The inhabitants of Antigua are predominately descendants of African slaves who were brought to the Caribbean during the British colonization period, creating a culture infused with both European and African cultural elements.
The people of modern-day Antigua were born from an ancestry of slavery. More precisely, the people who presently inhabit Antigua are from a lineage of black slaves who were chosen and bred by their British masters for desirable characteristics. As a result, many of the people living on Antigua and Barbuda share the same family names, and are of very tall and strong stature. In a census taken on the island in recent years, approximately 96 percent of Antigua’s population declared to be of African descent. The African influence on the island’s culture is seen in many aspects of everyday life on Antigua, including its music and language.
African rhythms resonate throughout Antiguan culture, with musical genres that include calypso, steel drum, and reggae. The oldest form of music on the island is calypso, which was started by slaves who weren’t allowed to speak to one another while working the fields and used song to communicate. Slaves were also forbidden to participate in Carnival festivities in the 18th century, so they used calypso to celebrate secretly in their backyards.
Steel drums or steel pans, which now are an important part of Antiguan culture, became popular as makeshift instruments because their traditional bamboo instruments were unavailable. The most recent musical phenomenon in the Caribbean is reggae music, which was started in Jamaica, but spread quickly to other islands. Reggae was popularized by such artists as Bob Marley, and is an important part of today’s musical repertoire on Antigua.
Celebration of Carnival
One of the most distinguishing aspects of Antigua’s culture is the celebration of Carnival. People from all different backgrounds come together on Antigua’s streets each July and August for a 10-day celebration of the 1834 emancipation from slavery. Visitors will hear several types of live music, see many intricate costumes, be able to watch contests, and enjoy parades and pageants. Carnival also means great barbecues. Although islanders have celebrated the freedom from slavery for many years, the first official Carnival was not planned until 1957. It now takes place annually in Carnival City on the Antigua Recreation Ground, with parades nearly every day throughout the city.
Although English is the official language of Antigua, a large number of islanders speak a Creole that is heavily influenced by African structures. Unlike other dialects found in the region, such as the French-influenced Creole of Haiti or Spanish Creole heard on several Caribbean islands, Antiguan Creole uses many words of West African origin. These words are based on the different tribes that were brought to the island. Many of the proverbs that are used by Antigua’s people are derivatives of African sayings.
While 96 percent of Antigua’s population claim African heritage, three percent of the remaining inhabitants are Europeans, who, for the most part, can trace their lineage back to slave owners and early colonialists of the islands. Because of the British influence on Antigua’s culture, the majority of people on the island are Christians, and the official religion is Anglican. However, several other religions are practiced on the island including Catholicism, Islam, Baha’i, and Rastafariansism. Baha’i is a relatively new religion, with a focus on a unification of the world, while Rastafaris believe in freedom and peace.
Other British influences on the island can be found in sports, and cricket is the most popular. Antigua has produced some of the best cricket players in the world including Andy Roberts, Richie Richardson, Curtley Ambrose, and Viv Richards, all of whom are famous in the sport. Soccer, sailing, and softball are also popular.
With a culture that mixes African and European traditions, visitors will find their vacation to Antigua an unique experience. From sports to music, Antigua offers an endless supply of cultural stew.