i n t ro d u c t i o n
As Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1992) noted some years ago, the Carib-
bean is an ‘‘undisciplined region.’’ Neither in anthropology nor in his-
tory has there ever developed an explicit focus on the Antilles and the
odd couple of mainland areas (such as the Guyanas and parts of the
Atlantic littoral of Central America) commonly included in standard
chorographic definitions of this part of the world.∞ Speaking for anthro-
pology, Trouillot argues that this failure relates to a ‘‘basic incongruity
between the traditional object of the discipline and the inescapable his-
tory of the region’’ (21). In his view, the all too obvious entanglement of
the Caribbean in long-range global historical processes went against the
grain of many of the classic fictions on which anthropology built its
disciplinary identity. Despite much of the region’s conveniently pelagic
geographic layout, there is little to be found in the Caribbean that would
conform to the classic criteria of an ‘‘ethnographic case’’: no autochtho-
nous populations; no clearly bounded, distinctly organized, and autono-
mously reproducing social units; no discretely distributed, internally
homogeneous, and presumably pristine cultures; no overlap of language,
territory, and polity with recognizable ethnic divisions. As an ethno-
graphic site, the Caribbean appears predefined by absences.
The extent to which this region traditionally eluded the so-called
anthropological gaze is well illustrated by the plight of the American
sociologist James Leyburn, who, in assembling his Handbook of Eth-
nography (1931), saw himself unable to make out more than ten bona fide
ethnographic ‘‘peoples’’ in the region. Worse yet, seven of them were
already extinct, and the remainder consisted of such questionable entities
as ‘‘Borinqueno,’’ ‘‘Haitians,’’ and ‘‘Karif ’’ (i.e., mainland Garifuna).
The problem, however, was not just one of taxonomic di√useness, and
Leyburn’s Handbook—prepared under the auspices of George P. Mur-
dock’s incipient Human Relationship Area File project
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