Emancipation is defined as various efforts to obtain political rights or equality, often for specifically disfranchised groups. Many countries and states have gone through this revitalizing process during one period of time in their historic accounts. For Caribbean states, this period was also a mark of re-development and re-establishment of economies and societies. Emancipation in the Caribbean was the catalyst for many positive steps in the future but also setback in humanity with respect to human rights.
In this paper one will analyze the structural techniques and traits used to facilitate the construction of Caribbean societies, post emancipation. Furthermore, one will also identify the continuities and change that was brought about by three key strategic techniques consisting of peasantry, indentured workers and social and economic class. The year 1838, gave rise to the first glimpse of a new class in Caribbean society Peasantry traced back in Caribbean history as noted by Woodville K.
Marshall, gave insight on the development and establishment of a new social class which had profound affects on Caribbean societies abroad (Marshall, 1968, p99). A peasant in the Caribbean, was defined as an ex-slave whom during and after emancipation in 1838, started to occupy and seize abandoned land to start small farms and plantation harvest for the livelihood of themselves and their families. Marshall states that there were three main stages of maturation in peasantry during the period of 1838 to present day.
The first stage, period of establishment from 1830 to 1860 was signified by the large number of growing peasants and land seizure. The second stage, period of consolidation from 1860 to 1900 was marked by the successful expansion of peasant crop export (Marshall, 1968, p101). Lastly, Marshall suggests that the third stage, of which was saturation, was the drawing point of peasant expansionism from 1900 onward. Shortage of land imposed a limit on this development. As a result, shortage of land leads to a decrease amoung peasantry over the years and dramatically declines the production rates (Marshall, 1968, p102).
The reality of peasantry in the Caribbean is seen a positive and rewarding element in Caribbean history. The so called role of peasants helped to innovate economic life in Caribbean communities. Peasants also helped to diversify and alter monocultural traditions (Marshall, 1968, p103). Peasant economies flourished on the highly demanded plantation staples of Caribbean consisting of coffee bananas, pinapple, sweet potatoes and many other Caribbean vegetables and fruits.
Peasants did not only play a role in establishing a healthy and stable economy, they also helped to pave the way for the first “villages” and “communities,” consisting of some of the most structured social institutions; schools, churches and markets. As Marshall says, peasants initiated “self-generating communities” (Marshall, 1968, 103). Following emancipation and peasantry, a new type of modernized slavery was introduced into some Caribbean states in 1843. Indentured workers were sought to be just workers but would soon adapt to the peasant ways of building Caribbean societies.
Post emancipation gave way to many problems and circumstances. After emancipation, most regions remained dependent upon plantation economics and primary commodity production. As discussed previously, ex-slaves had turned to peasantry and had became more independent and focused more on their “self-generating communities,” which left some colonial powers with the question of how to get plantation grounds started again, the most cheap, legal and efficient way (Haraksingh, p212). The era known as the “new slave” came upon the Caribbean in 1845. Indentured labour was initiated by colonial imports of over-sea workers from Asia.
Two countries in particular, China and India were major role-players in indentured labour. Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, Cuba and Guyana were only some of the countries in the Caribbean to be flooded with indentured workers from Asia. It was very effortless for colonial offices to recruit such workers from across the world because of the many different push factors including lack of opportunities at home, war, colonization, and population and family honour. Some pull factors may have been the economic possibilities and simply, the opportunity for a new beginning (Haraksingh, p210).
Both ethnicities were brought rapidly and efficiently because ex-colonials saw this as a form of slavery and a step in the right direction to regain power to divide and conquer (Renard, p168. ) Caribbean indentureship provokingly had a tale of two sides as mentioned by Renard. Resistance and rebellion came about giving the indentured workers an opportunity to essentially exercise their human rights, more notably to experience freedoms and mobility that were near impossible to entertain in their home countries. Thus, ex-colonial ideas were back firing on them as the migration itself from Asia to the Caribbean began to take on an identity f resistance by some workers (Renard, p. 214. ) Through it all, indentured workers definitely put on a strain on Caribbean history with resistance and rebellion. However, a couple positive presumptions can be announced. Various methods were employed by indentured workers to maintain sanity and hope for the future to come. Furthermore, resistance movements gave way to religious and cultural traditions. Today, Indo-Caribbean and Asian Caribbean rituals, festivals and religious holidays have all become an integral part of Caribbean culture in places where these immigrant workers once rebelled and resisted in.
