughout the world. There is now a proliferation of school steelbands and ‘pan music’ is increasingly an official course in school curricula. In some universities, courses in pan count toward degree programmes and in a few cases, such as Northwestern University School of Music in Illinois, USA, pan studies is offered as a major in the B.Sc Music degree programme. Liam Teague of Trinidad and Tobago is a leading graduate of pan studies from that School of Music. At our own University of the West Indies and in other research centres in Europe, USA and as far afield as Japan, scientists are involved in research that has contributed greatly to the improvement in the design and tonal quality of the instruments. In addition, a growing number of composers are producing music especially for the steelband.

The steel pan is a musical instrument that is indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago. It is the only new acoustic instrument to have been invented in the twentieth century. During the 1940s, there was a surge in the development of the instrument which then typically carried 15 notes. By the end of the 1940s, the oil drum had replaced the biscuit tin as the raw material for making pans and, by 1951, a pan ensemble. Pan Trinidad, performed in England. The instruments, ranging from tenor through cello to bass, now carry the full 64 note musical range of the piano.

In the early 1960s, Winifred Arwell, a famous pianist from Trinidad and Tobago, played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B Flat along with a steel orchestra (steelband) instead of the more traditional symphony orchestra. This served to heighten awareness of the versatility of the pan, which until then, was not widely regarded as being suited to classical music. Since that time, leading pan arrangers and composers such as the late Superintendent Anthony Prospect, Clive Bradley, Pelham Goddard, Jit Samaroo and Een Boogsie Sharpe, have pushed the frontiers of steelband music and elevated their performances to that of genuine orchestras.

A typical steelband now ranges between 30 to 100 performers on 40 to 120 instruments. The types of pan include the tenor, double tenor, double second, triple guitar, cello and bass pans. Much research has resulted in refined musical techniques due to improvements and use of more up-to date technology in tuning. Among the pioneers of pan development are: Bertie Marshall, famed for introducing the amplified pan; Ellie Mannette who received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of the West Indies; and the late Winston Spree Simon, immortalized in calypso by the late Lord Kitchener.

In Trinidad and Tobago, in addition to the annual Panorama competition which is a key part of the Carnival celebrations, there are also other popular steelband festivals such as Pan Jazz, Classical Pan, and a biennial World Pan festival that attracts steel orchestras from all over the Caribbean, England, Scandinavia, the USA and as far away as Japan.

The steel pan is now considered a regional instrument so much so that it was chosen as the gift from our Community to the United Nations to celebrate that organisation’s Fiftieth Anniversary in 1995. The Pan is now on display at the UN Headquarters in New York as a symbol of its importance to the world.

The Performing Arts

The Performing Arts: Dancers such as the late Beryl McBurnie, Rex Nettleford, the late Pearl Primus, Clive Thompson, and the late Lavinia Williams (though not born in our Region) have all contributed significantly to the field of dance. Actors such as Heather Headley, Geoffrey Holder, and Sidney Poitier have all made a substantial contribution to the enrichment of their craft. Our folklorists/humourists/raconteurs such as  the late Louise Bennett and Paul Keens-Douglas have helped us to understand and appreciate each other as well as ourselves and have exposed our folk and cultural traditions to the world.

Visual Arts

Visual Arts: The international appreciation for the work of our sculptors and painters, such as Dunstan St Omer, Edna Manley, Albert Huie, Aubrey Williams and Ludovic Booz, as well as our foremost artistic costume designer, Peter Minshall, has also enhanced the reputation of our region as a cauldron of creativity.

Pageantry: Like our artists, several women of our Region have demonstrated, through pageantry, that the beauty, creativity and intelligence of our people are second to none. Our region has produced six winners in the 51 -year history of the Miss World pageant, namely: Carole Joan Crawford (Jamaica, 1963), Jennifer Hosten (Grenada, 1970), Patsy Yuen (Jamaica, 1973), Gindy Breakspeare (Jamaica,1976) , Giselle Laronde (Trinidad and Tobago, 1986) and Lisa Hanna (Jamaica,1993). In the 50-year history of the Miss Universe pageant, we have also produced winners in the persons of Janelle Commissiong (Trinidad and Tobago,1977) and Wendy Fitzwilliam (Trinidad and Tobago, 1998).


