The nation of Trinidad and Tobago is one of the most demographically diverse countries in the world. This diversity is a direct result of the labor demands of plantation slave economy, the chief productive characteristic of which was monoculture. One byproduct of this socioeconomic system was a divided and diversified social structure with its own “internal dynamic”, according to Sidney Mintz. This structure was pyramidal and disparate. Emancipation exacerbated population diversity as new groups—East Indians, Portuguese, Syrian-Lebanese, Chinese, “coloreds,” and a motley group of Europeans—arrived.
These various groups brought with them their own value systems, culture, ways of thinking, religion, music, and behavior. Thus a painful process of adjustment and adaptation among these different ethnic groups has been and still is taking place. Kevin Yelvington has brought together an eminent, multidisciplinary group of scholars to explain and illuminate the various approaches of these disparate groups in their search for a modus vivendi. The result is a volume rich in detail, insight, rigor, and original research.
Yelvington opens the debate with a broad but incisive analysis of Trinidadian ethnicity from a historical focus. He is very knowledgeable and comfortable with the data and has a certain feel for the pulse of the society. He examines ethnicity from different viewpoints and approaches, and introduces the contributions of the other scholars.
The next three chapters share certain features and are interrelated. In a powerful and rigorous presentation, Bridget Brereton explains the country’s complex social structure, with its fabricated contradictions and differences and its divide-and-rule ethos, which facilitated control and domination of a four-tier colonial society and attendant “residential and occupational segregation” (p. 52). Ralph M. Henry and Daniel A. Segal trace the unfolding of inequality and its relationship to race and color. Segal explains how ethnicity was designed and for whom, what racial terms and classifications mean, and how they can determine social mobility.
Chapters by Colin Clarke, Ralph Premdas, James Houk, and Aisha Khan treat issues such as social distance and segregation, the reasons for the breakup of the National Alliance for Reconstruction, the creolization of the African Orisha religion by the inevitable entrance of the East Indians, and the use and misuse of the ethnic term Spanish. The remaining chapters on ethnicity, class, and gender conclude this useful contribution on the role of ethnicity in a segmented society.