VOL. 30. NOS. 3 & 4 SEPTEMBER--DECEMBER, 1984
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
1 For Elsa Goveia (d. March 18. 1980)
2 Tribute to Elsa Goveia
D. Barry Gaspar & Monica Schuler
10 "Two Sister Pikni": A Historical Tradition of Dual Ethnogenesis in Eastern Jamaica
Kenneth M. Bilbv
26 "Ef Me Naa Bin Come Me Naa Been Know": Informal Social Control and the Afro-
Guyanese Wake. 1900-1948
45 "To Bring Their Offending Slaves to Justice": Compensation and Slave Resistance
in Antigua 1669-1763
D. Barry Gaspar
60 Women and Crime in Late Nineteenth Century Trinidad
David V. Trotman
73 Labour and Emancipation in Dominica: Contribution to a Debate
85 Coloured Civil Servants in Post-Emancipation Jamaica: Two Case Studies
99 The 1872 Diary of James Splaine. S.J. Catholic Missionary in Jamaica: A Documen-
Post-Emancipation Protest in the Caribbean: The "Belmanna Riots" in Tobago,
Six Poems by Lorna Goodison
125 We are the Women
126 Jah Music
130 Guinea Woman
Notes on Contributors
Information for Contributors
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
Hon. R.M. Nettleford, O.M., Professor of Extra-Mural Studies (Editor)
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Keith Hunte, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Cave Hill. Barbados
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Lloyd Coke, Department of Botany, Mona
Neville McMorris, Department of Physics, Mona
Janet Liu Terry, Associate Editor
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University of the West Indies,
Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
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No greater tribute could be paid to the late Elsa Goveia. the first Professor of West Indian
History in the University of the West Indies. during the year in which the Commonwealth
Caribbean commemorates the 150th Anniversary of Emancipation. than this double-issue
of Caribbean Quarterly which is dedicated to her memory and in celebration of the high
standards of scholarship which she bequeathed both to her peers and to generations of
students she taught and so profoundly influenced. She imbued those generations of new
Caribbean men and women not only with a respect for and a dedication to methods of
historical investigation and historiography that could withstand the test of the most
rigorous critical examination, but also with a historical sense and novel perceptions of
the historical and contemporary realities of a region they were being educated and
trained to take seriously as a place for them to shape, transform and manage.
Those of us who had the good fortune to have been taught and guided by her,
have all been profoundly affected by the force and authority of a truly creative intellect,
a generosity of spirit and the deeply-felt responsibility she insisted she had in making
the life of the peoples of her Caribbean region better through her teaching, writing and
research. Further in the volume, she will speak for herself in a characteristically sober
and accurate account of her own intellectual formation and her professional work in the
University of the West Indies. It is done with an unfailing sense of propriety and with no
exaggerated claims for herself or her contribution.
Elsa Goveia was the first woman to win the much coveted British Guiana Scholar-
ship, the first West Indian to walk away with the Pollard Prize for English History at
London University, the first of her sex to be elevated to a Chair in the discipline of
History and indeed in the Faculty of Arts, in the University of the West Indies. Being
woman and a colonial was double-jeopardy. But she had at no time allowed herself to
be restricted by this quirk of personal history in her intellectual pursuits. Professor
J. E. Neal of the University College of London in a letter to the Director of Colonial
Scholar dated 29th November, 1947 was forced into admitting "that we are dealing
with a quite exceptional person." "Indeed," he went on. "when one considers that she
comes from the Colonies, and can scarcely be compared with somebody coming out
of a highly cultured West European background, she is phenomenal". The oddity of such
remarks cradling a well-meaning and intended laudatory assessment of a brilliant mind,
whatever its place of origin or the perceived cultural pedigree of that place of origin, can
today be excused on the grounds of the then prevailing attitudes even among the most
liberal in the imperial metropole. The phenomenon of Elsa Goveia was, indeed, part of a
critical stage of West Indian history.
The poems of Lorna Goodison who was poet-in-residence in the Faculty of Arts
and General Studies in the University at Mona during the past term, are appropriate to
the volume as further celebration of an intellect that treasured the arts of the imagination
and had no reservation about the centrality of the arts to Caribbean development as can
be seen from her thoughtful address at the London inauguration of the Caribbean Artists
Movement. The sharing of gender between the scholar being celebrated and the poet
celebrating is not coincidental in a region where women in Professor Goveia's time still
had reason to entertain a real sense of struggle in gaining a well-deserved place of un-
reserved recognition in such fields as scholarship and the creative arts.
I acknowledge with gratitude the tremendous work put into the preparation of this
double-issue by Dr David Barry Gaspar of Duke University and Dr Monica Schuler of
Wayne State University both well-known Caribbeanists. As guest editors of this double-
issue they have brought together a wide cross-section of scholars whose common link is
not simply the still growing discipline that is West Indian History, but also the commit-
ment to intellectual depth and academic excellence left us as mandatory benchmarks of
Caribbean scholarship by Professor Goveia undoubtedly one of the discipline's greatest
teachers and still one of its most original and distinguished shapers.
FOR ELSA GOVEIA
(d. March 18, 1980)
& here we are
searched out meaning
in the dust
& left us
the enigma of her
Acknowledgement: This poem also appeared in Pathways, a Journal of Creative
Writing, edited by Victor L. Chang of the Department of English, UWI, Mona and in
Kyk-over-al edited by A. J. Seymour and lan McDonald in Guyana.
A TRIBUTE TO ELSA V. GOVEIA
Professor Elsa V. Goveia wrote the following just prior to
her elevation in 1961 to the first-ever Professorship of West
Indian History at the University of the West Indies.
I attended St Joseph's High School, Convent of Mercy, Georgetown. British Guiana, until
the age of eighteen, when I won the British Guiana Scholarship which was awarded
annually on the basis of competitive examination at Higher School Certificate level. At
the end of the war in 1945, 1 proceeded to England on this scholarship to enter the Uni-
versity College. London. where I read for Honours degree in History, following the
Medieval and Modern Syllabus and specialising in the Social and Economic History of
Tudor England. In 1947. 1 was awarded the Pollard Prize in English History. In the follow-
ing year. having obtained first class honours in my final examinations I was also awarded
a University of London research studentship. This award enabled me to undertake re-
search for the doctorate.
Between 1948 and 1950. 1 was attached to the Institute of Historical Research,
London, as a post-graduate student engaged on research in West Indian History under
the supervision of Dr Eveline C. Martin. During 1950 and 1951,1 continued my research
in West Indian History. and finished the writing of my thesis: Slave Society in the British
Leeward Islands 1780--1800, which was completed and successfully submitted for the
Ph.D. degree of the University of London in 1952.
First appointment and teaching duties
In 1950. 1 was appointed an Assistant Lecturer in History on the staff of the
University College of the West Indies. My duties included the preparation and teaching of
the courses in West Indian History, which began for General degree students in 1952, and
for Honours students in 1953. In addition, I was given the task of teaching part of the
syllabus in United States History for the General degree. I began this teaching in 1951
and continued to teach this section of the syllabus for 5 years, until I was relieved of
it in 1955 by the appointment of a part-time assistant in U.S. history. I have been
teaching the West Indian History syllabus for Honours students for 7 years, and the same
subject for the General degree for 8 years. Although both of these papers were entirely
new ventures in University teaching of West Indian History, the standards attained have
equalled those in older established subjects. Indeed, during the last year, the University
examiners particularly commended the standard of the West Indian papers. Since our
first degree examinations in 1953, I have regularly set and marked the examination
papers as a College examiner. I have also set and marked papers for the College Entrance
and Scholarship examinations from time to time, and, of course, I regularly mark papers
in College and departmental examinations.
Promotion and Research
As from 1952. I was promoted to the status of Lecturer in History at the U.C.W.I.
In that year. though I was anxious to prepare my thesis for publication. I was persuaded
to undertake instead an entirely different piece of research for publication in the series
of Historiographies of the Americas being produced by the Pan-American Institute of
Geography and History. The result of two years' work was the Study on the Historio-
graphy of the British West Indies, completed in late 1954 and published in Mexico in
1956. This book was generally very well reviewed.
The publishing of my thesis was again deferred when, in early 1955, the History
Department, under Professor John Parry. obtained a grant from the Carnegie Corpora-
tion of New York for research in West Indian history. This research was envisaged
within the department as leading to the production of a large and authoritative reference
work in 3 volumes on the History of the West Indies. Instead of being able to concentrate
on producing another book of my own. therefore. I had to undertake research in a num-
ber of separate fields of West Indian history with the purpose of preparing chapters
for this general work of reference. This work continued from early 1955 until early 1957,
when I submitted to the Principal, as part of a full report on the Carnegie Project, two
complete drafts of chapters, and outlines of a further two chapters, based on my work
during the two years of the project.
In 1956. Professor [John] Parry left the University College of the West Indies to
take up the Principalship of the University College Ibadan. Professor Thornton did not
arrive in the West Indies to take up his new post until September 1957. During
1956- 1957. therefore. I acted as Head of the department. In 1958. several months after
Professor Thornton's arrival. I was, on his recommendation, promoted to the status of
Senior Lecturer in History.
I can summarise my teaching in a somewhat different way. Since 1957, 1 have been
teaching, single-handed, one-half of the General degree course, and, within the last two
years. nearly one-third of the Honours degree course. The only year of students in the
department that I do not now teach is the first year of the General degree course. My
teaching duties regularly involve no less than 9 to 10 hours of face-to-face teaching per
week, in lectures and tutorial classes, during the Michaelmas and Hilary terms. This leaves
out of account all other duties, and also the additional work arising from the preparation
and teaching of 2 new subjects in close succession.
These heavy teaching duties have one great advantage: they enable me to say. with
justice, that I have a good working knowledge of the entire syllabus both for the Honours
and for the General degrees, and this includes the preparation of a Special Subject for
Summary of Research Experience
The great disadvantage of my heavy teaching duties must, however, also be noted.
During the last 3 years, they have decisively slowed the pace of my research and publica-
tion. I wish to point out, however, that the account of my research between 1950 and
1957 is one of continuous activity and productivity in research for the Ph.D.. in pro-
duction of the Historiography. in research for the Carnegie project.
My work for this last project may best be judged by reference to the full report
which I submitted to the Principal in 1957. But one of the chapters then written has
now been taken out to make a long article on the West India Slave Laws of the Eighteenth
Century, which appears in Ciencias Sociales, Vol. IV No. 1, March 1960, pp. 75-105.
I hope that this article may serve to indicate the quality of my work, and also the long-
term requirements for achievement in the field of West Indian research, where no worth-
while harvests are to be made overnight. The article is based on research carried out in
the U.C.W.I. Library, the Institute of Jamaica, and the Island Record Office, Jamaica,
and also in the Library of Congress, the British Museum, the Public Record Office,
London, and the Archives Nationales in Paris.
Knowledge of Archival Development in the West Indies
As a specialist in West Indian history, working in the West Indies. I have of
course a vital interest in the organisation of West Indian archives. In Jamaica. I have a
long-established and friendly relationship with the Government Archivist. When I
travelled in the islands in 1952, 1 took care to enquire into the situation of their archives.
Unfortunately, it was not until this year  that I was again able to travel to the
southern Caribbean. I took that opportunity to visit the new Archives in British Guiana
and to talk to the Archivist there. Since its inception, I have been a member of the
College Archives Committee, and I shall be immediately concerned in all the develop-
ments in British West Indian territories made possible by the Rockefeller grant to the
U.C.W.I. 1 have, therefore, a good knowledge of the progress of archival development,
particularly in the British territories, and my knowledge is likely to increase greatly in
the immediate future.
I believe that this combination of extensive research experience abroad with knowl-
edge of present archival development in the region gives me peculiarly high qualifications
for heading any developing programme of historical research at the University College of
the West Indies.
This claim is strengthened by the fact that I already occupy a special position in
relation to research taking place both inside and outside of the College. There is at pre-
sent no research school in history at the U.C.W.I. But I am constantly consulted by
members of staff within the College, and by students and scholars working outside of
the College in the West Indies on problems of research. Over the last few years, I have
been called upon to read and comment on a very considerable number of manuscripts
of works dealing with West Indian history, and this development shows every sign of
growing. The same is true of the innumerable calls for advice and guidance from people
engaged in one branch or another of West Indian studies for example, the medical
team from the U.C.W.I. which went some time ago to the Leewards Islands. I am also
increasingly asked for my comment as a specialist in West Indian history on the work of
fellow-specialists in allied fields outside of the West Indies. This side of my activity is
well illustrated by three sets of comments by me, which have appeared in print and are
listed in my Summary of Publications. To sum up. I have been able to make both per-
sonal and academic contacts likely to be of great usefulness in developing historical
research at the U.C.W.I. In spite of the non-existence, at present, of a research school
in the History Department, I have also been able to acquire a very considerable experi-
ence in providing advice and guidance in the field of historical research in the West Indies.
I believe that a research school should be established now. I believe that the project for
an authoritative History of the West Indies can and should be revived. I believe also that
the College cannot derive the maximum benefit from my services in these undertakings,
and in the Archives Survey. if I am not enabled to direct the work in which, obviously,
I must play so large a part.
Lastly, I wish to mention my close acquaintance with that side of College life
which most concerns the students, and my knowledge of and good relations with the
members of staff. I have served frequently on student committees, and my relations
with the students generally have been. I believe, among the most successful, and
certainly among the most rewarding, achievements of my academic career.
About the cordiality of my relationship with those members of the department
who would work under me there can be no question. 1 only add that, in my opinion,
the importance of good personal relationships of this kind can hardly be overestimated
if the work of the Department is to prosper.
Summary of Publications
Goveia, Elsa. Amelioration and emancipation in the British Caribbean. Dept. of
History Post-graduate Seminars. Mona, Jamaica: Department Of History,
"Comment on 'Colonization and development of plantations' by Elena
Padilla. In Plantation systems of the New World. Ed. Vera Rubin. Washington
D.C.: Research Institute for the Study of Man and Pan American Union,
"Gabriel Debien's contribution to the history of French West Indian slavery."
In Papers presented at the Third Annual Conference of Caribbean Historians,
April 15-17, 1971, Georgetown: University of Guyana, 1971, pp. 40-48.
Notes pp. 116-119.
"Influence of religion in the West Indies." In History of Religion in the New
World. Washington D.C.: n.p., 1958, pp. 174-180.
An introduction to the Federation Day Exhibition on aspects of the history
of the West Indies, n.p.: n.p, 1959.
A short comment of Barry Higman's new book. Dept. of History Postgradu-
ate Seminars. Mona, Jamaica: Dept. of History, UWI, 1978.
Slave society in the British Leeward Islands at the end of the eighteenth
century. New Haven: London: Yale University Press, 1965.
A study on the historiography of the British West Indies to the end of the
nineteenth century. Mexico: Instituto Panamericano de Georgrafia e Historia,
The West Indian slave laws of the eighteenth century. Chapters in Caribbean
history, No. 2. Barbados: Caribbean Universities Press, 1970.
ARTICLES IN PERIODICALS
Goveia, Elsa. "Colonialism from within," by Elsa Goveia and F. R. Augier. Times
Literary Supplement, 28 July 1966, pp. 675--676.
Comment on "Anglicanism, Catholicism, and the Negro slave" by Herbert S.
Klein. Reprinted from Comparative Studies in Society and History, 8, No. 3
(April 1966), 328-330.
Comment on "Labour and sugar in Puerto Rico and in Jamaica, 1800-1850,"
by Sidney W. Mintz. Reprinted from Comparative Studies in Society and
History, 1, No. 3. (March 1959), 281- 283.
"Introduction". Savacou, No. 1 (June 1970). 3-7.
"New shibboleths for old." Rev. of British Historians and the West Indies,
by Eric Williams. Caribbean Quarterly, 10, No. 2. (June 1964), 48-54.
"Small societies in transition: past history and present planning in the West
Indies." New World Quarterly, 2, No. 1, (Dead Season 1965), 71-79.
"The social framework." Savacou, No. 2 (Sept. 1970), 7-15.
"The U.W.I. and the teaching of West Indian History." Caribbean Quarterly,
15, Nos. 2-3 (June-Sept. 1969), 60-63.
The West Indian slave laws of the eighteenth century." Revista de Ciencias
Sociales, 4. No. 1 (1960), 75-106.
Professor Elsa Goveia died on 18 March 1980, leaving all
her books, papers, paintings and music to the University of
the West Indies; and settled a large sum of money on her
Acknowledgement: The Summary of Publications by the late Professor Elsa Goveia
was reprinted from the Bulletin of Eastern Caribbean Affairs, Vol. 8. No. 2, May/June
1982 compiled by Jeniphier Carnegie et al.
The papers in this issue of Caribbean Quarterly indicate some recent trends in British
Caribbean history and anthropology. In fact, we think the interdisciplinary approach
to reconstructing the Caribbean past especially noteworthy. Three of the eight con-
tributors are anthropologists who take an interdisciplinary approach to their topics,
transcending divisions between anthropology and history. Although the topics span
three centuries, they focus primarily on the post-emancipation period. Three papers
deal with Jamaica. while the rest are divided evenly between Trinidad, Guyana,
Antigua and Dominica.
The articles by Bilby and Williams show the value of oral history and the
observation of social and cultural institutions in the field. Bilby analyzes the eastern
Jamaican Maroon "foundation charter." a widespread myth concerning the rift between
Maroons and slaves, and demonstrates how it was adapted to include post-emancipation
African immigrants. Nowhere in official European records of Maroon history can one
find comparable "inside information" concerning Maroon and non-Maroon perceptions
of slavery, flight from slavery, and relations between Maroons. slave descendants and
Williams's description of the twentieth century Guyanese village wake as an institu-
tion of social control suggests a way of understanding the slave period as well, as there
are numerous references in the literature of the slave era to funeral processions which
gravitate to the homes of social transgressors.' Williams's ability to pinpoint when and
how the wake in one village lost its functions of control to the formal jurisdiction of
the colonial police station and the law court is suggestive of a Caribbean-wide process
that deserves exploration. She describes an autonomous, multi-functional village
institution which enforced egalitarian principles succumbing to a formal, structured
British judiciary. Indeed, what British colonial authorities and the plantocracy had
failed to accomplish in the slave and post-emancipation periods was finally effected
in the mid-twentieth century, when a member of a village elite sued her wake accuser
for slander in a colonial court.
The uses of quantitative materials to reconstruct social history are demonstrated
in Gaspar's article. He suggests that Antiguan slaveowners' compensation claims for
imprisoned, executed or absconded slaves contain information on slave resistance and
rebellion as well as on planter and government strategies to contain insubordination.
There are additional insights into the clash between planters' control over slave property
and the government's assertion of jurisdiction in order to confiscate and punish rebellious
slaves. Planters came to realize that if lost or killed slaves remained a private property
matter, they would be out of pocket., while if the courts confiscated recalcitrant slaves,
they would be compensated. An increase in compensation claims shows that planters
learned to use the courts for slave discipline.
To provide a profile of nineteenth century rural and urban women as both victims
and perpetrators of crime. Trotman plumbs census, prison and court statistics, combining
this information with more conventional official correspondence, newspapers and travel
narratives. His work should serve as a model for similar research in other territories.
Trouillot's paper on labour and Emancipation in Dominica is an anthropologist's revision-
ist work which censures historians for conceptualizing imprecisely freedom and the flight
from estates after Emancipation, for failing to define the "periods" of the post-emancipa-
tion era, and for neglecting to consider the differences between Caribbean territories
and districts within those territories. A detailed examination of one stipendiary magis-
trate's statistical reports on four Dominican parishes in the first year of emancipation
shows a sharp decline in the plantation labour force immediately after emancipation,
followed by the return of many, but not necessarily to the same estates. Trouillot
demonstrates that the post-emancipation era was not monolithic, that conditions varied
from district to district and from estate to estate, and that workers' and employers'
tactics and motivations changed frequently. He concludes that workers tended to avoid
larger, wage-paying sugar estates, and to gravitate to smaller ones where they could engage
in some form of share-cropping. Trouillot's appeal for more micro-histories of post-
emancipation labour, using the kind of statistical data provided by some stipendiary
magistrates, deserves serious consideration.
Schuler also uses stipendiary magistrates' reports, but for a different purpose.
From these sources she constructs professional biographies of Jamaican coloured civil
servants in the post-emancipation period. Most Caribbean territories had some coloured
civil servants, and their careers can reveal much about the formative years of the coloured
colonial bureaucracy and elucidate the development of an influential coloured viewpoint
on key colonial issues. Coloured bureaucrats had to make hard choices about service
to the metropolis, to their own class, to themselves, and to the black majority. Their
outlook and competence helped set the standards, not simply of the coloured civil
service, but of the coloured elite in later years.
Stewart's discovery of the Jesuit missionary Splaine's diary reminds us that Fro-
testants were not the only missionaries in the West Indies, and that missionary archives
are indispensable to the study of Caribbean social and cultural history. While missionaries
were the chief enemies of Afro-Caribbean culture and sought to change it, they also
described it in detail. Scholars must now go beyond description to uncover meanings
behind the missionaries' observations. The Splaine diary reveals an unintended part of
the missionary experience the degree to which a foreign missionary could be mani-
pulated into serving the needs of the very people he planned to convert. We hope that
Stewart will succeed in his attempts to edit the diary for publication.
Riots were as characteristic of the nineteenth century Caribbean as rebellions
were of the slave era. Workers and peasants expressed their dissatisfaction with an
unjust economic and judicial system by attacking police, magistrates and property, as
Brereton indicates in her case study of the Belmanna riots in Tobago. The riots took
their name from a West Indian policeman who fired into a crowd of demonstrators.
The use of immigrant West Indian (especially Barbadian) police in the post-emancipa-
tion Caribbean is noted by Trotman as well: it is an aspect of inter-Caribbean migration
that should be studied further. These police, unfamiliar with local dialects and customs,
were not above victimizing the public, thus exacerbating discontent.
Women's history is a seldom-explored theme of Caribbean history, and this is as
true of the slave period as of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While Gaspar
draws attention to women involved in slave resistance, Brereton and Trotman suggest
another aspect of women's history that deserves further investigation women's or-
ganization and gangs, and their role in street demonstrations and riots. Although
Brereton and Trotman deal with the issue in terms of the post-emancipation era, there
is little question that the subject is equally significant for the slave period. Similarities
between urban women's experiences in Trinidad. Tobago and Guyana are striking. Not
only did urban women outnumber urban men. but most were poor, many turned to
prostitution, and numerous others were accused of petty criminal acts. Port-of-Spain's
"jamettes" and Georgetown's "centipedes" are soul sisters, who cry out for further
In conclusion, these papers are illustrative of diverse possibilities for reconstructing
Caribbean social history. They indicate the rewards of an interdisciplinary approach
to recreating the world of slaves, peasants, workers, and women who did not leave written
records and who were often misrepresented in official dispatches, newspapers and
missionary records. The descendants of these people, and even the more impersonal
statistical record, can tell us significant things about them and can serve as correctives
to the official narrative. For some time now. Caribbean anthropologists have felt the
need to study and write history in order to understand the socio-cultural present. It
is time for social historians to return the compliment and adopt the techniques of
DAVID BARRY GASPAR and
1. See for instance, the account quoted in Orlando Patterson. The Sociology of Slavery: An
Analysis of the Origins, Development and Structure of Negro Society in Jamaica (Rutherford,
New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1967), p. 196.
2. Walter Rodney, A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905 (Baltimore: The Johns
Hopkins University Press. 1981), pp. 205-208.
"TWO SISTER PIKNI": A HISTORICAL TRADITION OF DUAL
ETHNOGENESIS IN EASTERN JAMAICA
KENNETH M. BILBY
Ever since the first viable Maroon communities were founded during the seventeenth
century, Africans and their descendants in Jamaica have recognized the existence of
a duality of identity among themselves. There were, on the one hand, those who fled
from bondage and succeeded in distancing themselves from the plantation regime; and
on the other, there were those who spent the remainder of their days on the plantations,
in a condition of slavery. The line dividing Maroon from slave was of course never abso-
lute, nor was it always clearly defined. Especially during the earlier years, ties between
those living in the forest and those remaining on the plantations were close, and for a
period of nearly a century following the founding of the first major Maroon com-
munities, a steady flow of new refugees from the plantations as well as a large number
of slaves freed or captured during raids on the coast continued to augment the rebel
groups. But in spite of this continuing contact, the Maroon groups very soon evolved
an identity of their own, and a culture which, though sharing a great deal with the
slave culture that was developing alongside it on the plantations, was clearly distinct.'
Almost from the very beginning, then, the relationship between the Maroon communi-
ties and the surrounding slave society was characterized by a certain ambiguity. For all
that Maroons and slaves held in common, there were a large number of factors perhaps
the most important being the retention of slave status in one case, and its effective
cancellation in the other that contributed to a growing rift between them.
The relationship between the Maroon groups and the slave society was irrevocably
altered by the treaties of peace concluded with the British colonial government in 1739.
If the pre-treaty Maroons had shown a tendency toward hauteur in their relations with
those who had not achieved liberty and were forced to continue working on the planta-
tions, the post-treaty Maroons went yet further and adopted an attitude of undisguised
contempt toward their less fortunate brethren. Ideas about Maroon superiority were
reinforced and, indeed, officially sanctioned by the treaties, which recognized the
Maroons as free British subjects, granted them a number of special rights and privileges,
and allotted them communal land-holdings. But the most significant aspect of the
treaties and the most damaging for relations between Maroons and other Afro-
Jamaicans was the clause requiring that the Maroons come to the aid of the government
in the suppression of all future slave rebellions, and that they serve as a tracking force
in the hunting down of all subsequent refugees from the plantations. This tragic
denouement whereby the most powerful living symbol of the possibility of liberty
was transformed overnight into the surest guarantee against its attainment drove a
final wedge between the Maroons and the rest of the population. Along with their new
status, the Maroons won the hatred of the slaves on the plantations. The British
colonial policy of "div.'i, and rule" succeeded not only in bringing the Maroon threat
to the plantation system under control, but created structural conditions reinforcing
Maroon ethnicity, and ensured that Maroon and coastal plantation societies would
continue for many years to develop along somewhat diverging lines.