Post emancipation and indentureship ultimately lead to an abundance of distinct social classes. Slavery revolutionized the social system into a three-tier- social structure. Firstly, the white upper class, the coloured middle stratum and the bottom black masses. Brereton states that in the mid-nineteenth century a fourth class was introduced by way of the Indian-Chinese workers (Brereton, p89). Over the years the social system in the Caribbean was always in constant flux, shifting the white upper class to the middle putting the Indo-Caribbean and Chinese in the mix at the top of the social class (Brereton, p89).
Also, by the mid-nineteenth century, there was a dramatic increase in the size of the middle stratum which consisted predominantly of ex-slave and Creole children. This in turn, helped to improve the social experience of the members in the middle class, which were much more prosperous in the long run (Brereton, p90). The lasting effects of post-slavery were still trickling down onto middle and bottom classes. The material culture for these classes were dominated by poverty, underdevelopment and skewed trade of resources.
Colonials were banking their wealth off of the white upper class which controlled most resources and plantation. Most peasants and indentured workers continued to work as plantation wage labourers to produce earnings. One type of social system that Brereton states, the peasants and indentured workers accepted and thrived in, is the idea of “independent farmers” (Brereton, p99). Economically, Many Caribbean classes depended on plantation wage labour to get them through life. However, some community people found other alternatives and resources such as fishing.
Labourers still struggled economically because of irregular pay and seasonal employment across land estates (Brereton, p100). The sugar depression of 1880 to 1914 had a significant impact on the migration patterns of labourers from the plantation grounds to towns to seek jobs. As a result this the job employment rates in towns had dropped significantly. Poverty was at the forefront and was lasting result which plagued the Caribbean society for many years. For some, poverty meant poor housing conditions which meant poor health as well.
Epidemics and disease spread throughout the lands because of improper healthcare and housing situations. Family life was in despair for most classes because of the countries economic struggles (Brereton, p102-103). Most people did not know what to turn to, others turned to faith. It is stated that by the mid-nineteenth century most religious workers depended on their strong religious values and ideals to get them through rough times in their social cases and economic struggles. The general religious practices of the towns and village were powerful in constructing and shaping most Caribbean societies.
Indo-Caribbean people were grounded on Hinduism, Afro-Caribbean were grounded of African culture and rituals. The most prosperous of them all in Caribbean society, would have been the already established Christian churches, which flourished amongst all social groups post emancipation (Brereton, p104). In conclusion, one can definitely see that the people of the Caribbean were very much responsible for the structure and foundations of societies that are there today. The structural strategies used including peasantry, indentured workers and social and economical class all orchestrated social and economical balance in the Caribbean.
From the ex-slaves turned peasants to the indentured immigrated workers, all of these cultures and cultural groups instilled and shaped social interaction and social institutional settings by means of struggle and determination during post emancipation. We can see that peasantry by former slaves helped to give rise and attribute to independence and economic life and growth. Likewise, indentured workers not only brought a sense of new beginning and innovation, but also the will to keep faith mix and accept cultural traditions with of the Caribbean.
Lastly, the three tier social system which once ruled in slavery slowly dissipated due to the large number of economic and social growth amongst middle class individuals in the Caribbean. These aspects of Caribbean societies clearly illustrate that the continuities in terms of the economy were still facilitated and were still generally around pre and post-emancipation. Furthermore, change was certainly evident in social and cultural standards amongst the Caribbean nations with the trait of independence being the driving motive behind the people and construction of Caribbean societies. Bibliography
Bridget Brereton, “Society and Culture in the Caribbean: The British and French West Indies, 1870-1980” in F. W. Knight and C. A. Palmer, The Modern Caribbean, 85-110. Kusha R. Haraksingh, “Control and Resistance among Overseas Indian Workers: A Study of Labour on the Sugar Plantation of Trinidad, 1875-1917,” in Beckles and Shepherd, Caribbean Freedom, 207-214. Rosammunde Renard, “Immigration and Indentureship in the French West Indies 1848-1870”, in Beckles and Shepherd, Caribbean Freedom, 161-168. Woodville Marshall, “Notes on Peasent development in the West Indies since 1838,” Social and Economic Studies, vol 17, 1968, pgs. 1-14.