After squabbles between the French, British, and Spanish, the Turks and Caicos ended up in the hands of the British. However, the region's history as well as its proximity to nearby islands have helped create a unique culture.
Descendants of African slaves who have made their homes on the Turks and Caicos islands have come to be known as "Belongers." These English-speaking natives are known for being friendly and religious people.
There is also a large community of ex-patriots from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, France, Scandinavia, and the island of Hispaniola, which includes both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. This mix of international residents lends these strongly British islands a bit of international flavor.
People from the Turks and Caicos are proud of their local artists, who have been inspired by the islands' natural beauty and, more recently, by the artistic styles of nearby Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Local artists most often use oils and watercolors to paint incredible waterfront scenes and depictions of the unique islanders. These up-and-coming artists' works are widely displayed throughout the Turks and Caicos.
A number of local crafts are extremely popular in the middle Caicos. From basket weaving, plaiting palm leaves for straw hats, and weaving fanner dishes and bowls to binding mosquito brushes and net-making, native crafts are important to the way of life of the people of the islands.
Many of these local crafts once supported fishing and agricultural uses, though some are now made and sold to tourists for their aesthetic qualities. The people of the Turks and Caicos are dedicated to maintaining these traditional crafts to pass on to future generations.
Both music and dance are important throughout the Caribbean and have been most strongly influenced by African slaves on these islands. Musical and dance traditions in the Turks and Caicos have developed into very specialized and charismatic artistic forms.
"Ripsaw" or "Rake 'n Scrape" music is the most traditional of the islands' musical styles. This music is made with unusual instruments: saw, goatskin drum, hand accordion or "Constentina," hand-made maracas, and acoustic guitar. The saw is usually a hand saw, and a metal scraper is used for "Ripping the Saw." This process is performed by scraping the metal, often a nail, fork, knife, or screwdriver, across the teeth of the saw.
Another style of music is "Combina" music. This new music combines the local Ripsaw music with international sounds like Jamaican reggae, as well as the popular calypso and soca styles.
Dance is also extremely popular and, though there are several types, the most popular is known as "winin." Also referred to as "Wine-up" or "the Wine," this hip-gyrating dance is done in time to rip-saw, soca, and calypso music. This dance style was brought to widespread international attention with the soca song "Dollar Wine," and is now often taught on cruise ships to travelers visiting the Turks and Caicos.
"Winin," however, is a youthful dance. Elder members of the community often prefer waltz-styled dances, such as the "Shati" and "The Heel and Toe Polka." The "Conch-Style" and "Shay-Shay" are two other popular styles.
...maintaining their unique traditions...
Storytelling is yet another tradition passed on from the islanders' African ancestors. Though storytelling had diminished in recent years, it is making a comeback, and popular stories include those of "Br'er" the rabbit, "Br'er bookie" the goat, and "Anancy" the spider. These characters can be found any place throughout the world where African slaves told their stories, though they sometimes have different names and different details added to their stories. A goatskin drum is often used by the storyteller to add drama and intensity to the stories.
While the culture of the Turks and Caicos may not be among the most well-known of the Caribbean, it's easy to see how it has evolved into something wholly individual over the course of the islands' history. With a renewed effort aimed at maintaining their unique traditions, islanders have much to offer vacationers in the Turks and Caicos.
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