Today, in eastern Jamaica, where the three Windward Maroon communities are
located, the duality of identity that is the product of this past remains very much
alive. Jamaicans in this part of the island descendants of both Maroons and slaves -
possess an oral tradition which serves to explain for them how the division between
them came about, and which provides them with the ideological means occasionally to
bridge the divide. It is apparent that this tradition is a "myth", in the standard
anthropological sense that it functions as a "charter" for present-day social relations
(although at least one of the figures mentioned in it is an actual historical personage, it
cannot be treated as can certain other Jamaican Maroon oral traditions as a literal
historical document). What I would like to show in this paper is that historical
"myths" such as this as opposed to the sorts of literal memories of particular historical
events and figures often used by oral historians can also sometimes be employed to
illuminate the past. Certain kinds of oral traditions of an obviously mythological sort,
even though they cannot be related to any actual specific past event, may nonetheless
reflect accurately, if at a metaphorical level, a general set of historical social relations.3
The past, after all, is preserved at several levels.4
In this case, what appears to have been carried down to the present is a shared
mental diagram: a collective representation, neatly encapsulated in a genealogical
metaphor, of an important part of Jamaica's past social topography. Because the
historical split between the Maroons and all other Afro-Jamaicans has left an enduring,
though subtle, mark on contemporary social relations, the imagery of this mythological
tradition, and the complex of attitudes and emotions surrounding it, retain much of
their force in the present-day eastern Maroon communities and the surrounding areas.
They remain as living testimony to the historical process of dual ethnogercsis that
created in Jamaica two peoples from what otherwise might have been one; and at the
same time, even as they commemorate the painful breach between their anc ,tors, they
furnish present-day Maroons and their neighbours with the symbolic means t mporarily
to heal it.s
The Tradition of the Two Sisters
Virtually every Jamaican school-child has heard of Nanny, the great heroine ar i spiritual
leader of the Windward Maroons during the eighteenth century. During the 1970s,
Nanny was declared a National Hero by the Jamaican government, a gesture which
gave official recognition to the role played by the Maroons in the historical struggle
for Jamaican liberation, and which symbolically made the Maroon saga into a national
possession in which all Jamaicans could take pride.6 To the Maroons themselves,
"Grandy Nanny" is a genuine culture hero, whose fantastic powers and military exploits
form the subject of a large body of oral traditions. While collecting oral accounts of
this remarkable woman from Maroon elders over a period of fourteen months during
the late 1970s, I discovered that she is regarded by the present-day Windward Maroons
not only as a great past leader, but as an apical ancestress. In the metaphorical language
of these elders, Grandy Nanny is the "mother" of the Maroons, and all present-day
Maroons are her yoyo meaning, in the Kromanti ritual language, "offspring" or
"children". It is by virtue of their ostensible common descent from Grandy Nanny
(the title grandd" preceding her name itself being Jamaican Creole for "grandmother")
that all Maroons, regardless of whether or not actual genealogical ties can be shown to
exist between them, are held to belong to a single "family".7
Nearly as well-known among the Maroons as this tradition of descent from Grandy
Nanny is a related tradition about a sister who is said to have originally come over from
Africa along with Nanny. As the story goes, this sister became separated from Nanny,
and her own progeny became spread out over a different part of the island. The
circumstances of their separation, and its results, are described in the following texts,
which, though unusual in the degree of analytic subtlety they show, are similar to a
large number of other accounts I collected:8
Hear me now. This is what I want to tell you. They
all came here as slaves . They all were from Africa.
But they were from different-different districts,
different-different tribes that had come down here.
There were two leaders of those tribes of people.
And they were two sisters, what you would call the
elder ones, and you would call them leaders. They
were two sisters. One was Grandy Nanny, and the
other was her sister. One was Fanti Rose and one
was Shanti Rose. In other words, the Maroons
called her "Grandy Nanny", because of a certain
type of honour. Now, in the days when they came
here, they all were slaves and they all worked here.
Well, the two sisters met and they were arguing.
One said, well, she was going to fight, and one
said she wouldn't fight. And I will tell you as far
as this: one said, "o biamba shanti, o biamba shanti,
o kotoku, o biamba so bringing" (Kromanti
language). And she stopped right there. And one
said, "o biamba ashanti, o biamba ashanti, kotoku,
o biamba so bringing, seh o shanti kotoku, seh
konkondeba!" One said she wouldn't fight, for she
didn't like the shedding of blood . she didn't like
the shedding of blood, so she wouldn't fight, it was
better for her to become a slave. The other side said
that she would fight, right? And she was going to
fight until the battle was rotten. Well, it was that side
that became the Maroon side. For she did fight and
became victorious. That's how the split came about.
After we fight, and I become free and you become a
slave, there are certain different types of rules
existing in my state of freedom than exist in your
state, though all of us are from the same place.
That's how the bars were made between both of us
(Moore Town, 4th June 1978).9
One sister said she wouldn't fight, for she didn't like
bloodshed. Well, the other one said she would fight.
That's how the separation came about. You find
now that you get the Maroons, who are different
from the outsiders, whom we call 'niega'. But they
are all Africans (Moore Town, 20th August 1978).
This story is still told in eastern Maroon communities Moore Town, Charles
Town, or Scott's Hall as well as in many of the neighboring villages in St Thomas,
Portland, and St Mary parishes.10 Many variants exist, of course. Although Grandy
Nanny is always named as the sister who fought, the other Maroon sister is known by
a large number of different names. By far the most commonly occurring name is
Grandy Sekesu; but in the numerous accounts I collected, Nanny's sister is sometimes
referred to as Grandy Sukasi, Grandy Sekeri, Grandy Sue, Grandy Sarah, Grandy Opinya,
Grandy Nellie, or Grandy Grace, among other names. Sometimes, as in one of the texts
above, the names Shanti (Ashanti) Rose and Fanti Rose are also mentioned Fanti Rose
most often being identified with Nanny and Shanti Rose with her sister (although the
reverse also occurs).1 In addition, other minor variations of detail are occasionally
heard.12 But all versions tell the same fundamental story of two sisters who parted
company when one decided to fight for her freedom and the other chose to avoid
bloodshed by remaining a slave. And the conclusion is always the same: the "children"
of Nanny are said to have grown up to become the Maroon "nation", while those of the
other sister grew up to become a different "nation" of people whom Maroons refer to
as "niega" the descendants of those who were kept in a condition of slavery until
the British government decided to emancipate them in 1834.13
This distinction between Maroons and all other Atrican-descended Jamaicans
mirrors the system of social classification still adhered to (at least among older people)
in Maroon communities. In the traditional system of classification, Maroons refer to
themselves as Kyatawud ("Cattawood"), or in Kromanti language, as Yenkunkun or
Yoyo (the latter term referring to their descent from Nanny); outsiders in general, no
matter what their ethnic background, are referred to as obroni.14 A special term,
however, is reserved for non-Maroon Jamaicans of African descent, this being the afore-
mentioned niega. This is not to be confused with the English word "nigger" (although
the two words are obviously etymologically related). In Jamaican Creole, the term
'niega" (which is variously spelled "naygur", "neagre", or "nayga", and refers to
people of African descent in general) tends to carry insulting connotations. How-
ever, among the Maroons, it functions primarily as a classificatory term distinguishing
Maroons from all other Afro-Jamaicans; and although it can be used in an insulting
manner as can all the other classificatory terms, such as obroni, bakra (white person),
and so forth it can also be used in a neutral sense.15 It is important to grasp this
specifically Maroon use of the term in order to understand what Maroons mean when
they speak of two different "nations", Kyatawud and niega. For Maroons, these
classifications are based on mystical concepts of descent and inheritance. Membership
in the Maroon community is automatically passed on (bilaterally) from parent to child,
and according to traditional Maroon belief, all of the special attributes, knowledge,
and powers connected with being a Maroon can only be passed on "in the blood". They
are seen as being conferred by the original Maroon ancestors (and particularly Nanny)
upon their descendants. It is thus not so much because Maroons consciously wish to
see themselves as superior to other Jamaicans that they never use the term niega to refer
to themselves or other Maroons. For them, it is simply a part of the natural order, a
classification based on a natural fact; those whom they refer to as niega simply do not,
and according to Maroon ideology, can never, possess those inherited qualities which
make one a Kyatawud, a Yenkunkun.16
This immutable distinction between Maroons and all others is given visible ex-
pression in the traditional ceremony of Kromanti Play, from which all non-Maroons
are excluded, except under special circumstances. It is said that all possessing Maroon
spirits can instantly sense ("smell") the presence of a "different blood" (i.e. non-
Maroon blood), which automatically drives them into a frenzy. If an outsider should
remain at a Kromanti ceremony during a genuine episode of possession (and this of
course includes those classified as niega), he will be in danger of being attacked by the
possessed medium, unless he is assigned a Maroon protector; and in any case, he will
have to undergo a ritual oath of secrecy in order to placate the enraged possessing spirit.
This dramatic process, seen as being brought about by natural forces ultimately beyond
human control, serves only to underscore for Maroons the accuracy and immutability
of their system of social classification.17
Today, Maroons from all communities are in constant contact with outsiders -
particularly those whom they refer to as niega both within their own communities
and when travelling outside. There has been a significant amount of intermarriage with
outsiders, and many Maroons maintain close firendships with non-Maroon individuals.
Relations between Maroons and outsiders are in general cordial, so much so, in fact,
that in most interactions questions of ethnic differences remain very much in the back-
ground. (In phenotype, normal speech, and dress Maroons are no different from other
Afro-Jamaicans.)18 Yet, as much as things have changed since the days when Maroons
and other Afro-Jamaicans were set against one another in potentially mortal opposition,
considerable distrust and resentment linger under the surface. At the slightest provoca-
tion, such as a row between a Maroon and an outsider, those Maroons who become
involved may launch into a collective diatribe against non-Maroons, for hours ex-
changing bitter comments about niega people and their less positive characteristics.
Particularly frequent are allegations that niega people are not to be trusted, that they
dislike and resent Maroons because of their privileged history, and are jealous of
their superior knowledge of bush medicine and spiritual powers. A number of Maroon
songs sung in Kromanti ceremonies and other contexts help to keep alive this under-
current of distrust and suspicion. For example, the following two songs are often heard:
Do good fe niega
Tenky no deh19
Black niega hate me fe me carry-on
Black niega hate me fe me carry-on
Me deh pon me toe point, me da linger
De more you hate me, de more you wi' live
And it is not uncommon for a Maroon, while recounting to a group of bystanders some
unpleasant incident or other involving a niega acquaintance, suddenly to interrupt his
account with an indignant rendition of a song such as the following:
Maroon friend, me no know you
But Maroon friend, me know how you and dem tan
Since me deh ya, you a laugh wid me
But if me back tun, you undermine me
But me and you deh ya20
For then part, many non-Maroon Afro-Jamaicans living in areas adjacent to Maroon
communities feel a certain degree of hostility toward their Maroon neighbours. Some
persons resent what they see as the continuing hauteur of Maroons. (Many non-Maroons
are well aware of the classificatory sense of the term "niega" when used by Maroons
to refer to them, and the label is not always accepted without bad feelings.) Moreover,
there remains in this part of Jamaica a good deal of fear concerning the alleged superiori-
ty of Maroon "Science" (power over spirits of the dead). Many persons are reluctant
to enter into any sort of dispute with a M roon for this reason alone; and even rela-
tions with other non-Maroons are sometimes marred by the spectre of a possible Maroon
Science-man in the background, thought to be working in the pay of one party or another.
Nor has the historical role of Maroons in quelling slave insurrections and tracking down
and returning runaways been forgotten.
Before the signing of the treaties in 1739, all plantation slaves were both potential
Maroons and potential enemies. Although the early Maroon communities received a
steady flow of new slave runaways who were incorporated into their ranks, the greatest
threat to Maroon survival came from within the slave community. The Maroons' most
formidable foes were the so-called "Black Shot": special military forces composed of
slaves who, in exchange for pay, promises of freedom, and other rewards, allied them-
selves with the colonial government in the struggle against the Maroons. These black
troops proved to be invaluable to the military campaigns sent out against the rebels.
The Maroons, in their turn, nursed a special hatred for the Black Shot, who, in their
eyes, had chosen a "slavish life" over a life of freedom, and had "sold" themselves
to the very powers responsible for their own oppression. Furthermore, the pre-treaty
Maroon communities remained vulnerable to espionage and betrayal by new recruits
from the plantations. So the gradual process of cultural differentiation between Maroons
and other Afro-Jamaicans was complemented by a defensive Maroon stance toward
slaves who were viewed by them with suspicion and lofty disdain.
With the treaties of 1739, however, the Maroons took over the role that the Black
Shot had once played, policing the interior for any would-be future maroons, and helping
to suppress slave rebellions. Once the Maroons were coopted by the British, however,
further successful marronage became a near impossibility. The most important line con-
necting the Maroons with the slaves on the plantations was permanently cut, and intense
hatred developed between Maroons and slaves.
Considerable rancour continues to be felt toward Maroons because of their alliance
with the British, exacerbated by the fact that Maroon military detachments helped
suppress the Afro-Jamaican peasant riot led by Paul Bogle in 1865. Maroons also keep
alive this more recent chapter of their past, along with traditions from the slave era
which detail the pitting of escaped slaves' magical powers against those of Maroon
trackers sent in pursuit of them.
The parting of the ways described in the two sisters tradition thus continues to
reverberate in the present, long after the disappearance of the legal and political obstruc-
tions erected by the British colonial government between Maroons and slaves. The
"children" of Grandy Nanny continue to "disagree" with those of her sister. Not only
do the two "sides" still harbour submerged feelings of suspicion and resentment toward
one another, but one of them the Maroon "side" retains exclusive possession of a
highly-valued and coveted Kromanti cultural tradition with its special dance, music,
ritual language, pharmacopoeia, and all the miraculous powers attributed to it. This in
itself serves to set the "children" of the two sisters off from one another.
The seeds of the schism that are recorded in the tradition of the two sisters were
planted in the pre-treaty epoch. But the ethnogenic cleft that began to take shape during
that period, and gradually widened for some years thereafter, was never definitive. The
continuing evidence of biological and cultural connections with those remaining on the
plantations must have put a strain upon the still-forming Maroon ideology of a "separate
blood". Indeed, the very existence of a myth such as that of the two sisters implies that
this ideology was never truly iron-clad. Certainly during the pre-treaty era there were
still close ties of kinship, a great deal of cultural overlap, and much co-operation between
Maroons and slaves.21
The treaties did not dissolve the common African ethnic origins of certain in-
dividual Maroons and slaves, although time did diminish the importance of ethnicity.22
Maroon men continued to engage in relationships with slave women, and to father
children on the plantations. Maroons still mingled with slaves in the marketplaces. Post-
treaty Maroons continued to participate to some extent in the religious life of the
slaves on the plantations, and Maroons were allowed to receive slave visitors at their own
ceremonial dances.23 Nor can one be certain that Maroons did not continue, in individual
cases, to offer temporary shelter and aid to runaways from the plantations, and to find
loopholes allowing them to smuggle and incorporate individual friends or kin from the
slave community into their ranks.
Post-treaty relations between Maroons and the slave community, then, were
undoubtedly more nuanced and complex than the well-documented pitched battles and
expressions of hatred between the two would lead one to believe. Their common origins,
and the many similarities between them meant that Maroons and slaves were able to
co-identify at several levels, even as they dissociated themselves at others.
Even as the story of the two sisters documents the historical division between
Maroons and other Afro-Jamaicans, and explains to their descendants the differences
that continue to exist between them, it should be apparent that it also contains a built-
in suggestion of rapprochement. For the two sisters, no matter how serious their disagree-
ment, were nonetheless sisters. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from this is that al
Maroons and other Afro-Jamaicans, as "children" of two sisters, stand in a metaphorical
relation to one another as "two sister pikni" (two sisters' children, i.e. first cousins).24
This metaphor of kinship is a powerful one. As mentioned earlier, Maroons place a
great deal of symbolic importance on "blood", which is seen by them as the vehicle
through which Maroon identity, and all those qualities unique to Maroons, are passed.25
To Maroons, there is no doubt that those whom they call niega possess a "different
blood" (this is, after all, regularly confirmed by machete-wielding Kromanti mediums
who become incensed at the "smell" of such "different blood" during ceremonies at
which non-Maroons are present). But at the same time, it is evident to them that the
"blood" of other Afro-Jamaicans is closer to their own than is that of any other kind
of obroni (outsider). The "children" of Grandy Nanny's sister may be only distant
kin, but they are nevertheless kin. And as the well-known proverb shared by Maroons
and other Jamaicans states, "blood is thicker than water".
In personal relations between Maroons and outsiders, particularly when those
persons involved are on good terms, this metaphorical kinship tie is often invoked.
It allows Maroons and Afro-Jamaican outsiders engaged in friendly exchanges of one
sort or another to minimize the differences between them, and to put the weight of a
difficult past temporarily behind them. The reasoning goes something like this:
"even though our ancestors fought one another, even though some were slaves while
others were not, and even though our people used to scorn and curse one another in the
past, it is clear that all of that is foolish, for we are, after all, two sisters' children,
two first cousins, and we are all originally from the same place". Any time a Maroon
asks a personal favour or requests a service from a non-Maroon of African descent, or
vice versa, this ritualistic formula may be recited. I myself witnessed this process many
times. It is particularly common in encounters between Maroons and non-Maroons
revolving around "supernatural" themes. For example, when Afro-Jamaicans from
neighboring areas visit Maroon ritual specialists for healing, or for help with spiritual
problems, the "two sister pikni" relationship is very often emphasized; in this setting,
it helps to ease the anxieties of those who have entered a Maroon community in spite
of what they might have heard about the spiritual dangers of doing so and have put
themselves at the mercy of an acknowledged expert in Maroon "Science". But this meta-
phorical kin relationship may be cited in any context in which Maroons and other Afro-
Jamaicans are concerned with creating between themselves an atmosphere of trust and
conviviality. This occurs especially frequently when Maroons join non-Maroon friends
for drinking sprees in bars located outside the Maroon communities. In such contexts,
when the liquor begins to take effect, and tongues are loosened and emotions heightened,
the story of the two sisters may be delivered with particular dramatic force.26
For people living in the Maroon communities or their vicinities, the tradition of
the two sisters fits the obvious "facts". It is quite evident to persons on both sides of the
Maroon/non-Maroon divide that there are as many similarities between them as there
are differences. Their ultimate common African descent, recognized by all, and visually
apparent at the level of physical characteristics, is reflected as well in the large number
of African-derived or African-influenced cultural patterns shared by Maroons and other
Afro-Jamaicans, ranging from techniques of pottery-making and cooking to musical
aesthetics and beliefs about the dead and their relationship to the living. And yet, at
another level, they remain separated by a gulf that, according to Maroon ideology, can
never truly be closed. The relationship between Maroons and other Jamaicans of
African descent, then, is an inherently ambiguous one, today as in the past. It is a
relationship fraught with contradictions, stemming from a historical process of ethno-
genesis that tore apart and did so under the most traumatic conditions men and
women who had once been linked by a common experience of oppression and suffering,
very real ties of kinship and friendship, and sometimes, as well, a shared specific African
cultural background. Both the essence of these historical contradictions, and the means
temporarily to transcend them, are poignantly contained within this tradition of two
sisters who, along with their "children", long ago parted ways.
First Cousins Once Removed: The Tradition Updated
In eastern Jamaica, not far from the Maroon communities, live a group of people who
refer to themselves as "Africans", members of a separate "nation" which they sometimes
call the "Bongo Nation". Like Maroons, they have retained a separate identity, and an
African-based religious tradition, Kumina, with its own music, dance, ritual language,
and cult of possessing ancestors. Until recently, there has been a good deal of confusion
about the origins of Kumina, some writers assuming that it is an outgrowth of the
religious practices of the slaves on the plantations, and others that it developed among
the Windward Maroons. Recent research, however, has revealed that Kumina was intro-
duced to Jamaica shortly after Emancipation by indentured African immigrants who
arrived on the island between 1841 and 1865.27 A large number of these contract
labourers were Central Africans from the Congo-Angola region, and the early concentra-
tion of immigrants from this area in the eastern parishes (and particularly St Thomas)
helps to explain the present-day prominence of Central African cultural traditions in this
specific part of the island. The Kumina tradition itself displays evidence of the Central
African heritage at every level, ranging from music and dance to beliefs about colour
symbolism and the proper handling of the dead; the ritual language used in Kumina
ceremonies and other contexts, known as "African Country" or "Kongo language", is
very largely derived from Kikongo, the language of the Bakongo people of present-day
Zaire and neighboring parts of Angola.28
The historical accident that planted the ancestors of the "Bongo Nation" in an
area roughly bordering the Windward Maroon communities has added an interesting and
unique dimension to contemporary social relations in this section of eastern Jamaica.
Judging from present-day evidence, there is a long history of interaction in this part
of the island between Maroons and the carriers of the Kumina tradition. The original
indentured African immigrants and their Maroon contemporaries must have quickly
noticed that they possessed religious traditions which, in their broad outlines, contained
many parallels. These fundamental similarities, flowing from the shared general principles
that underlie most African religious forms, were of such a nature as to provide a basis
for comparison, co-operation, and co-participation. From this foundation was fashioned
an enduring cultural liaison, and a pattern of inter-ceremonial visiting that was helped
along by the increasing movement of Maroons out of their communities and into the
surrounding areas. Such ritual interaction between members of the two "nations" con-*
tinues to occur in the present, most often in the context of outside Kumina ceremonies
to which Maroons are sometimes invited, or which they join on their own initiative.
While the two ceremonial traditions, Kumina and Kromanti, differ with regard to a
great many specifics for instance, the ritual language of the former is primarily
Kikongo-derived and that of the latter primarily Akan-derived, the possessing ancestors
and style of spirit possession of the two "nations" are different, and so forth many
of the general meanings behind the specific forms of ritual action are shared and under-
stood by both Maroons and Kumina practitioners.29 Ancestor reverence, spirit possession,
animal sacrifice, pouring of libations, ritual "Country" languages, and many other general
features are common to the traditions of the two "nations", and readily appreciated
by members of both.30 Moreover, the history of ritual interaction has left the two
traditions with a special repertoire of shared songs, and has given to the Maroons a
specific Kromanti drumming style (Tambu) that is based in part on Kumina influences,
and thus is very easily adaptable to Kumina ceremonies by visiting Maroon drummers.31
In the Maroon system of social classification, the members of the "Bongo Nation"
are in a doubly ambiguous position. They are classified, along with other Afro-Jamaicans,
as niega; but at the same time, they are placed in a special sub-class labelled Bongo, or
African. Maroons never fail to distinguish between Bongo people and other Jamaicans
of African descent, noting that for some reason for which Maroons are unable to
offer an explanation the "Bongo race" has been able to preserve an African-derived
ceremonial tradition that is in many respects comparable to their own. Although some
Maroons state that the Bongo people arrived in Jamaica later than the Maroons, present-
day Maroons in general are unaware of the fact that they are descended from post-
Emancipation "voluntary" immigrants, and they consider them, like other Afro-
Jamaicans, to be descended from slaves. Because they view the Kumina tradition and
the spiritual powers attached to it with a certain amount of respect, Maroons feel a
special affinity with "Bongo Nation". They consider its members to be more closely
related to them than other Afro-Jamaicans. They often make the assertion that although
the Bongo people are widely known as Africans, while they themselves are called
"Maroons", the two are in fact "the same one African". And yet, if pressed, they will
readily admit that Bongo people, like all niega people, possess a "different blood" from
The conceptualization of the relationship between the Maroon and Bongo
"nations", thus contains the same contradictions and ambiguities as that defining the
relationship between Maroons and other Afro-Jamaicans in general; however, in this
case, the ambivalence is heightened by a long-established and continuing pattern of
inter-ceremonial visiting and ritual exchanges that has slanted the ideology yet further
in the direction of co-identification. To frame this doubly ambiguous relationship in
neat and easily comprehensible terms, Maroons have simply adapted the pre-existing
tradition of the two sisters to fit it. In the process, the "Bongo Nation" has come to
be seen by some Maroons as that section of the niega "side" that is most directly
descended from Grandy Nanny's sister and thus has remained culturally closer to the
Maroons than have all the rest. But as close as they may be to their Maroon "cousins",
they remain, like other niega people, something less than Maroon. The following two
texts are typical of many other accounts I collected emphasizing the specific relationship
between Bongo people and Maroons:
Bongos aren't as strong as Maroons. You know why
the Bongos aren't as strong as the Maroons? The
Maroon people scattered in the woods. They're named
Kyatawud, you know: 'scatter-wood'. Because when
Grandy Nanny was fighting Grandy Nanny and
Grandy Sekesu, two sisters, you know Bakra
(the white man) wanted the Maroons to become
slaves. And Grandy Nanny said that her people ..
she could not let them become slaves. So she took
her portion of the people, and scattered in the woods
with them, to a place named Stony River. She
scattered in the woods with her set of people. And
the other sister who was named Sekesu took her set
of people and clung to St Thomas. And then she
went on to raise the Bongo children. So we call those
people now 'Bongo'. So they call Maroon people
now 'Scatter-wood'. That's why they're stronger than
the Bongo, because they went into the woods and
they ate leaves, ate all those leaves and everything ...
That's why Grandy Nanny is stronger Maroon
people are stronger than the Bongos (Kent, near
Moore Town, 1st June, 1978).
The Bongos now, and the Maroons, are actually
one people, actually, one people. The reason they
split up ... they're not really split up. They will greet
one another, and they will move together still. But
it is the language. Bongo language is different from
the Maroons' language. So they're not really split.
The Bongos came from Africa, but the Maroons
came first. The Bongos took one part, they took
St Thomas. And the Maroon men took Portland.
There were two peoples. The Maroons were free.
