West Indies

Last updated

Coordinates: 21°59′00″N79°02′00″W / 21.9833°N 79.0333°W / 21.9833; -79.0333

Contents

Political map of the West Indies Caribbean general map.png
Political map of the West Indies

The West Indies is a region of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean that includes the island countries and surrounding waters of three major archipelagos: the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, and the Lucayan Archipelago. [1]

The region includes all the islands in or bordering the Caribbean Sea, plus The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, which are in the Atlantic Ocean. This term also includes modern-day Belize, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.

History

Caribbean Basin countries Caribe-Politico.svg
Caribbean Basin countries

Indigenous people were the first inhabitants of the West Indies. In 1492, Christopher Columbus became the first European to arrive at the islands, where he is believed by historians to have first set foot on land in the Bahamas. After the first of the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the Americas, Europeans began to use the term West Indies to distinguish the region from the East Indies of South Asia and Southeast Asia.[ citation needed ]

In the late sixteenth century, French, English and Dutch merchants and privateers began their operations in the Caribbean Sea, attacking Spanish and Portuguese shipping and coastal areas. They often took refuge and refitted their ships in the areas the Spanish could not conquer, including the islands of the Lesser Antilles, the northern coast of South America including the mouth of the Orinoco, and the Atlantic Coast of Central America. In the Lesser Antilles they managed to establish a foothold following the colonisation of St Kitts in 1624 and Barbados in 1626, and when the Sugar Revolution took off in the mid-seventeenth century, they brought in thousands of Africans to work the fields and mills as slave labourers. These Africans wrought a demographic revolution, replacing or joining with either the indigenous Caribs or the European settlers who were there as indentured servants.

The struggle between the northern Europeans and the Spanish spread southward in the mid to late seventeenth century, as English, Dutch, French and Spanish colonists, and in many cases their slaves from Africa first entered and then occupied the coast of The Guianas (which fell to the French, English and Dutch) and the Orinoco valley, which fell to the Spanish. The Dutch, allied with the Caribs of the Orinoco, would eventually carry the struggles deep into South America, first along the Orinoco and then along the northern reaches of the Amazon.

Since no European country had occupied much of Central America, gradually the English of Jamaica established alliances with the Miskito Kingdom of modern-day Nicaragua and Honduras, and then began logging on the coast of modern-day Belize. These interconnected commercial and diplomatic relations made up the Western Caribbean Zone which was in place in the early eighteenth century. In the Miskito Kingdom, the rise to power of the Miskito-Zambos, who originated in the survivors of a rebellion aboard a slave ship in the 1640s and the introduction of African slaves by British settlers within the Miskito area and in Belize, also transformed this area into one with a high percentage of persons of African descent as was found in most of the rest of the Caribbean.

From the 17th through the 19th century, the European colonial territories of the West Indies were the French West Indies, British West Indies, the Danish West Indies, the Netherlands Antilles (Dutch West Indies), and the Spanish West Indies.

In 1916, Denmark sold the Danish West Indies to the United States [2] for US$25 million in gold, per the Treaty of the Danish West Indies. The Danish West Indies became an insular area of the U.S., called the United States Virgin Islands.

Between 1958 and 1962, the United Kingdom re-organised all their West Indies island territories (except the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas) into the West Indies Federation. They hoped that the Federation would coalesce into a single, independent nation. However, the Federation had limited powers, numerous practical problems, and a lack of popular support; consequently, it was dissolved by the British in 1963, with nine provinces eventually becoming independent sovereign states and four becoming current British Overseas Territories.

