Family is an important aspect of Caribbean life. However, high migration rates have unfortunately meant that Caribbean families often lose that close bond with relatives in the diaspora as their families grow and they immerse themselves into the culture of their adopted country. Thus planning a family reunion back in the Caribbean is a great way for those of West Indian heritage residing in the United States, Canada, Europe and beyond to reconnect with their roots. It is especially important for the children born in these foreign lands to find their roots and learn about their cultural identity.
Planned months, sometimes years in advance, the gathering is usually anywhere from a dozen family members to as many as a hundred people. And while some will need to stay in hotels, the main events typically take place at a central and symbolic venue that is usually the home of the family matriarch or patriarch. This ‘coming home’ is a time to exchange stories of the good old days, reminisce about childhood adventures, enjoy a hearty laugh with new found friends, bask in the enormous pride that celebrates individual and collective achievements, and take comfort in the cherished wisdom of elderly relatives.
Barzey Family reunion in Montserrat, June 2011: With my 90something year old Great Aunt and family historian Mary Dorothy”Nenen” Barzey Allen. The photo was taken under a manciport tree that was the original location for the family’s home on the island.
Strange as it may sound, funerals also serve as impromptu family reunions. They may be solemn occasions, but
Caribbean funerals are also joyful celebrations of the life of the deceased, and a time for relatives to reflect and show appreciation for each other. It is not unheard of for a funeral to be postponed for up to a month to await the arrival of relatives from the diaspora to ensure that they too have the opportunity to pay their last respects.
Whether it is a funeral or a planned family reunion planned months or years in advance, food is an essential part of every family gathering in the Caribbean. Relatives from the diaspora gladly use the opportunity to sample traditional foods they haven’t tasted in years. It is a chance to give themselves a tasty reminder of their favourite dishes and sip on home brewed bush tea or even rum that relatives swear possess mystical healing powers. Special appointees are in charge of keeping the food and drink flowing. Meal times involve sitting together with extended family members and sharing generous helpings from a wide ranging menu filled with old time favourites and new flavours. Beyond the prepared meals, there is also a search for exotic fruits unique to the island.
Barzey Family reunion in Montserrat, June 2011: Climbing a cherry tree with my cousin Brenda to pick its delicious fruits.
A range of activities might also be planned to entertain relatives during their visit. Beach activities are typically on the agenda especially for those visiting from colder climates or who now reside in landlocked countries. However, greater emphasis is placed on organising activities around the rich culture and heritage of the islands. The activities may include visiting national monuments, hiking nature trails, participating in cultural events or even visiting the graves of ancestors. Plus there might even be a family talent show.
These all provide opportunities for families to connect with each other and for the younger generations to begin to form closer links to the homeland of their ancestors. So for your next family reunion, I highly recommend the Caribbean!