And the Bongos refrained from working. And the
government overthrew them. That is the point. Well,
they had refused to work. But the Maroons never
worked. The Maroons never worked. The Maroons
stood up to them, dead or alive. But before the
Bongos would fight, they would go away and go
hide. They wouldn't fight (Comfort Castle, near
Moore Town, 25th May, 1978).
Although many Kumina devotees remain aware of the post-Emancipation back-
ground of their tradition, I nonetheless found, when working with Kumina specialists
in the Kumina "heartland" of St Thomas parish, that many of them had been told
the story of the two sisters, with its references to the era of slavery, by their own
parents or grandparents.32 Thus the variant of the tradition concerning the specific
relationship between the Maroon and Bongo "nations" has been shared by Maroons
and Kumina people for quite some time. Today it is invoked most often in the context
of Kumina ceremonies at which Maroons happen to be present, for it is in such cere-
monial settings that the ambivalence characterizing the Maroon/Bongo relationship
reaches its peak. There is a tendency in such contexts to treat Maroons as honoured
guests or relatives who come culturally equipped to join the ritual proceedings as com-
petent participants. The theme of "two sister pikni" is almost certain to be broached at
such times. Ritual greetings may be exchanged in the two languages, emphasizing the
unity of the two "nations"; for example, Maroons may offer the greeting "wan
Yenkunkun pikibo" (meaning "one and the same Maroon children"), to which Kumina
specialists may respond with "yetu wayetu, wan pangia" (glossed, in this case, as "we
are among ourselves, we are one Bongo pikni").33 Other ritual niceties, such as offerings
of food, liquor, or an invitation to take over the drums, may be extended to Maroon
visitors. But the single most powerful factor symbolizing for Maroons and Kumina
people their close affinity, the fact that the drum rhythms and songs of Kumina are
quite capable of calling the spirits of Maroon ancestors and causing them to possess
visiting Maroons, paradoxically carries with it a critical test of this asserted kinship. It
is a test that the members of the "Bongo Nation" inevitably fail, for once possessed, the
Maroon medium, in spite of all the ritual politenesses that may have been exchanged
beforehand, will become infuriated by the "smell" of the "different blood" surrounding
him, and willhave to be cleared of the spirit immediately in order to prevent him from
violently lashing out at his Bongo hosts. And so the primordial mythical cleavage between
two sisters, which serves to explain to their "children" how their present-day ceremonial
traditions can be so different and yet so similar at the same time, is periodically
symbolically relived at the level of ritual action.34
The application of the tradition of the two sisters to the special relationship exist-
ing between Maroons and Kumina people provides an interesting example of the way
in which such explanatory "myths' can be played with, elaborated, and adapted to
changing conditions, reflecting several layers of history simultaneously. In this case, at
least two such layers are readily recoverable: one being more general and stretching far
back into the slavery era, and the other more specific and limited to the period follow-
ing Emancipation. Because relations between Maroons and the post-Emancipation
indentured immigrants and their descendants have been marked by an ambiguous duality
of identity rather similar to that which has characterized relations between Maroons
and other Atro-Jamaicans for several centuries, the story of the two sisters, with a few
minor adjustments, has been able to serve equally well as a metaphor for both.
Marronage was a western hemisphere phenomenon, and the Jamaican tradition of
the two sisters provides a way of understanding maroon-slave relations in many other
parts of the Americas. The British, Dutch, French, and Spanish used slave troops such
as the Black Rangers of Suriname and the Mare chaussee or Chasseurs of Hispaniola to
seek and destroy maroon settlements.35 On the other hand, individual slaves in many
parts of the Americas often aided maroons economically and acted as important sources
of intelligence. Similarly, Maroons in Brazil, Suriname, Hispaniola, Colombia, Ecuador,
Mexico, and Cuba made peace treaties with colonial governments; these typically
required them, in exchange for recognition of their freedom and a number of privileges,
to track down and capture future runaways, thereby setting them in opposition to the
slave population. The historical rift that is preserved in Jamaican oral tradition thus
appears to have been parallelled by similar divisions between Afro-Americans in many
other parts of the New World. The extent to which this cleavage is reflected in present-
day social relations in the Americas must remain an open question pending further
A documented case from Suriname does suggest the existence of a pattern of
schism and accommodation similar to the Jamaican case. There, the Saramaka Maroons
(or "Bush Negroes") who signed their own peace treaty with the Dutch in 1762 have
always considered themselves militarily and morally superior to whites and coastal
slave-descended blacks.36 Yet today Saramakas maintain social and religious contacts
with Afro-Surinamese descendants of slaves who lived on the same plantations as the
Saramaka ancestors.37 Examples such as this, or indeed the example of the cultural
liaison more recently forged by Jamaican Maroons and Kumina devotees, indicate some
of the ways in which maroons and other Afro-Americans have managed creatively to use
their cultural commonalities to form and maintain a ritual basis for co-identification.
The mythological tradition of two African sisters who became opposed to one another
over the issue of slavery condenses into a compact symbolic nugget the long and com-
plex history of relations between Jamaican Maroons and other Afro-Jamaicans. The
metaphor of breached kinship is an apt one, reflecting vividly and accurately the
ambiguous, double-edged nature of the relationship between the two groups from the
earliest years on.
Viewed from a certain perspective, the process of dual ethnogenesis that took
place in Jamaica and in other parts of the New World might appear to be a historical
aberration. To some extent, it was a forced process, guided by the hands of European
colonial powers, and very much in their interest, as they used slaves to fight maroons
and maroons to subjugate slaves. But the story of the two sisters symbolizes the Euro-
peans' ultimate failure to bring about a definitive rupture between peoples of African
descent in the Americas. For even as this myth preserves the memory of a painful past
separation, it celebrates the fact that, several centuries after this parting occurred,
Maroons and their neighbours, including the Kumina people whose ancestors never knew
slavery in Jamaica, continue to be capable of using shared cultural traditions to bridge
the gulf between them.
1. See Barbara Kopytoff, "The Development of Jamaican Maroon Ethnicity," Caribbean
Quarterly 22 (1976): 33-50.
2. See also Barbara Kopytoff, "Colonial Treaty as Sacred Charter of the Jamaican Maroons,"
Ethnohistory 26 (1979): 45-64.
3. For a similar treatment of another Jamaican Maroon oral tradition, which in this case can
be related to a specific series of past events, see Kenneth M. Bilby, "The Treacherous Feast:
a Jamaican Maroon Historical Myth," Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, forth-
coming. For comparison see Guerin C. Montilus, "Africa in Diaspora: Myth of Dahomey in
Haiti," Journal of Caribbean Studies 2 (1981): 73-84; David S. Newbury, "Kamo and
Lubambo: Dual Genesis Traditions on ljwi Island (Zaire)," Cahiers du Centre d'Etude et de
Documentation Africaines (Brussels) 5 (1979): 1-47; Jean Pierre Richert, "The Impact of
Ethnicity on the Perception of Heroes and Historical Symbols," Canadian Review of Sociology
and Anthropology 11 (1974): 156-63; Elizabeth Traube, "Order and Events: Responses to
Colonial Rule in Two Eastern Indonesian Societies", (paper delivered at the Shelby Cullom
Davis Seminar, Princeton University, 11 December, 1981).
4. For example, Richard Price enumerates several different kinds of forms in which the historical
knowledge of Suriname's Saramaka Maroons is preserved: genealogical nuggets, personal
epithets, commemorative place names, lists, proverbs, drum slogans, songs, and prayers.
Jamaican Maroons also preserve their history in several forms and at several levels, including
shared "memories" of highly generalized abstractions, such as past social structural relations;
the myth discussed in the present paper is a symbolic representation of such past relations.
See Richard Price, First-Time: the Historical Vision of an Afro-American People (Johns
Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1983), pp. 7-8.
5. The oral traditions presented in this paper were collected in the course of 14 months of ethno-
graphic field work in eastern Jamaica during 1977-8. Approximately 12 months were spent
in the Windward Maroon community of Moore Town, one month on intensive work with
Kumina people in St Thomas parish (which was supplemented by many shorter visits), with
shorter visits to Windward Maroon communities of Scott's Hall and Charles Town. Research
was supported by a grant from the Organization of American States.
6. See Edward K. Brathwaite, Wars of Respect (Kingston: Agency for Public Information, 1977).
For general background on Nanny, see Alan Teulon, "Nanny Maroon Chieftainess", Carib-
bean Quarterly 19 (1973): 20-27.
7. See Leann Thomas Martin, "Maroon Identity: Processes of Persistence in Moore Town", Ph.D.
Dissertation, University of California, Riverside, 1973. Although she was also told that all
Maroons belong to a single "family" the author apparently did not encounter the related
tradition of common descent from Nanny. A more detailed discussion may be found in
Kenneth Bilby and Filomina Chioma Steady, "Black Women and Survival: a Maroon Case",
in The Black Woman Cross-Culturally, ed., Filomina Chioma Steady, pp. 451-67 (Cambridge,
Mass.. Schenkman Publishing Co., 1981).
8. I tape-recorded more than thirty versions of the story of the two sisters, most told by Maroons,
but some of them given me by non-Maroon Jamaicans from neighboring districts. In addi-
tion, I took down in writing many other accounts of, or references to, the two sisters.
9. This text, and all the others presented in this paper (with the exception of song texts) have
been translated from Jamaican Creole (with an eye to keeping them as close as possible to
the original). The reference in this text to fighting "until the battle was rotten" involves a
play on words. In Jamaican Creole, /bakl/ means both "battle and "bottle". And as one
raconteur put it, "we all know that no glass bottle has ever rotted yet!"
10. In a personal communication (January 1984), Monica Schuler reports that, in the course of
her own work among descendants of post-Emancipation African immigrants in eastern
Jamaica, she collected one version of the story of the two sisters through an accidental
meeting with a Maroon man in St Thomas parish. A similar tradition may exist among the
western Accompong Maroons and their neighbours, but it has yet to be documented.
11. See David Dalby, "Ashanti Survivals in the Language and Traditions of the Windward Maroons
of Jamaica", African Language Studies 12 (1971): 31-51. Dalby records a fragmentary version
of the story, in which the two sisters, named Fanti Rose and Shanti Rose in this case, are said
to have fought against one another. Without having heard the entire myth, he suggests, in-
terestingly, that the story might indicate that something of the traditional enmity between
the Ashanti and Fanti peoples of West Africa was carried over to Jamaica.
12. In treating this oral tradition as a "myth", I do not intend to rule out the possibility that
Nanny had a real sister from whom she became separated, and who remained on a plantation;
nor do I mean to imply that an actual person named Sekesu or Sukasi never existed. But what
interests me here is the way the story has been made into a symbolic representation of a
historical set of social relations.
13. The Jamaican tradition of the two sisters is very similar in its general outlines to oral traditions
concerning relations between lineages or clans (often involving purported descent from two
sisters) among the matrilineal Akan-speaking societies of West Africa. Many Maroons had Akan
backgrounds, and it seems more than likely that this Jamaican oral tradition owes something
to Akan-derived cultural principles. See, for a discussion of this problem, Bilby and Steady,
"Black Woman", pp. 453-63.
14. See Kenneth M. Bilby, "Partisan Spirits: Ritual Interaction and Maroon Identity in Eastern
Jamaica", M. A. Thesis, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, 1979; Beverley Hall-
Alleyne, "Asante Kotoko: The Maroons of Jamaica", African-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica
Newsletter 7 (1982): 3-40. The origin of the name Kyatawud is uncertain (present-day
Maroons claim that it is derived from "scatter-wood", referring to the escape of the early
Maroons into the woods). Dallas mentions a particular group of Windward Maroons known
during the eighteenth century as "Cottawoods" (an offshoot of which went to live with the
Leeward Maroons under Cudjoe); see Robert Charles Dallas, The History of the Maroons,
2 vols. (London: T. N. Longman and 0. Rees, 1803), 1: 31.
15. See I. E. Thompson, "The Maroons of Moore Town", Anthropological Series of the Boston
College Graduate School 3 (1938): 472-9. Thompson, who spent a number of weeks among
the Moore Town Maroons in the 1930s, records: "The majority claim that they are 'Cata-woods'
meaning 'scatter-woods' as their ancestors scattered in the woods to escape their masters. They
call the rest of the blacks 'Neagres' meaning a down-trodden race whose ancestors were slaves.
It should be noted that the term 'neagre' is not used by them to mean 'negro' as they claim
that all black people are negroes of which they form a part. Neither is the term a compli-
menting one, but is disrespectfully used by them to describe all the blacks of Jamaica who
cannot claim Maroon lineage . ." (p. 476). The terms "nenge" or "bakaa nenge" are used by
Suriname Maroons in a somewhat similar sense, to refer to all non-Maroon Afro-Surinamers
("Creoles"), and to distinguish them from Maroons.
16. For a discussion of the special Maroon qualities thought to be passed on "in the blood", see
Martin, "Maroon Identity"; Bilby, "Partisan Spirits".
17. For general background on Kromanti Play, and a detailed description of the ritual ordeal
undergone by non-Maroons who remain on the spot during episodes of spirit possession, see
Kenneth M. Bilby, "The Kromanti Dance of the Windward Maroons of Jamaica", Nieuwe
West-Indische Gids 55 (1981): 52-100.
18. See Bilby, "Partisan Spirits". Although many non-Maroons assert that they are able to dis-
tinguish Maroons from other Jamaicans solely on the basis of certain physical characteristics
such as hair texture and skin colour, I found that this claim, when put to an empirical test,
always proved to be false.
19. Meaning: "If you do something good for a niega, you will receive no thanks."
20. Maroon friend (i.e. friend of the Maroons), I don't know you
But Maroon friend, I know what you and they are like
Since I'm here, you're laughing with me
But if my back is turned, you undermine me
But I and you are here (i.e. together, as supposed "friends").
21. See Rhett S. Jones, "Identity, Self-Concept, and Shifting Political Allegiances of Blacks in
the Colonial Americas: Maroons against Black Shot", Western Journal of Black Studies 5
22. See Kopytoff, "Maroon Ethnicity", pp. 41-42, 46-47.
23. See Beverly Carey, "The Windward Maroons after the Peace Treaty", Jamaica Journal 4 (1970):
24. See Bilby and Steady, "Black Woman", pp. 453-63.
25. It is interesting that in the Kromanti ritual language the word for "blood" is "bujufra" or
"busufra" (sometimes pronounced "obujufra" or "obusufra"), probably derived from Akan
"busua/abusua", meaning both "blood" and matrilineagee".
26. The foregoing discussion of relations between Maroons and outsiders is heavily based on
Bilby, "Partisan Spirits".
27. See Monica Schuler, "Alas, Alas, Kongo"; a Social History of Indentured African Immigration
into Jamaica, 1841-1865 (Baltimore aiid London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980).
28. See Schuler, "Alas, Alas, Kong"; Edward K. Brathwaite, "Kumina: the Spirit of African
Survival in Jamaica", Jamaica Journal42 (1978): 44-63; Kenneth Bilby and Elliott Leib,
From Kongo to Zion (pamphlet accompanying LP disc HB-17), (Cambridge, Mass.: Heartbeat
Records, 1983); Kenneth Bilby and Fu-Kiau kia Bunseki, "Kumina: a Kongo-Based Tradition
in the New World", Cahiers du Centre d'Etude et de Documentation Africaines (Brussels),
forthcoming; Joseph G. Moore, "Religion of Jamaican Negroes: a Study of Afro-Jamaican
Acculturation", Ph.D. Dissertation, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, 1953.
29. For a discussion of Jamaican Maroon spirit possession language (a "deep" form of Creole),
which contains some information on the Kromanti ritual language as well, see Kenneth M.
Bilby, "How the 'Older Heads' Talk: a Jamaican Maroon Spirit Possession Language and Its
Relationship to the Creoles of Suriname and Sierra Leone", New West Indian Guide 57 (1983):
49-101. See also Dalby, "Ashanti Survivals"; Hall-Alleyne, "Asante Kotoko".
30. For a discussion of the shared deeper principles underlying many specific African cultural
forms, and the role these played in the formation of Afro-American cultures in the New World,
see Sidney W. Mintz and Richard Price, An Anthropological Approach to the Afro-American
Past: a Caribbean Perspective (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1976).
31. See Kenneth M. Bilby, Music of the Maroons of Jamaica (pamphlet accompanying LP disc
FE 4027), (New York: Folkways Records and Service Corporation, 1981); see also Bilby,
32. It seems that many of those Kumina people who retain knowledge of the post-Emancipation
background of the "Bongo" tradition accept the story of the two sisters as a metaphor
without necessarily adhering to the belief that they are descended specifically from Nanny's
sister. (The genealogical connection detailed in the story could, after all, have involved two
sisters at a later period.) For Maroons, on the other hand, who consider the Kumina people,
like other Afro-Jamaicans, to be the descendants of slaves, there is no difficulty in placing the
"Bongo" sister far back in the slavery era, along with Nanny.
33. Evidence of a long history of ritual interaction between Maroons and Kumina people is
strongest for the Moore Town Maroons, but there is evidence as well for Charles Town and
Scott's Hall. For example, Joseph Williams in the 1930s collected the expression "oyetua
oyetua" from the Scott's Hall Maroons, glossed for him as "all are one family". This is obvious-
ly derived from the Kumina (Kongo) ritual greeting, "yetu wayetu" (and not from Kromanti,
as Williams thought). See Joseph J. Williams, "The Maroons of Jamaica", Anthropological
Series of the Boston College Graduate School 3 (1938): 466. See also Zora Neale Hurston,
Tell My Horse (1938; reprint ed., Berkeley, Cal.: Turtle Island, 1981), pp. 70-76.
34. The foregoing section on relations between Maroons and Kumina people owes much to the
final two chapters of Bilby, "Partisan Spirits"; a much more detailed account can be found
therein. See also Bilby, "Kromanti Dance", pp. 81-88.
35. See Richard Price, ed., Maroon Societies (second ed., Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1979), pp. 3-4, 9, 13; Jones, "Identity", pp. 62-66, 68-70.
36. Richard Price, Saramaka Social Structure (Rio Piedras: University of Puerto Rico, 1975), p. 23.
37. Price, 1979, Maroon Societies, p. 27.
"Ef Me Naa Bin Come Me Naa Been Know:"
INFORMAL SOCIAL CONTROL AND THE
AFRO-GUYANESE WAKE, 1900-1948
In symbolic anthropology the general tendency has been to treat ritual as a lens through
which to view the significance of mundane aspects or social life but which is not itself
a part of the mundane. In the study of Afro-American ritual this tendency has been
further exacerbated by emphasis on styles of performance and searches for links
between the present and the African or European past. As a result, insufficient attention
has been paid to the development of ritual forms as part of the everyday efforts of
Afro-Americans to maintain a sense of community in particular localities and under
particular socioeconomic conditions. There is still insufficient attention given to ritual
as an integral part of those efforts rather than simply as their symbolic representatives.
In the following essay I will examine the form and content of the Afro-Guyanese
wake ritual as it developed in a particular communal village between 1900 and 1948.
I will explore the ritual as an organized satirical sanction which played a key role in
local social control until its legitimacy was openly undermined by an event which took
place in 1948. I will suggest that while this event had a definite impact on the form,
content, and effectiveness of the wake as an "informal court", both the wake ritual
and the event itself must be understood as part of an ongoing tension between
mechanisms for local informal control and mechanisms formally instituted by the broader
The data on which this essay is based were collected during two separate field
periods, the summer of 1977, and the period from October 1979 to September 1980.
The historical sketch, 1900 to 1948, is based on oral history accounts collected from
persons who were actively involved in wakes during most of that period and many of
whom continue to be the most active participants in contemporary wake play. Com-
ments on contemporary wake form and content are based on participant-observation
and intensive interviews during the aforementioned field periods.'
The Ideological Field and the Problem of Social Control
In Cockalorum2 community members have traditionally operated (and still do, in large
measure) in an ideological field formed of a simultaneous recognition and commitment
to both egalitarian and hierarchical principles of social organization. Not only do they
recognize the fact of material inequality, but they also view the quest for inequality
as legitimate. While material differentiation is, in part, a simple consequence of individual
efforts to improve their material existence, there is also a conscious effort to acquire
particular goods, services, and relationships because these are considered indicators of
social and moral superiority. It is difficult to distinguish activities intended to improve
one's material existence from those to improve one's status. Such actions, from the
standpoint of my informants' views, are part of the same process. Informants explain
that in order to "become somebody" (to improve one's material existence and to in-
crease the respect and deference accorded one by one's fellows) it is necessary first
to "appear to be somebody". As members of an impoverished, economically inter-
dependent community, they say everyone's chance of material improvement, ultimately,
depends upon a willingness to co-operate with and assist one another. To be effective
this willingness must be combined with the ability to assist. To appear to be somebody
is to give others the indication that one has the ability to offer them assistance. This,
in turn, increases their willingness, through the expectation of reciprocation, to lend
assistance, thereby allowing the person the greatest chance of actually becoming
In addition to influencing expectations about ability to offer assistance, the
achievement of greater than average material worth also influences other expectations
about appropriate patterns of interpersonal interaction. Those who acquire indicators
of greater than average material worth expect those with less to accord them greater
deference and respect than they feel they should accord those individuals lacking such
indicators. In this essentially hierarchical view the social world is divided into two
major classes big and small people which differ in wealth, political power, and in
the ability of their members to demand and receive deference and respect. Further,
the hierarchical view results in the recognition among small people of three additional
hierarchically related status categories which informants most often refer to as big-
small, ordinary-small, and bottom-class people.
It is with this hierarchical view of the social world that Cockalorums associate
individualism, competitiveness, jealousy, envy, greed, and other forms of divisiveness.
As individuals or families aim to move from one class or status category to another,
it is expected and, to a limited extent, considered appropriate that they will try to form
social ties with persons of influence believed to be (relative to their assessment of them-
selves) of equal or greater material worth. At the same time they will also try to limit
their involvement with persons of less material worth and social influence. In economic
transactions it is expected that they will try to do what is best for themselves, their
family, and sometimes their broader kin group. Although Cockalorums view these
behaviours as divisive, they also argue that self-respecting persons must "have ambition",
that they should have an interest in improving their own and their families' class and
At the same time Cockalorums also express an egalitarian view of their community
as a community of equals (one family, mati, countryman or villager) and they expect
this view to be reflected in appropriate patterns of interpersonal interactions among
small people. Big people and small people are all human and, as humans, all deserve to
be treated with respect and consideration. However, it is with reference to expectations
about appropriate conduct among small people that norms of egalitarianism are most
Small people are considered to be a community, in the broad sense of the term,
of equals relative to the more politically and economically dominant class of big people.
As Jayawardena (1963) noted, this sense of equality is not predicated on a myth of a
lack of material differentiation. Instead, minor material and status differences notwith-
standing, the term mati and the expression "we are all one family", through which this
sense of equality is most often expressed, refer to persons whom community members
believe to have, roughly, the same life chance relative to big people. The term country-
man (males and females who are born and grow up in the same rural community or
village) localizes mati with whom one interacts most often and thus about whom one
should be most concerned. Countrymen are also the mati from whom one can most
expect to receive assistance. Like mati and members of a family, countrymen should
show solidarity when faced by threats from, and efforts on the part of, big people to
generate competition and divisiveness within the community of equals.3
As mati or countrymen, Cockalorums expect self-respecting persons to "live well
with people". They expect them to be willing to engage in generalized reciprocity, to
co-operate with one another in settling interpersonal conflicts, and to display solidarity
when confronted by political or economic threats originating outside the locality or
from big people within the locality but outside the community of equals.
This egalitarian view of the small man's social world with its norms of appropriate
conduct does not, however, excuse the self-respecting small person who tries to live
well with people from the necessity to have ambition. He must still be concerned with
improving his material worth and the "quality" of his social connections, because through
these he can effect a change in his class and status position. For, as informants argue,
if everyone were to remain equally poor and powerless, no one could offer assistance to
anyone else, and thus everyone in the community would lack the potential to achieve a
more comfortable material existence.
Nonetheless, the individual cannot simply ignore egalitarian norms in order to
improve his own situations. He needs the assistance that these norms encourage, and
if he continually breaches them he runs the risk of others withdrawing their co-operation.
He is, thus, simultaneously bound by both egalitarian and hierarchical norms of appro-
priate conduct. Cockalorums in this sense operate in an ideological field formed of a
simultaneous recognition of, and commitment to, both egalitarian and hierarchical
principles of social organization. This situation presents special difficulties for defining
breaches of local norms, and determining when and how to set into motion mechanisms
of social control.
There are no neatly compartmentalized time frames, locales, domains, or situations
in which an individual need be concerned with values predicated on only one of these
principles. His actions and his evaluations of others' actions are constantly subject to
double-edged interpretations. For example, informants say that to respect mati, a person
interested in living well with people should conceal goods carried in public. Yet they also
say that people are quick to conceal these goods because they are really interested in
concealing what they have from prying eyes so that they may avoid having to share
their good fortune. The individual therefore who wishes to have his status-related
accomplishments recognized and who hopes to parlay, as most community members
do, past accomplishments into future advances, must behave in a manner that suggests
a balanced concern for values predicated on both principles. He must present a "face"
(personal reputation, self-presentation) and maintain a "name" (family or lineal reputa-
tion) that proclaims his desire to live well with people.
