Since Christopher Columbus’s voyage, the people of the West Indies (or the Caribbean, as the region is now more commonly known) have been sharply divided between the privileged and the dispossessed, the elite and the common, the rich and the poor. (Until 1838, there was also the division between the free and the enslaved.) The development of drama in the West Indies, or the Caribbean, closely follows the region’s historical and cultural development, from its colonial beginnings, through the periods of slavery and emancipation, to the growing national consciousness in the twentieth century that led to political independence for most of the English-speaking islands. From the first theater in the region, in Jamaica in 1682, until the 1930’s, drama in the West Indies largely followed English fashion, serving to maintain the colonizers’ identity with their mother country. The goal of creating an indigenous West Indian drama—that is, one that addresses the West Indian experience and is created by and for the native West Indian—has determined the direction of theatrical endeavor since the 1930’s.
The gradual blending of European and African cultural traditions over nearly five hundred years has produced the modern West Indian Creole languages and cultures. Thus, the question of what is and is not distinctively West Indian in drama is part of the larger issue of cultural heritage. African elements in the folk traditions are strongly dramatic,...
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