West Indies or West India was the namesake of several companies of the 17th and 18th centuries, including the Danish West India Company, the Dutch West India Company, the French West India Company, and the Swedish West India Company. [3]

West Indian is the official term used by the U.S. government to refer to people of the West Indies. [4]

Use of the term

Tulane University professor Rosanne Adderly says:

[T]he phrase "West Indies" distinguished the territories encountered by Columbus or and claimed by Spain from discovery claims by other powers in [Asia's] "East Indies"... The term "West Indies" was eventually used by all European nations to describe their own acquired territories in the Americas... considering British Caribbean colonies collectively as the "West Indies" had its greatest political importance in the 1950s with the movement to create a federation of those colonies that could ultimately become an independent nation... Despite the collapse of the Federation [in the early 1960s]... the West Indies continues to field a joint cricket team for international competition. [5]

The West Indies cricket team includes participants from Guyana, which is geographically located in South America.

Geology

The West Indies in relation to the continental Americas Karte Karibik Inseln.png
The West Indies in relation to the continental Americas
The subduction of the South American Plate and part of the North American Plate beneath the Caribbean Plate produces both the Puerto Rico Trench, the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the active volcanoes of the Lesser Antilles (bottom left of image, south of the Virgin Islands). Atlantic-trench.JPG
The subduction of the South American Plate and part of the North American Plate beneath the Caribbean Plate produces both the Puerto Rico Trench, the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the active volcanoes of the Lesser Antilles (bottom left of image, south of the Virgin Islands).

The West Indies is a geologically complex island system consisting of 7,000 islands and islets stretching over 3,000 km from the Florida peninsula of North America south-southeast to the northern coast of Venezuela. [6] These islands include active volcanoes, low-lying atolls, raised limestone islands, and large fragments of continental crust containing tall mountains and insular rivers. [7] Each of the three archipelagos of the West Indies has a unique origin and geologic composition.

Greater Antilles

The Greater Antilles is geologically the oldest of the three archipelagos and includes both the largest islands (Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico) and the tallest mountains (Pico Duarte, Blue Mountain, Pic la Selle, Pico Turquino) in the Caribbean. [8] The islands of the Greater Antilles are composed of strata of different geological ages including Precambrian fragmented remains of the North American Plate (older than 541 million years), Jurassic aged limestone (201.3-145 million years ago), as well as island arc deposits and oceanic crust from the Cretaceous (145-66 million years ago). [9]

The Greater Antilles originated near the Isthmian region of present day Central America in the Late Cretaceous (commonly referred to as the Proto-Antilles), then drifted eastward arriving in their current location when colliding with the Bahama Platform of the North American Plate ca. 56 million years ago in the late Paleocene. [10] This collision caused subduction and volcanism in the Proto-Antillean area and likely resulted in continental uplift of the Bahama Platform and changes in sea level. [11] The Greater Antilles have continuously been exposed since the start of the Paleocene or at least since the Middle Eocene (66-40 million years ago), but which areas were above sea level throughout the history of the islands remains unresolved. [12] [10]

The oldest rocks in the Greater Antilles are located in Cuba. They consist of metamorphosed graywacke, argillite, tuff, mafic igneous extrusive flows, and carbonate rock. [13] It is estimated that nearly 70% of Cuba consists of karst limestone. [14] The Blue Mountains of Jamaica are a granite outcrop rising over 2,000 meters, while the rest of the island to the west consists mainly of karst limestone. [14] Much of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands were formed by the collision of the Caribbean Plate with the North American Plate and consist of 12 island arch terranes. [15] These terranes consist of oceanic crust, volcanic and plutonic rock. [15]

Lesser Antilles

The Lesser Antilles is a volcanic island arc rising along the leading edge of the Caribbean Plate due to the subduction of the Atlantic seafloor of the North American and South American plate s. Major islands of the Lesser Antilles likely emerged less than 20 Ma, during the Miocene. [8] The volcanic activity that formed these islands began in the Paleogene, after a period of volcanism in the Greater Antilles ended, and continues today. [16] The main arc of the Lesser Antilles runs north from the coast of Venezuela to the Anegada Passage, a strait separating them from the Greater Antilles, and includes 19 active volcanoes. [17]