It is not simply individuals and families who are unable to keep interpretations
of their actions separate. The intersituational enforcement of a balanced concern for
both principles is a community level problem. In addition to the fundamental indetermin-
ancy of processes that organize social relations, historically egalitarian features of the
ideological field stem from the interdependence and common plight of subordinates in
local communities.4 The formal institutions of the broader society, geared to hierarchy,
do not necessarily recognize transgressions of egalitarian norms that are not also trans-
gressions of the legal code of the broader society. Further, in the broader society,
individual status rewards are not contingent on whether or not the mode of behaviour
which the individual uses to achieve social mobility displays a concern for balanced
adherence to both principles living well with people. And finally, even where the
mores of the broader society and its formal legal code are capable of handling breaches,
it is viewed, from the standpoint of the local community, as a breach of solidarity (an
aspect of egalitarianism) to use the codes and institutions of the broader society
against mati without first having exhausted alternative procedures. It is, then, left to the
local community to provide and institutionalize general means of social control and
ways of resolving disputes. Such a system needs to provide sanctions for breaches of the
egalitarian features of the local ideology and, when possible, alternative means of
handling breaches which, except for the problem of solidarity, could be handled through
the formal legal system of the broader society.5
In Cockalorum most breaches and tie ensuing disputes are settled in a manner
which informants called "giving satisfaction' 6 that allows individuals to work out their
disagreements with the help of mediating friends and kin. The system works fairly well
as long as all parties to the dispute have enough "shame" (concern with protecting their
face and name from "stain" indelible damage to their personal and family reputa-
tions). The system, however, confronts three persistent problems: (1) its dependence
on an overall preponderance of shame-faced over bold-faced (those lacking sufficient
shame) persons in the local population; (2) the complex and inherently biased (because
individuals distort information as they manoeuver to present good faces) double-edged
interpretation process which ultimately determines, in all but the most extreme criminal
cases, when a breach has been committed; (3) the differential abilities of community
members to use the institutions of the broader society to diminish the effectiveness of
Against this ideological background the wake can be described as an organized
satirical sanction which confronted, symbolically and pragmatically, problems that this
ideological conflict posed for informal social control.
The Organization of a Satirical Sanction, 1900-1948
During the first half of the nineteenth century, activities that informants refer to as the
"wake proper" took place on the night before a funeral. A major portion of these
activities began around 8 p.m. and lasted until daybreak. They were conducted inside
the home of the deceased by a "storemaster" with the assistance of his "crew". The
storemaster and his crew of assistants usually arrived at the "dead-house" before
8 p.m. At that time the storemaster led his crew and anyone else present in a prayer
and pong over the deceased.
About 9 p.m. or whenever a sufficient number had gathered, the storemaster
called the gathering to order. This marked the beginning of the portion of the "wake
play" known as "store".7 Thereafter the mourners were known as "storemembers".
The play was called to order with a demand from the storemaster for the store to rise.
Everyone stood in silence for a moment to respect the deceased. Following this moment
of silence, the storemaster requested the opening tune for store: "Oh Come and Mourn
Awhile with Me", then each of his crew members sang specific songs. These songs
marked the beginning and the end of the plays conducted during this part of the wake.
The first play of the evening was "verse and tune". The storemaster's crew were
the first performers to be called upon to lead songs and recite verses. After each of them
performed whatever the storemaster asked, he began calling on other storemasters. The
songs were usually hymns, but verses were either biblical or secular. Memorized selections
from primary school readers such as The Royal Reader, well known epic poems, and
recitations about historical events were favourites that gave reciters prestige within the
gathering. Everything had to be recited from memory. The storemaster was the final
judge of correctness, and those who faltered or failed were punished.
Lashes from the "rod of chastisement"8 were the most frequent form of punish-
ment. The other form of punishment came from a "brushman" or "duster" as he was
interchangeably called. Its aim was to humiliate the person. When a person failed to
complete the number of verses assigned or said one or more incorrectly, the store-
master could order the brushman to "dust him down". Brushing or dusting a person
down was in part literal since such persons were made to stand on a bench while the
brushman, using a folded towel, dusted them from head to toe. While he did this, he
insulted and belittled the person, using selected passages from the Bible, especially
Proverbs. The actions characteristic of negative biblical figures or the messages of the
biblical passages would be superimposed on the person in order to insult and humiliate
him before the gathering.
The position of brushman was considered second only to the storemaster in its
difficulty. A brushman had to know the Bible very well and he had to think quickly.
He also needed to know much about the personal affairs and actions of persons involved
in the gathering. Simply knowing another's private affairs was not as difficult as knowing
whether this information was also known to other members of the gathering. A success-
ful insult depended on the ability of the storemembers to make a rapid connection
between the message of the verse and the unstated facts about the person being dusted
The store portion of the wake continued in this manner until midnight. About
midnight the storemaster called for the singing of the closing tune:
Coffee tea, tea, gentlemen,
ginger tea, coffee tea, tea gentlemen.
Two biscuits, one cup tea won't do for me.
Jesus alone die for me and he alone can give me tea.9
Members of the bereaved household served ginger tea and crackers to those gathered
inside. Persons wishing something more substantial went home to eat. Others used the
break to rest or sleep. Anyone outside the house was not served.
The second half of the wake began soon after everyone had finished refresh-
ments. The storemaster opened the second half with the words, "Come again, come again;
a fresh pen but the same old line", after which he called for the opening tune: "Pass
While the Evening Tide". Usually this hymn was started by a designated crew member.
Following a brief period of hymn and verse the storemaster called for a "change of
play". These plays were referred to as "ring play". They lasted until near daybreak, at
which time the storemaster ordered a return to hymns before finally allowing the
mourners to go home.
This then was what informants represented as the general order of the inside wake
play between 1900 and 1948. Within that order they further specified that there were
sets of different types of plays which made up the second half ring play.
This "change of play" began with games played in a circle as the storemaster
ordered the players to form a circle and to stretch a string around the circle. Each
player placed both hands on the twine. The storemaster then selected a player and
made him stand in the centre of the ring. The players began to sing "My Fadda Was a
Dog". While they sang this song several times, a ring (usually borrowed from one of the
players) was rapidly passed from hand to hand along the string. The storemaster spun
the person (the seeker) in the center of the ring until he was confused. Then the store-
master lashed him and said, "Na ya gaa wuk". The other players began to sing "Missy
Lost a Gold Ring".10
The seeker tried to locate the ring while receiving lashes from the storemaster.
The other players continued to sing and the storemaster continued flogging the ring
seeker until the ring was located. At that point the seeker quickly took the place of
the person caught with the ring. That person became the next seeker. Led by the
storemaster, the gathering switched to singing, "Drive De Bee Away"." Meanwhile the
next seeker was flogged until the ring was found. For the slow player, confronting a
skilful and frequently wilful gathering, this often meant a lengthy beating. Further,
according to informants who witnessed this play, the storemaster's selection of the
first seeker was seldom random. Instead. they say he was most likely to select someone
who had not committed a real offence, and he often named the offence as he flogged
Bell and Contrary Partner, which usually followed, were games of another type.
The current storemaster's middle-aged son and the son's wife described Bell. According
to their description, the players sat around the wake table where a person known for
his ability to imitate sounds was assigned the role of "bell". The storemaster ordered
this person to imitate the sound of the different local church bells. While the bell rang,
a towel was passed from player to player until the bell imitator stopped. When he
stopped, whoever had the towel became the "owner of the bell". The bell imitator
then asked the storemaster, "What must the owner of this bell do?" The storemaster
could simply make the person stand in a corner or demand that the player stand in a
corner on a bench and "wine" (a dance in which the performer gyrates the hips
with arms akimbo and feet shuffling slowly). Here, flogging was usually not a separate
form of punishment, though a few lashes might be given to encourage a reluctant player
to get on with the assignment.
When discussing punishments, what these and other informants mentioned most
often were instances when the storemaster made one person do something to another
person. If, for example, the bell owner had recently been in a quarrel, the storemaster
might demand that the bell owner apologize to the other party to that quarrel. He
was said to have been especially inclined to this when the quarrel was part of a long-
standing disagreement. He might even order the bell owner to go over and kiss the other
person and to express his affection for that person. A bell owner suspected of a
clandestine affair with the spouse of someone present might find himself having to
profess that love publicly. Thereby the affair was exposed, making it more difficult to
These activities, all of which took place inside the house and under the direction
of the storemaster, were but one part of the activities conducted at the wake house.
Outside, other mourners gathered in the yard, the bottom-house,12 and along the
paths near the wake house. Activities performed in these areas were different from those
inside the house, and they do shed additional light on the role and impact of the wake
activities as part of a local system of social control.
Outside, different types of activities went on simultaneously. They included
dances, games played in a circle (also referred to as ring play or "boot-um-belly"),
the Shell game, and the Nancy Story, plus an occasional individual performance. While
the dances, poorly remembered by most informants, seem to have been simply for
pleasure, other activities ranged from indirect to highly direct forms of satirical sanction.
Among the least direct forms were the ring plays which involved singing songs
and dramatizing problems. They constituted pantomimed storytelling. The players
formed a circle, with one person selected to perform the actions while the others sang
the song for the particular play being conducted. These particular ring plays were
generally referred to as action play because one could not fully understand the message
of the story being told without also observing the performance put on by the play leader.
"Two Men Gon' Dar", "Ram Goat Story", "I Am Balli, Balli Ah", "Lilly Gal",
"Lake ah Lake ah Bumbow", "Family Man", "John Dooley", "Rhonda", "Stupid
Sonny", "Samuel" and "Fowl Pick She Redness", were the names informants gave to
some of these games, explaining that most of them took their names from songs
associated with the play. Informants stressed the fun and enjoyment of playing these
games. As one informant put it, "Jollification mek de t'ing too nice." That the play was
fun made the heavydoses of personal and social commentary they contained more
Social commentary was the result and often the direct aim of many of the plays
conducted as action play. "Lilly Gal", "Rhonda", "Samuel", and "Fowl Pick She Red-
ness", for example, all expressed messages about the downfall of one who transgressed
social norms. "Lilly Gall" tells the story of a well-raised school girl who, unable to con-
trol a growing awareness of her physical development and sexual desires, becomes
pregnant. "Samuel" tells of the unfaithful wife who finds herself in a bind when her lover
dies in her bed. The play pantomimes her struggle to get rid of the body before her
husband's arrival. "Rhonda" relates the exploits of the playboy that later result in his
contracting a venereal disease. "Fowl Pick She Redness" has as its subject a woman who
sits improperly, exposing her genitals to public view. She finds a more appropriate sitting
position when a fowlcock (rooster and metaphor for man) "picks she redness".
"Family Man" and "Stupid Sonny" examine different aspects of the problems
encountered by married men. The family man player, uncertain of what he will meet
when he arrives home, disguises himself as a "jumbie" (ghost or spirit). In this disguise
he spies on his distrusted wife. "Stupid Sonny" confronts the double-edged problem of
an "antiman" (in this sense henpecked, but it also means a male homosexual) and the
dangers of getting caught under the influence of evil magic, as his wife serves him a meal
"steamed up" (kept hot) with "jukbuk" sauce (her urine) to keep him under control.
Of a slightly different style and effect was "Lake ah Lake ah Bumbow", which
though considered an action play, told no pantomimed story. It was conducted in a ring
by a leader who controlled the play but did not perform. The leader selected another
player to squat in the centre of the ring. Each of the other players took turns flinging
alternate legs over the head of the squatter. At the same time they sang: "Lake ah Lake
ah bumbow/Hey t'ing bumbow/Lake ah lake a Bumbow sit down daryou damn fool!"13
The damn fool had to squat there, more than a bit laughable and possibly humil-
ated, until someone accidentally kicked or touched him. That person then assumed the
position of squatter and the play continued. Although, ostensibly, it was all in fun,
informants also said that if a person thought himself to be, or was considered by others
to be, a "big one" and "happened" to get selected as squatter, initially or through making
an error, the others would take great care not to touch him. Players intent upon humiliat-
ing a big one sometimes managed to keep such a squatter in the ring several hours.
Without reference to specific allegations the pointed message of the song and the care
players took not to touch the squatter served as a clear warning to those who would
breach the morality of living well with the people.
"Lake ah Lake ah Bumbow". with its potential for humiliation, was but a gentle
introduction to the most direct games of satirical sanction sometimes refe, ed to as
"talking name" (gossip which included the personal and/or family name of .he person
gossiped about). These games too were said to be played for fun, but inforrr nts wasted
no time in pointing out that they also passed along information about one' neighbours,
friends, and relatives that resulted in judgements, humiliation and shame fo. the person
named. One such game, the Shell game, in which players formed a circ' sitting on a
half coconut shell with another half coconut shell in front of each of iher i, focused
upon calling the name of persons suspected of social transgressions. A leader vws selected
to raise the opening tune and to control the play. Males and females play d together
or formed their own circles.
In either case the leader opened the play by leading the players in singing: "All
ah me okra dry ah tree/Me gon' pick 'um fo' sake ah de niggahman/Wuthless niggahman -
t'ing boop!"'4 On the cue, "t'ing boop". the players would begin rapidly passing half
coconut shells from player to player in one direction, chanting in the process "lap-t'ing",
until the leader called a halt by yelling "batoe". The players then dropped their shells,
clapped, and yelled "chak-chak".15 The leader next asked, "Who say?" One of the
players answered "Me say!" The respondent then raised an allegation against one of the
other players or anyone else against whom he knew of a transgression believed to be
unknown to the general public. Once the allegation was made, the leader took over and
sang about it, improvising rhyme where necessary. All the other players were required
to sing, or receive licks from the leader.
The accused person, if present, could enter the ring and dance. To do so was
considered "bold"16 and might be taken as an indication that the accused was not
guilty. It was just as likely, however, that others believed that the person was guilty but
simply lacked a sense of shame. The accused could run away, but this was considered
a sure sign of guilt. Players would laugh and the leader might make a half-hearted attempt
to catch and bring the accused back to the ring.
In this game accusations were not always raised by others. Sometimes he raised
an accusation against himself. Fearing that the transgression was already known to
one or more adversaries, this player attempted in this way to reduce shame by exposing
himself before anyone else accused him. He could then at least claim credit for having
enough shame to expose himself and to accept the judgements of those present.
The most powerful of the direct outside plays was the Nancy Story. The Nancy
Story play had as its primary goal the direct exposure of misdeeds that took place covert-
ly between wakes. It gave participants, audience, and the community at large (through
the gossip that took place following the wake play) a chance to see beyond the images
that individuals and families put forth in their daily interactions. Incidents exposed
during the Nancy Story were remembered and became a part of a person's judgements
of others years after the exposure actually took place. Informants, too young to have
attended or remembered from personal experience incidents exposed at wakes in the
1930s and 1940s, could sometimes describe these incidents in almost as much
detail as older persons. Older relatives, friends, and neighbours passed along these stories
as information relevant for judging not only the persons exposed, many of whom were
deceased, but also the descendants of such persons. To the extent that it was effective,
the wake play served to assure, as a local proverb suggests, that the dirt which fell on
the heads of one generation settled as stains on the names of succeeding generations.
The Nancy Story, with its great potential for staining names, took its name from
the moralistic Anansi fables which describe the exploits of Anansi the spider and
Yawarri the possum. Like the Anansi fables, informants say, the Nancy Story was
intended to teach a moral lesson and, also like the Anansi, it was not to be taken as
personally offensive. Fables were just stories and the Nancy Story was "just wake play".
This just play view of the Nancy was, however, a thinly veiled fiction since informants
were also quick to point out that for the unfortunates named during the play, Nancy
was anything but mere fun. In fact, informants say the idea that Nancy was merely
jest was probably intended as a means of protecting the participants from the wrath
of those accused.
Between 1900 and 1948 the Nancy took place in the yard or bottom-house of the
dead-house. Symbolically, that meant that it was conducted in the most socially active
area of private property. Only during wakes is this area open to anyone without invitation
of the owner. In everyday life it is the location where much of the family social life
and chores are conducted and where most visiting with relatives and friends takes place.
I will return to the significance of this point later.
During this period the community had at least two successive taskmasters (Nancy
Story leaders). Unlike the storemaster, the taskmaster had no particular crew of
players. Certain persons, however, developed a reputation for their interest in and
knowledge of the play as well as for their ability to wine and sing. The taskmaster
waited until he noticed a sufficient number of these persons gathered in the yard
before he announced in a loud voice that it was time to "play ah lil nansi 'toray (story)".
The players gathered in a circle with the taskmaster in the centre of the ring.
The taskmaster kept order with a rod of chastisement and was responsible for leading
the play. To begin the play the taskmaster yelled, "Nancy!" and the players answered,
" 'toray!" He then began to sing "Kin Donyon".'7 While singing he wined in the center
of the circle. After several minutes he stopped to wine in front of one of the players.
This was known as "cutting bar", and meant that this player should take the task-
master's place in the center of the ring. This player then wined while the other players
chanted: "Tony bogaho bantan shako-ho"."8 At the end of the chant the "winenin' "
player could resume singing "Kin Donyon" or switch to another song of his choice.
Eventually this player cut bar to another player and so on around the circle until the
taskmaster called a halt by yelling "churi-qua".19 The players then clapped and yelled
With this opening began the talking of name. The taskmaster re-entered the ring.
He said, "A story bring ahwe hea' tonight!" At that point he raised the tune: "Ef me
naa bin come me naa bin know 'oman ah dead yeah for man. (tr. Had I not come, I
would not have known that a woman was dying here for a man. In cases where the
deceased is female 'oman may be changed to man.)
The above procedure of cutting bar was repeated until the taskmaster called
"churi-qua" to end the episode. The taskmaster then entered the ring and began chanting
"Fi-tay, fi-tung ', with the players answering "funk-ah-deso".20 While chanting, the
taskmaster began to draw on the ground with a stick or his finger. This was known as
"reading book". The chanting stopped and the taskmaster said: "This book, fry dry
never tell lie, story bring ahwe hea' tonight.21 After which he asked, "Who bin dar?"
one of the players, interested in calling name and stating an allegation, responded with
"Me bin dar. Ya naa hea' da 'toray?" Singing in rhyme, this player accused someone
in the community of social misconduct or a crime. Once the allegation was made, the
taskmaster took over the singing. If the accused was present in the ring the taskmaster
wined in front of him and cut bar. This player then had to take the taskmaster's place in
the center of the ring and wine as the players sang about the allegation. If the player tried
to escape, the taskmaster flogged him with the rod and attempted to drag him back into
the ring. If the accused was present and danced, he could eventually change the episode
by cutting bar to another player or say "Me bin dar . ." and raise an allegation against
someone else. Anyone dissatisfied with how long the player was on the spot always had
the option, and often used it, of returning to the same charge later in the game. When an
accused raised an allegation against another to end his time in the center, this signalled
the beginning of another episode and the taskmaster resumed control.
Most of the play involved raising allegations; however, allegations did not necessarily
'bllow one another. Between allegations the taskmaster introduced various tunes such
s, "Me Naa Wan' No Long Contention", "Blow Nansi Blow", "Dis Ole housee a Bu'n
Down", and others, most of which included innuendoes of sexual misconduct and often
concluded with asocial messages. The latter gave the Nancy a sting that the Shell game
lacked, in that it not only exposed the falseness of individual faces, but it also pointed
to the problematic aspects of sociality and sought to strip away the false face of
community and individual alike. Thus alternating between these songs and allegations
the play continued until too few players remained or until the taskmaster decided to
In addition to these formalized indoor and outdoor wake activities, the potential
of the wake as satirical sanction was further enhanced by more individualistic per-
formances. Individuals who continuously or blatantly breached social mores sometimes
found themselves "out of society" having a reputation so bad as to be considered
untrustworthy by all but a few persons, most of whom found themselves in similar
situations. Like the self-accusations in the Shell Game, these performances told a story
on22 the performer. The difference was that these performances told the same story
over and over.
The case of London Dora the playboy, the best remembered of this type of
performance, will serve to illustrate this aspect of the wake activities. London Dora was
said to have convinced one of his many girlfriends to accompany him to the interior in
search of gold. She paid for the trip only to be abandoned in the jungle by London
Dora who fled home with the gold they had found. He later sold the gold and began
having a good time with other women. Contrary to his expectations, the abandoned
woman survived and returned to the community. There she charged him with having
mistreated and cheated her. Unrepentant, London Dora gave the woman no satisfaction.
She cursed him, vowing that for the rest of his days he would eat carrion. Her curse
came to pass as London Dora's fortunes declined and eventually he moved out of the
community, living in a makeshift shack in the farm area behind the village. He did
indeed collect carrion, and some people believed he subsisted on it.
When London Dora heard of a wake he appeared on the path outside the dead-
house. Dressed in a plume shako (military hat) and a long black split-tailed, epauletted
coat, he carried a cane that he brandished like a gun. In this costume London Dora
danced in a circle, miming the gathering of carrion and chanting: "oooh-oooh-oooh-ji-
hooo, ji-hoo-oooh-oooh-oooh"; then "Bun-za-ga-lag-ah-ho, bun-za-ga-lag-ah-ho, ho-ho-ho/
Bun-dam-ah-tag-ah-shop-ah-mini-ho, ho-ho-ho/London Juba ho-ho-ho/Tag-ah-lag-ah-shop-
ah-mini-ho/London Joe, oooh, mini, ho-ho-ho".23
Through such performances London Dora maintained a tangential tie to the com-
munity by continually rehearsing the consequences of his behaviour. His message to
those who would follow his ways was painfully clear. After his death others performed
his story at wakes. Similar performances were often integrated into other established
wake plays, especially plays included in the category action play. In addition to the
London Dora story informants described other plays that they believed originated in
As one moved further from the private areas of the dead-house and out onto the
public pathways which connected it with the rest of the community, wake activities
blatantly attacked privacy, private property, and individual reputations. Other players,
moving from the dead-house through the village, picked coconuts from short trees in
house yards, drank the coconut water and dumped the husks back in the yard of the
owner as they sang, "Wan-wan koknut, hey kiwarri . ." Some went further to rob house
yard gardens of anything edible. Sugar cane was a favourite. The players sat in the yard
singing as they ate the sugar cane, throwing the trash into the owner's yard and moving
on. Informants say if the owners were angry they did nothing about it: like the possum
(kiwarri/yawarri) they stayed inside playing dead.
When not picking other people's property, these players picked on reputations.
Moving in parallel lines they often advanced through the community stopping in front of
houses to sing about the misconduct, or simply the "high fallutin' attitudes of a mem-
ber or members of the household.
The Problem of Legitimacy
This range of outside activities was sufficiently varied to simultaneously provide an
enjoyable atmosphere and ample opportunity for exposure for social transgression.
Of course, not all the games and plays took place at any particular wake. From among
these, persons at the gathering chose potential features of the wake ritual. Choices
were motivated by enjoyment, the suitability of certain games for the exposure of
particular kinds of transgressions, and the existence of a general interest in exposing
social transgressions. Games, for example, that emphasized naming social transgressors
were more likely to occur when one or more persons had reason for wanting to expose
someone. Informants say that when a death occurred, it was not unusual for a person,
claiming knowledge of another person's wrongdoings, to contact others and plan to get a
play going so that the person could be exposed. It is from this standpoint that informants
claim that community members looked forward, if apprehensively, to the wake play.
As one of the current storemaster's crew put it, "In dem days the wake was a place
to go to find out what was really happening and who is who."
Although everyone present was to some extent interested in what was really
happening in the community, the character and content of wakes often depended on
the character and courage of those "with knowledge". If a person with knowledge
did not feel that he or she could raise the allegation, even indirectly, another accuser,
more able and equally enthusiastic about exposing the transgressor, could usually be
found. A debt for a previous favour could be called in for this purpose. The involvement
of this third party assured the exposure and the playing of the game, and at the same
time allowed the true adversary to remain in the background. When this third party
method predominated at a wake it simultaneously increased the possibility of a dis-
interested dissemination of information, and discouraged the strong from feeling that
they always had the advantage over the weak or retiring.
Through such games and songs, the wake provided the location and opportunity
for a general commentary on local norms and the direct exposure of some of the
individuals who breached them. When both the inside and the outside plays are con-
sidered, they provided a legitimate (that is, generally accepted) public forum in which
information relevant to the assessment of face, name, and living well could be exposed
and consolidated. Inside, the responsibility for exposing and meting out punishment
rested with the storemaster and his assistant, the dustman. The storemasters, primarily,
though not limited to, middle-aged men and women, had only a passive role in punish-
ment. Outside, anyone had an opportunity to enter actively into the process of social
control. The Nancy Story, Shell Game, and other outside activities thus provided the
most direct opportunity for individuals to expose wrongdoings and to effect the punish-
ment of particular individuals. And, while the different spatial arenas were not limited
to participation by players of a particular age, gender, or reputation, informants noted
that across the spatial areas, moving from inside to outside and away from the wake
house, the tendency was for younger persons, especially younger males, with less
established good reputations, to predominate. As a result of such spatial and content
variety, almost any community member could expose or learn of the exposure of his
fellowman in a forum with the least potential for the damage to his face and name
associated with everyday self-interested gossipping.
In everyday life gossip is a highly valued means of disseminating information
about others' conduct. It is also disdained and discouraged because the more information
others have about one's own conduct through gossip, the more difficult is positive
impression management, which is needed to influence others' willingness to co-operate
and lend assistance when requested. Thus,while most people do gossip, for reasons of
self-protection they tend to do so "in confidence" and within the limits of a circle of
intimate friends or close kin. This makes it difficult for an individual to use this informa-
tion without risking the reputation damaging charge of being a malicious gossip.
Information obtained at a wake, however, could be used in subsequent transactions,
while retaliation during the wake was limited to counter-allegations within the frame-
work of the wake play games. Informants say it was inappropriate to speak of these
allegations as charges raised by a particular individual; instead they were things "sung
at wake". This was an attempt to remove these allegations from the illegitimate category
of self-interested gossip (taken to extreme, the disdained behaviour of a "wallah-mouth")
to the legitimate category of wake play allegation. It is in this light that informants
insist that what was exposed at a wake was assumed to be true. The risk, it is said, of a
counter-allegation (less possible when gossip is conducted in close intimate circles) made
raising of false allegations less likely. Informants say the liar could more easily be
exposed than in private interpersonal interaction because there was likely to be someone
present who was aware of the details and this made information management (presenting
a favourable face) more difficult for the breacher.
As no invitation was required to attend a wake, for the duration of the wake night,
the wake house and yard, as noted earlier, normally private, became public areas.
Activities conducted there were considered public business and knowledge. This meant
that it was fair to discuss the transgressions and the transgressors outside the usually
intimate gossip circles to which the self-respecting otherwise tried to limit their informa-
tion sharing. This information became part of what one had available for assessing
another's face. As the current storemaster put it, "It refresh your memory of the person,
you know. Sometimes the person is a good person to you, but by singing you find
out 'e out. Some people mix it up."
