“ESSENCE” OF CARIBBEAN SOPHISTICATION
Caribbean island life is the “essence” of a seductive allure and well-balance cocktail of a legato-blend of history, indulgence and amour. The famed and infamous have long stepped ashore this blessed and intriguing archipelago and landmasses nestled in the Caribbean Sea. They descended transatlantic carriers of BOAC and Cunard, gracing the islands in their raiment of fine silk and cotton, bejeweled and glistening with a train of attendants in tow. The Caribbean is forever a siren to the senses with its crisp, clean ocean breeze, 300 plus days of sunshine and an inimitable sense of laissez faire “cool.”
View from Noël Coward’s Jamaican residence, Firefly
The postcard, palm-treed panorama and the islands’ charm was backdrop and inspiration to 14 Ian Fleming titles of our favourite agent on Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The 2008 centenary celebration of the James Bond progenitor’s enduring success and permanency is indicative of the Caribbean’s own heritage of style, liaison and thrill. In the Golden Ages of Travel and Hollywood the names of rich and famous boomed of Sinatra, Colbert, and Windsor. Today, they modulate in tones of Beiber, Depp and Winfrey and the passing of time has affirmed the Caribbean’s own legacy as a diverse region of divine sophistication.
Simplistic acceptance of the Caribbean as the three regions of The Bahamas, and the Greater and Lesser Antilles would be to equally consent to a naïve belief from somewhere in middle-America that the region is all one big Jamaica. How can a 7-night vacation ‘package deal’ truly embody a territory of over 1 million square miles, 7000 islands, inlets and cays, 40 million people speaking some 6 official languages and more dialects than in a month of Sundays? Indeed, the anthropological complexity of the Caribbean demands its own lexicon in Richard Allsopp’s Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage. To truly appreciate the Caribbean’s self-styled brand of sophistication requires an embrace, or at least, an appreciation of its keystone: its people.
KEYSTONE OF SOPHISTICATION: Islanders, West Indians, Island People
Hard as it may, one must flip into the background, but only for a moment, the vista of the Caribbean’s pristine coastlines bathed in hues of gilded sunsets as they braid with the iridescence of cobalt blue seas – Season in Orange, Season in Cobalt Blue. What comes into focus, through a window less used, is a glimpse of the Caribbean’s true treasure, its “Islanders”.
Their collective characteristic and lifestyle form the bedrock of a Caribbean society forged from a violent past through European quest to conquer, colonisation and control. Explorers in search of Eldorado, touting Royal warrants, disembarked from 15th century vessels with names like La Niña, Santa María, and La Pinta. By the post-WWII era islanders embarked on their new journeys and struggles towards self-determination, along a jagged path of ambitious independence.
Today the Caribbean’s sophistication is reflected in the plurality of its people within the region, and throughout the global diaspora. Resonating the best and most discerning qualities of lifestyles, minds, thoughts, aspirations, and desires, they are bounded in strength and multiplicity by DNA and sensibilities that are rooted in cultures and heritages of African, English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Indian, Chinese, Garifuna, and American civilisations.
The Caribbean is opulent and diverse with endless possibilities. Its people are the lustrous example of a self-styled sophistication, characterised in their responses and creativity throughout history and beyond. While other regions have also had their share violence and inhumanity, Caribbean people have never developed a character of nationalistic violence and regional civil war. Instead they charted paths of peace and tolerance. This regional stability and peacefulness, in part, draws the well-to-do to its beaches, waterfalls and marinas.
Islanders are vocal in opinion, raucous in laughter, vivacious in lust for life, and colourful in character and creativity. Nationalism and petty island rivalry is a residue of insularity of governance of these nation-states, where communication flowed directly to the ruling European’s centres of colony administration, with little regard for neighbours experiencing the same subjugation. Yet island people remained considerate with camaraderie for those near and far and regional support for Cuba in days of the cold war is evidence of this enduring, effervescent spirit. Caribbean people have a well-developed trait of resilience, and no matter how paltry their possessions, they are eternally welcoming, embracing each other and outsiders like long lost friends.
Refreshing Sorrel Drink
In treasuring their culture, heritage and birth right Caribbean people created a symphony of cuisines that combine styles of cooking from ancestral, and adopted influences, while utilising the abundance of produce from the lands and sea around. For example, Jamaica has its ackee and salt fish; Trinidad and Tobago, crab and calaloo; Dominican Republic, sancocho; Guyana its pepper pot; Haiti, griots, rice and beans; Martinique its grilled snapper with sauce au chien; Barbados its coucou and flying fish; and Bahamas its delicious crack conch with peas and rice.
Caribbean sophistication is entrenched in the exposé of music genres, visual and dramatic arts, festivals, dance and movement, artisanship and architecture – all authentic, and all evolutionary. From Jamaica, the land of reggae, to Guyana, the land of many rivers, there runs an Agatha Christie like mystery which fuels the curiosity of visitors, who often attempt the step change to mimic the pace and rhythm of simple-complex island life, a pastiche one may call “island style” or “Caribbean swagger.”
Curacao, Netherlands Antilles
The landscape has transitioned from cane fields and factories to corporate buildings with globally branded logo. Tourism is now accessible to more than the elite and the very wealthy. The region is now a synthesis of modern and post-colonial – rum shack meets Louis Vuitton. Coastlines are now thickly framed by ultra-luxurious condos and villas. Bygone days of aristocracy nights at the Copacabana, bus rides for a shilling, and afternoon tea in the drawing room have been replaced by “wet fete”, a two-dollar ride on a “ZR van” along Barbados’ south coast, and happy hour at a sports bar.
But what is enduring, what remains essential to an authentic Caribbean experience is to have had the pleasure, to have tasted a drop of genuine Caribbean sophistication, and that is – to have spent time in the company of, to have shared a drink or meal with island people. So, next time you visit and someone says, “let’s go buss a lime”, know that this has nothing to do citrus fruits. It is a call to action, to follow a band, to experience spontaneity, laughter, jokes and fun and a true invitation to feast on the best and most authentic of Caribbean experiences, a sophisticated encounter with the beautiful enigma that is Caribbean island people.