Slavery had been going on for hundreds of years in the Caribbean. The European powers dominated and exploited the region for its riches, resources, and its people and provided an oppressed servile class of Africans to use as a labor resource. The slaves would work on plantations against their will without any regard for their well-being or livelihood. Furthermore, as the industry began to develop, the Caribbean saw a major decline in slavery partnered with a rise in indentured servitude.
This essay will argue that the abolition movement and black resistance of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the influx of Asian migrants influenced economic development throughout the region and introduced a new race and social questions. First, to begin the discussion of how Caribbean society and economy changed post-emancipation, the structure of society and economy before the end of slavery must be discussed first.
The islands of the Caribbean for the most part consisted of mostly of African slaves compared to the number of white people living on the islands. Slaves outnumbered the owners on islands by a significant margin such as in Haiti, Jamaica and Barbados. The Atlantic slave trade is the main reason for this demographic as Europeans transported thousands of Africans every year to supplant the deceased population. However, the figures of African-born slaves would completely halt due to a shift in ideals and economic development.
The historian Phillip D. Morgan argued that economic pressures were the main cause of abolition movement when he says, “Before the late eighteenth century some Europeans felt unease about the thought of shipping enslaved Africans, but most viewed the practice as morally indistinguishable from shipping any other commodity. ” Abolitionist argued that the change of moral integrity shifted their attitudes when in reality there prevailed many economic justifications.
Historians Lowell Ragatz and Eric Williams argue that, “British abolition was preceded by a sharp diminution in the value of slavery, and hence of the slave trade, to the imperial economy. ” On the other hand, this argument loses strength due to the fact that production from slavery in British colonies reached its peak. Planters focused more on the health and sustenance of slaves whose population became selfsustaining. As a result, shipping of Africans was not only unnecessary, but also very inefficient. Black struggle and war became the ultimate pushers for freedom.
As Morgan states, “There was a nice symmetry when, in the same year that the British government abolished the slave trade, it also emancipated the entire ten thousand men of the West India Regiments. ” The debt felt by the British to the slaves that fought for England as well as the threat stemming from the Haitian Revolution created the ultimatum of global emancipation British Caribbean. All in all, the shift in morals of the British did not fuel the abolition movement, “black resistance and economic development,” as Charles Forsdick puts it, explained the change.
Secondly, immigrants from China and India led to the transformation of the post-emancipation Caribbean economy and society. In consequence of the emancipation of slaves followed the return indentured servitude and apprenticeship. Planters had former slaves to work for a wage on their old plantations, but the program failed to entice the black population to remain on the plantations. Planters needed a new workforce, which in some cases, was just a new form of slavery. However, there existed a difference. The Chinese were first to arrive in the Americas.
As a British Guyana emigration agent wrote, “the Chinese are admirably adapted as laborers for the West Indies… they are strong, active and intelligent, disposed to work and to make money. ” Planters described black slaves as stupid and lazy whereas the planters described the Chinese as intelligent and hardworking. But, this was only a first impression. Praise did not come without prejudice and friction. As the historian Walton Look Lai states, “Disputes over wages and workloads were frequent. So was physical abuse of the laborers by the plantation staff. Planters found it difficult to communicate with the laborers and it acted as a major factor in difficult relationships.
Namely, planters seemed to attempt to preserve some of the values of the old system which was to exploit workers and improve efficiency. In sum, the society and economy were changing at a faster pace than owners hoped for. The present system was failing. For example, Lai writes, “Between 1865 and 1870, 6,359 Chinese reindentured officially… many absconded after receiving the $50 bounty. Enticed by the money, many took the cash and then deserted the plantation. Consequently, owners did not have a means to maintain a steady workforce. As a result, the changing system caused the growth of new social classes. Lastly, the end of slavery led to the emergence of new classes and major demographic changes in the Caribbean.
As Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies Patricia Mohammed explains, “By the 1840s, Chinese indentureship was well on its way to failing as an organized labor system to replace freed slaves. As a result of Chinese immigrants finishing their contracts or abandoning their plantation, many moved on to their own businesses such as laundry owners, shopkeepers, and bakers. An example of a new emerging class is the story “The Baker’s Story” by V. S. Naipaul. Here a black Grenadian man uses a Chinese front to make a fortune in a line of bakeries. People took the opportunities to work professions they wished to do for the first time. Soon after the start of Chinese immigration to the Americas, Indians began moving into the Caribbean, mainly to Guyana and Trinidad.
Mohammed also adds, “By 1911 Indianborn and Trinidadian-born Indians accounted for more than 35 percent of the populations of Trinidad and Guyana. Today, Indians account for more than half the population in both these societies. ” A new Indian elite and working class materialized out of these two regions. This continues today. With this new upward mobility came racial and social tension. For this reason, there was a blend of various cultures and people that was brand new. However, the Caribbean stayed primarily black. Thus appeared the issue of defining what it meant to be black, Indian, and Caribbean.
Mohammed writes, “Indo- and AfroTrinidadians have far more in common with each other than they have with any native of India or Africa, and the constantly emerging space of creoleness in the region is as much Indian a it is European or African at this time. Yet there is an Asian resistance to becoming subsumed into a politics of blackness. ” Black West Indians could look back to Africa as a source of pride but, Indian West Indians could not do the same. In the 1930’s violent racial aggressions between the two groups occurred in Guyana. With the quick change in society came social problems.
In the modern era, these problems are less apparent but still exist. The end of slavery brought many different changes to Caribbean society and economy. It stems from the early abolitionist movements, a new workforce and demographic, and brought the introduction of social integration. The end of slavery brought pride but also obscurity, the end of colonialism, and new challenges to the Americas. Europeans devastated much of the region through its continued exploitation but, it had not stopped the growth. One day, maybe, the world can see a prosperous Caribbean.