While the legitimacy of the wake's role in the local judicial process was under-
scored by the inappropriateness of personal retaliations against the individuals initiating
allegations, and the appropriateness of using the information outside the wake context,
its effectiveness was measured by its impact on those charged. Informants recalled ex-
treme cases of shaming where individuals either left the community or effectively
"dropped out of society". In the latter case, they took to their home and yard, entering
into public interactions and areas only when such could not be avoided.
Further testimony to the legitimacy and effectiveness of the outside activities,
during this period, is suggested by self-accusations. These recognized the rights of peers
to make judgements but represented the individual's attempt to temporize and minimize
the damage to his face and name he proved himself willing to peacefully submit to
the judgements of his peers in a manner which was tantamount to throwing himself
on the mercy of the court.
Nonetheless, the overall effectiveness of the wake as satirical sanction remained
subject to the general weaknesses of the total local judicial process its encapsulation
in a broader society which was not organized around its egalitarian values.
It was dependent on public opinion, the effectiveness of which was based on
individuals' responses to sanctioning by peers. While it sought to enforce among a
local community of small people ideals of living well with epople, it depended on the
willingness of individuals to bring forth allegations and of those charged to submit to
and respond appropriately to the judgements of their peers. More importantly, these
two factors were intricately related to a third the need for individuals to place greater
importance on their membership in the local community than in the broader society.
In short, it required that individuals recognize the community of 'equals' as significant
judges a moral community.
The Big, the Bold, and the Decline of Legitimacy
The wake as satirical sanction was most legitimate among those who considered them-
selves mati and who were concerned with upholding the egalitarian values of living
well with people. It was most effective among the shame-faced who took their exposure
or the risk of exposure seriously. Ironically, it was also they who were less likely to
blatantly breach local norms. It was more likely that they became the subject of wake
play as they accidentally overstepped the bounds of decorum in their efforts to "become
somebody" as they competed in tasks, largely defined and allocated by the broader
society, and as they selectively co-operated with those they judged to be living well
Although informants insist that, during this period, big people (the more well-to-do
members of the local community of small people) as well as ordinary small people were
equally subject to exposure at wakes, they also say big people were always a problem.
While wakes were held when anyone, with the possible exception of very young infants,
died, big people were less enthusiastic about allowing the full range of potential wake
activities to take place when wakes were held at one of their houses. Often, informants
say, they tried to limit the wake play to games conducted inside, favouring verse and
The bold also posed problems for the effectiveness of the wake. Unlike big
people, the bold (some of whom were also big) did not object to having the plays
conducted. They were, however, less likely to respond by seeking to give satisfaction
following exposure. Instead, they shamelessly danced to the allegation and went on
as if they were unconcerned with the judgements of others.
When in 1948 some young boys, having witnessed a well-to-do woman from a
much respected family steal a roast fowl at a party, got together and raised the allegation
during Nancy Story, they set in motion an event which had a chilling effect on the
legitimacy of the wake as satirical sanction. The woman was not present at the wake,
not that that should have mattered, but her daughter was there. The daughter did not
see who actually raised the allegation; not that that should have mattered either. She
simply reported to her mother that the taskmaster, the same man who now occupies
this role, sang the allegation.
Embarrassed and enraged, this pillar of the community charged the taskmaster
with slander and defamation of character. Despite the best efforts of her friends and
relatives to dissuade her, the woman pressed her charge in court. The testimony of such
young boys against so well-established a reputation did not prevail. The taskmaster,
despite his plea that he was only doing what the conductor of the Nancy was supposed
to do, was found guilty and fined. Members of the community, including some of the
woman's relatives, took up a collection to pay the fine. This, informants say was the
first they had heard of wake play becoming "court story". The case violated all that the
wake stood for, while at the same time it underscored a major weakness its lack of
power against the big and the bold.
As a result of this case, informants believe, big people, already disdainful of the
wake play, got the idea that they could avoid exposure and having to give satisfaction
for their misdeeds, especially where those misdeeds were limited to breaches of egali-
tarianism. The current taskmaster says it became difficult to get people to raise specific
allegations because they feared that, if the person charged could afford to do so, he would
retaliate by filing charges against the player or the taskmaster. And, if big people could
avoid exposure, small people saw no reason why they should allow their names to be
stained. Even the poorest, informants say, began to threaten to collect funds from
their relatives to defray the costs in order to take the matter to court as a slander or
defamation suit. It is also these threats which informants say increased "out of court
settlements" where the accuser agreed to pay a "fine" in order to avoid the greater
expense of going to court. This procedure was often accepted even when the defendant
felt he might be able to win in court, either because he did not choose to breach
solidarity, or because the fine was ultimately cheaper than legal and transportation
costs. Before the incident, informants say, out of court settlement was more often
associated with cases of theft where restitution or compensation was needed to redress
While the change in the content of the wake was not immediate, following this
incident fewer of the most direct satirical sanction games were played. Games played
on pathways were among the first to go. Before their demise, the current taskmaster
says he used to lead them, but he always saw all the players safely home at the end of
the game because he feared that some of the people sung about would try to attack
one of the smaller or weaker players. Today the Nancy Story and the Shell Game are
rarely played. The full Nancy was attempted at only two of fifteen wakes I witnessed
in 1979-1980. During the same period, the Shell Game was tried once. In all cases
the play was short-lived as members of the household or a person named in the play
threatened either violence or court action if the player did not cease the play.
The most direct of the inside plays have succumbed to a similar fate. Gone are
the dustman and the games which punished players with insults and humiliation, or the
insistence that they apologize to one whom they were known to have offended. The
storemaster says one had to be careful these days because people simply do not stand
for the play the way they did in the old days. He relies on his crew and his assistants
to give verse and tune and to make sure that someone will remain with the bereaved
family until daybreak.
All of this should not be taken to mean that the wake, even as satirical sanction,
has disappeared. While space limitation does not permit a description of the very rich
and complex contemporary wake play, suffice it to say that wake play now relies very
heavily on indirect and ambiguous styles of performance. There is also much stress on
the order of plays. Through this order a number of thinly veiled symbolic messages
are transmitted about the value of egalitarianism over hierarchy. Through the indirect
games, messages are also transmitted about the conduct of unnamed, but for the tutored,
not unidentified persons. Verse and tune selection and the order of individual per-
formances allow for both indirect allegations and counter-allegations. In the name of
"making jollification" all this is conducted amidst much horseplay and teasing, con-
tinuing the tradition of using fun to make personal and social commentary more palatable.
When all the dust settles there are often more than a few stained names, but there
is little evidence for a court charge. Under these conditions one who "takes on" an
indirect allegation, for all intents and purposes, exposes himself. The would-be accuser
is left with the upper hand since it is he who can say, "If the cap fits draw the string."
Special thanks are due the people of Cockalorum without whose tolerance and assistance
the fieldwork on which this essay is based would not have been possible. I would
also like to thank Mahadev Apte, Barry Gaspar, Robert Weller, and Drexel Woodson
for reading and commenting on an earlier draft of this essay. Their criticisms were much
appreciated, and some of them were incorporated in the text, but I alone am responsible
for the final outcome.
1. Unfortunately space limitation does not permit detailed descriptions of the full range and
complexity of styles of performance, games, songs, and patterns of interpersonal interactions
associated with wakes in this community. For a more detailed treatment of the wake, see
Brackette Williams, Cockalorums in Search of Cockaigne: Social Interaction, Status Competi-
tion, and Ritual in a Rural Guyanese Community, Ph.D. dissertation, The Johns Hopkins Univ.,
1983, chpts. 7 & 8.
2. Cockalorum is a pseudonym my informants and I give to a community of approximately 5,000
inhabitants, which is located about 25 miles East of Georgetown (the capital city) in the East
Coast region of Demerara county. The community is composed of persons of African descent
(approximately 40%), persons of East Indian descent (approximately 50%), and persons of
mixed ancestry (approximately 10%). The large percentage of them are small scale farmers,
producing vegetables and fruits for a local market. Others combine small scale farming with
small retail operations and petty marketing or skilled and semi-skilled occupations such as
carpenter, electrician, or taxi driver. A very small percentage find wage or salaried employment
in the community schools or in the public and private sectors in Georgetown.
Although Standard British English is the official language of the country, in many ritual
and religious contexts East Indians use Arabic or Hindi, and the language of everyday discourse
across ethnic, and often class, boundaries is an English-based creole, referred to as Creolese.
Creolese includes grammatical or lexical contributions from native South American and
West African languages, as well as Arabic, Dutch, English, French, Hindi, Portuguese, Scottish,
and Spanish that are representative of the populations which have influenced the political,
economic and cultural development of Guyana.
3. Chandra Jayawardena, Conflict and Solidarity in a Guianese Plantation (London: Univ. of
London Press, 1963).
4. Chandra Jayawardena, "Ideology and Conflict in Lower Class Communities", Comparative
Studies in Society and History, 10 (July 1968), 413-446.
5. Guyana has a two-tiered court system composed of eight regional (magistrate) courts and a
Supreme Court. Reference here to the legal system is limited to community members' in-
volvement in cases taken before the Magistrate court at the nearest courthouse (about five
miles west of the community) or charges filed at the police station located in the community.
6. Jayawardena, Conflict and Solidarity; "Ideology and Conflict"; Williams, Cockalorums in
Search of Cockaigne.
7. The term store is associated with a game, once played at wakes, which involved collecting and
"selling" items belonging to a player when he failed to correctly perform assigned verses and
tunes. The cost of purchasing the goods was measured in additional verses and tunes.
8. Currently the rod of chastisement is a cloth whip. Informants could not recall when it changed,
though they say in the period 1900 to 1948 it was usually a switch or a belt.
9. This closing tune reverses the usual symbolic superiority of givers and takers, suggesting, on the
one hand, that the food given is significant and, on the other hand, that it ultimately comes
from a spiritual source higher than the members of the bereaved household. This message is
consistent with general conclusions I developed in an earlier analysis of the wake in which
I argued that when the contemporary plays conducted inside the house occur in the order
which informants say they should, the symbolism of the plays proclaims the superiority of
egalitarian norms over hierarchical norms.
10. Missy lost, Missy lost,
Missy lost ah gold ring.
Find 'e, find 'e,
Find 'e, lemme see 'e.
In this song the term Missy refers to either the planter's daughter or wife. Informants say the
song and game was a play on the problems confronted by house servants. Rather than
accepting that she lost or misplaced an item, Missy was more likely to accuse her servants of
having stolen it. The lowly born (My Fadda was a dog . .) servants were expected to expose
the culprit and were punished if Missy believed they knew the culprit but would not expose
him. This view adds a layer to the play in which the seeker is symbolically the informer who
is punished until he informs (finds) the culprit who then becomes the seeker-informer.
11. Oh de bee and de bee and de bouncing bee,
drive de bee away,
but if you mek it sting you,
the sting ah leave [stays in] on you.
Informants explain that a bee is an innocent insect in that it goes about its business and is not
especially dangerous to those who do not bother it. It is, for example, not like a mosquito
which seeks victims. If, however, one bothers a bee, one is likely to be stung. By analogy,
in this song, the bee is gossip or trouble. (This usage is somewhat similar to our (U.S.) own
use of the busy bee metaphor.) The person, therefore, who encourages gossip by his conduct
is likely to be stung by it, and like a bee's stinger (reputed to stay in the victim) the stain of
gossip stays with (is left on) him.
12. Guyanese houses are built on 5-7 foot piles. The bottom-house refers to the area beneath
the raised house.
13. Lake ah- to play, to sport (from "laka"; or std. Eng. "like a"; or northern Br. Eng. "lake")
Bumbow-buttocks, pubic area (from W. Afr. "bumbo", or std. Eng. "bum", "fool", or "ass")
A fair translation might therefore read:
like a fool (ass) / (play fool (ass))
Hey you fool (ass)
Like a fool / (play fool (ass))
Sit down there you damn fool.
14. Okra is a plant that requires very little care, but once it begins to bear it must be picked regular-
ly or the pods become too hard to eat and eventually dry up and become seeds. "All ah me
okra dry ah tree" is a lack of concern with domestic life. The lack of concern is related to the
character of the male. "Wuthless" (std. Eng., worthless) usually means someone who is useless,
lacks ability, or is of low character. It may, however, also mean someone who has ability,
but who cannot be counted on to be consistently responsible. In the latter sense it is better
translated as "jive" than "worthless".
15. Informants simply translate "batoe" as stop. "Chak-chak" may be translated shock-shock, but
it is more likely from chaka, to behave in a disorderly, irregular fashion.
16. "Bold" here means to be aggressively rude.
17. Kin Donyon, donyon, donyon
Kin Donyon, wha' me told yah!
Kin donyon story dar yah
Kin donyon you (name of deceased) dean hea'!
Kin means skin and is often a reference to the whole body. Donyon means done (or dead)
here. The song states the fact that someone is dead and that is the reason the gathering has
18. Informants were not able to translate this chant. I offer the following translation based on
meanings found for the words in Chamber's Twentieth Century Dictionary, F. G. Cassidy and
R. B. Le Page's A Dictionary of Jamaican English (the closest dictionary available to a
Guyanese creole dictionary) and J. Jamieson's An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish
bogaho to be bogged down in a hole
bantan 1) bandy-legged (from bantin), or 2) small, combative (from bantam) shako-ho
(shako-ho 1) to speak out vehemently (from Scot. shak, as in shak a crap); 2) to exclaim
with excitement (from Fr. hto), 3) to stop, to cease (from Scot. ho).
Given the context in which this chant occurs, a reasonable translation might be: 'ou bogged
down little (bandy-legged) simpleton, speak out!"
19. "Churi-qua" is not translated. Informants see it as a cue that one episode is over and it is time
to begin the next allegation or song.
20. This expression is no longer translated. "Fi" is possessive. "Tay" means un I, and "tung"
means town. "Funk" is a strong odor; "deso" means emphatically over there.
21. "Fry" here means to torture with heat or passion; "dry" means to deprive person of every-
thing he has. Informants translate this to mean to boil the matter down to its ess nee, as when
one boils the liquid out of a dish of boiled rice.
22. Here, to be consistent with Creolese meaning, "story" should be translated as a euphemism for
expose. Further, in accordance with this informal (non-standard) use of "story", I use on rather
than about in order to gain the benefit of the informal usage of on to mean "at the expense
of" or "to have knowledge of, possession of evidence against" (Funk and Wagnalls Standard
College Dictionary) which are not associated with either standard or informal uses of about.
This, I believe, gives a more accurate rendering of the Creoles sense of this performance as a
23. Informants do not translate the London Dora chant. Those who remember it believe it is a
nonsense rhyme. The following definitions and subsequent translation may help to shed
some light on what the chant meant.
Definitions are based on the sources cited in note 17.
bun term of affection for a sweetheart (Jamieson)
lag to send to penal servitude (Chambers's), to trick with wily devices (Jamieson)
shop to imprison or cause to be imprisoned (Chambers's)
(mini or minny, minnie) an endearment (Jamieson), or one who must be wheedled into any
measure of kindness (as in Minnie'ss mouthes') (Jamieson)
ho-ho-ho a derisive expression (Chambers's)
Juba-day name for a female born on Monday, known to be cautious (Cassidy and Le Page)
Joe a term of affection and familiarity even when there is no pretense of love (Jamieson)
London no special meaning found. Informants believed it was used for anything or anyone
believed to be very fancy.
zag-ga (sag) to shake down, press down (Jamieson)
Given these definitions the first lines of the chant may have meant:
Bun-za-ga-lag-ah-ho Sweetheart you press (shake) me down, you imprison me.
Bun-dam-ah-tag-ah-shop-ah-mini-ho Sweetheart you doom me, you cause me to be imprisoned
(my little or hardhearted one?).
In which case, London Dora may well have been telling his own story while pantomiming
the consequences of his past ways.
"TO BRING THEIR OFFENDING SLAVES TO JUSTICE": COMPENSATION AND
SLAVE RESISTANCE IN ANTIGUA 1669-1763
DAVID BARRY GASPAR
When the slaves of the British empire were emancipated in 1833, it was not they but
their masters who were allocated compensation of twenty million pounds sterling.
This part of the larger settlement of the issue of emancipation culminated a long
British tradition of compensating slaveowners whenever the state intervened in the
master-slave relationship and masters lost their slaves; it also reflected the imperial
authorities' respect for the property rights of owners in their slaves who, however, were
clearly not things. Emancipation itself, like slavery, reflected the perception of the slave
as a special kind of property. If, as scholars have claimed, "the core contradiction of New
World slavery" was the simultaneous designation of slaves as persons and things, then
one of the ways in which the contradiction emerged most clearly was through slave
resistance and the responses of the state that such behaviour provoked. When slaves
resisted they reacted in "sentient, articulate and human ways" against a system of social
control that the slavocracy rationalized in accordance with their acceptance of a right
to treat slaves as less than humans. Executed for serious crimes against the state
(resistance) which they committed as persons, rebellious slaves were in the same context
of resistance regarded as property in that their masters received compensation.'
While scholars have not made much use of slaveowners' petitions or claims for
compensation in their research, these can provide much useful information about slave
society, and particularly about slave resistance. This article draws on Antigua compensa-
tion claims and other related sources from the late seventeenth century to the middle
of the eighteenth to discuss the origins and operation of the compensation system, and
the uses and significance of such claims for the study of slave resistance.
Nearly four decades after the sugar revolution had first taken root in Barbados
and dramatically transformed that island's economy and society, Antigua, one of the
four main islands of the British Leewards further north, experienced similar changes.
As in Barbados, sugar and slavery rapidly became the twin foundations of a developing
slave society into which African slaves were introduced in large numbers. In 1672
there were only about '570 slaves in Antigua owned by a few individuals among the
600-800 English settlers, most of whom were "very mean and lived much scattered".
As the sugar revolution gathered momentum during the following decades the slave
population grew rapidly, reaching 2,172 by 1678 and 12,943 by 1708. After 1678
slaves increasingly outnumbered the white population which stood at only 2,892 in 1708,
and began to decline in relative and absolute terms by 1724. By the 1730s slaves
outnumbered whites by eight to one, and by the 1750s by ten to one. Long before the
emergence of such a black majority, however, slaves had already begun to pose serious
problems of control.2
In the early frontier environment of late seventeenth century Antigua slaves re-
sisted slavery most commonly by running away to the island's still uncleared forest and
hill country, especially the Shekerly Hills of the south-west. A report of 1666, probably
referring to fugitive slaves, declared that "at Antigua they keep strict guard for fear of
the negroes". Three years later desertion was included among the "Divers Treasonable
and fellonious acts punishable by death", and an act awarded compensation to masters
after the slave's value was determined by two "indifferent" men. However, the master
could not only forfeit compensation but also face trial, if he consented to, was accessory
to the crime or, knowing about it, did not make a report within twenty-four hours.
This early Antigua act, which dealt exclusively with the matter of compensation for
slaves put to death by law, explained in its preamble why masters should be com-
pensated: as "the Number of Slaves is increased to great Multitudes" who commit various
crimes deserving execution, "not only great Damages but other Undoeing may happen
thereby To Some Innocent person Whose greatest Maintaynance or Livilyhood doth or
may arise from the Life & Labour of Such Slave or Slaves, & besides itt may fall out
that for feare of Such Lose Some poor & Ignorant Christian may happen to Conceal
Such Cappittall offence of the Slave or Slaves". Recognition of slaveowners' inviolable
property rights in slaves, therefore, as well as the need to prevent concealment of slave
crime formed the basic rationale for compensation. But the act apparently caused more
problems than it solved, and it was repealed in 1682 because it was "found by
Experience to be very prejudicial to the Interest of all the Inhabitants of this Island",3
in what way there was no mention. While the legislature did not then pass a new
compensation act, special regulations in other seventeenth century acts covered
compensation for slave offenders, including runaways.
One of these acts which had been passed in 1669 ruled that owners or masters
of any sea-going crafts used by slaves (or indentured servants) to flee Antigua were
obliged to "make good double damages to the owner of Such servants Or Slaves so
Escaping Or running away, the which damages are to be recovered in the Courts
Judicatory of this Island". This act was followed by another in 1672 covering compensa-
tion for slaves lost or maimed in the service of the island. Then came the fugitive
slave act of 1680. It was an important step in the evolving treatment of such rebels.
The act awarded full reimbursement "out of the Common Stocke" to owners of
executed fugitives who had been absent for at least three months. Owners of fugitives
absent for any period and killed "in pursuit" received compensation at a standard rate
of three thousand pounds of sugar or tobacco per slave. So many fugitives were killed,
or captured and executed along with other felons (whose compensation was covered
under provisions of the 1669 compensation act), that claims against the public treasury
caused Lieutenant Governor Edward Powell in 1688 to favour repeal of the law that
imposed the death penalty for fugitives absent for at least three months.4 But the law
was not repealed. Already the Antigua legislature was faced with the difficulty of
preventing a drain on public funds for claimed compensation, while at the same time
curbing slave resistance through guaranteed reimbursement. These concerns may have
led to the repeal of the 1669 compensation act; but a workable solution was difficult to
find, and in the eighteenth century the legislature would keep trying in the face of con-
tinued slave resistance.
When Antigua's first comprehensive slave act was passed in 1697, it ruled on
compensation that when a group of slaves became involved in a serious crime, the justices
could at their discretion condemn only one of them to death "for examples Sake, and
save the rest, and . Command the other Owners to contribute in proportion for the
Slave dying, to his Owner, as they Judge the Vallue". If these masters refused to co-
operate, the justices were authorized "to Issue Execution on their goods and Chattles,
and sell them At Public outcry, to Satisfy the money by them so Appointed to be payed
or Contributed".5 Awarding compensation in a way that might help to limit public
expense, this regulation was also obviously meant to punish slaves who committed serious
crimes, including desertion. The death penalty was retained, but its application was
By the end of the seventeenth century a system of compensation had been gradual-
ly pieced together in direct response to slave resistance, covering various situations in
which masters' slave property might be damaged or lost; but as more slaves were prose-
cuted, compensation expense mounted, and the authorities did what they could to check
it without taking the teeth out of the apparatus for policing slaves involved in the crimes
that they believed threatened the security of the state.
Resistance and Compensation
In 1702 the Antigua legislature passed a new comprehensive slave act to replace that of
1697. The act reflected a continuing concern with slave resistance and compensation.
One clause, which implied that slaves were expected to know when their behaviour was
outside the law, described the 1680 death p -aalty for fugitives absent for three or more
months as "too severe, by reason of ignorant slaves"; but the real reason behind that
observation was more likely to prevent a drain on public funds for compensations paid.
In any case, the act withdrew the mandatory death penalty and ruled instead that such
fugitives were to be punished "with Death, Loss of Limb, or Member, or public
Whipping" at the discretion of two justices, who would now presumably take into
account how long they had been in the island. For executed fugitives compensation was
fixed at eighteen pounds island currency. The act also kept the old law of 1697 con-
cerning the execution of one offender when a group of slaves was involved in a serious
crime, and the paying of compensation to the owner who lost his slave by contributions
from the owners of the other offenders. Other clauses dealt with compensation to owners
when their slaves were enticed away by others, and if the marshall allowed an imprisoned
slave to escape or the slave died while in custody. The main provisions of this act regard-
ing punishment of rebellious slaves and owners' compensation would be re-evaluated
from time to time as the need arose in the eighteenth century, but in 1702 the legislature
obviously felt there was strong need for an updated act "for the better Government of
A maroon dimension had heavily influenced patterns of seventeenth century
slave resistance in the island. Fugitive slaves, mostly African-born, fled to the island's
wilds, and succeeded in establishing at least one maroon village or settlement; but
after its destruction in 1687 marronage progressively lost much of its force as the area of
European settlement and cultivation penetrated into regions where fugitives had hitherto
taken refuge. As a result, while slaves continued to desert, they were forced to adjust
their survival techniques to changed conditions. Data on slave resistance in the
eighteenth century, from 1700 to 1763, drawn from such sources as official reports,
slaveowners' correspondence, slave laws, compensation claims, newspapers, and
minutes of the Antigua legislature, show that slave flight remained the most common
form of open resistance among slaveowners' troublesome property.7
Commenting on how he believed slaves responded to slavery in the British
sugar islands generally, slaveowner Rev. Robert Robertson of Nevis, one of the Leeward
Islands just west of Antigua, observed in 1729 that the slaves' "Sense of their Slavery
seems to lie deep in the Minds of many of them, and improves (as some conceive) to a
very great Degree their Love of Laziness, Stealing, Stubbornness, Murmuring, Treachery,
Lying, Drunkenness, and the like". Robertson, who had first-hand experience of condi-
tions in the islands, claimed in regard to fugitive slaves that many of them took off
"upon slight and trifling Pretences, and very often without pretending to have had any
Cause or Provocation given them at all, and generally when their Labour, or Attendance
is most wanted". Some escaped to the more mountainous parts of islands and lived
there "for whole Years, which is easy in Countries where it is always Summer". Slaves,
moreover, usually seized the opportunity during wars to desert to invading enemy
forces. Robertson believed that slaveowners faced a constant danger of slave revolts
and conspiracies because "however they [slaves] may disguise it, they hate their
Masters, and wish them destroyed". Such slave behaviour and disposition, he concluded,
made it imperative that slaveowners "keep a strict Eye over" their bondmen, and
they were often "oblig'd to treat some of them with great Severity". These observations
cover a broad spectrum of types of slave resistance, from rebellious open acts to other
forms that were more subtle or elusive. They strongly suggest that slaves were a very
troublesome property. But whether resistance was unambiguous or subtle, we may add,
it is also important to recognize the qualitative difference between individual acts and
those that were collective or had collective potential. As for the subtle forms of
resistance such as carelessness, feigned stupidity, insolence, satire, and deliberate evasion
of work, they were part of what Patterson has called the psychic warfare that pervaded
the master-slave relationship. Of a different order from revolts or conspiracies to revolt,
such resistance was a predominantly individual affair that harassed the slave system.
