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  • Defining Caymanian Identity: The Effects of Globalization, Economics and Xenophobia on Caymanian Culture by Christopher A. Williams
  • Michael Toussaint (bio)
Christopher A. Williams. Defining Caymanian Identity: The Effects of Globalization, Economics and Xenophobia on Caymanian Culture. Lanham, Boulder, New York, London: Lexington Press, 2015. vii + 351 pp

Positing from the very inception that "globalization is alive and well in the prosperous Cayman Islands" (xiii), a "truly cosmopolitan, international destination caught irreversibly and irresistibly in the grip of globalization" (xiii), Christopher A. William sets out to show how "globalization's multicultural and multi-ethnic auras have permeated a distinctly indigenous Caymanian cultural awareness to ensure its dilution, subsequent fracturing and diversification" (xiii). This opening salvo is captured well in the introduction, "Globalisation Rising" (xiii–xxxiii). For readers who did not know and those already aware, the data presented to highlight the Cayman Islands' economic reality is impressive. Cayman – a British dependency constituted in three low-lying limestone islands with a landmass of merely 100.4 square miles – is globally ranked sixteenth in terms of GDP per capita, with its average workers earning incomes thousands of dollars higher than those of the United States of America, Germany and Japan; its citizens enjoying the highest quality of life in the Caribbean (xiii–xxxiii). For Williams, given all of this, Cayman has become "open to the countervailing negative effects of globalization, including xenophobic, exclusionary and ethnocentric postures" (vi). He therefore sets out to provide a chronological account of the "development, indigenization and multicultural proliferation" (vi) out of and, of necessity, inevitably away from "original Caymanian identity" (3–30). The result is an historical account of modern Cayman (the three islands), albeit, one centred on its social relations.

The book contains eight chapters spread over three major subsections, the first two traces the ethno-genesis of Caymanian people from a time when globalization was way off, and when life was financially and materially difficult. The period discussed here dates backs to the uninhabited and inconsequential days before and after the islands were first sighted [End Page 207] by Columbus in 1503, and incorporates the 200-odd years of Spanish neglect, in which they merely acknowledged the big lizards of the islands and named the collective space "Las Tortugas" (31–90, 91–163).

Discussions also deal with the islands' accidental acquisition by Britain during the age of Cromwell's Western Design and the development of a permanent settlement from the 1730s, one forged in enslavement. The third sub-section, analyses the level and nature of the proliferation and expansion of Caymanian culture. But it does so against the background of globalization and multiculturalism, and the ever-mounting antagonisms and tensions between Caymanians whose ancestry can be traced back to Cayman, and those comparatively recent Caymanians made citizens by naturalization, and who in terms of inculcation and imbibition of Cayman identity and traditions are seen by the former groups as representative or capable of an "inchoate" Caymanism in its traditional sense (xvi).

Accordingly, the former group recognizes the latter as foreigners who have settled in Cayman because of its expanding opportunities, and who, having brought with them investments and expertise that enable them to attract the highest salaries, and compete increasingly with those of ancestral Caymanian lineage for jobs, effacing them in status and significance, while exhibiting elements of race prejudice and contempt. Meanwhile, Caymanians of recent vintage reciprocate with scepticism of the traditionalism of such Caymanians, resent being perceived as outsiders, and appeal for acceptance and equal treatment on the basis of merit. The last is not unlike what the traditionalists themselves are after. Notwithstanding, in consequence the pressing issue has become the differing views on and attitudes to the touchy issues related to Caymanian identity; what it was, and currently is, in so far as variances can be encapsulated; what it should be, and the way forward regarding the formation and propagation of a national identity that could be appreciable to all (163–67, 189–98).

Williams was bold to attempt such a challenging historiographical undertaking in the first place. The material presented was heavily researched. He makes good use of official reports and the most up-to-date scholarly works, historiographical and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
0799-5946
Print ISSN
0047-2263
Pages
pp. 207-209
Launched on MUSE
2019-03-27
Open Access
No
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