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The stark differences in culture between Jamaica, T&T

BY MAIAH COOPER

Sunday, November 05, 2017

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As every incoming university student does, I did my research on The University of the West Indies, Mona. I received every tip and trick which is necessary to survive UWI life. But what are the tips and tricks to adapt and survive in Jamaica? The most I was told by a friend is that “Jamaicans love dem self some rice and peas.”

Coming from an island in the Caribbean region, Trinidad and Tobago, you don't expect such a vast difference between cultures, norms and values. The knowledge that each Caribbean island is unique, distinct and rare in its own way is recognised. However, due to the lack of education on the specifics of each island, it is commonly ignored and disparaged.

During my experience of living in Jamaica for over two months, I've noticed three distinct differences within the societies of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Primarily, as soon as I left Norman Manley Airport the difference in race was the most perceptible. A large percentage of Jamaica's population is made up of individuals of African descent. This was recognisable purely through social interactions and adventures around the island. According to the National Encyclopedia, 97 per cent of the population is of African descent. This percentage consists of Blacks, Mulattos, and Black East Indians or Black-Chinese. The other three per cent comprises of individuals who belong to the East Indian, Chinese, European and other ethnic groups. Through my interactions, I have noticed that there is, in fact, an East Indian and Chinese population. Despite this fact, they are truly in the minority. Every individual that I have encountered who was of East Indian descent was a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago who resided in Jamaica.

When these statistics are compared to Trinidad and Tobago's society, it is almost shocking. The percentage of individuals of African and East Indian descent are evenly distributed within society as they are the two most dominant races. In more recent times, there has been a growing percentage of 'Douglas' — individuals who are both of African and East Indian descent. Clearly, seeing a person of East Indian descent is a norm and not a rare sighting. Similar to Jamaica, there is a Chinese presence but they play a bigger role in our society. These individuals own several businesses nationwide while integrating into our society by sending their children to local schools. Unlike Jamaica, there is a significant percentage of persons who are Syrian and make an impactful contribution to society as they own a lot of our businesses. Despite these differences, the one thing that is consistent within both societies is the small but notable percentage of Europeans. These contrasts between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are clearly evident to our historical differences such as Indentureship.

Another cultural disparity between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago is religion. The most predominant religious belief in Jamaica is Christianity. This is not a shocking fact since colonialism precisely structured society in this manner. This religion comprises Roman Catholicism, Seventh-Day Adventist, Anglicanism, Jehovah Witness and Pentecostalism. Likewise, the influence and evidence of religions are visible in Trinidad and Tobago's society. The difference emerges when diversity comes into play. Several other religions such as Islam, Rastafarianism and Hinduism are practised. This is startling since Rastafarianism originated in Jamaica during the 1970s. In Trinidad and Tobago, the diversity in religious beliefs can be recognised from miles away. This occurred due to slavery when the enslaved people used religion as a coping mechanism and created their own beliefs and the occurrence of Indentureship. Our diversity contributes to a higher percentage of Muslims, Hindus, Shouter and Spiritual Baptist in society. Religions such as Kumina, Obeah and Santeria also exist but in very small amounts.

The most obvious difference discovered during communication was the language. Jamaican language consists of standard English and patois (Jamaican Creole). This is a distinct aspect of their culture and identity that has great depth as there are different variations, depending on the location in the country. It is used and known by over 90 per cent of its population. This has caused it to raise the questions of its validation and criticisms within society. It is currently emerging as a valid language variation that will be taught in schools.

Sadly, this is not occurring in Trinidad and Tobago's society. In this society, the language variations strictly consist of standard English and Trinbagonian Creole. Unlike Jamaica, this creole is not our patois. The patois that exists in Trinidad and Tobago was influenced by the French and French Creole. It is only known and spoken by the elders within society which has caused it to be close to extinction. These elders refuse to teach younger generations, thus this occurrence. Eventually, future generations would not even know of the existence of our patois.

Despite these differences between Jamaican and Trinbagonian culture, there is a larger amount of similarities which have caused me to feel like I'm home away from home.

Maiah Cooper, a Trinidadian, is a first year student at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication

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