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Volume 61 / Social Sciences


West Indies

LAMBROS COMITAS, Gardner Cowles Professor of Anthropology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

THE HLAS 61 CHAPTER ON WEST INDIAN ETHNOLOGY includes publications of a social and cultural anthropological nature dealing with the Caribbean archipelago, the Guianas, Belize, and the several West Indian cultural enclaves located in other parts of the surrounding mainland. It contains 80 annotations of publications, approximately four-fifths of these dealing with the following countries or dependencies: Antigua, Barbados, Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, French Guiana, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela. The remaining fifth deals with the Anglophone Caribbean or the Caribbean in general. Numerically, the countries or regions best represented are Jamaica (23 percent) followed by general Caribbean (15 percent), Guianas (14 percent), Trinidad and Tobago (11 percent) and Haiti and Barbados (each with 10 percent). The publications cited cover a wide range of subject matter that, for the convenience of the reader, can be sorted into three somewhat overlapping categories: contemporary social issues, traditional research topics, and diachronic and historical studies.

Contemporary Social Issues

There is increasing interest in politics, regional linkages and attendant problems, and in public and domestic manifestations of violence. For annotations on politics, see Scott's critique of classic approaches to the study of Jamaican politics (item #bi2005000357#), Gray's intriguing analysis of rogue culture and the Jamaican lumpenproleteriat (item #bi2005000328#) and Klein on new directions for drug control in the Commonwealth Caribbean (item #bi2005000337#). About regional matters, see Amit on citizenship, labor, and expatriacy in the Caymans (item #bi2005000301#), Maurer (item #bi2005000344#) on the links between telecommunications and politics in the creation of the off-shore financial services industry, and Sheller on the exclusion of the Caribbean from the imagined time-space of Western modernity (item #bi2005000358#). For local-level issues, see Waters on the trials and tribulations of heritage tourism in Port Royal (item #bi2005000365#), Wardle's innovative ethnography of cosmopolitanism in Kingston (item #bi2004001798#), as well as Minn's exploration of a folk illness in rural Haiti (item #bi2005000346#). With reference to current realities in Haiti, see Kovats-Bernat on pragmatic strategies for fieldwork amid violence and terror (item #bi2005000338#). For other studies dealing with violence, see Chevannes on confronting the culture of cruelty (item #bi2005000321#), Trotz on women and violence in Guyana (item #bi2005000362#), Lazarus-Black on the "success" of the Trinidad and Tobago Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (item #bi2005000339#) and Chucho and Camacho's compilation of country reports on racism and associated problems in Venezuela and Latin America (item #bi2004001794#).

Traditional Research Themes

Religion. See Taylor's (item #bi2005000360#) collection of articles dealing with religion, identity, and cultural differences in both the Hispanic and non-Hispanic Caribbean. Two authors deal with religious phenomena in Jamaica: Austin-Broos on Pentecostal and Baptist churches and their relation with the state (item #bi2005000303#) and Barnett on Rastafari dialectism (item #bi2005000304#). Two authors discuss religious practices in Cuba: Hearn focuses on Afro-Cuban religions and the consequences of commercial development in Havana (item #bi2005000330#) and Hernandez provides a guide to santeria (item #bi2004001792#). The bulk of work on religion in this section has been on Haiti and Vodou. For example, see Apter's excellent work on African origins and creolization (item #bi2005000302#), Dubois' review of four recent works on the study of Vodou (item #bi2005000326#), Michel's essay in praise of Vodou as mode of survival (item #bi2005000345#), and Aracena on a Haitian-born Gagá in the DR and the issue of negritude in that country (item #bi2004001790#).

Women and gender studies. On women, see Berkeley-Caines on health and race in urban Guyana (item #bi2005000307#), Clarke on domestic workers in Jamaica (item #bi2005000322#) and Trotz on the roles of Guyanese women (item #bi2005000363#). Gender studies are dealt by Kempadoo on theory and research on Caribbean sexuality (item #bi2005000335#), Barnes on the psychosocial effects of the Montserrat volcanic disaster (item #bi2005000308#), Bolles on Michael Manley and gender equality in the Commonwealth Caribbean (item #bi2005000313#), Browne on female entrepreneurship (item #bi2005000316#), Chevannes on gender and adult sexuality (item #bi2005000320#), Henry-Lee and LeFrank on private property and gender in Guyana and Barbados (item #bi2003001523#), Leo-Rhynie on gender and education (item #bi2005000341#), Matthews and Murray on predictors of marital satisfaction in urban Guyana (item #bi2005000342#), Mohammed on gender negotiations among Trinidadian Indians (item #bi2005000348#).