Cuisine: The diversity of our Caribbean heritage is also reflected in our cuisine.Naturally each country has developed its own special dishes such as: Jerk (chicken and pork) and ackee and saltfish in Jamaica; sea egg in Barbados; peanut rice in Suriname; mountain chicken (frogs legs) in Dominica; callaloo and pelau in Trinidad and Tobago; and metagee and pepperpot in Guyana. Some of these dishes carry different names in different countries and are prepared differently. Roti and curry is a dish that has its origins in India but is now a Caribbean favourite. In addition, the names of fruits and vegetables may vary from country to country.


Sports is an important part of our culture and feature of life in our Community. Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of cricket, which has a passionate following in virtually all the English-speaking member states.

Cricket: The primary importance of cricket in our Community, stems from its long history of regional involvement. Cricket was the first activity that brought the English-speaking territories together as one functioning unit. The impact of cricket on our everyday lives has been well chronicled by C.L.R. James in his definitive work Beyond A Boundary, which was published in 1963 and which clearly shows the many ways in which this sport has permeated every sector of the English-speaking Caribbean. A ready example of this is the common use of cricketing terms in our everyday language: to ‘bowl a googly’ is used to mean ‘to confuse’; being ‘stumped’ for an answer, to mean at a ‘loss for words’; ‘stepping out of your crease’ – ‘becoming adventurous’; and most importantly, ‘that’s not cricket’, meaning ‘that’s not the proper way to behave’.

Through its most identifiable symbol, the West Indies Team, cricket has always been able to appeal to our highest sense of regionalism over the years. Our team has a history of being one of the most formidable at the international level and remains a highly visible example of the benefits that we can derive from acting together. Our Community has produced the world’s greatest all-roundcricketer ever. Sir Garfield Sobers, a recipient of our Community’s highest honour — The Order of the Caribbean Community — as well as the world record holders for batting and bowling, Brian Lara and Courtney Walsh respectively.

Cricket is not only a man’s sport. Women in our Region also play cricket competitively. The West Indies Women’s Cricket team, though not as well known or as successful as our men’s team, participates in test matches and has taken part in three Women’s Cricket World Cup competitions, beginning in 1976 under the captaincy of Louise Brown of Trinidad and Tobago.  Nadine George, a wicket-keeper/batsman, became the first, and to date only, West Indian woman to score a Test century, in Karachi, Pakistan in 2003–04. George is a prominent supporter of sport in the West Indies, and in particular in her native St Lucia, and in 2005 was made an MBE by HRH The Prince of Wales for services to sport.

Cricket came to the West Indies as early as the first decade of the nineteenth century with the first known advertised game appearing in the Barbados press in May 1806 under the auspices of the St Ann’s Garrison Cricket Club. The game was popular among the planters and the soldiers and by the1830s, clubs started to emerge not only in Barbados but also in Jamaica, Demerara (Guyana) and

Trinidad. It was not until 1865, however, that the first inter-colonial matches were played with the first being between Barbados and British Guiana at the Garrison Savannah, Bridgetown, Barbados on February 15-16. Barbados won that game by 138 runs.

The first overseas tour by West Indian players was to Canada and the United States in 1884. The first triangular tournament took place between British Guiana, Barbados and Trinidad in 1891 while the first cricket touring team to the West Indies came from America in 1888.

The first English team to visit the West Indies came in 1896 and played in Jamaica, Barbados, British Guiana and Trinidad. During the second English visit, in 1897, an All-West Indies team played against the visitors in Trinidad from February 15-17. The All-West Indies team won by three wickets. The first

West Indies team went to England in 1900 under the captaincy of R.S.A. Warner. During 1910-1911 the MCC, the official name of touring England cricket teams, made its first official tour to the West Indies.

 The West Indies played their first test match in 1928 at Lords, the headquarters of cricket, on June 23, 25 and 26. The West Indies captain was the Jamaican R.K. Nunes. England won by an innings and 58 runs. England 401; West Indies 177 and 166. J.A. 8mall of Trinidad, scored the first test half-century (52) for the West Indies in the second innings of the match. In the third test match, at the Oval, London, H.C. Griffith of Barbados became the first West Indian to take five or more wickets in a test match innings (6 for 103). England, however, won the series 3-0.

