West Indies

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

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West Indies
Antillas (orthographic projection).svg
Area275,400 km2 (106,300 sq mi)
Population43,163,817 [1] [2]
Population density151.5/km2 (392/sq mi)
Ethnic groups Afro-Caribbean, White Caribbeans, Indian, Latino or Hispanic (Spanish, Portuguese, Mestizo, Mulatto, Pardo, and Zambo), Chinese, Jewish, Arab, Amerindian, Javanese, [3] Hmong, Multiracial
Religions Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Traditional African religions, Rastafari, Native American religion, Judaism, Buddhism, Chinese folk religion (incl. Taoism and Confucianism), Baháʼí, Kebatinan, Sikhism, Irreligion, others
Demonym West Indian, Caribbean
Countries
Dependencies
Languages English, French, Spanish, Dutch, French Creoles, English Creoles, Dutch Creoles, Papiamento, Caribbean Hindustani, Chinese, among others
Time zones UTC−5 to UTC−4
Internet TLD Multiple
Calling code Multiple
Largest cities List of metropolitan areas in the Caribbean
Santo Domingo
Havana
Port-au-Prince
San Juan
Kingston
Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de los Caballeros
Nassau
Camagüey
Cap-Haïtien
Spanish Town
Chaguanas
Georgetown
Paramaribo
UN M49 code 029Caribbean
419Latin America
019Americas
001World

The West Indies are a subregion of North America, surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea that includes 13 independent island countries and 18 dependencies and other territories in three major archipelagos: the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, and the Lucayan Archipelago. [4]

The subregion includes all the islands in the Antilles, plus The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, which are in the North Atlantic Ocean. Nowadays, the term West Indies is often interchangeable with the term Caribbean, although the latter may also include some Central and South American mainland countries which have Caribbean coastlines, such as Belize, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, and the Atlantic island nations of Trinidad and Tobago and Bermuda, both of which are geographically distinct from the three main island groups, but culturally related.

Origin and use of the term

In 1492, Christopher Columbus became the first European to record his arrival 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 this region from both the original "Indies" (i.e. India) and the East Indies of South Asia and Southeast Asia. [5] [6] [7]

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 continent of America... 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. [8]

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

History

Many cultures were indigenous to these islands, with evidence dating some of them back to the mid-6th millennium BCE.

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.

The West Indies in relation to the continental Americas Karte Karibik Inseln.png
The West Indies in relation to the continental Americas

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 [9] 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. [10]

West Indian is the official term used by the U.S. government to refer to people of the West Indies. [11]

Geology

Caribbean Basin countries Caribe-Politico.svg
Caribbean Basin countries
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 the 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 the image, south of the Virgin Islands)

The West Indies are 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. [12] These islands include active volcanoes, low-lying atolls, raised limestone islands, and large fragments of continental crust containing tall mountains and insular rivers. [13] 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. [14] 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). [15]

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. [16] 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. [17] 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. [18] [16]

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. [19] It is estimated that nearly 70% of Cuba consists of karst limestone. [20] 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. [20] 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. [21] These terranes consist of oceanic crust, volcanic and plutonic rock. [21]

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 plates. Major islands of the Lesser Antilles likely emerged less than 20 Ma, during the Miocene. [14] The volcanic activity that formed these islands began in the Paleogene, after a period of volcanism in the Greater Antilles ended, and continues today. [22] 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. [23]

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. [13] 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. [13]

Countries and territories by subregion and archipelago

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

Caribbean

Antilles

Greater Antilles
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. [24]

# 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. People from this former territory continue to be called Antilleans in the Netherlands.

Lesser Antilles Archipelago in the Southeast Caribbean

The Lesser Antilles are a group of islands in the Caribbean Sea. Most of them are part of a long, partially volcanic island arc between the Greater Antilles to the north-west and the continent of South America. The islands of the Lesser Antilles form the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Together, the Lesser Antilles and the Greater Antilles make up the Antilles. The Lesser and Greater Antilles, together with the Lucayan Archipelago, are collectively 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.

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

The British West Indies (BWI) were the British territories in the West Indies: Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, British Guiana and Trinidad and Tobago. Other territories include Bermuda, and the former British Honduras. Before the decolonisation 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, with Haiti and the Dominican Republic sharing the island of Hispaniola. Together with the Lesser Antilles, they make up the Antilles.

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 and the other Antilles, and east and southeast of Florida.

Caribbean Basin Region of North America

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.

Caribbean Plate A mostly oceanic tectonic plate including part of Central America and the Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean Plate is a mostly oceanic tectonic plate underlying Central America and the Caribbean Sea off the north coast of South America.

Leeward Antilles Island group 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 were 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 in eastern Central America composed of coasts and islands in the Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean is a region of the Americas that comprises the Caribbean Sea, its surrounding coasts, and its islands. The region lies southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and of 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:

Dutch Caribbean Parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands located in the Caribbean

The Dutch Caribbean are the territories, colonies, and countries, former and current, of the Dutch Empire and the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Caribbean Sea. They are in the north and south-west of the long Lesser Antilles archipelago.

References

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  24. UNSD Methodology – Standard country or area codes for statistical use (M49)

Further reading