Lucayan Archipelago

The Lucayan Archipelago includes The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, a chain of barrier reefs and low islands atop the Bahama Platform. The Bahama Platform is a carbonate block formed of marine sediments and fixed to the North American Plate. [7] The emergent islands of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos likely formed from accumulated deposits of wind-blown sediments during Pleistocene glacial periods of lower sea level. [7]

Countries and territories by subregion and archipelago

Caribbean

Antilles

Greater Antilles
Hispaniola
Lesser Antilles
Leeward Antilles
Leeward Islands
Windward Islands
Isolated islands in the Lesser Antilles

Scattered islands in the Caribbean

Lucayan Archipelago

Central America

Northern America

South America

N.B.: Territories in italics are parts of transregional sovereign states or non-sovereign dependencies.

* These three Dutch Caribbean territories form the BES islands.

Physiographically, these are continental islands not part of the volcanic Windward Islands arc. However, based on proximity, these islands are sometimes grouped with the Windward Islands culturally and politically.

~ Disputed territories administered by Colombia.

^ The UN includes Mexico in Central America. [18]

# Physiographically, Bermuda is an isolated oceanic island in the North Atlantic Ocean, not a part of the Caribbean, West Indies, North American continent or South American continent. Usually grouped with Northern American countries based on proximity; sometimes grouped with the West Indies culturally.

See also

Related Research Articles

Netherlands Antilles Former Caribbean country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands

The Netherlands Antilles was a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The country consisted of several island territories located in the Caribbean Sea. The islands were also informally known as the Dutch Antilles. The country came into being in 1954 as the autonomous successor of the Dutch colony of Curaçao and Dependencies and was dissolved in 2010. The Dutch colony of Surinam, although it was relatively close by on the continent of South America, did not become part of the Netherlands Antilles but became a separate autonomous country in 1954. All the island territories that belonged to the Netherlands Antilles remain part of the kingdom today, although the legal status of each differs. As a group they are still commonly called the Dutch Caribbean, regardless of their legal status.

Virgin Islands Island group of the Caribbean Leeward Islands

The Virgin Islands are an archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. They are geologically and biogeographically the easternmost part of the Greater Antilles, the northern islands belonging to the Puerto Rico Trench and St. Croix being a displaced part of the same geologic structure. Politically, the British Virgin Islands have been governed as the western island group of the Leeward Islands, which are the northern part of the Lesser Antilles, and form the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The archipelago is separated from the true Lesser Antilles by the Anegada Passage and from the main island of Puerto Rico by the Virgin Passage.

Lesser Antilles Archipelago in the Southeast Caribbean

The Lesser Antilles is a group of islands in the Caribbean Sea. Most form a long, partly volcanic island arc between the Greater Antilles to the north-west and the continent of South America. The islands form the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. Together, the Lesser Antilles and the Greater Antilles compose the Antilles. When combined with the Lucayan Archipelago, all three are known as the West Indies.

Antilles Archipelago bordering the north and east of the Caribbean Sea

The Antilles is an archipelago bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the south and west, the Gulf of Mexico to the northwest, and the Atlantic Ocean to the north and east.

The Leeward Islands are a group of islands situated where the northeastern Caribbean Sea meets the western Atlantic Ocean. Starting with the Virgin Islands east of Puerto Rico, they extend southeast to Guadeloupe and its dependencies. In English, the term Leeward Islands refers to the northern islands of the Lesser Antilles chain. The more southerly part of this chain, starting with Dominica, is called the Windward Islands. Dominica was originally considered part of the Leeward Islands, but was transferred from the British Leeward Islands to the British Windward Islands in 1940.

British West Indies British territories in the Caribbean, sometimes including former colonies

The British West Indies, sometimes abbreviated to the BWI, is a collective term for the British territories historically established in the Anglo-Caribbean: Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands, The Bahamas, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. Some definitions also include Bermuda, the former British Guiana and the former British Honduras although those territories are not usually considered part of the geographical West Indies. Before the decolonization period in the later 1950s and 1960s the term was used to include all British colonies in the region as part of the British Empire. Following the independence of most of the territories from the United Kingdom, the term Commonwealth Caribbean is now used.

