Indigenous Caribbean peoples lived in villages of various sizes, sometimes with courts or plazas. Communities were located inland or near the seashore where they had access to a variety of foods and raw materials for making objects for daily use. Their deities were everywhere. People communicated and negotiated with them about crops, water, animals, weather conditions, health, and also war.
During early colonial times, diets changed dramatically. Pigs, for example, were introduced by the Europeans and rapidly became part of the Indigenous cuisine. Caribbean crops, like cassava, sweet potatoes, maize, and chili peppers, are foodstuffs that were transported to and adopted in Europe and the rest of the world. Some of these, however, were also crucial for the colonizing expeditions into the rest of the archipelago and the surrounding continent.
A wide range of edible plants, mostly crops form the South American continent, were produced, prepared, and eaten. These were consumed together with a diversity of wild animals. During colonial times, plants and animals from Europe and Africa were incorporated into Caribbean Diets. (photos: Jaime Pagán-Jiménez). Indigenous Caribbean food plants: 1. Sweet potato 2. Coontie 3. Maize 4. Manioc (cassava) 5. Sweetcorn root 6. Yampee 7. Cocoyam 8. Arrowroot 9. Common bean 10. Squash 11. Sea grape; Indigenous fruit trees and herbs used for culinary purposes and to make objects 12. Calabash 13. Annatto 14. a. Sweet chili pepper b. Chili pepper 15. a. Yellow sapote, b. Mammee sapota 16. Soursop 17. Pineapple; Plants from Europe, Asia, and Africa introduced since early colonial times: 18. Plantain 19. Guinea yam 20. Pigeon pea 21. Chickpea 22. Coconut 23. Rice 24. Lentil 25. Coffee; Indigenous plants used for making domestic and ritual objects and medicines: 26. Roughbar lignum-vitae 27. Cohoba 28. Tobacco.
Spanish colonization suppressed the Indigenous religious practices in favor of Christianity. Traditional Indigenous deities were transformed and integrated into new belief systems. The result was the emergence of a mixture of Amerindian, European, and African religious practices. They are still strongly reflected in present-day rituals and folk medicine.
Present-day home altar in the northern Dominican Republic showing influences from Amerindian, African, and Christian belief systems (photo: Pablo Lozano).