Chinese in the English-Speaking Caribbean - Orientation



Identification. Conventional wisdom has it that the overseas Chinese cling to their ancestral traditions and reject the forces of acculturation. Research suggests that Caribbean Chinese may be exceptions to this rule in that they have been creolized. The Creole culture forged in the Caribbean, over a period of five centuries, combines primarily elements from Europe and Africa, the cultures with the longest history in the region. Creolization, then, is the process by which peoples who are neither African nor European become enculturated in Euro-African culture.

Location. Between 1853 and 1879, 14,000 Chinese laborers were imported to the British Caribbean as part of a larger system of contract labor bound for the sugar plantations. The majority of indentured laborers—almost half a million—came from India. There were also several thousand Portuguese from the Madeira Islands. Most of the laborers were destined for British Guiana (Guyana), taken from the Dutch in the Napoleonic Wars, and Trinidad, captured from Spain in 1797 (these two new colonies were underpopulated and underdeveloped compared to Jamaica) . The sugar planters of British Guiana and Trinidad were attempting to rival Jamaica during the nineteenth century.

Demography. Most of the Chinese laborers initially went to British Guiana; however, importation ended in 1879, and the population declined steadily, mostly from out-migration to Trinidad and Suriname. In the 1960s the Chinese comprised 0.6 percent (i.e., about 4,800) of the Guyanese population of 800,000, 0.65 percent (i.e., about 14,462) of the Jamaican population of 2,225,000, and 1 percent (i.e., about 10,000) of the Trinidadian population of 1,000,000. Although the sex ratio and the proportion of racially mixed to "pure" is unclear, the vast majority were born locally. The issue of "racial purity" is a thorny one because racial mixing is a cultural ideal in Creole society, except among the upper class, and because census figures are based on self-identification. Hence, at least some of those who identify themselves as Chinese are racially mixed. Many racially mixed Chinese also identify themselves as "mixed," a census category that, in Trinidad in 1990, comprised 207,558. The population census of 1990 in Trinidad and Tobago revealed 4,314 Chinese out of a total population of 1,125,128, males numbering 2,317 and females 1,997. The dramatic population decline is mainly the result of tremendous out-migration, mostly to North America.

Linguistic Affiliation. Chinese, as a language, is virtually extinct. Generally speaking, Chinese in the English-speaking Caribbean speak Creole English.


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