In 1930, the first test match in the West Indies was played at Kensington Oval, Barbados on January 11, 13, 14, 15, 16. The West Indies Captain was E.E.G. Hoad of Barbados. The match was drawn. In that match, G.A. Roach of Trinidad became the first West Indian to score a test century (122).

The West Indies first test match win was at Bourda, Georgetown, British Guiana in February 1930 against England. The West Indies won by 289 runs. In that game Roach scored the first double century (209) by a West Indian in test cricket. The series was drawn.

The West Indies won their first test series in 1935 when they beat England 2-1 in the West Indies. The captain was G.G. Grant of Trinidad. 1-1.

Athletics:  Track and field have brought great pride to our Region and our athletes have maintained a high standard of excellence at the international level including the Olympic games. Indeed at the I960 Olympiad in Rome, the Caribbean was represented for the first and only time by a West Indies track and field team at that major international event. Before then and after, the region continues its tradition of producing world and Olympic champions in this sport. These include: the  first Jamaican Olympic gold medallist,Arthur S. Wint, for the 400 metre; George Rhoden, 400 metre winner, 1952; the 100 metre spint champion Hasely Crawford  from Trinidad and Tobago and the 200 metre winner, Don Quarrie from Jamaica, both of 1976; ;  Deon Hemmings , the 400 metre hurdler and the first Jamaican woman to win gold, 1976; Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica  for the 200 metre, in 2004 and 2008; Shelly Ann Fraser, 100 metre  and the first Jamaican woman to win Olympic gold in the 100 metre, 2008; Tonique Williams-Darling of The Bahamas for the 400 metre, 2004; Pauline Davis-Thompson of the Bahamas for the 200 metre, 2000;  sprint queen, Merlene Ottey of Jamaica Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago; sprinter Obadele Thompson of Barbados; and the Bahamian 4×100 women’s sprint relay quartet, winners in 2000 and Kim Collins of St Kitts and Nevis, winner of the men’s 100 metre final at the World Championships in Athletics held in France in August 2003.

Melanie Walker of Jamaica for the 400 metre hurdles, 2008; Usain Bolt of Jamaica for the 100 and 200 metres, 2008; Grenada’s Kirani James won Grenada’s first gold medal in Olympic history in the 400-metre final, 2012 ; Grenada’s Kirani James won Grenada’s first gold medal in Olympic history in the 400-metre final, 2012; Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Frazier Price also achieved some personal goals and won gold in the 100-metre finals and Silver in the 200-metre finals, the fastest woman alive

Grenada’s Kirani James won Grenada’s first gold medal in Olympic history in the 400-metre final, 2012 Bolt and Blake took Gold and Silver in the 100-metre finals, the fastest men on the planet. Bolt was the first man to repeat a back- to back win in these two events in two different Olympic games, and has earned the status of legend 2012; Bahamas’ Chris Brown, Demetrius Pinder, Michael Mathieu and Ramon Miller celebrate after winning the men’s 4x400m relay final at the athletics event of the London 2012 Olympic games.

The relays have also been rewarding and include the Jamaica quartet who won the quarter-mile relay in 1952; the Bahamian 4 x 100 relay quartet, the Golden girls, who won gold in 2000; the Jamaica male sprinters who powered to victory in the 4 x 100 relay in 2008; the Jamaica female sprinters, who won gold in the 4 x 100 relay in 2004 Bahamas men 4×4 relay team has won a gold medal in these events. Jamaican team of Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, Sherone Simpson, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Kerron Stewart ran a national record 41.41, 2012