Acutely aware of the many difficulties of effective management of slaves, Robertson
pointed out that it was "plain to all that know what sort of Creatures they are, how they
happen to be brought here, & c. that the Planter would purchase none of them, if he
could help it". But because "as things stand, they [slaves] are absolutely necessary to
Sugar-making, and the other Business of the Colonies", the planter was compelled to con-
front their rebelliousness and related problems.8
While masters had primary jurisdiction over their slave property, it is clear that
the state usually intervened when slaves committed serious crimes or felonies. Where
plantation discipline was concerned, self-interest often prevented masters from severe-
ly injuring their own slaves, for as Robertson put it so well, "All Corporal Punishment
that unfits them [slaves] for Labour is a Punishment on the Master . as well as the
Slave." Still, far too often slavery brutalized masters themselves into patterns of
behaviour that included severe punishment of their slaves; and it is perhaps true that in
such cases masters may have found it easier to bear the consequences of their actions
than if the state took their slaves' lives without awarding them compensation.9 By 1700
compensation of masters had been standard practice for years, and later the compensa-
tion system evolved mainly in response to the need to control slave resistance. "[W] hen
a Slave is to suffer for Murder, Theft, a Rape or any other Capital crime," Robertson
observed, "he is first appraised, and the Value, not exceeding a certain Sum, is afterwards
made good to the Owner by the Public of each Colony". It was always possible, though,
that unscrupulous slaveowners could deliberately shift the burden of severe slave
discipline onto the state in order to collect compensation, and there is persuasive evidence
that this was indeed the case in Antigua. Here also, compensation came not out of a
special fund, as in some North American colonies, but out of public funds, according
to procedures established by the legislature which was usually composed of large slave-
owners who promoted their group interests. Under this system, non-slaveowners in
Antigua subsidized compensation for slaveowners.10
While compensation in this slave colony and others may actually have encouraged
some owners "to bring their offending Slaves to Justice, and Concealment of...
Crimes . prevented"," it is not clear what real and lasting benefit Antigua masters
derived in a colony where slave replacements were not easy to find. The effectiveness
of compensation would have depended upon a variety of factors including slave market
conditions regarding the availability, quality, and price of slaves; slaveowners' evaluation
of the seriousness of ongoing resistance; and whether masters preferred to shield their
slaves or submit to the burdens of prosecution and later replacement. In Antigua, where
planters frequently complained about the irregular arrival of slave cargoes, and where the
internal slave market was not particularly lively, the temptation to conceal slave crimes
must have been great.12
Changes in the supply of slaves to the island in the 1720s, however, did much to
reduce such temptation for a time. During that decade, when slave cargoes arrived more
regularly, the number of slave prosecutions for various felonies increased proportionately,
suggesting a strong correlation between the two developments. The increased prosecu-
tion of runaways illustrates the point.
From 1723 to 1725 the number of slaves landed in Antigua was, for buyers, an
encouraging 2,539, 60 per cent (1,525) of which arrived in 1725; for 1723 the number
was 584, and for 1724 it was 430.13 Prosecutions of fugitive slaves increased dramatically
in 1725, and the legislature, fearing a heavy drain on public funds for future compensa-
tions, took some innovative steps regarding such expenditure. But increased prosecutions
coincided not only with the improved state of the slave market, but also with a change
in compensation favourable to owners.
Two years before, the fugitive slave act of 1723 awarded compensation at full
appraised value as determined by two white freeholders acquainted with the runaways.
This was partly, perhaps, in response to repeated complaints that standard compensa-
tion of eighteen pounds island currency was too low compared with slave prices. It
was, however, certainly meant to encourage prosecution of growing numbers of fugitives.
Owners, whose slaves were killed while pursuing fugitives with their permission, or by
order of government, were also paid at full value; and they received some compensation
if such slaves were maimed during the operations. To arrive at a proper valuation,
appraisers of these slaves and condemned fugitives took into account such attributes as
age, sex, occupation, probable health, and ethnic background. The evidence indicates
that the number of petitions for compensation presented before the legislature for
fugitive slaves increased from two in 1723, and three in 1724, to twenty-one in 1725.
In that year, the legislature passed a new act which, among other things, stated that
payments had "amounted to Great Sums, and thereby encouraged too frequent and too
rigorous Prosecutions". Thisact set payment ceilings of thirty-five pounds and thirty
pounds island currency for executed male and female fugitives respectively.14 For
owners whose slaves were worth more, standardized compensation clearly involved a
penalty. But fixed payment was better than none, because while masters subordinated
the identities of their slaves to their own, they believed that criminal slaves should
nevertheless accept full responsibility for their actions, and if they were lawfully exe-
cuted, masters should receive some compensation.
One way in which the 1723 fugitive slave act had tried to limit compensation
expense for runaways was to execute and pay for only one slave when a gang of them
ran away from the same plantation. "And whereas Negroes sometimes upon slight or no
Occasions run away and absent themselves in Gangs from the Service of their Masters,
Mistresses, or Renters, to the ruining and impoverishing of them, and to the Terror and
Danger of His Majesty's good Subjects, Inhabitants of this Island", the act said, hence-
forth, when any slaves of at least sixteen years of age ran away in gangs of ten or
more "from any one Plantation" and remained at large for ten or more days, "then
one of the said Negroes, such as the [Justices] shall think the greatest Offender shall
suffer Death as a Felon".'5
But manoeuvres to cut compensation costs without discouraging masters from
prosecuting their rebellious slaves could lead to disagreement within the legislature,
as happened in 1724. Disagreeing with the lieutenant governor and council who claimed
that the 1723 fugitive slave act was excessively harsh because justices were not allowed
to inflict "less punishment for running away than Death tho the crimes are much
greater in some than others", the Antigua assembly countered adamantly that "the
good effects of that Severity have been plainly seen, & we have great reason to imagine
there will be dayly fewer Objects to exercise it on". Furthermore, "the amendment
now proposed . was found a very great defect in the former Negro Act" of 1702.
The council had recommended that instead of indiscriminate application of the death
penalty for fugitives, magistrates should be allowed "to take of a Limb or inflict any
other punishment they shall judge proper according to the nature of the offence by which
means the Publick will be eased of a great charge".16 The direct result of the debate
was the act of 1725 which kept the death penalty but standardized compensation for
executed fugitives. For the time being, at least, a solution had been worked out.
By 1727, however, compensation expense was high enough to cause the council
again to recommend penalties short of execution. Along with the cost of executing
fugitives, of course, the legislature also paid for their capture or if they were "killed
in pursuit"; it also paid for slaves executed for other felonies. Determined to reduce such
expense, particularly in regard to fugitives, the lieutenant governor observed in an
address to the assembly in 1727 that the "excessive charge the Publick has been at in
Executing Negroes for running away and other felony's Calls for our serious Considera-
tion and Redress and in my Opinion 'tis more agreeable to Justice that the Magistrates
should have a discretionary power to show mercy to those that are less Culpable by
taking of a limb or disabling them some other way". He also added that "As the
Country is at the charge of paying six pounds for taking those [fugitives] that are Con-
victed 'tis reasonable the master should refund the money since he has the benefit of
it which otherwise would be of little Value to him". The council itself advised along
similar lines that "in imitation of our neighbours in the French islands", fugitives who
deserved execution should instead be "hamstringed in one legg at the choice of the
owner, by which means the slave so hamstringed will be incapable of running away
and may be very useful to his owner and a great expense saved to the publick. One
"living instance constantly before their Eyes", the council said, "would have a better
Effect on the Slaves then many Executed who are no more thought on".7
In 1728 the Antigua council also tried to introduce fixed payment of thirty-five
pounds for a male and thirty pounds for a female slave executed for felony which,
if adopted, would have extended payments standardized for fugitives in 1725 to all
other felonies. The plan acknowledged that too frequent prosecutions, including many
that were initiated simply for the sake of compensation, brought many undesirable
consequences. The lieutenant governor and council called the assembly's attention in
March 1727 to "some persons [who] have made an ill use of the power the law Gives
them over the lives of their Slaves, by executing some when they were past their labour
and absented themselves without any notice taken thereof by their Master until the last
law [of 1725] was made".18 Before that law was passed many slaveowners must have
felt that there was not much to gain by prosecuting old, unproductive, and decrepit
fugitives who were not worth much at full appraised value. But when the new law
standardized compensation, slave owners who would obviously lose money on fugitives
valued higher than the compensation now tried to profit by vigorously prosecuting even
slaves of the lowest value, only some of whom were genuine fugitives. Others could
simply have wandered off, perhaps to be with friends or relatives who were more
supportive than masters, or simply to make some kind of life of their own. The behaviour
of such slaves, which some masters had normally paid little attention to, they now
unscrupulously construed as wilful flight deserving prosecution.
Because slave flight was the most common and disturbing form of slave resistance
in Antigua, it was responsible for all adjustments made to the system of compensation;
for slaves executed for other felonies such as murder, theft, arson, or poisoning, com-
pensation was always kept at full appraised value, although according to the 1723
fugitive slave act in the case of murder of one slave by another "the Price paid by the
Public on executing the Murderer, [should] be equally divided between the Owner
of the Offender and the Owner of the Slave slain". Since the repeal of the general com-
pensation act of 1669 in 1682, there had not been another, and compensation was
awarded based on "the constant and antient Usage" of the island. A new compensa-
tion act was passed in 1730 which explained the need for a "positive Law" to cover
all cases of compensation and to prevent disputes about claims. The act reinforced
already established methods of compensation for runaways; masters of all slaves con-
victed of felony (including flight) since 1726, and not yet paid for, would be com-
pensated at standard rates for fugitives; after 1730 masters of slaves who were executed
for "Treasons, or Murders, or other Felonies" would be compensated at appraised value.
Although concerned about the cost of compensation to the public, the legislature
encouraged prosecution of slaves under the act because control of slave resistance was
its major objective. For example, the act penalized slave-owners who attempted to
conceal murders their slaves committed, or who neglected to prosecute them after
knowing about such cases for three months. Reinforcing a clause in the 1723 act, the
act said that if any person prosecuted slave offenders and won a conviction, they
instead of the owners would receive the compensation money, provided prosecution
began within thirty days following the three months allowed owners to commence
their own proceedings.19
From 1730 to 1763, claims for compensation and continuing concern about slave
resistance (which intensified greatly during the excitement over the island-wide slave
plot of 1736, and then subsided) did not produce any significant legislation regarding
compensation, although new police regulations were passed. particularly in regard to
fugitive slaves, as in an act of 1757. While most of the compensation awarded in those
years went to owners of fugitives, as a result of the 1736 plot an enormous amount of
compensation had to be paid out, at full appraised value per slave, for the eighty-eight
slaves who were executed and the forty-nine others who were banished.20 In 1739
the Antigua assembly also came up with a very interesting proposal regarding compensa-
tion and punishment of fugitives. Receding from its firm support of execution for guilty
runaways, the assembly recommended as a more effective alternative to the hamstring-
ing of such slaves, that they should be "condemned to Chains, and Kept upon the
Public Works", and that owners should be compensated as if the slaves were executed.
That way, the colony would benefit from the slaves' labour, and other slaves who
witnessed their plight would be discouraged from running away themselves. It is not
known whether this proposal was acted on. Much later, during the Seven Years War
(1756-1763) when some Antigua slaves were recruited for the British invasion of the
French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, masters were awarded compensation
if their slaves were maimed, killed, or otherwise lost.21
Caught between trying to limit compensation expenditure and to curb slave
resistance, particularly desertion, the Antigua legislature explored many solutions.
But as the assembly implied in 1739, it was probably wiser not to worry too much
about the public burden of compensation, but to concentrate instead on how best to
break the back of slave resistance which plagued the tiny island society.
Claims for compensation
A study of compensation claims for executed fugitives and other slaves illuminates
some dimensions of overt slave resistance or the state of war that existed between
masters and slaves. While much can be learned about resistance from slave laws, court
records, and newspapers, compensation claims also provide much useful information
on that subject. In particular, a study of compensation claims permits quantification of
certain elements of resistance which enhance our understanding of the serious threat
such behaviour posed to plantation colonies.22 Antigua compensation claims can be
found in the legislature's minutes, because petitions for compensation had to be
approved by the council and assembly, before the governor-in-council could order
payment. These claims have certain deficiencies for the study of slave resistance. They
record only the estimated value of offenders, their names, owners' names, and offences.
Newspaper advertisements for fugitives on the other hand would provide much more
information, such as physical and psychological traits, ages, ethnic origins, occupations,
probable destinations, as well as their familiarity with English, or degree of accultura-
tion.23 Antigua claims also lack clues to when the offences occurred, or to the motives
behind offences, although elsewhere in the legislature's minutes such information can
be found, particularly the motives of troublesome fugitives. As with advertisements,
the names of some masters frequently appear among claims.24
The claims disclose executions for various offences that might perhaps be re-
garded simply as crimes, but it is not possible to separate slave crime from resistance
to slavery partly because such "crimes" were often deliberate subversions of the slave
system. The politically powerful masterclass did not distinguish between political and
criminal acts, but labelled all potential slave threats to the social and political order as
criminal action, thereby divesting slave unrest of moral legitimacy. The slaves, on
their part, conceived of their "crimes" in political and ideological terms, and considered
it resistance to bondage. This political and ideological consciousness was evident in
both individual and collective resistance, the most striking Antigua case being the island-
wide slave plot of 1736.25
However useful compensation claims might be for studying slave "crime" and
resistance, they represent only those cases that came before magistrates' courts and the
legislature, and therefore under-represent the real incidence of such activity. Many
more cases probably went unrecorded because masters did not prosecute.26 Only a
handful of claims have been found for seventeenth century Antigua. These belong to
the 1690s and involve compensation for slaves executed for desertion and other felonies
including murder. The small number of claims obscures the fact that many more slaves
were executed in the seventeenth century, as demonstrated by other evidence.27
A more systematic recording of compensation claims between 1722 and 1763
allows us to collect and interpret them over an extended period for which certain
patterns emerge with some clarity.28 Table 1 presents only a partial listing, but the
claims show that at least 532 slaves, including at least 25 women, were executed for a
range of offences. These included 152 cases for desertion, 6 for burglary, 12 for theft,
4 for highway robbery, 9 for assaulting whites, 27 for murdering other slaves, 56 for
"felony", 12 for "burglary and felony", 8 for poisoning, 3 for robbery, 1 for rape,
5 for arson, 14 for murders that were unspecified (but which were most likely of other
slaves), and 31 for offences that were not identified in any way. Forty-one fugitives
were also hunted down and either killed or later died of wounds received. To
these claims must be added 14 others for slaves who were executed for involvement in
the minor slave plot of 1728-29, and 137 more for those who were executed or banished
as participants in the larger 1736 plot. The claims show that the large majority of slaves
executed were males, and this raises many questions about patterns of male and female
resistance that analysis of claims cannot answer.29
Runaways executed or killed numbered 188 or 35.8 per cent of all claims from
1722 to 1763; 4.4 runaways a year forfeited their lives. Whether fugitives were at large
for long or short periods, desertion was obviously the most common form of overt
Table 1. Slave Crime and Compensation in Antigua 1722-1763
Year Claims Desertion Runaways Killed Murder of
1722-29 93 (12w) 38 (8w) 5 (1w) 4
1730-39 111 (3w) 53(1w) 12(1w) 12
1740-49 107 ( 6w) 48 (2w) 18 (3w) 1
1750-59 41 10 5 4
1760-63 29( Iw) 3 1 6
Total 381 (25w) 152 (1lw) 41 (5w) 27
Source: Antigua Legislature Minutes 1722--1763,CO 9/5-26, Public Record Office.
(w) Slave women
Claims for 14 rebels in 1728-9 plot not included.
Claims for 137 rebels in the 1736 plot are not included. They are scattered over a
number of years.
resistance in the eighteenth century, and in some years this alarmed the authorities.
Action taken against fugitives at such times was reflected in the large number of prosecu-
tions and claims for compensation. Two such periods are the 1720s and 1730s.
As a result of enforcement of the 1723 fugitive slave act, many runaways were
captured or killed. In 1724 only three were petitioned for, but in 1725 the number
climbed to twenty-one, nineteen of whom were executed, and the other two were hunted
down and killed. The 1725 figure represented the largest number of claims for fugitives
in the 1720s, and 75 per cent of all claims for that year. We will recall that in that year
compensation for fugitives was standardized. In the next four years the number of claims
dwindled, not surpassing the highest number of eight in 1727. For the period 1722-29
the number of fugitives executed was 38, while 5 were killed. That there was a connec-
tion between a large number of fugitives on the run in Antigua (as well as the other
Leewards) in the 1720s and the regular arrival of fresh slave cargoes is possible, but
difficult to demonstrate using available sources.30
For the period 1730-39 the number of fugitives executed or killed during pursuit
was fifty and ten, respectively. Widespread slave unrest characterized this decade. Hard-
ships brought on by drought, economic recession, natural disasters, and insect pests that
destroyed sugar cane and food crops, contributed to the unrest; these conditions, com-
bined with lax enforcement of slave laws, the slaves' numerical superiority and desire
for freedom, and the emergence of charismatic slave leadership, led to the development
of the 1736 slave plot, which was the most ambitious scheme of collective resistance
for the entire slave period in Antigua. A groundswell of general slave resistance repre-
sented by seventy-five executions of slaves for 1730-35 (thirty-nine for desertion) con-
tributed to that grand scheme for a slave revolt, led by the Coromantee Court and the
Creole Tomboy, to seize the whole island. Reportedly "in agitation" since 1735, the plot,
which was organized as an island-wide affair, was discovered by the authorities in
While the large number of compensation claims for slaves punished for their part
in the plot illustrates the scale of the attack planned on Antigua whites, other claims
draw attention to the little-noticed phenomenon that more slaves killed other slaves
than assaulted whites. This pattern of slave behaviour can be explained perhaps by the
common tendency of long oppressed groups to strike out not only at their tormentors,
but also at themselves, and it raises important questions about the damage the experi-
ence of slavery inflicted upon the slaves.32 During the 1730s in Antigua, the general
deterioration of the quality of slave life must have increased frustrations among the slaves
which were then expressed partly in their willingness to join the plot of 1736, partly in
greater insubordination to masters, and partly in increased attacks on other slaves. Twelve
were executed for murder of other slaves in the decade (eight of them in 1730-35), close
to half of all such executions for the 1722-63 period. That twenty-seven slaves were
executed for killing other slaves over this period as compared with nine executed for
assaults on (not murders of) whites should alert scholars to some of the interpretational
possibilities concerning the impact of bondage on the slave community.33
Compensation claims draw attention to many features of slave society. As the
Antigua claims illustrate, among the most evident of these features are slave resistance
and attempts by the state and individual slaveowners to control the slave population.
Problems of slave resistance and control were largely responsible for the emergence and
evolution of the Antigua compensation system, and they highlight some of the tensions
and conflicts that existed in the society which centred around relations between masters
and slaves. Begun in the seventeenth century during the early development of slavery,
the compensation system of Antigua was developed in order to control slave resistance
especially through guaranteed reimbursement to slaveowners whose slaves were executed
for serious crimes that threatened the security of the state. The emerging system was
rooted in the preservation of masters' property rights in slaves, and the encouragement
of masters to prosecute their rebellious slaves. The behaviour of both masters and slaves
was open to control as masters themselves became an essential part of the island-wide
apparatus for the policing and disciplining of slaves. As the slave population increased,
so too did the incidence of resistance generally, bringing with it more prosecutions,
especially when alarming slave unrest coincided with the availability of replacements
at prices that masters could afford with compensation payments. More prosecutions,
however, meant enlarged public expenditure on compensation.
The difficult problem the Antigua legislature faced was how to control slave
resistance and at the same time keep compensation expenditure within manageable
bounds. While the slaves continued to resist, the legislature explored various solutions
over many years and processed a large number of masters' claims for compensation
which scholars can use to study some of the features of slave resistance. In seeking to
better understand slave society, and particularly the slave's role in it, we must explore
all available sources; and while compensation claims are deficient in some ways, this
article draws attention to some of the uses to which such material can be put.
1. Sidney W. Mintz and Richard Price, An Anthropological Approach to the Afro-American
Past: A Caribbean Perspective (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1976),
pp. 12-13; M. 1. Finley, Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology (New York: Penguin, 1983),
pp. 73-75, 96-100; David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca,
New York: Cornell University Press, 1966), pp. 58-61: Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social
Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1982), pp. 27-34.
2. For studies of the impact of the sugar revolution in Antigua and the other British sugar
islands see for example David Barry Gaspar, Bondmen and Rebels: A Study of Master-Slave
Relations in Antigua (forthcoming Johns Hopkins University Press); R. S. Dunn, Sugar and
Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713 (Chapel Hill:
Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1972); R. B. Sheridan, Sugar and Slavery: An Economic History
of the British West Indies 1623-1775 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1973);
F. W. Pitman, The Development of the British West Indies 1700-1763 (1917; reprint ed.,
Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1967).
3. W. Noel Sainsbury, et al, eds., Calendar of State Papers (hereafter CSP), Colonial Series, America
and West Indies (London 1862-), 1661-1668, no. 1270, p. 409; no. 1274, p. 411; "An
Act for publique recompense to the Masters of Slaves putt to death by Law", 28th October,
1669, Public Record Office, Kew, Colonial Office (hereafter CO), 154/2; "An Act for repealing
an Act, intituled, An Act for Publick Recompence to Masters of Slaves put to death by Law",
24 May, 1682, CO 154/3. The members of the Antigua legislature which passed the many
laws cited in this article were usually large planters and slaveowners. The legislature was made
up of the governor who was appointed by the crown; the council, whose members were
nominated by the governor; and the assembly, whose members were elected by eligible voters.
4. "An Act declaring the dutys of all Masters of Shipps or Small Vessels Tradeing To this Island
& for the Careful Lookeing after Theire Vessells Whilst they Stay & the prevention of
fugitive and transportation without Tickett", 28th October, 1669, CO 154/2; "An Act for
ye Reliefe of such as shall Loose or have Negroes Or slaves Maimed In ye service of ye
Country", 14th August, 1672, CO 154/1; "An Act for bringing in Runaway Negroes and
Incouragement of such who shall bring them in", 9th July, 1680, CO 154/2; CSP, 1685-1688,
5. "An Act for the better Government of Slaves", 16th December, 1697. CO 8/3.
6. "An Act for the better Government of Slaves, and Free Negroes", 28th June, 1702, act.
no. 130 in The Laws of the Island of Antigua consisting of the Acts of the Leeward Islands,
1690-1798 and Acts of Antigua 1668-1845, 4 vols. (London, 1805-46), 1. Clause XV of this
act cites the confirmation year (1681) for the fugitive slave act which the Antigua legislature
had passed in 1680. Confirmation from the crown came later. See also clauses VIII, XIII-XVII.
7. David Barry Gaspar, "Runaways in Seventeenth-Century Antigua, West Indies", Boletin De
Estudios Latinamericanos y del Caribe, (June 1979): 3-13; Gaspar, Bondmen and Rebels,
Chs. 8-9. For an excellent introduction to the study of marronage see Maroon Societies:
Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas, (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1973)
Richard Price ed. Leslie F. Manigat has drawn attention to the need to differentiate marronage
from slave flight or absenteeism. He argues persuasively that not "all running away is mar-
ronage. To be faithful to the etymology, the word 'maroon' implies the intention, at least to
attempt. to live another life outside of the social order of the plantation as a 'savage'". Manigat,
"The Relationship between Marronage and Slave Revolts and Revolution in St Dominigue
Haiti", in Comparative Perspectives on Slavery in New World Plantation Societies, (New York:
New York Academy of Sciences, 1977), vol. 292, Vera Rubin and Arthur Tuden eds., pp.
8. Rev. Robert Robertson. A Letter to the Right Reverend The Lord Bishop of London (London,
1730), pp. 12-13, 16, the "letter" was dated, Leeward Islands, 29th November, 1729.
Orlando Patterson, "Toward a Future that Has No Past: Reflections on the Fate of Blacks
in the Americas", The Public Interest (Spring 1972): 42-44. See also Eugene D. Genovese,
Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York: Vintage, 1976); Sidney W. Mintz,
Caribbean Transformations (Chicago: Aldine Publ. Co., 1974), pp. 75-81; Mintz, "Slavery
and the Slaves", Caribbean Studies, VIII (January 1969): 65-70; American Slavery: The
Question of Resistance (California: Wadsworth Publ. Co., 1971), John H. Bracey, August
Meier, and Eliott Rudwick, eds.; Drew Gilpin Faust, "Culture, Conflict, and Community:
The Meaning of Power on an Ante-Bellum Plantation", Journal of Social History, 14 (Fall
9. Robertson, Letter, p. 22; William Byrd to the Earl of Egmont, 12th July, 1736, printed in
Bases of the Plantation Society (Columbia: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1969), Aubrey C.
Land, ed., pp. 69-71.
10. Robertson, Letter, p. 22; Marvin L. Michael Kay and Lorin Lee Cary, 'The Planters Suffer
Little or Nothing': North Carolina Compensations For Executed Slaves, 1748-1772", Science
and Society, 40 (Fall 1976): 288-306; Ulrich B. Phillips, "Slave Crime in Virginia", American
Historical Review, 20 (January 1915): 336-340.
11. "An Act concerning the Payment, out of the Publick Treasury, for Slaves executed and to be
executed in this Island for Treasons, Murders, or other felonies", 31st August, 1730, preamble,
Act no. 186, Laws of Antigua, 1; Kay and Cary, "'The Planters Suffer Little or Nothing' ", p.
290; Winthrop D. Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro,
1550-1812 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1968), p. 106.
12. See Gaspar, Bondmen and Rebels, Ch. 4, which discusses dimensions of the African migration
13. ibid. Data on the trade of the 1720s is well recorded in Governor John Hart to Board of
Trade, 15th February, 1727, CO 152/15, R 190; Governor William Mathew to Board of Trade,
1st December, 1727, CO 152/16, S65.
