“A sense of place is part of every person’s identity and heritage, and identification with a place is part of everyone’s culture. Home is a strong emotional concept, not just a building or physical site. Homeland is even more charged with passionate feelings which to outsiders, may often seem extreme or even irrational.”
Culture and place are linked. As people formed communities in many parts of the earth, they found the world about them to be different. The climate differed from one place to another. Plants and animals were not the same in all places. The surface of the earth was almost flat in some places and hilly or mountainous in others. Each man had to adapt to his own particular environment. When people were many miles apart they were out of touch with each other most of the time. Cultures evolved depending on the dictates of the environment. Most geographers concur that
is the total way of life of a group of people. A simple definition of culture might be the life style characteristic of a specific group of people living in a particular place at a given time.
The climate, soils, landforms, and minerals in various parts of Latin America have meant something different to farmers. Each group has had a different technological base and has perceived the resource possibility differently. Latin America has productive environments in which plants and animal populations are sufficient to support hunters, gatherers, and in most places farmers. For this reason Indians were widely spread over the area at the time of Columbus. The economy of the Indian was locally based. Success or failure depended on the growing potential of the local environment as its possibilities were viewed by the local people.
The hot, wet, tropical forest were only lightly settled. Although the supply of natural food was plentiful, there were major problems. These problems were disease from the abundant insect and microbe populations, difficulties in clearing forest vegetation and maintaining fertility in tropical forest soils. The Indians were spread throughout, but preferred the highlands. The highlands were away from the problems of the humid rain forest. The lower slopes of the highlands were able to produce such crops as corn, tobacco, and bananas. Inhabitants of the tropical rain forest suffered not only from their own productive inefficiencies, but also from their inability to store the fruits of their environment effectively. The reason was that of rapid decay and animal predators. Carpenter points this out so effectively in his novel, “Explosion in the Cathedral. French exiles are sent to Guyana to live in intolerable conditions. “There was something unpleasant and corrosive about the very sound of Maconi, Oyapoe and Approuague, which suggest swamps, a brutal fecundity, an implacable proliferation.”
Today commercial interest concerned with the development of a particular resource must weigh the potential profit against the cost of overcoming environmental obstacles. This thought leads us to a discussion of several geographic viewpoints concerning the interaction of physical and cultural environments.
One of the earliest and simplest geographic viewpoints was called Environmental Determinism. Simply put, it states that all human actions are controlled by the physical elements in the environment. Many northern Europeans believed that any corruptive behavior on the part of Latin American natives or otherwise was due to the degenerative effects of climate and terrain. Modern geographers tend to discard the Environmental Determinism theory because of the many inconsistencies, although it still has many useful concepts. With the advent of modern technology a new geographic thought emerged, the theory of Possibilism. This theory engulfs the premise that modern technology can conquer and modify man’s surroundings to suit his needs.
This idea was not generally accepted due to the natural environmentalist, cost factors, and the tampering with ecological system and the resultant and often damaging effects. For every action there is a reaction—so it was with the theories of Determinism and Possibilism. A compromise theory resulted called Probabilism. Probabilism employee the concepts of both Determinism and Possibilism. It can be summarized in this way: 1) The physical environment determines a good deal of mans actions; 2) Advanced cultures can overcome environmental constraints with the use of technology; 3) If a person knows both the physical environment and the cultural traits of an area, he can put the land to its best possible use and even predict future results.
What is the prevailing geographic viewpoint today? One must realize that the roles of environment and culture are constantly changing. Environment influences behavior and behavior influences environment. Phenomena acts upon phenom ena molding and changing within the culture and on the environment and this has brought upon the acculturation of what is Latin America today. Let us examine some of the phenomena that has brought about this acculturation in the Greater Antilles.