Caribbean Crafts British Virgin Islands
Other PRojects

The Book Project

Our mission is to produce a high quality, full colour photographic book on Caribbean Craft, the history, the contemporary culture, the people and their products, to be accompanied by a half hour documentary recording our research. The project is an unprecedented look at Pre-Columbian, African and European craft traditions and their inter-relationship, that will be available to a popular audience.

The text will be analytical, informative and instructive without being academic. The region will be covered state by state, from Belize to Surinam (not including Central and South American Spanish speaking states with Caribbean coasts).

It is our aim to explore the subject from an intellectual perspective, yet provide complete visual satisfaction and useful step by step instructions in basic craft processes, for those who cannot read. The book, with it emphasis on visual presentation, will be both attractive and affordable to the general interest reader worldwide, but more specifically, for visitors to the Caribbean, our residents, cultural institutions and schools.

The Documentary

Whilst compiling material for the book we are also gathering digital video film .It is our intention to use this footage to produce a short documentary film on Caribbean Craft and the story of our search for it. This will include histories of the major craft traditions, leading to an overview of the contemporary situation. Scenes of craft producers at work , interviews with people within the craft community , craft production , its trade and an exploration into the life styles of various craft producers.

The film will be intended for general interest television viewers worldwide, as well as targeting educational and tourist institutions through out the region .It will be available on video, DVD and CD-Rom.

Possible Titles:

“The Power of Craft”
“The Search for Caribbean Craft”
“Craft Culture in the Caribbean”

Project Philosophy:

Much of what has been written about the region and what is taught within the region has been constructed to facilitate the perpetuation of external cultural domination. The Caribbean has historically suffered from the debilitating effects of first colonial and then a corporately convenient fabricated mythology.

The project will go in search of an aspect of Caribbean culture that has not been explored by traditional researchers. It is our goal to provide a “fresh look” at the subject of Craft in the region by putting it into the context of the Caribbean social history and popular culture.
Project Team:

Author / Project Director
Aragorn Dick-Read , Tortola, BVI ( Gli Gli Carib Canoe Project, Aragorn’s Studio)
Photographer/Art Director
Clem Johnson, Dominica ( The Caribbean Culinaria, Koneman Publication, Island Locations.)
Video photographer
Jeremy Wright, Tortola, BVI (Trellis Bay Cyber Café)
Project Assistant
John Francis, Dominica. (Gli Gli Carib Canoe Project, Karifuna Cultural Group)
Project Consultant
Lowell Bergman (Professor of Journalism, University of California, Berkley. New York Times Correspondent. Producer for Frontline PBS.)


So far the project has been funded from personal sources because of our dedication to the subject, and the fact that we work in the world of local art and culture daily. It is our intention to seek out a private sponsor or capital investor who will support the project and in effect become a shareholder. The investment will be paid back through books sales.

The reasons for this approach are:

a) All participants are engaged in full time self-employment, two of us with family commitments. This will mean that the production will take longer, but will be free from the rigorous pressures of working directly with a publishing company.

b) We feel that given the opportunity for a free hand in the production process, our combined talents have the ability to produce a spectacular and important book.. Our artistic skills, intimate knowledge of the subject, the Caribbean, its languages, people and ways, will all benefit from the adaptability of undertaking a privately funded project.

Our target figure to complete the first phase of the project is US $ 20,000.

The project would manage this money and use it for basic production costs, such as office management, communications, film and photographer fees, travel expenses and expenses on location.

With careful budgeting and an all out attempt to get Air travel sponsorship and Tourist Board assistance from the targeted countries we are confident that this sum will allow us to produce a high quality and original book. We feel that within a year this project could be completed enough to approach a publishing company to take over the finished work and organize the printing and distribution. Phase 2 will grow in a parallel relation to the book project and it will emerge with the further engagement of experienced personnel and additional funding sources.

Contents Sketch:

The opening section of the book will be looking at the concept and occupation of craft in broad terms that will give the reader a basic understanding of its importance as an ancient and universal human activity .By presenting a range of definitions of the word craft and the subject it encompasses, I propose that craft has more significance as a social pursuit than might at first meet the eye. The German translation of the word Kraft, meaning strength or power, is the root word for the English word Craft, meaning skill or hobby. With little analysis one can deduce a diminished importance of the concept in Western culture, from something fundamental in pre-industrial society to the peripheral activity it is in the 21st century. The path of this transition can be clearly associated with the emergence of western industrialization, colonialization and drive towards homogenisation through globalisation.

The Caribbean, being one of the first major testing grounds for the international culture, can tell us a lot about the processes and consequences of this global transformation.

The Pre-Columbian Caribbean cultures at the time of the European invasion, whether, Taino, Ciboney , Lucayan , Garifuna or Kalinago/Carib, all represented a relatively intact and cohesive indigenous cultural system. Though emerging from a hunter-gathering background, organised agriculture did exist and there is evidence of extensive trade and specialization of craft production through out the region that directly corresponded to the location of natural resources i.e. stone tools in Grenada and baskets in Dominica etc.

Spiritual life was defined by an animistic religious system, many spirits of which were represented on and embodied in their craft products. The omnipresence of this imagery kept a powerful grip on the population’s psyche. The complex cosmology was to be rapidly unravelled with the introduction of the monotheistic religion of the Europeans and the dissemination of their apparently superior mass-produced “craft” products.