Greater Antilles Region of the Caribbean

The Greater Antilles is a grouping of the larger islands in the Caribbean Sea, including Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands. Six island states share the region of the Greater Antilles in total, with Haiti and the Dominican Republic sharing the island of Hispaniola. Geologically, the Virgin Islands and Sombrero Island are also part of the Greater Antilles, though politically they are considered part of the Lesser Antilles. At an area of 207,411 square kilometres (80,082 sq mi), not counting the Virgin Islands, The Greater Antilles constitute nearly 90% of the land mass of the entire West Indies, as well as over 90% of its population. The remainder of the land belongs to the archipelago of the Lesser Antilles, which is a chain of islands to the east, running north–south and encompassing the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, as well as to the south, running east–west off the northern coast of South America. The Lucayan Archipelago is not considered to be a part of the Antilles archipelagos but rather of the North Atlantic.

Lucayan Archipelago Archipelago in the Northwestern West Indies

The Lucayan Archipelago, also known as the Bahama Archipelago, is an island group comprising the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and the British Overseas Territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands. The archipelago is in the western North Atlantic Ocean, north of Cuba along with the other Antilles, and east and southeast of Florida.

Caribbean Basin

The Caribbean Basin is generally defined as the area running from Florida westward along the Gulf coast, then south along the Mexican coast through Central America and then eastward across the northern coast of South America. This region includes the islands of the archipelago of the West Indies. Bermuda is also included within the region even though it is in the west-central Atlantic, due to its common cultural history created by European colonization of the region, and in most of the region by the presence of a significant group of African descent.

Commonwealth Caribbean English-speaking countries of the Caribbean

Commonwealth Caribbean is a term used to refer to the English-speaking nations and territories of the Caribbean, which once constituted the Caribbean portion of the British Empire and are now part of the Commonwealth of Nations. The term includes many independent island nations, British Overseas Territories and nations on the mainland. The emphasis on the English language has led other terms to also describe the grouping, such as the Anglo Caribbean, Anglophone Caribbean or English-speaking Caribbean. The term is now used in preference over the older term "British West Indies" which was used to describe the British colonies in the West Indies (therefore not including Belize and Guyana) during decolonisation and following independence from the United Kingdom. The term Anglo Caribbean or the British Commonwealth Caribbean, traditionally becomes the preferred sub-regional term as a replacement to British West Indies.

History of the British West Indies

The term British West Indies refers to the former English and British colonies and the present-day overseas territories of the United Kingdom in the Caribbean.

Leeward Antilles Islands in the Caribbean

The Leeward Antilles are a chain of islands in the Caribbean – specifically, the southerly islands of the Lesser Antilles along the southeastern fringe of the Caribbean Sea, just north of the Venezuelan coast of the South American mainland. The Leeward Antilles, while among the Lesser Antilles, are not to be confused with the Leeward Islands to the northeast.

Spanish West Indies Spanish possession in the Caribbean between 1492-1898

The Spanish West Indies or the Spanish Antilles was the collective name for Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. In terms of governance of the Spanish Empire, The Indies was the designation for all its overseas territories and was overseen by the Council of the Indies, founded in 1524 and based in Spain. When the crown established the Viceroyalty of New Spain in 1535, the islands of the Caribbean came under its jurisdiction.

The Caribbean bioregion is a biogeographic region that includes the islands of the Caribbean Sea and nearby Atlantic islands, which share a fauna, flora and mycobiota distinct from surrounding bioregions.

Caribbean Region to the center-east of America composed of many islands / coastal regions surrounding the Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean is a region of the Americas that consists of the Caribbean Sea, its islands and the surrounding coasts. The region is southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland, east of Central America, and north of South America.

