Introduction: Migration, seafaring, and cultural contact in the Caribbean

L. Antonio Curet, Mark W. Hauser

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript


By the mere definition of human society and culture, interaction is the basis of most, if not all, human behavior. Just a quick overview of the different social sciences reflects the preeminent position of interaction. sociology focuses on intragroup relations, po liti cal science on power relations, psychology on individual or personal relations, and anthropology on inter- And intra- cultural relations. despite its intrinsic role in societies, interaction is one of the most complicated concepts and phenomena in human groups. one of many reasons for this is that human relations can be multidimensional; in other words, one particular individual or group of individuals can have multiple types of interactions (e.g., friendship, kinship, patron- client, and elite relations), operating at multiple scales (e.g., individual, intra- And inter- household, inter- And intra- communal, regional and extra- regional relations). to complicate things even more, the vari ous types of interactions are multivectorial since they are strongly dependent on the social, historical, po liti cal, and cultural conditions. The combination of all these and other factors results in the creation of great variability of potential types of social relations, at different scales and different degrees of magnitude, that are very fluid, can be manipulated by multiple actors, and can change rapidly. it is for these reasons that it is important for our analysis of past behavior to understand that all these forms of interactions affect each other, acting together in determining the final social and cultural output. it is also true, however, that while different forms of interactions may influence these processes to a higher or lower degree, their importance through out history is very fluid and they may change even within one generation. Plasticity, variability, and unpre dicta bility are what make this interaction a fascinating yet elusive phenomenon for social scientists and an extremely challenging one for archaeologists, in particular. this volume is all about interaction in the Caribbean. geographically, our main focus is the interaction not at low levels or small scales, but at higher and larger ones. Particularly, we are interested in addressing the interaction between people from different islands or between the islands and the continental masses (i.e., nonlocal interaction). Contrary to traditional Caribbean archaeology, we do not focus on interaction between cultures, but, instead, focus on interaction between people or groups of people. that being said, however, we do not ignore the importance of other forms of interactions, such as those between individuals and the cultural and natural landscapes and the supernatural world. because interactions of different natures or at different scales are intimately related, many of the chapters also include some aspects of these other forms of relations. interaction, as a focus of inquiry, and the explanation of cultural continuity and social transformation has been one of the primary foci of archaeological inquiry in the americas (e.g., duff 2002; hayden and schulting 1997; hegmon 2000). The Caribbean is no exception (see armstrong 2003; Crock and Petersen 2004; deagan 1988, 1995; delpuech and hofman 2004; hauser 2008; hofman and hoog land 2004; keegan 1992; oliver 2009; rouse 1986, 1992; Wilson 2007). this has been, in part, due to an implicit or assumed framing in which a local phenomenon can be explained through regional trends and cultural contours. but what is exactly meant by interaction, and how exactly has it been operationalized? indeed, for irving rouse (1986, 1992), whose initial framings of regional analysis in Caribbean archaeology are still with us in many ways, interaction was a default, if unexplored, condition of cultural migration and displacement or acculturation (1992). daniel odess has defined interaction as "the exchange of materials, ideas, beliefs, and information between members of different corporate groups" (odess 1998:417). as such it seems a fairly innocuous set of human behaviors to gauge through the material record in which discrete localities, separated by shorelines and boundary waters, seem to share stylistic movements in pottery and the valuing of exotic materials, and, probably to a certain degree- worldviews. indeed, such a perspective assumes to a certain extant a "corporate" identity through which interaction is mediated. however, if we are to accept, as samuel M. Wilson (2001) and others have postulated, that the Caribbean before europeans was a culturally diverse and ethnically heterogeneous region, then we must not take these corporate identities for granted. instead, we should look to the ways in which the material remnants are not seen as signs of solidarities established between polities-rather they are seen as the material evidence for the attempt to create these solidarities (see Mcguire 1982; see barth 1969 for a discussion of boundaries and identity). this becomes an even more important consideration in the Colonial period, where migration, forced and voluntary, increased in magnitude and scale. during such a period, which becomes the corporate group of interaction-Jamaica vs. Cuba, spanish vs. english, afro- Jamaican vs. anglo- Jamaican? indeed, it is during this period, from which it has been argued that the modern world emerged (scott 2003), that power became an important variable in understanding the variegated nature of interaction. out of such a framework it is important to understand historically particular terms such as "creolization," "transculturation," and " transformation," and even accommodation and resistance might be as applicable in the Pre- Columbian Caribbean as the Colonial Caribbean. save one very important exception. Without the assistance of text in order to create contextual synthesis, it is difficult to impossible to ask these questions in prehistory. ultimately, the utility of interaction as a framework for analysis is its ability to disentangle the social relations of a particular group of humans at varying scales of analysis. in this book we are, for the most part, focusing on non- local inter action. by non- local we are explicitly referring to interaction that moves beyond units of analysis that archaeologists have traditionally imposed upon archaeological communities that were assumed to correspond to social boundaries of human interaction. this is not to dismiss or overlook the analytical importance of localized and intimate interactions in understanding regional perspectives. as kathleen dea gan (1988, 2001, 2002) has noted in her work in the colonial spanish Caribbean, a focus on intimate interactions and their material manifestations brings attention to larger processes of imperial dynamics. in the case of Pre- Columbian archaeology, this has translated into interaction between settlements on different islands and beyond the regional polities, as evidenced by site- specific archaeologies. in historical archaeology, where a traditional unit of observation in slave societies has been the sugar estate or colonial settlements in understanding imperial regimes, it is an examination beyond the specific village in which most enslaved labor lived.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationIslands at the Crossroads
Subtitle of host publicationMigration, Seafaring, and Interaction in the Caribbean
PublisherThe University of Alabama Press
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print)081735655X, 9780817356552
StatePublished - Dec 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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