What happened to the Caribbean inhabitants during the early period of European control was the sketch of a blue print that was soon to befall many of the indigenous peoples of the conquered continents, from the Americas, Africa, Australia, the Pacific anäÓt1:place w:st="on">South Asia. The arrival of “god-like” beings, appearing in vessels at first believed to have come from the sky, carrying weapons and tools made of steel, had an immediate and profound impact on the stone-age populations they encountered. As European illusions of paradise faded and their systems of domination emerged, Caribbean society began its long battle against imported diseases, religion, governance and the social and environmental upheavals that accompanied them.

It is from this era of genocide and possession that the themes of this book can be traced. The delight and awe caused by the first exchange of “trifles”, (glass beads and hawks bells), between the Europeans and the indigenous inhabitants, set the foundations of the persistent mythology that imported goods are superior to the local product and some how imbued with unexplainable magical qualities. The magic spread to affect all facets of Caribbean life. The tribes were to be dissolved by new diseases, war and slave labour in the mines, whilst the forests were cleared for the plantations. Surviving systems of indigenous production fell into the service of the new masters and the people producing them drifted to the fringes of the emerging colonial society. This has become a recurrent process that has characterized the divisions within Caribbean society. There are those who are committed to an integral relationship with their natural environment, that are deemed “wild” or “savage” and those who rely on or aspire to the “civilizing “qualities of external cultural forces. The material production of both parties in effect acts as a means of defence or attack of the divergent ways of life.

The predominance of the Pre-Columbian culture was soon eclipsed by the introduction of African slavery by the early European planters. Through out this painful period extreme efforts were gone to deny the slaves any means of cultural expression. Many indigenous African skills came to the Caribbean with the slaves, though the free practice of them was next to impossible within the acculturating process. Some strong similarities can be traced, for example the ceramic techniques of St Lucia , Antigua and Nevis ,which show both West African and Pre-Columbian influences .The West African religion of Voodoo or Obeah ,with its associated drumming traditions are integral to the cultural base of many Caribbean states. During the early period of the African arrival there was a period of interaction between the Pre-Columbian inhabitants and the enslaved as well as the escaped Africans. Knowledge of indigenous food production, wild herbs, fishing techniques and crafts, were all passed on over time to the Africans. The cultural melange that occurred was again tempered and stimulated by influences of the Europeans. The plantation system required crafts workers to provide many articles for the functioning of its daily operations. One primary example being baskets, which were used extensively to germinate, harvest and transport produce, like wise the “rustic” pottery of the indigenous and African tradition, was used through out the region by the lower strata of society, for coal pots and cooking utensils.

By researching the historical traditions of the different crafts and craft producers through out the region we can start to get a better understanding of the variations in quantity and quality that exist from island to island at the present time. It is no accident that islands such as Haiti, Jamaica and Dominica have very active craft sectors and others such as Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have nearly extinct craft traditions.

Through this book I intend to present a general theory of Caribbean craft production, by drawing to light a recurrent pattern which shows that the most prolific craft producers are amoungst the marginalized sectors of the population. Whether they be the descendents of the Taino, Caribs, African Maroons or members of other social groups, such as Rastas, Hippies ,the Elderly the Disabled or as in many islands ,the Prisoners . We will look for the reasons that have caused this to come about. Part of this search will look into Governments policies towards the craft producing sectors of society. It will be suggested that the establishment is faced with a dichotomy with relation to crafters, whereby a vibrant craft sector is both impressive and valuable for the tourist industry, but in general the participants are not always those who they would wish to promote and encourage. The imagery and way of life of Rastas or Caribs, for example, satisfy a lot of the “quaint“ and “picturesque” requirements of the tourists imagined ideals of Caribbean society, yet on a day to day basis governments are fully aware that these people are the fringes of society and are historically furthest from their control. Their craft defends them from having to participate in the labour market and their relationship to nature enables them live sustainable and independent life styles.

Research in the field will inevitably allow us to present an analysis of the current state of the Caribbean craft trade. The subject reaches far into many of the primary issues facing the Caribbean economy and its people. The cruise ship industry, for example, has an interesting significance for the crafts people of the region. In many cases allowing direct access for genuine craft producers to valuable foreign currency and in other cases creating poignant scenes of desperate hucksters selling the same mass-produced T-shirts and trinkets. We will look at the islands that have brought Craft to the point of mass production such as Jamaica and Trinidad, and how these craft exporting states are now finding markets in the craft-poor areas of the region. The economic effects as well as the environmental impacts of this type of production will also be discussed, for example the depletion of Lignum Vitae trees in Jamaica. The importation of craft items from other parts of the world, specifically, Indonesia, Africa and India, will also come under review. The reasons that stimulate this trade and a study of both the positive and negative impacts this has on the local craft scene. Through interviews and discussions with those involved in the Craft business, its manufacture, distribution and marketing, the book will be able to give an island by island report of present and future prospects for the craft movement.

The greater body of material in this book will be a collection of high quality photographic imagery presenting the contemporary and historical craft traditions of every country in the region. As much historical imagery relating to craft production, as possible is being sought to show extinct practices and the development of surviving techniques.

It is our intention to insert sections that provide basic instructions in various typical craft techniques, in much the same way as a book on Caribbean cuisine would include recipes, we intend to show step by step photographic instructions of how to process a Calabash, for example, or how to make a basket etc. This will serve multiple purposes, firstly to bring the book to life for the reader by encouraging his or her physical participation in the subject, it can also serve as a basic manual for schools and institutions that are teaching crafts. Secondly it helps to demystify the subject by showing the reader the extensive effort that one must go through to produce craft items, thus creating a better understanding of the value of the end product.

Our goal is to contribute to the promotion of Craft as an important and life giving activity that can offer a rewarding and sustainable means of existence.

Click here to read The Caribs of The Islands:
A Short Introduction to their History and Society