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Tue, 12.13.1492

The Afro Caribbean Community, a story

*The Afro Caribbean community is celebrated on this date in 1492. African Caribbean people are Caribbean people who trace their full or partial ancestry to Africa.

During the post-Columbian era, the archipelagos and islands of the Caribbean were the first sites of Middle Passage dispersal in the western Atlantic. Specifically, in 1492, Pedro Alonso Niño, an African Spanish seafarer, was recorded as piloting one of Columbus' ships. He returned in 1499 but did not settle. In the early 16th century, more Africans began to enter the population of the Spanish Caribbean colonies, sometimes arriving as free men of mixed ancestry or as indentured servants, but increasingly as enslaved workers and servants. This increasing demand for African labor in the Caribbean was partly the result of massive depopulation of the native Taino and other indigenous peoples caused by the new infectious diseases, harsh conditions, and warfare brought by white-European colonists.

By the mid-16th century, the slave trade from West Africa to the Caribbean was so profitable that Francis Drake and John Hawkins were prepared to engage in piracy and break Spanish colonial laws to forcibly transport enslaved people from Sierra Leone to San Domingo (modern-day Dominican Republic). During the 17th and 18th centuries, European colonial development in the Caribbean became increasingly reliant on plantation slavery to cultivate and process the lucrative commodity crop of sugarcane. On many islands shortly before the end of the 18th century, the enslaved Afro Caribbean’s greatly outnumbered their European masters. In addition, there developed a class of free people of color, especially in the French islands, where persons of mixed race were given certain rights.

In Saint-Domingue, free people of color and slaves rebelled against harsh conditions and constant inter-imperial warfare. Inspired by French revolutionary sentiments that at one point freed the slaves, Toussaint L'Ouverture and Jean Jacques Dessalines led the Haitian Revolution that gained the independence of Haiti in 1804.  During the 19th century, continuous waves of rebellion, such as the Baptist War, led by Sam Sharpe in Jamaica, created the conditions for the incremental abolition of slavery in the region by various colonial powers. Great Britain abolished slavery in its holdings in 1834. Cuba was the last island to be emancipated when Spain abolished slavery in its colonies. During the 20th century, Afro Caribbean people, who were a majority in many Caribbean societies, began to asserting their cultural, economic, and political rights with more vigor on the world stage. Marcus Garvey was among many influential immigrants to the United States from Jamaica, expanding his UNIA movement in New York City and the U.S. Afro Caribbean were influential in the Harlem Renaissance as artists and writers. Aimé Césaire developed a négritude movement. 

In the 1960s, the West Indian territories gained political independence from British colonial rule. They were pre-eminent in creating new cultural forms such as reggae music, calypso, and Rastafari within the Caribbean. Beyond the region, a developing Afro Caribbean diaspora in the United States, including such figures as Stokely Carmichael and DJ Kool Herc, was influential in developing the Black Power movement of the 1960s and the hip-hop movement of the 1980s. African Caribbean individuals also contributed to European cultural developments, as evidenced by influential theorists such as Frantz Fanon and Stuart Hall.

Other names for the ethnic group include Black Caribbean, Afro or Black West Indian, or Afro or Black Antillean. The term Afro-Caribbean was not coined by Caribbean people but was first used by European Americans in the late 1960s. People of Afro-Caribbean descent today mainly have between 60-100% African ancestry, with their remaining DNA being of non-African ancestries, such as those of European and South Asian or native Caribbean descent, as there has been extensive intermarriage and unions among the peoples over the centuries.

Although most Afro Caribbean people today live in English, French, and Spanish-speaking Caribbean nations and territories, there are also significant diaspora populations throughout the Western world, especially in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands. African Caribbean have maintained their African culture and heritage, and traditional African religions, like Santeria (a mix of Catholicism and Yoruba Orishas), are still being practiced. For this reason, African languages are being spoken, like Igbo and Yoruba in Cuba and Brazil. Both the home and diaspora populations have produced many individuals who have had a notable influence on modern African, Caribbean, and Western societies; they include political activists such as C. L. R. James; writers and US military leader and statesman Colin Powell; and musicians Bob MarleyNicki Minaj, and Rihanna.

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