Territorial evolution of the Caribbean

This is a timeline of the territorial evolution of the Caribbean and nearby areas of North, Central, and South America, listing each change to the internal and external borders of the various countries that make up the region.

Languages of the Caribbean Languages of the region

The languages of the Caribbean reflect the region's diverse history and culture. There are six official languages spoken in the Caribbean. The six languages are:

References

  1. Caldecott, Alfred (1898). The Church in the West Indies. London: Frank Cass and Co. p.  11 . Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  2. "Two telegrams about the sale – The Danish West-Indies". The Danish West-Indies. Retrieved 2017-10-13.
  3. Garrison, William L.; Levinson, David M. (2014). The Transportation Experience: Policy, Planning, and Deployment. OUP USA. ISBN   9780199862719.
  4. "Info Please U.S. Social Statistics" . Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  5. Rosanne Adderly, "West Indies", in Encyclopedia of Contemporary Latin American and Caribbean Cultures, Volume 1: A-D (London and New York: Routledge, 2000): 1584.
  6. "West Indies | History, Maps, Facts, & Geography". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  7. 1 2 3 Ricklefs Robert; Bermingham Eldredge (2008-07-27). "The West Indies as a laboratory of biogeography and evolution". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 363 (1502): 2393–2413. doi:10.1098/rstb.2007.2068. PMC   2606802 . PMID   17446164.
  8. 1 2 Biogeography of the West Indies : patterns and perspectives. Woods, Charles A. (Charles Arthur), Sergile, Florence E. (Florence Etienne), 1954– (2nd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. 2001. ISBN   978-0849320019. OCLC   46240352.CS1 maint: others (link)
  9. "Flora of the West Indies / Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution". naturalhistory2.si.edu. Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  10. 1 2 Graham, Alan (2003). "Geohistory Models and Cenozoic Paleoenvironments of the Caribbean Region". Systematic Botany. 28 (2): 378–386. ISSN   0363-6445. JSTOR   3094007.
  11. Santiago–Valentin, Eugenio; Olmstead, Richard G. (2004). "Historical biogeography of Caribbean plants: introduction to current knowledge and possibilities from a phylogenetic perspective" (PDF). Taxon. 53 (2): 299–319. doi:10.2307/4135610. ISSN   1996-8175. JSTOR   4135610.
  12. Iturralde-Vinent, Manuel A. (2006-09-01). "Meso-Cenozoic Caribbean Paleogeography: Implications for the Historical Biogeography of the Region". International Geology Review. 48 (9): 791–827. Bibcode:2006IGRv...48..791I. doi:10.2747/0020-6814.48.9.791. ISSN   0020-6814.
  13. Khudoley, K. M.; Meyerhoff, A. A. (1971), "Paleogeography and Geological History of Greater Antilles", Geological Society of America Memoirs, Geological Society of America, pp. 1–192, doi:10.1130/mem129-p1, ISBN   978-0813711294
  14. 1 2 geolounge (2012-01-08). "Caribbean Islands: the Greater Antilles". GeoLounge: All Things Geography. Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  15. 1 2 Mann, Paul; Draper, Grenville; Lewis, John F. (1991), "An overview of the geologic and tectonic development of Hispaniola", Geological Society of America Special Papers, Geological Society of America, pp. 1–28, doi:10.1130/spe262-p1, ISBN   978-0813722627
  16. Santiago-Valentin, Eugenio; Olmstead, Richard G. (2004). "Historical Biogeography of Caribbean Plants: Introduction to Current Knowledge and Possibilities from a Phylogenetic Perspective". Taxon. 53 (2): 299–319. doi:10.2307/4135610. ISSN   0040-0262. JSTOR   4135610.
  17. "The University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre". uwiseismic.com. Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  18. UNSD Methodology – Standard country or area codes for statistical use (M49)

Further reading