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Question 2, May/June 2003: Describe how the physical landscape has influenced settlement

patterns in the Caribbean.

In the Caribbean, choices of settlement have been dictated by the topography or physical

structure of the land and the needs of the men and women who settled.

In the Pre-Colombian period, the Amerindians usually settled in large villages on

mountainous territories or near the coast. This is attributed to the communal farming methods an d

the need to see into the distant seas to warn of attacks by the Caribs. Most Amerindians also settled

near water because they were generally sea-faring people who promoted inter-island trade. Also,

the water was necessary for carrying out daily activities such as watering crops, fishing, cooking

and bathing. In Belize, the Mayans settled in forested areas as the land was sturdier than that of the

coast, it provided excellent cover from enemy attacks, the full force of hurricanes and the

necessary building materials needed for their city states.

With the coming of the Europeans, settlement patterns underwent a shift. The European

technological advancements in naval warfare and sea faring created large ships which needed to be

harboured on the Leeward side of the island so as to shelter them from hurricane damage prone to

the Windward side. Hence, settlement began on the Leeward side of the island. The initial

Europeans to penetrate into the Caribbean were Spanish. They tended to settle in the Greater

Antilles over the lesser Antilles since there were greater distances of flat land for agriculture. On

the other hand, the Lesser Antilles was mountainous and difficult to use productively.

At the enslavement of the Amerindians, the Arawakan people who attempted to escape the

encomienda were forced to move to more mountainous regions where they survived and tried to

settle anew where the Europeans would not attempt to penetrate the unfamiliar terrain. The period
of European domination is marked by land settlement patterns in such a way as to exploit the land

in order to create maximum produce for the mother country and to develop profit from sales.

Slavery of the Africans was a period marked by rebellion and marronage. Africans were

largely trained in the Guerrilla tactics of warfare and were accustomed to the difficult terrain from

their native homelands. Hence, those slaves that escaped their plantation settled in mountainous

regions where they survived off the land and were able to protect their strongholds producing large

maroon settlements.

At emancipation, the exodus from the plantations throughout the Caribbean by masses of

freed Africans was followed by mass settlements away from the plantation and the development of

the peasantry. The Africans settled on state lands as squatters and began to produce crops for sale

at local markets. However, the peasantry extended to a greater meaning, one of independence from

the plantation system.

During and after indentureship, many indentured workers stayed in the islands and settled in

much the same way and in some cases the same as the Africans. They developed human ecology,

holding land in reverence for the development of their well being and sending money back to their

families. The physical landscape dominated by these parties were fertile, flat land on the outskirts

of the larger communities.