Professor Alvin Thompson


Alvin Thompson is Professor Emeritus of History in the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados. He taught Caribbean and African History there for thirty-five years.


A Guyanese by birth, he has been living in Barbados since 1972. Professor Thompson has produced eight self-authored books, including Flight to Freedom: African Runways and Maroons in the Americas (2006), Economic Parasitism: European Rule in West Africa 1880-1960 (2006), and Confronting Slavery: Breaking through the Corridors of Silence (2010). He has also edited another four books. He has also written large number of book chapters and articles on a wide variety of subjects including slavery, the Guyana-Suriname boundary dispute, racism, and colonialism and imperialism. He was editor of The Journal of Caribbean History (the leading historical journal in the region) for thirteen years.


Professor Thompson has won a number of awards for his scholarly work. These include: Prizes of Caribbean Thought Award, from the Government of Quintana Roo in Mexico, for the manuscript entitled “Flight to Freedom: African Runaways and Maroons in the Caribbean” (March 2004); The Principal’s Award for Excellence, Cave Hill Campus (2005); The Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence, University of the West Indies (2007); The University of the West Indies Press Lifetime achievement Award (2008); and the Lifetime Award from the Pan African Commission of Barbados for contribution to the study of African History and Culture (2008).


Professor Thompson’s presentation – “African Retentions in the Caribbean” – will focus on the following areas of African retentions in the region: material culture; music, song and dance; language; and folkways. Religious retentions will be dealt with by another speaker. The intention is to point out the main facets of these forms of retention and stimulate discussion among the participants.


The region is littered with a large number of African retentions in the area of material culture, though most Caribbean people are arguably only dimly aware of them. Among the objects that are still in common use are goblets, gourds, clothing, carvings and masks. Music, song and dance are reflected in a number of ways. Perhaps Carnival and the calypso are the most popular, or at least the most common. Drums are ubiquitous while masquerades, often relegated today mainly to the Christmas season, still exist in a number of countries. African dance practices still exist, though in some countries they have degenerated into activities that are commonly referred to as ‘wuk-up’ in Barbados.


African languages have survived in elaborate forms only among small and highly specialized groups in some countries. However, in the majority of countries retentions have taken the forms of lexical items, such as ‘loan words’, syntax, and proverbs. Folkways include such aspects as cuisine, coiffure, and Anancy tales.