Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

The Indigenous People of the Caribbean

Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

The Indigenous People of the Caribbean

Article excerpt

Samuel M. Wilson, ed., The Indigenous People of the Caribbean (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997), 250 pp.

As its foreword says, this volume is a collection of articles by a distinguished group of cultural anthropologists, archaeologists, linguists and historians. These articles have one common denominator: the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean.

Appearing some 505 years after Columbus's first visit in 1492, this volume is timely. It serves three main purposes. First, it commemorates the five-hundredth anniversary of the explorer's arrival; second, it celebrates the survival of the indigenous peoples who somehow avoided complete extinction at the hands of the Europeans; and third, it provides both laymen and scholars with a useful introduction to the study of the peoples who lived in the region thousands of years before the Europeans arrived.

The peoples of the Caribbean archipelago were the first New World peoples to experience contact with the Europeans. That any survived at all is a remarkable feat in itself and worthy of celebration. In recent times, the condition of indigenous peoples has been receiving increasing international attention. In 1992, the United Nations General Assembly declared 1993 the International Year of the World's Indigenous Peoples. This was intended to bring the focus of the world community to bear on some of its most neglected groups. The prominence of the Caribbean in international affairs during the past five centuries makes the importance of this study self-evident.

The various essays address almost every aspect of both the history and pre-history of the Caribbean's indigenous peoples. It is generally accepted that these people left no written history. What is known today has primarily come from the work of archaeologists and historians - in short, what other people saw and thought about them over the last 500 years. In this regard, the present volume shows continuity. The contributors have presented the most up-to-date knowledge in their respective disciplines on the peoples being studied.

The work also addresses the environmental issues raised by the European arrival. In recent decades the questions raised by people's relationship with their physical environment have become a matter of international concern. The editor has shown his sensitivity to this issue and illustrates the axiom that history addresses the past with the preoccupations of the present. …

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