The experience of Caribbean slavery is vital in understanding the contemporary social structure of the region. It was the introduction of an estimated four million Africans to the Caribbean which made these islands melting pots of culture and society. Since Africans had such a tremendous impact on the region, it is important that we recognize the nature of slavery and how it transformed their lives. Although most agree that the institution was dehumanizing, the social relations of slavery help to explain the development of the Caribbean’s identity.
In order to understand slavery it is imperative to recognize that it’s introduction to the Caribbean was driven by colonizers need for economic expansion and development. The growth of the sugar industry throughout the region during the seventeenth century was intimately connected with the enslavement of Africans. The slaves were the means for extracting agricultural resources which could then be sold at a profit in Europe. The leaders in colonization during this period were the French, Dutch, English, and Spanish and initially slaves were simply an input for their final product. Thus slaves were not seen as human but part of a larger machine that was being profited by colonizers.
As slavery developed an complex social hierarchy emerged on plantations. At the bottom of the social order, but at the backbone of the plantation economy, were the field slaves. The field slaves were divided into "gangs" depending on the strength of their bodies. For example, "the first gang on any estate comprised the most able-bodied males and females, with subsequent gangs organized according to a descending order of physical strength and ability" (Knight 130). The ...
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...show their resistance for slavery. Again, when involved in maroon communities they had tactics for defending their runaway slaves. Although this occurred throughout the exploitation colonies the maroon communities were vital for the success of the Haitian revolution.
Ultimately there is no single way of defining the slave experience in the Caribbean. It was a complex institution which developed in a variety of ways on the different colonies. It was the diversity in plantation system which can be attributed to the variance in the development of what the racial and cultural mosaic of the Caribbean today.
Beckles, Dr. Hillary, Verene Shepherd. Caribbean Slave Society and Economy. The New Press, New York. New York, N.Y. 1991.
Knight, Franklin W. The Caribbean, The Genesis Of a Fragmented Nationalism. Oxford University Press, New York, N.Y. 1990.
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