14. "An Act for attainting several Slaves now run away from their Master's Service, and for the
better Government of Slaves", 9th December, 1723, Act no. 176, Laws of Antigua, 1,
clause IX, XXVIII; "An Act for explaining a certain Act of this Island, past the ninth
Day of December, one thousand seven hundred twenty and three, intituled, An Act for
attainting several Slaves now runaway from their Master's Service, and for the better Govern-
ment of Slaves", 9th August, 1725, Act no. 183, Laws of Antigua, 1. In a letter to the
Board of Trade Governor Hart explained that "the intention of this Act is only to accrtain
the price of Slaves that shall be Condemned, which is acerlain'd at Thirty-five Pounds for a
Man, and Thirty Pounds for a Woman to the Appraisers in the former Act". Hart to Board of
Trade, 20th May, 1726, CO 152/15, R166. Note that compensation ceilings established by the
act did not cover fugitives hunted down and killed. See, for example, the case in 1736 when
William Denbow claimed 70 for his slave Irench Will killed in the hills. The council was willing
to pay only 35, but the assembly argued that Denbow was entitled to full compensation "for
that he Doth not come within the Limittation mentioned in the Act . the slave never having
been tryed and Condemned and So his Death not by Choice of the Master". Council Mins.,
5th July, 1736, CO 9/9; Assembly Mins., 5th, 29th July, 3rd August, 1736, CO 9/12. For
1723-1725 compensations see legislature minutes in CO 9/5. CO 155/6. Payments authorized
in 1725 were close to the 1726 average market price of imported slaves in the Leewards which
was about 18 sterling or 28.16s island currency. Mathew to Board of Trade, 1st November,
1727, CO 152/16, S27: John J. McCusker, Money and Exchange in Europe and America,
1600-1775: A Handbook (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1978). p. 260.
15. Act no. 176 of 1723, clause VI.
16. Mins. of Council in Assembly, 27th November, 1724, CO 9/5.
17. Mins. of Council in Assembly, 17th March, 1 Ith, 13th December, 1727, CO 9/6.
18. Mins. of Council in Assembly, 15th March, 1728; 17th March, 1727, CO 9/6; Council Mins.,
17th December, 1731, CO 9/7.
19. Act no. 176 of 1723. clause XXVIII: Act no. 186 of 1730.
20. "An Act for the further Prevention of Damages to the Harbours, and Abuses in carrying on the
Inland Trade of this Island: regulating the Hire and Manumission of Slaves; and lor advertising
Run-aways committed to Gaol", 25th November. 1757, Act no. 212, Laws of Antigua, 1;
Gaspar, Bondmen and Rebels, Ch. 2.
21. Assembly Mins.. 7th August, 1739, CO 9/12; Council Mins.. 26th February: 2nd, 5th March,
1759, CO 9/23.
22. Because Antigua court records and newspaper advertisements for fugitives are not available
for the period under discussion, I made maximum use of compensation claims as a source to
study slave resistance. See Gaspar, Bondmen and Rebels, esp. Chs. 8 9.
23. Scholars have used newspaper advertisements to great advantage. See for example Gerald W.
Mullin, Flight and Rebellion: Slave Resistance in Eighteenth-Century Virginia (London:
Oxford Univ. Press, 1972), esp. pp. 39-47; Peter H. Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in
Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (New York: W. W. Norton,
1975), pp. 239-268; Daniel E. Meaders, "South Carolina Fugitives as Viewed Through Local
Colonial Nesspapers with Emphasis on Runaway Notices 1732-1801", Journal of Negro
History, 1 (April 1916): 163-216.
24. Wood, Black Majority, pp. 244-245. Close study of the relations between Antigua masters
who frequently claimed compensation and their slaves might help answer many questions
about overt resistance.
25. Jordon, White Over Black, p. 114; Wood, Black Majority, pp. 285-288.
26. In the British colonies in North America similarly, some runaways were not advertised, and
existing advertisements under-represent the incidence of running away.
27. These claims can be found in the minutes of the legislature, CO 155/2. For a study of slave
resistance based on use of evidence other than compensation claims see Gaspar, "Runaways
in Seventeenth-Century Antigua".
28. For these claims see the minutes of the legislature, CO 9/5-26. Minutes for 1751 and 1752
have not been found. Recording of claims before 1722 is erratic.
29. The data on resistance shows that slave women, while also engaged in resistance, did not often
do so openly, in ways recognized by the law. If it is true that the typical fugitive in New World
slave societies was young, unattached, and male, then it should not be surprising that many
more male than female slaves ran away in Antigua, although it would be extremely useful to
know what motivated these women. When the wider range of possible resistance is taken into
account, it might simply mean that Antigua slave women figured more prominently in less
overt acts such as "insolence" which says so little and yet so much, and which whites constant-
ly referred to. There were private ways in which owners and other whites dealt with such
behaviour that kept slave offenders off the standard documentary sources. Slave women's
style of resistance probably focused on the day-to-day variety in which might be included
various inventive ways of obstructing sexual exploitation by white males, a form of resistance
that carried strong economic and political implications. The subject of slave women's resistance
deserves careful study: see, however, Lucille Mathurin, The Rebel Woman in the British West
Indies during Slavery (Jamaica: Institute of Jamaica, 1975); Mathurin. "Reluctant Matriarchs",
Savacou, 13 (1977): 1-6; Barbara Bush, "Defiance or Submission? The Role of the Slave
Woman in Slave Resistance in the British Caribbean", Immigrants and Minorities, 1 (March
1982): 16-38; Darlene C. Hine, "Female Slave Resistance: The Economics of Sex", The
Western Journal of Black Studies, 3 (Summer 1979): 123-127; Steven E. Brown, "Sexuality
and the Slave Community", Phylon, 42 (Spring 1981): 1-10; Angela Davis, "Reflections on
the Black Woman's Role in the Community of Slaves", The Black Scholar, 3 (December 1971):
30. For the 1720s claims see minutes of the legislature, CO 9/5-6. All four main islands of the
Leewards (Antigua, Nevis, Montserrat, St Christopher) received sizeable slave cargoes in the
1720s. and experienced intensification of resistance, particularly desertion. See Gaspar, Bond-
men and Rebels, Chs. 4 and 9.
31. For the 1730s claims see minutes of the legislature, CO 9/7-12. David Barry Gaspar, "The
Antigua Slave Conspiracy of 1736: A Case Study of the Origins of Collective Resistance",
William and Mary Qtly., 35 (April 1978): 308-323; Gaspar, Bondmen and Rebels, Ch. 1.
2, 3, 10, 11; A Genuine Narrative of the Intended Conspiracy of the Negroes at Antigua
(Dublin 1737; reprint ed. New York: Arno Press, 1972). Michael Craton, Testing The Chains:
Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies (Itlaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1982), pp.
32. Leslie Howard Owens, This Species of Property: Slave Life and Culture in the Old South
(New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977), pp. 93-96; Roger Bastide, The African Religions of
Brazil: Toward a Sociology of the Interpenetration of Civilizations (Baltimore: The Johns
Hopkins Univ. Press, 1978), translated by Helen Sebba, p. 79; Peter Kolchin, "Reevaluating
the Antebellum Slave Community: A Comparative Perspective", Journal of American
History, 70 (December 1983): 581-582; Lawrence T. McDonnell, "Slave Against Slave:
Dynamics of Violence Within the American Slave Community", paper presented at meeting
of American Historical Association, San Francisco, Ca., 28th December, 1983. Short of
murder, where slaves assaulted others and caused grievous bodily harm it was possible, by
clause XII of act no. 130 of 1702, for the owner of the victim to claim damages. In 1767
the Antigua authorities ordered absentee owner Charles Tudway to pay "for certain damages
& loses" 22.12s to John Braham whose slave Eve had received a severe beating at the
hands of Tudway's slave Sussex, and suffered a broken arm. Until the compensation was paid,
Sussex was assigned to Braham. Tudway Papers, Somerset Record Office, Taunton, DD/TD,
33. We do not include the 14 cases of murder that were unspecified in the claims for compensa-
tion. These were most probably also for slaves who had murdered other slaves.
WOMEN AND CRIME IN LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY TRINIDAD
DAVID V. TROTMAN
This paper examines the patterns of crime and criminality among women in late 19th
century Trinidad. Its focus is on the last three decades of the nineteenth century
which could be rightly called the golden age of the jamettes or "loose women" in
Trinidad's social history. Although females constituted less than half of the total popula-
tion, they managed to exasperate the ruling classes and had a stamp on the socio-
cultural patterns of the emerging creole cultural complex. Their behaviour caused
consternation among the moral arbiters of the time established clergy, police and
judges as well as those citizens who considered themselves representatives of the
respectable classes. The essay concentrates on those women who found themselves
before the courts or in the prisons and who consequently were labelled criminals.
The behaviour of this small segment of the female population became the basis for
the castigation of all urban working-class women, especially those of African descent.1
The Female Population
The nineteenth century was a period of rapid demographic growth in Trinidad. The
population, which at the time of full emancipation in 1838 was approximately 30,000,
reached 84,438 thirty years later. It continued to increase rapidly and the decennial
censuses from 1871 to 1901 showed a steady rise from 109,638 to 255,148 people.
These increases did not come from natural reproduction but rather from immigration,
as the sugar interests promoted the movement of labour from nearby West Indian
colonies, Africa, China, Portugal and India in an attempt to redress the land-labour
imbalance on the plantation frontier. Like the slave trade, the nineteenth century
indentured labour migration was male-biased and youthful. The movement of these
predominantly West and East Indian immigrants essentially into rural Trinidad
coincided with an internal migration of Trinidad creoles into urban areas.
The female population increased as part of the general pattern of growth,
although at a much slower rate. While the overall population advanced by 132 per cent
between 1871 and 1901, the female segment increased by only 72 per cent, from
49,233 to 119,328. The smaller ratio of female to male immigrants accounts for this
slower growth rate. But although overall the female increases were smaller, the urban
female population grew at a rate equal to the general pattern. The emergence of this
urban based female population was crucial to the development of the jamette culture
of the nineteenth century.
Females dominated the urban centres iin 1839. Port-of-Spain already had 6,781
females to only 4,912 males and by 1861 the number of females had risen to 10,436
as compared to only 8,544 males. In 1881, when females constituted only 45 per cent
of the general population, they amounted to more than 50 per cent of the Port-of-
Spain population, and ten years later San Fernando, Arima and St Joseph all had a
surplus female population as well. Moreover, Creoles dominated this urban female
population, in contrast to the rural area where male immigrants predominated. Females
were 46 per cent of the overall population in 1891, but they were only 50 per cent
of the East Indian and 46 per cent of the British West Indian population. Among the
Creole group, however, the female component was over 50 per cent. In 1891, 60 per
cent of Port-of-Spain's female population gave their place of birth as Trinidad and
31 per cent said they were from another West Indian colony.
The female population, like the general population and its immigrant segments,
tended to be young. Between 1871 and 1891, the age group twenty- to forty-year-olds
formed roughly 40 per cent of the general population; and if we include age twenty,
then at least three-quarters of the population were below age forty. The urban pattern
was similar. In 1881 twenty per cent of Port-of-Spain females were under twenty and
in 1891 twenty-three per cent were between the ages of ten and twenty, with 35 per
cent between the ages of twenty and forty. The majority of these young women were
reported to be unmarried a general condition since 75 per cent of the Port-of-Spain
population in 1881 were also listed as unmarried. This figure refers only to those con-
sidered legally married, of course, for the census does not recognize other cohabitation
arrangements then common among the lower classes. Given the predominance of young
women, however, one may assume that most women lived alone, were involved in
lesbian relationships, or had relationships with men whom they shared with other
Female concentration in the urban areas was part of a general movement of labour
away from the rural areas as women, like men, sought a greater degree of flexibility and
independence which they could only find away from the plantations. Although women
continued to be significant in plantation labour, these were mostly East Indians and
British West Indian immigrants. Non-plantation occupations which could be considered
gender specific or traditionally associated with women increased in the nineteenth
century and tended to be dominated by Trinidadian women of African descent.
The 1881 census listed 5,838 domestics (an increase from 3,780 in 1871), 4,545
laundresses and washers, 7,855 seamstresses and 2,865 shopkeepers/hucksters (an
increase from 1,884 in 1871). Port-of-Spain alone had 3,094 or 53 per cent of the
domestics: 3.138 or 40 per cent of the seamstresses: 1.086 of 38 per cent or the huck-
sters; and an overwhelming number who listed their occupation as washers.
Employment as store-clerks was considered to be a high status occupation and
tended to be dominated by females of the coloured lower middle class. Shop-clerks,
like all other female workers, were poorly paid, however, and seamstresses earned the
lowest wages for the longest period of daily labour. Many of those who mentioned
such occupations to census takers were probably expressing vocational preferences
rather than actual occupations, for urban women had few job choices. Some rural re-
migration occurred during the reaping season, but women had to develop a variety of
urban survival strategies, especially during the economic crisis of the late nineteenth
century. More often than not, the price women paid for independence from the planta-
tion was economic marginality in the city.
In summary, the female population of nineteenth century Trinidad tended to be
predominantly Creole but with a significant non-Trinidadian rural component; young
and unmarried; urban; and marginally employed. Crime statistics acquire meaning only
against this peculiar demographic, residential and occupational background, for women
became victims of their socio-economic situation, and in the ensuing struggle to
overcome their disadvantages, they emerged as statistics in the prison and court records.
Women as Victims
Nineteenth century Trinidadian women, urban and rural alike, were vulnerable to three
particular types of crime: uxoricide, common assault, and rape.
A clear reflection of demographic pressures, sexual imbalance, and other social
and cultural changes wrought by immigration, as well as the brutalizing effects of a harsh
labour system, uxoricide was most prevalent among the East Indian community.
Between 1872 and 1880, 27 per cent of all Trinidad's murders were committed by East
Indian immigrants; East Indians accounted for 60 per cent of the murders between
1881 and 1889, and 70 per cent between 1890 and 1898. The majority of these homi-
cides were murders of women who were either wives, concubines or fiancees. All of the
victims of the twenty-two East Indian murderers from 1872 to 1880 were wives;
60 per cent of Indian murder victims between 1881 and 1889 were women,ofwhom
88 per cent were wives; and 70 per cent of those murdered in the 1890s were women,
of whom 58 per cent were wives.
East Indian uxoricide stemmed from the sexual imbalance of the East Indian
population. The entire population showed a male bias, but it was most acute within the
East Indian community. The plantocracy was slow to recognize the importance of
imported females in a labour-short society, and this, combined with the reluctance of
single Indian females to emigrate, made the Trinidad East Indian community a male-
dominated one. Between 1871 and 1891, Trinidad received 49,855 East Indians, of
whom 70 per cent were males. Approximately 25,037 East Indians arrived in the follow-
ing decade: 85 per cent, or 21,220, were listed as adults, that is, above the age of
fifteen; 11 per cent were children, and the remaining 4 per cent, infants; 70 per cent
of the adults and 57 per cent of the children were males.
Because planters preferred males above age thirty-five, the immigrant male
population tended to be young, single, and in the prime of their lives. The scarcity of
women increased the competition for female spouses. Although men used the services
of Afro-Trinidadian prostitutes and had other sexual liaisons with Creoles, they were
generally reluctant either to marry or set up illicit long-term relationships with non-
East Indian women. The available women therefore became valuable and the source of
numerous jealousies and quarrels that ended in violent conflict. Married men guarded
their wives as if they were prized pieces of property.2
Marital infidelity with employers proprietors, managers and overseers -
tempted many East Indians, for numerous advantages accompanied such liaisons,
and non-compliance caused problems. Plantation officials could make or break any
immigrant. They could affect immigrants' quality of life by the way they regulated
rations and work loads. They could influence the justice system, convincing magistrates
that immigrants had contravened some clause of the Immigration Ordinance for which
imprisonment was the punishment. When employers behaved like feudal lords or old
slave masters and imposed a sexual droit de seigneur over female employees, they fre-
quently precipitated violence by concerned Indian men. Such a situation underlay the
1873 indictment and manslaughter conviction of Louis Thomas, an East Indian, for the
murder of his wife Romain. The deceased Romain "had for sometime left her husband
and formed a connection with Nivet, the manager of an estate adjoining that on which
Louis Thomas lived". Managers' and overseers' relationships with East Indian women
were so common that the Chief Justice attacked the practice in a letter to the Agent-
General of Immigration precisely because it could lead to the woman's murder.3
Despite the inequality of the relationship and the difficulty of resisting, East
Indian women received little understanding, and most authorities merely echoed the
popular denigration. Justice placed the blame on "the very loose character of the
majority of coolie women, and the temptations to which men in the position of
managers and overseers are subjected".4 It was a classic case of blaming the victims.
The benefits of liaisons with employers tended to be illusory, temporary and dangerous.
Women were frequently sexually used and then abandoned, sometimes with offspring.
Single women faced ostracism from an unsympathetic community or death from a
jealous rejected East Indian suitor, and married women often died at the hands of a
Unfortunately for these East Indian women, they were part of a male-biased
culture where perceived slights to male pride had to be avenged. In a misguided manner,
but dictated by East Indian tradition, the wife paid with her life for daring to cause the
East Indian male to lose face and suffer dishonour among his community and peers.
It did not matter if some of these women merely sought to ease the conditions of their
husbands' lives by alliances with employers, managers or overseers. Transgressions
The situation in the new East Indian society forming in Trinidad undermined
many traditional Indian values, particularly those surrounding male-female relationships.
Males, pressured by sexual hunger in a female-scarce situation, abandoned traditional
respect for marital ties and seduced wives away from their spouses. That marriages
performed according to Indian religious rites were not recognized by Trinidadian law
only aggravated the problem.
The ability of women to sign individual indenture contracts and to become
independent breadwinners undermined traditional Indian female dependence. Rations,
wages, land and money awarded in lieu of return passages further encouraged female
independence. Realizing that their scarcity increased their value, some single female
immigrants exploited the situation, challenged traditional ideas of female subservience,
and changed lovers frequently. For many. death at the hands of rejected lovers ensued.
The murder of Rookmania in 1872 is a good example. She rejected Darsan in order
to live with an East Indian overseer. The fact that Rookmania chose to live with her
new lover on the estate where her previous lover resided probably hastened her
demise, for three weeks later the rejected lover killed her.s
Some calculating parents exploited the female-scarce situation. The tradition of
arranged marriages, where females of tender age were betrothed to a male suitor on
the payment of a dowry, lent itself to ready exploitation. Parents of daughters
manoeuvered between multiple suitors, manipulating them and exacting large dowries
or tribute in the form of services. That, too, was a dangerous game that sometimes
ended in death. In October 1878, for example, Jhuly, an East Indian immigrant, killed
the ten-year-old Chetapeah and her mother Palowa. The homicide took place during a
dispute over the return of a $400 dowry or the giving of Chetapeah in marriage as
Palowa had promised.6
Afro-Trinidadian Creoles shared with East Indians the belief that men had in-
disputable rights over the bodies and lives of women, and men used corporal punish-
ment to enforce domestic law and order. It was taken for granted that men were
entitled to punish women for real or imagined transgressions against their domestic
sovereignty or to avenge real or imagined slights against their ego.
The phenomenon of battered women was a public matter, since the spatial arrange-
ments of the plantation range or the urban barrack yard made privacy virtually im-
possible. Although onlookers sometimes became participants and took sides in the
dispute, generally little intervention occurred. The idea prevailed that "a little blows"
indicated love; and the folly of interfering in "husband and wife business" was well
Many domestic disputes were settled out of court so that there is no reliable
statistical information about them.7 Although on the spur of the moment women might
report incidents to the police or lodge complaints in court, once passion cooled they
usually failed to pursue their cases. Legal spouses were less prone to report disputes and
to prosecute. Unless the violence did extensive physical damage, women tended to con-
sider abuse part of the price of marital respectability. Women in common-law unions,
the predominant form of marriage, pursued the matter of abuse according to their in-
terpretation of the purpose of the chastisement. They might report the matter initially
in order to save face; and if they considered the beating a notice of the termination of
the relationship, they might proceed with the case. If the beating was interpreted merely
as the exercise of conjugal rights, however, then convention ruled, and the matter never
reached the courts. Since many wives, married or common law, were either unemployed
or marginally employed, they often preferred to suffer brutalization in silence rather
than face a life of poverty without the financial support of some man.
Rape was the classic example of the oppression of women in the society. Given
the understandable reluctance of women to report it, the number of reported rape
cases is noteworthy. Between 1870 and 1899 two hundred and six such cases were
tried before the superior courts. In the two five-year periods, 1870-1874 and
1875-1879, seventeen rape cases were tried; this number increased to twenty-six in the
following five-year period. The number of rape cases continued to increase, peaking at
fifty-six in 1885-1889 and decreasing to fifty and forty, respectively, in the two
The number of rape reports was small by any standard, and should not be taken
as an index of the actual incidence of rape. The decrease in the number of court cases
after 1889 is also no evidence of real decrease in the number of rapes; rather, it is more
probable that fewer cases were being reported and tried. Curiously enough, the decrease
in court cases coincided with the decrease in the conviction rate for rape. The acquittal
rate for rape increased between 1870 and 1899. During that thirty-year period, 59 per
cent of the 206 cases before the courts ended in conviction, 27 per cent of the accused
being acquitted, and 14 per cent of the cases falling through, or being returned nolle
prosequi. In the period 1871-1877 only twenty cases were tried, but 65 per cent ended
in convictions and 35 per cent in acquittals. Between 1893 and 1899 this situation
changed, however. Seventy-seven cases were tried of which only 46 per cent ended in
conviction, 30 per cent in acquittals; 24 per cent of the cases were aborted before the
completion of prosecution.
The reasons for the decline are unclear, but a number of possible explanations
come to mind. It is quite possible that some miscarriage of justice occurred in the earlier
part of the century when judges may have been more disposed to believe the rape accusa-
tions of women against men of colour. After all, judges and juries were well aware of
the scarcity of women in the immigrant population, and therefore might have found it
plausible that some would resort to rape to satisfy sexual needs. In the minds of many
whites, rape by an accused African or Indian man was quite believable given prevalent
racist beliefs that darker peoples suffered from uncontrollable passions. It is also possible
that, in the interim, legal defence improved in quality thus increasing the acquittal
rate. There is also little doubt that some acquittals and aborted cases resulted from
bribery of juries, witnesses, and sometimes even plaintiffs.8
Racist and sexist traditions of the society had their impact on the legal system
and discouraged more women from bringing rape cases before the courts and completing
prosecution. The stereotyping and characterization of non-European women as people of
loose character and questionable morals constituted a major problem in proving rape,
and became a favourite defence in the courts. The idea that all non-European women
were inveterate liars, sexually promiscuous, and devoid of any "womanly sense of shame"
dominated the nineteenth century thought. A working-class complainant in a rape case
had to fight against these racist and sexist stereotypes.
The argument of one defence attorney in an 1869 rape case typified the defence
used in rape trials. He claimed that the plaintiff had previously had sexual intercourse
with the accused as well as others, and suggested the possibility of consent. Citing British
precedents, he argued that the more promiscuous the woman, the more stringent the
evidence required to establish absence of consent. In the absence of convincing evidence,
he claimed, consent might reasonably be presumed. This line of defence prompted a
response which surely constituted one of the few glorious moments in nineteenth-
century jurisprudence in Trinidad, when the Chief Justice retorted that even the greatest
strumpet had a right to assert an assumed chastity against a trespasser to her will.9
A low age of consent provided an exploitable line of defence for those accused
of the rape of girls. Ordinance 1 of 1889 lowered the age of consent from sixteen to
thirteen years. One of the reasons advanced for this reduction was that under the
Immigrant Marriage and Divorce Ordinance of 1881, the large East Indian population
was at liberty to marry at the age of thirteen, although the age of consent for the general
population was sixteen. The proponents of reduction claimed that this created a
number of legal problems. The non-Official members of the Legislative Council, who
represented the interests of the plantocrats, also argued that "girls developed more
rapidly in tropical climates and sooner attained the age of puberty".
This justification disguised the real reason for the age reduction. The plantocrats,
always concerned about their labour supply, understood that a lower age of consent
would increase the number of people who could legally sign labour contracts or seek
employment, and would therefore expand the labour pool. Two years later, when
Ordinance 20 sought to fix age sixteen as the age of consent for all purposes, the
planting interest unanimously expressed its dissent and walked out of the chamber to
prevent the bill's passage. They refused to accept the observations of some magistrates
and the police that a higher age of consent was valuable in policing brothels and check-
ing the growth of prostitution among female juveniles. As a result, official members,
representing the Governor and Colonial Office, were forced to compromise, and the
plantocrats accepted fourteen as the age of consent.10 The interests of the plantocracy
therefore triumphed and served to perpetuate a situation that facilitated the exploita-
tion of women, propelling them into the courts and prisons.
Women as Criminals
Prison records reveal that while female prisoners existed in nineteenth century Trinidad,
the numbers were small in comparison with the number of male prisoners and the
general female population. That refers only to statistics for prison committals, however.
Other sources, such as newspapers, suggest that a greater number of women were
brought before the courts. However, most women were probably fined rather than
imprisoned. In the closing years of the nineteenth century judges tended to favour fines
over prison terms, except in the case of indentured immigrants, but statistics fail to
differentiate between the sexes in such cases. One can only guess at the reasons for the
smaller female prison population. Some magistrates may have felt that prison was the
wrong environment for women, and would impose prison terms only where imprison-
ment was mandatory. Many women may have been in a better position than men to pay
fines and avoid imprisonment.1'
Total prison committals increased by 64 per cent in the last three decades of the
century, from 20.935 in 1872 to 30,459 in 1899. Female prison committals increased
by 57 per cent over the same period, fron 2,850 to 4,485. Some of the increases are
explained by the large number of people lodged in prison for non-penal purposes. These
included people awaiting trial who were either refused, or unable to post bail;witnesses
in protective custody; individuals detained because the police feared they would not
otherwise appear for trial; and debtors, who were not considered criminals.
