This six-volume UNESCO History of the Caribbean attempts to integrate the historical experience of its peoples and societies from the earliest times to the present. The region it surveys includes the coasts lapped by the Caribbean Sea wherever an historical explanation of activities of the societies in the islands compel an extension of the boundary to the south or west. The work provides a comprehensive history of the Caribbean, centred on its people and its landscape, written as much as was possible by the Caribbean historians. It gives an account of what was common to all as well as what was peculiar to some, and affirms the cultural identity of the region.
The work is organized thematically, but chronology has been taken into account both in determining the limits of the volumes and in ordering the contents of each volume. The choice of themes has been determined, in part, by the decision to write a history of the region which is more than the sum of narratives of the islands and the lands adjacent, and in part, to avoid the whole work being dominated by the experiences common to the entire region through the primacy of sugar, slavery and the consequent military and political presence of European powers.
Space has been found for peoples, societies, cultures and activities, less important than sugar and slavery but significant enough to have left their mark on the contemporary culture of the Caribbean. They include the first migrants, their autochthonous societies, the formation of new societies by the interaction of peoples in a new landscape, societies on the periphery of reciprocal relations such as Taino, Mayans, Buccaneers and Maroons, the transformation of European creole societies to Caribbean creole, the cultivation of crops which were not staples for export, and diverse forms of labour, peasants and migrants from Asia.
The chapters on the twentieth century pay attention to continuity and change; to the slow modification of daily life as well as the changes in structure and processes which make life in the contemporary Caribbean different from that of previous centuries. In the final volume the contributors discuss methodology, the nature of evidence from oral sources, the expressive and material cultures, and review the historiography of each territory as well as the work which has been done on slavery, resistance, emancipation, ethnicity, class, gender, ideology, nationalism and imperialism in Caribbean history.
This history in its totality summarizes the current state of historical knowledge which permits accounts to cross the barriers of geography, language and politics. Much discrete insular work remains to be done on ideas and events before a more extensively integrated history of the Caribbean can be written. For the moment these six volumes have laid down the marker for future work.
Volume I of the General History of the Caribbean relates to the history of the origins of the earliest Caribbean peoples, and analyses their various political, social, cultural and economic organizations over time, in and around the Caribbean region.
`Caribbeanness' began to form when the first human groups set foot on the islands. According to the latest archaeological data, that historical legacy has a tradition of almost 10,000 years in Cuba, 7,000 years in Trinidad and 5,000 in Puerto Rico.
Autochthony is not so much a matter of biology as of sociology. Ethnohistorical research combines early documentary sources as well as archaeology, linguistics, and social theory with biogeographical evidence of the earliest cultures. This volume investigates the movement of Palaeoindians into the islands from the mainlands surrounding them, in the context of environmental changes, and looks at the agricultural societies which developed in the Caribbean, the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles. It then explores the indigenous societies at the time of the Spanish Conquest, the hierarchy of the chiefdoms, and the development of slavery.
By identifying with a legacy which goes beyond the five hundred years of colonial life, the Caribbean peoples can begin to bind together as a region and claim a rich inheritance from the earliest cultural expressions which emerge in this volume.