Ethnicity, creolization and identity. For works related to ethnicity, see Kassim on education and socialization of Trinidadian Indo-Muslims (item #bi2005000334#), Rooopnarine on Indo-Caribbean migration (item #bi2005000353#), and Alleyne on the construction and representation of race and ethnicity (item #bi2004001803#). Interest in creolization issues appears to be on the increase. See Apter (cited in religion above) as well as Bolland on creolization and creole societies (item #bi2005000312#), Browne on creole economics in Martinique (item #bi2005000316#), Maurer on Herskovits and creolization studies (item #bi2005000343#), Puri's critique of Caribbean cultural studies (item #bi2005000356#), and Besson's excellent book on the evolution of a Jamaican town into a peasant village (item #bi2003001426#). Identity remains a major research topic well represented in the publications of this section. For example, see Dawdy (item #bi2005000325#) and Paponnet-Cantat (item #bi2005000349#) on food and Cuban identity, Scher on Carnival and the formation of a Caribbean transnation (item #bi2003001744#), Duany on Puerto Rican identity at home and in the US (item #bi2004001786#), Kerkhof on circular migration and language struggle in Puerto Rico (item #bi2005000336#), Reddock on contestations over culture, class, gender, and identity in Trinidad (item #bi2005000353#), Deen on genealogical approaches to locating Trinidad roots in India (item #bi2004001791#), and Fox, Smith, and Wilson on adolescent self-image in Trinidad and Tobago (item #bi2005000327#).

Popular culture. This is a comparatively new but fast-growing research focus for anthropologists and allied disciplinarians. Curwen Best has three publications of this kind: a survey of Barbadian folklore and popular culture (item #bi2005000309#); tracking ringbang, the first post-soca dancehall music (item #bi2005000366#); and early post-soca tendencies in Caribbean music (item #bi2005000310#). Others include Edmondson on Caribbean women and the politics of public performance (item #bi2005000368#), Ramnarine on the development of an Indian-Caribbean musical tradition (item #bi2005000352#), and Saunders on sexual economy and dancehall music in the global marketplace (item #bi2005000355#).

Diachronic and Historical Studies

The use made of archeological, ethnohistorical or historical publications by researchers studying the present continues to grow. Publications of this kind cited below are listed in three broad chronological categories: pre-European contact, slavery, and post-slavery.

Pre-contact. See Curet on descent and succession in protohistoric chiefdoms in the Greater Antilles (item #bi2005000324#), LeCount on feasting and political ritual among the late classic Maya (item #bi2005000340#), Bos on reliability of early Amerindian information about the Guianas and its inhabitants (item #bi2004001785#), Burnett on 19th-century geographical exploration and Amerindians of British Guiana (item #bi2005000318#), and Collazo on contemporary images of the Puerto Rican indigenous world (item #bi2004001793#).

Slavery. Publications on this topic cover a wide range. For example, Bolland describes the development of the unique Belizean slave system (item #bi2005000312#), Brown deals with spiritual terror and sacred authority in Jamaican slave society (item #bi2005000314#), Buckridge studies plant substances in Jamaican slave dress (item #bi2005000317#), Smith and Maxwell detail a Bermuda slave smuggling trade (item #bi2005000359#), Thompson's collection of essays deals broadly with Caribbean slave experience (item #bi2005000361#), and Handler describes and analyzes all known autobiographical slave accounts from British America (item #bi2005000329#).

Post-slavery. Mohamed studies the history and role of the Guyanese print media with particular reference to politics and race (item #bi2005000347#), Mohammed examines the ways in which Caribbean societies use symbolic references to empire and colonization (item #bi2005000348#), Bellegarde-Smith explores African-Caribbean links (item #bi2005000306#), Howard describes Black Seminoles from their ethnogenesis in Florida to their retreat to the Bahamas (item #bi2004001796#), and Deagan and Cruxent deal with the historical archeology of Columbus' first community in the New World (item #bi2004001787#).

* * *

I close on a personal note. Since 1967, when first I started compiling this section for HLAS, I relied very heavily for this task on the Caribbean Library of the Research Institute for the Study of Man. This library, which I helped nurture, had a splendid collection of Caribbeana, most notably of non-Hispanic Caribbean materials. Under new leadership in recent years, RISM, long a bulwark of Caribbean research, appears to have shifted its academic and topographical foci. Most lamentably, this shift is exemplified by the dissolution of its library, a collection utilized by thousands of graduate students and professional Caribbeanists over the years. The loss of the library and the apparent change of interest on the part of RISM is a serious blow to Caribbean scholarship.

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