As a side column The Jamaicans began participating much earlier, in 1968, and have taken part in all but one Games since then (in 1976, they supported a boycott of the Toronto Games on account of South Africa’s participation). In ten Paralympic outings, Jamaica has earned 20 gold medals, 16 silver and 18 bronze.
Suzanne Harris-Henry, the general secretary of the Jamaica Paralympic Association, is confident that Jamaica will add to its total of 54 medals this year. “Probably four medals in London,” she thinks, “possibly Javon Campbell, Shane Hudson, Alphanso Cunningham and Tanto Campbell.” Tanto Campbell was Jamaica’s only medallist at the last Games in Beijing: he earned bronze in the men’s discus F55-56 event, to add to the discus F56 bronze which he won in Athens in 2004. Campbell was born with congenital deformities of his arms and legs: both legs were amputated. Harris-Henry, who will travel to London as manager of the Jamaica Paralympic team, explains that though Campbell has “lobster-claw” hands, he has “enough fingers to grasp the discus”.
Many of these athletes began their competitive careers in our Junior CARIFTA Games. Darrel Brown of Trinidad and Tobago holds the junior (under 20) and youth (under 18) world records for 100 metres. Darrel continued his winning tradition in 2003, gaining the silver medal at the men’s 100 metre final at the World Championships in athletics held in France. In addition, in the 1964 Olympics, Bahamians Cecil Cooke and Durward Knowles won gold medals in Star Class yachting (sailing). Jamaica pioneered Caribbean participation in the Winter Olympics through their Bob Sled Team which participated in the 1988 Games in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Beginning in 1953, a Commonwealth Caribbean lawn tennis team participated in the Davis Cup competition, the official world team championship in this sport. In 1987 however, a ruling by the sport’s governing body, the International Tennis Federation, that the Caribbean was not a country, brought our participation as a region to an end. Through Mark Knowles of The Bahamas, our nationals continue to participate successfully at the highest level in this sport. Knowles ranked number one in the world in doubles play and has won a grand slam title, the Australian Open with Canadian Daniel Nestor, with whom he has also been a finalist in all the grand slam tournaments since 1995.

Football, a sport which is widely played in our Community, also evokes great passion. An official West Indies football team toured England in 1959. Jamaica became the first Caribbean Community country to qualify for the finals of the World Cup when the Reggae Boyz played in the 1998 finals in France. Haiti, however, played in the 1974 finals in Germany when not yet a member of our Community. A significant number of footballers from the Caribbean Community play with distinction at the highest levels of club football throughout the world.
Despite our successes in these fields, our Community has not yet come together to form a Caribbean Community  football team or track and field team and most of the other sporting  disciplines have also not yet emulated the cricketers. Rifle shooting is a notable exception, with a regional team regularly participating in international championships. As with tennis, the rules of some sporting competitions do not allow us to participate as a region.


Netball is a very popular sport among the women in our Community. It is one of the biggest women’s sporting events and many of our member states have been represented at the World Championships, including Trinidad and Tobago which won the championships jointly with New Zealand and Australia in 1979 in Port of Spain. The 11 th World Netball championships were held in Kingston in May/June 2003. On that occasion, Jamaica provided our Community’s best showing having placed third. In July 2003, Molly Rhone of Jamaica was elected president of the International Netbail Federation (IFNA) for a minimum two-year term. The IFNA is the governing body for netball throughout the world.


Our Community has also produced world champions in the sport of boxing. These include Jamaica’s Mike McCallum, Trinidad and Tobago’s Claude Noel and Leslie Stewart and Guyana’s Andrew ‘Six Head’ Lewis, Wayne ‘Big Truck’ Braithwaite and Vivian Harris. Other world champions such as Randy Turpin and Lennox Lewis were born in Guyana and Jamaica respectively, although representing other countries at the time of their victories.


In swimming, Caribbean personalities have been emerging on the international scene and the greatest evidence of this has been the Olympic Gold medal success of Suriname’s Anthony Nesty at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, USA.

Cycling: Caribbean cyclists also have gained international prominence through the outstanding performances of Roger Gibbon and Gene Samuel of Trinidad and Tobago and David Weller of Jamaica.

All these diverse strains of sports, language, religion, music, ethnic background and cuisine blend together to create a unique culture and help to fashion us as a distinct and identifiable people of the world. Considering the small size of our Region’s population, the magnitude of our contribution in these areas is truly phenomenal. Even as the world moves toward what can be called a global culture which forces us to look beyond our Community to face challenges and seek opportunities, we can as a people go forward secure in our Caribbean identity, only if we invest the resources necessary for its preservation and strengthening.

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