While all committals for penal imprisonment increased by 32 per cent in the
1870s and 1890s. the female component increased by 46 per cent, from 2,506 to
3,665. Even with a decrease in the number of debtors, committals of unconvicted de-
tainees rose to as much as 20 per cent of the prison population. Prison detentions,
excluding debtors, grew by 128 per cent, from 2.939 in thel870s to 6,729 in the
1890s, with the female component increasing by almost 200 per cent, from 271 to 811.
At the same time female debtors, like debtors in general, declined from forty-six to
fifteen. During the 1870s and 1890s, the female contingent of the prison population
never exceeded 15 per cent of total committals, 18 per cent of penal imprisonments,
or 12 per cent of non-penal committals.
The female prisoners were also as youthful as the general population. The sample
years 1895 and 1899 show that more tlran 70 per cent of female prisoners were between
sixteen and thirty years of age, with 23 per cent between sixteen and twenty and 50 per
cent between twenty-one and thirty. Statistics for the seventies and eighties fail to
differentiate between the sexes, but there is no reason to believe that the situation was
any different. Female juvenile offenders (under age sixteen) constituted roughly 30 per
cent of all juvenile committals between 1872 and 1899. Convicted women could be
found in the older age groups as well, and women between forty and sixty years of age
accounted for roughly 8 per cent of female prisoners; a number of female prisoners
over sixty years of age could also be found.
Female prisoners' occupational status also reflected that of the general population.
Labourers dominated, but since the records do not differentiate between the sexes, they
cannot provide a precise picture of the number of the females in each occupational
category. For those categories generally associated with women, however, such as
domestic service, huckstering, sewing and washing, the picture is clearer. Out of 1,144
convicted female prisoners between 1873 and 1875, 802 or 70 per cent were from these
four categories, with washing and domestic service as the chief occupations. No major
change occurred by the end of the century. In the 1890s 4,060 females were committed
to penal servitude, 2,987, or 74 per cent of whom listed themselves in the same four
categories. There was a ten point increase in domestics and a fourteen point decrease
The whole judicial system, including prisons, served more as an irritant to women
than as a mechanism for dispensing justice, imposing punishment or providing rehabilita-
tion. A high rate of recidivism existed throughout the nineteenth century as lower class
people were repeatedly imprisoned for short periods with neither harsh penal conditions
or social stigma attached to their short sojourns. Between 1885 and 1889, 37 per cent
of 2,742 females were first-time prisoners, another 37 per cent were incarcerated for
four or more times. A combination of unchanging socio-economic conditions accounted
for the original criminal activity and brevity of most sentences. Most sentences were
for three months or less. In the 1880s, 95 per cent of 4,940 female committals were for
three months or less, with 4 per cent sentenced to terms longer than three months but
shorter than a year. Only one per cent, or eighteen committals, were for five years and
Recidivism and short terms were clearly related to the kinds of crimes women
committed. Since prison records, like court records, did not always distinguish between
the sexes, the female crime profile is unclear. Criminal activity among women, no less
than among men, reflected their particular socio-economic status in a colonial plantation
economy. Women participated in all kinds of illegal activities, but were more prominent
in gender-specific crimes such as prostitution.
There is no doubt that women committed crimes against property and offences
against labour and social economy ordinances. They, like their male counterparts, were
affected adversely by changing economic conditions, especially the sugar crisis of the late
nineteenth century, and it seems reasonable to include women in that period's charac-
teristic pattern of petty theft and larceny. They were victims of a complex of legislation
regulating plantation and non-plantation labourers of both sexes. Indentured East Indian
women could not escape the numerous pitfalls of the Indentured Immigration
Ordinances, and British West Indian immigrants and Trinidadian women who sought to
escape the plantations found themselves trapped in the web of the Masters and Servants
Ordinance and numerous other ordinances regulating marketing and other economic
activities in urban areas. In short, women were victimized by the law as a mechanism of
labour and economic control.12
No record exists of the execution of women for murder or their imprisonment for
life during the late nineteenth century, although females were convicted for terms of five
years and more. Fourteen of these long-term committals occurred during the 1880s and
one during the 1890s. Since long term imprisonment was reserved for serious crimes
against property and person, these sentences might have been for serious crimes such as
manslaughter. With the exception of uxoricide the majority of assaults during the
nineteenth century tended to be impulsive outbursts, rather than premeditated attacks.
Although often resulting in bodily harm, they were rarely fatal, and they were frequently
committed by women.
The brutality of slavery and its perpetuation in the conditions of post-emancipation
colonial plantation society encouraged violence in women as well as men. The slave era
had women who responded to the violence of slavery with as much violence as physique
and their social position allowed. This pattern did not disappear in the post-emancipa-
tion period: during the first generation after slavery, from 1838 to 1869, women could
be found in the forefront of the affrays and riots that so typified that era of transition.
They were highly visible participants in the violence of the late nineteenth century and
a shocked elite commented frequently on their behaviour.
Women played active as well as supportive roles in all the violent activities in
Trinidadian society. The police reported that it was women who encouraged men to riot
during a massive demonstration marking the departure of Chief Justice Gorrie, a hero
of the lower classes. In an 1849 riot prompted in part by an attempt to shave the heads
of female prisoners, women took the same leadership role.13 In both cases women
taunted men for their lack of aggression. Women were the chantwells who sang fighting
songs to intoxicate male stickfighters as they prepared to do battle on Carnival and other
days. The singing of East Indian women served a similar function for the gatka-wallahs,
the East Indian stickfighters, as they re-created the battle of Kerbala at the annual Hosein
Among the many bands or gangs that existed in Port-of-Spain were a number of
female ones.14 Clementia Mills was one of twenty women charged with causing an
affray in the public streets of Port-of-Spain in June 1864 and "being unlawfully
assembled and arrayed in warlike manner". Clementia, armed with a horsewhip, led a
band of women, the "Mourcelines", against another group called the "Don't care dams",
whose leader carried a flag. Both groups carried stones in their aprons, and were armed
with knives and razors. With their frocks tucked up, they fought each other in a battle
which spread from George Street to an open field on the banks of the Dry River.15
Annie Coals, Myrtle the Turtle, Alice Sugar, Alice's younger sister, Piti Belle Lily,
and Boadicea were some of the more notorious fighting women of the time. Their ex-
ploits earned them places in those archives of the oppressed, the calypso. Boadicea
fought Alice Sugar for over an hour for the right to the sexual favours of a well-known
stickfighter called Cutaway Rimbeau. The fight became grist for the calypsonian's ready
mill. In an ironical twist, Boadicea subsequently whipped Rimbeau with his own stave
for having dared to offer his sexual services to the defeated Alice's sister, Piti Belle
Lily.'6 The scarcity of males prompted violence in the urban community and often
led unemployed or marginally employed women to use force to secure and retain male
The elite complained continually about the number of prostitutes in Trinidad
and cited them as further evidence of female immorality. The Chief of Police,
L. M. Fraser, in particular, seemed to have his eyes constantly on the prostitutes, for he
commented regularly on their increasing numbers. He observed, in 1877, "that each
succeeding year shows a rapid spread of prostitution, and no one can pass through the
streets of our Towns without having ample evidence of the utter degradation of our
lower class females"." Four years later, he was appalled at the increase in "the number
of female children who take to habits of prostitution at an age so early that the fact
might almost be deemed impossible".18 In 1884 he was shocked at "the steady increase
in the number of girls of very tender ages who unblushingly enroll themselves amongst
the recognized and registered prostitutes".19 He was concerned, moreover, with the
financial support these women gave to men, making men disinclined to seek regular
employment and more prone to criminal activities. How much of this was fact and
how much was the police chiefs conjecture- however, is difficult to ascertain.
The fact is that the uneven sexual composition of plantation society tended to
make prostitution almost inevitable. During the slave period, the existence of a large
number of enslaved women at the disposal of a minority of ruling class males may have
restricted the opportunities for women to sell themselves on the street. But slaves were
available for hire as prostitutes, and mulatto women operated both as prostitutes and
brothel owners. Prostitutes began by servicing urban men who had no authority over
slave women. One visitor claimed that a Mrs Perry ran "The British Coffee House",
the best brothel in Port-of-Spain and most of Port-of-Spain's taverns were in fact brothels.
Their clientele included soldiers of the militia and numerous sailors who regularly visited
the port. In 1869, Charles Kingsley hinted at the existence of prostitution in Port-of-
Spain, linking it to the town's role as a port, "aggravated by the superabundant animal
vigor and the perfect independence of the younger women".20 The existence of a large
male market thus prompted the emergence of a group of women who were willing to
satisfy male needs outside of the confines of marriage, and for a price.
The development of prostitution can be linked also with economic distress in the
1880s. As we have seen, Port-of-Spain developed a surplus female population in the
immediate post-emancipation period as women deserted the plantations and flocked
to urban areas. This drift continued throughout the nineteenth century. Marginal
employment opportunities sewing, laundering, and domestic service decreased,
however, as the supply of women increased. As a result, some women may have been
forced into prostitution in order to survive. During periods of relative prosperity, other
women may have made prostitution a more deliberate career choice, since prostitutes'
earnings may have surpassed the wages of the menial jobs to which women were res-
Court and prison statistics are not particularly useful guides to the extent of
prostitution. The offence is not listed separately under convictions, and we have to
depend on imprisonment figures alone. Prostitution was, however, a 'victimless' crime,
and had no complainants unless a transaction ended in a brawl over payment and
services. In many instances, however, policemen did pose as prospective clients to
entrap prostitutes. As prostitution was a highly charged moral issue, statistics on arrests,
convictions and committals reflected the prevailing elite moral climate, more than they did
the actual number of prostitutes. In many cases police raids netted women who, although
charged with prostitution, or labelled as prostitutes by the press, were merely friends
and neighbours of prostitutes. Committal statistics indicate that the number of women
imprisoned for prostitution decreased steadily after 1880. But if Police Chief Fraser's
constantly articulated fears and the number of letters to the press complaining about
prostitution reflected actual conditions, then many more prostitution cases should be
concealed under 'miscellaneous' cases and convictions.
An 1874 list provides some indication of the age and nationality of known
common prostitutes. It includes ninety Port-of-Spain women and thirty-eight San
Fernando women between the ages of seventeen and thirty-eight. Another group of
fifty-three San Fernando prostitutes includes two girls of about 11 years whose identity
as prostitutes is debatable. They may have been arrested with their parents or older
friends. Prostitution at such a young age must have been unusual, since the presence of
two children among the older prostitutes created a public sensation. Creoles dominated
the 1874 list. Sixty of the ninety listed for Port-of-Spain were from Trinidad, eighteen
from Barbados, and ten from other West Indian islands, and one 25-year-old Calcutta
woman. Thirty-one of the thirty-eight San Fernando women gave Trinidad as their place
of birth; one 28-year-old woman was born in Madras, India, and a 26-year-old was born
in Venezuela. Unless most of these women claimed Trinidad as their birth place to avoid
deportation, this 1874 profile of prostitutes contradicts the commonly held opinion that
criminals and prostitutes were immigrants. The list does not represent all prostitutes in
Port-of-Spain and San Fernando, however, only "the most notorious and flagrant cases"
registered according to the Contagious Diseases Ordinance.21
The Contagious Diseases Ordinance was one of the weapons in the campaign against
prostitution. It was modelled on British legislation to combat the spread of venereal
diseases in towns with garrisons of unmarried soldiers and sailors. This legislation was
introduced to Trinidad as Ordinance 18 of 1869, suspended for three years but
reactivated in 1875 and remained in operation until 1887. The Act required women
accused of common prostitution to register and to be periodically examined for venereal
disease and, if diseased, to be incarcerated in a certified hospital ward.22
In the hands of the police the ordinance became a tool to harass not only prosti-
tutes, but all lower-class women. The term "common prostitute" was so vague that it
left the interpretation to the discretion of the police. Women were expected to submit
voluntarily to a medical examination. If they refused they were taken before a
magistrate and had to prove that they were virtuous. Evidence of sexual activity, regard-
less of the circumstances, was often all that was needed to establish guilt. As a result,
many innocent women were forced to register as common prostitutes and were subjected
to periodic examinations. Some women who were thus harassed either left town or
changed their addresses, for when the Act was reactivated in1875 the police could not
locate many of the original registrants.23
Unscrupulous policemen abused their powers and exacted sexual favours from
women. For instance, women who refused the advances of Sergeant Holder, a Barbadian,
often found themselves arrested and forced to register as common prostitutes. Magistrate
Mayne of the Port-of-Spain court accepted Holder's word on any case connected with the
Ordinance and "out of twenty cases decided by Mayne against unfortunate women, victims
of this man's rapacity and lust, nineteen were decided on Holder's unsupported evidence".
Finally, a petition made by Elizabeth Walcott was investigated and Holder was found
guilty and dismissed from the force. He returned to Barbados but irreparable damage
had been done already to the lives of innocent women whose only crime was that they
were poor and non-white.24
Those who failed to petition against the unfair workings of the ordinance did not
necessarily accept their fate, however, for there were other ways to protest. Residents of
Upper Charlotte Street and St Ann's Road, a new uppei-class suburb, witnessed
"scandalous scenes of obscenity and scandal occasioned on Wednesday mornings by
the band of prostitutes who go up in a body to the Hospital, in compliance with the
provisions of the Contagious Diseases Ordinance".25 Without political power, unor-
ganized and mostly illiterate, they used the only tools available to them, shouting and
screaming their way to their weekly examination, flagrantly demonstrating their resent-
ment in ways that attracted attention to them as a group. Ironically, such behaviour only
reinforced the negative stereotypes that 'decent' society already applied to them.
Charges of indecent behaviour, riotous and disorderly conduct, and obscene and
profane language were the most frequent charges made against working-class women.
Many of these charges reflect the cultural gap between the elite and working class. The
charge of obscene language resulted from the elite's attempt to impose the English
language on a multi-ethnic society, and reflected the different values attached to language
by the elite and lower classes. The problem was exacerbated by an aggressive West Indian
immigrant police force which rarely understood the popular patois of the lower classes.
Charges of indecent behaviour and disorderly conduct were used to restrict those types
of working-class behaviour which seemed directly opposed to the ideals of an elite in-
fluenced by Victorian ethics. Lower-class behaviour seemed to emphasize noise,
turmoil and lack of sobriety, while the elite code emphasized sobriety, decorum and
respectability. The behaviour of lower class women in particular represented everything
that was antithetical to ruling-class notions of respectability.
Women were the chief victims of cultural conflict in such areas as religion, language
and behaviour, since they tended to be more involved than men in those activities which
attracted the attention of the ruling classes and brought them into immediate contact
with the law. Urban working-class women as representatives of the emerging creole
culture were the prime casualties of a cultural struggle which had as its aim the imposition
of a cultural hegemony supportive of perpetuation of plantation interests in post-emanci-
pation Trinidad.2 Women were perceived as perpetuators of a code of ethics and
a pattern of behaviour antagonistic to the plantation order. They were isolated,
labelled criminal, and continually harassed by the law. They formed a small but signifi-
cant portion of those continually before the courts or in the prisons.
CO Colonial Office Series, Public Record Office, Kew
PP Parliamentary Papers, Great Britain, House of Commons
TCP Trinidad Council Papers
1. On the history of Trinidad in the nineteenth century see Bridget Brereton, Race Relations in
Colonial Trinidad 1870-1900 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1979); Donald Wood,
Trinidad in Transition (London: Oxford University Press, 1968); and Eric Williams, History of
the People of Trinidad and Tobago (Port-of-Spain: P.N.M. Publishing Co., 1962).
2. Keate to Cardwell, No. 79, 21st May, 1864, and enclosures, CO 295/227.
3. Longden to Kimberley, No. 161, 21st August, 1873, CO 295/269.
4. Longden to Kimberley, No. 161, 21st August, 1873, CO 295/269.
5. Longden to Kimberley, No. 74, 6th April, 1872, CO 295/269.
6. No. 88 and enclosures, CO 295/313.
7. The offence 'assaulting female or child' was not distinguished from 'assault and battery' in
the statistics prior to 1901. In the decade 1901-1910, 275 persons (256 males and 19 females)
were imprisoned for 'assaulting female or child'.
8. For example, see rape cases reported in Port-of-Spain Gazette, 19th October, 1892.
9. Gordon to Granville, No. 59, 8th May, 1869, and enclosure, CO 295/247.
10. Robinson to Knutsford, No. 127, llth April, 1889, CO 295/322; No. 312, 8th October,
1890, CO 295/330; and No. 311, 27th November, 1891, CO 295/334.
11. See TCP 30/1883, p. 3.
12. For crimes against property see David V. Trotman, "Crime and the Plantation Society:
Trinidad 1838-1900", Ph.D. dissertation, The Johns Hopkins University, 1980, pp.
132-173; and on law and labour see David V. Trotman, "The law and labour control in
nineteenth century Trinidad", in Latin America and The Caribbean: Geopolitics, Development
and Culture (Ottawa: CALACS, 1984).
13. Harris to Grey, No. 1, January 1850, CO 295/170.
14. These bands were not purposeless groupings given only to senseless violence, as the Chief of
Police and others described them, but were sororities that served as friendship and support
networks in the sometimes strange and alienating urban situation. See also Brereton, Race
Relations, pp. 166-9.
15. The Trinidad Chronicle, 23rd December, 1864.
16. Andrew Pearse, "Mitto Sampson on Calypso Legends of the Nineteenth Century", Caribbean
Quarterly, 4 (1956): 250-262.
17. TCP 45/1878, Report of the Inspector of Prisons 1877, p. 2.
18. TCP 53/1882, Report of the Inspector of Prisons 1881, p. 3.
19. No. 107, Enclosure from the Inspector of Prisons, 1884, CO 295/306.
20. V. S. Naipaul, The Loss of El Dorado: A History (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1970), p. 162;
Charles Kingsley, At Last: A Christmas in the West Indies (London: Macmillan and Co.,
1889), p. 72.
21. TCP 17/1875.
22. TCP 17/1875; PP 1887, LVII. pp. 675-87; Robinson to Knutsford, No. 26, 21st January,
1891, CO 295/332.
23. TCP 17/1875.
24. Port-of-Spain Gazette, 10th December, 1881, and Trinidad Palladium, 19th November, 1881.
25. Port-of-Spain Gazette, 5th November, 1881.
26. For a more extensive discussion of the struggle bor cultural hegemony see Trotman, "Crime
and the Plantation Society", pp. 294-361; see also Brereton, Race Relations, pp. 193-212.
LABOUR AND EMANCIPATION IN DOMINICA: CONTRIBUTION TO A DEBATE
In the opening pages of her seminal study of the historiography of the British West
Indies, the late Elsa Goveia drew attention to the "underlying presuppositions" that
influence historical studies. Some of these, she argued, have led historians of the British
Caribbean "to generalise, and sometimes[ they have] generalised extremely" from a
limited amount of information related to a restricted sample of territories.' While
Goveia's critical observations were aimed at historians of another age, they are still
relevant today, particularly in regard to the issue of the labourer's "flight from the
estates" following final Emancipation in 1838.
Historians have long surmised from travellers' accounts and reports of planters'
problems that the end of Apprenticeship suddenly reduced the size of the resident
plantation labour force throughout the British Caribbean. Most of those who accepted
this view tended to focus their attention on the causes for labour's withdrawal.
Douglas Hall has summarized their conclusions and one barely needs to modify his
survey of the literature. For most writers, the end of Apprenticeship simply gave the
former slaves their first, long-awaited opportunity to abandon the sites and symbols of
slavery. Others, including Hall himself, have emphasized planters' attitudes against
which the labourers reacted: the planters, in essence, chased the labourers away. Some
other writers, however, have drawn particular attention to the labourers' attraction to
the available alternatives to plantation labour.2
Hall's recent article provides a good point of entry into the debate about the
ex-slaves' behaviour and attitudes toward plantation labour because of its acute sharpen-
ing of the issues. Using the 1842 Report of the Select Committee of the House of
Commons on the West India Colonies, Hall has attempted to flesh out quantitatively
(though not systematically) the extent of the labourers' flight in the whole British
Caribbean. He has also tried to determine how far withdrawal itself "reflected an
intention to withdraw" from the plantation economy. Bringing together his understanding
on both issues, Hall suggests that planters' "attitudes led to the exodus" which was,
however, limited by the former slaves' ambivalence: they were torn between hatred
of the estates (due to the inequities of early freedom) and attachment to them (rooted
in the homes and provision grounds they had there). This double emphasis is important.
However, Woodville Marshall believes that claims in favour of withdrawal or flight are
questionable because "[ex-slaves] had more of an interest in improving their standard
of living than seeking 'independence'. They believed perhaps naively, they could improve
their standard of living on the estates".3
This paper will show that not all ex-slaves shared such naivete all of the time.
Before turning to the data, however, we need to establish its relevance with particular
reference to the interpretative concepts found in the literature. First, therefore, the paper
presents a very cursory appraisal of what one might call, following Goveia, the "under-
lying presuppositions" of the arguments advanced on both sides of the "flight" debate.
This is followed by an examination of data contained in a Stipendiary Magistrate's
reports of the estate population in three parishes of Dominica from the very first day
of total "freedom" to November 1838.
Notes on Historiography
That any statement requires a certain number of assumptions should not dissuade us
from advancing propositions about societies, but it does demand from social scientists
a constant awareness of their prerequisites. Such prerequisites are not of the same order,
though the different orders may overlap, and the boundaries between different levels
may fluctuate. One may distinguish: 1) basic epistemological assumptions or the "tenets
concerning the general relation between knowledge and the world"; 2) discussive rules,
or a priori strategies for the development of any institutionalized discourse; 3) dominant
conceptual trends within a formed discourse (Kuhn's paradigms); 4) presuppositions
about the object of knowledge which orient the framework of specific studies the
"underlying assumptions" which figured among Goveia's main concerns.4
In the literature on Emancipation and labour in the nineteenth century Caribbean,
all four types of assumptions abound, but this brief overview will treat them only as
they emerge at the fourth level where their relevance is more immediate. The assump-
tions that have influenced the debate about "the flight from the estates" include an
idealist perception of both "Freedom" and "Slavery" that implies the irrelevance of a
firm "time base", and a mechanical approach to causality; that Caribbean societies,
particularly the British territories, shared basically common experiences; that the socio-
economic reality of the plantations within the territories need not be differentiated on
the basis of size, crops, or variations in the labour process; that an existential homogeneity
characterized the lives of Caribbean slaves. We will expand on all of these assumptions
in turn, fully aware that not all of the writers who have studied the "flight" of labour
shared them in the same manner or to the same degree. Indeed, a few scholars carefully
avoided some of them.
An idealist perception of "Liberty" has plagued the Western social sciences, particu-
larly in relation to studies of plantation societies in the Americas. Yet, as I put it
elsewhere, we should not forget that "the notion of freedom in se is a fairly recent
invention of Western liberal thought, always qualified by practice despite the claims
actuated by ideologues of both the French and North American revolutions".5 Those
of us who have lived in politically repressive societies or who have experienced the
constraints of a rigid social structure (and many Caribbean islanders fall within both
categories) know very well that "Freedom" is always actualized in negative or positive
terms. The same was true for "slavery". Yet, as Gisela Eisner pointed out, the flight
from the estates "is usually explained in terms of an association within the ex-slaves'
mind between sugar planting and slavery and the consequent literal interpretation of
freedom". Eisner, nonetheless, fell into the trap of a literal interpretation of freedom
when she wrote that had the ex-slaves "been assured of attractive wages and conditions
of employment there is no reason to suppose that they would not have remained on
the estates".6 This, of course, is an unfounded assumption. There is no reason to suppose
that ex-slaves in the British Caribbean shared a trade-unionist-like interpretation of
freedom. If we assume, for the purposes of argument, that "freedom" was first
actualized for them during "slavery" in terms of land ownership ( as I think was the
case for the Haitian rebels),7 high wages would have still been "unattractive" if the
labourers' expectations about land control were not met. Moreover, as Michael Craton
has reminded us, one need not defend slavery to acknowledge that the new system of
"wage slavery" was "in many ways even more degrading and exploitative".8
This brings us to some writers' mechanical approach to historical causality.
While Eisner rightfully questioned a unilinear explanation of the flight of labour, she
nevertheless substituted an alternative, later picked up by Hall, that was equally unilinear.
Hall wrote that the "movement of residence from the estates came as a consequence,
not of burning recollections of brutalities suffered during slavery, but rather of the terms
of Emancipation itself and the behaviour of estate owners after 1834". Here, Hall
reintroduced planters' behaviour as a factor to be taken into account; but only by using
a mechanical view of historical causality would we infer from his claim that the ex-slaves
themselves were merely reacting to pressures from the plantocracy. The range of causal
possibilities, however, cannot be limited a prior.
The differential relevance of divergent factors draws attention to the issue of a
time base. Goveia reminded us that "in history, time supplies the continuum but not
the principle of change".9 Yet, the always arbitrary extent of that continuum determines,
in fact, the pertinence of a particular principle of change. In other words, explanations
are very much dependent upon the duration within which social scientists set the relations
they wish to study. To take only two examples: the issues of alternatives open to labour-
ing and non-labouring classes after Emancipation, and the related impact of free trade
on planter power are likely to skew the debate toward a discussion of four national
structures and suggest a rather long duration. Classes do not discover altern,.tives in a
few weeks, and the formulation, as well as the critique, of arguments advan :d in terms
of class alternatives must clearly establish the chronological base and its appropriate
historical time. Yet, both issues may reappear within a historical framew -k of much
shorter duration and, in that case, the notion of "alternative" pertains n uch less to
general tendencies than to individual decisions.10
Individual consciousness is also at the very root of any argument which emphasizes
(or rejects) the ex-slaves' memory of "the horrors of slavery" as a relevent actor in our
understanding of "the flight". The potency of the argument should rest on the precision
of the continuum and on a methodology which freezes, as it were, "history in the making".
Outside of such a framework, the proposition remains a guess, though a quite legitimate
one and, certainly, one more in tune with what we know of slave resistance than the
assumption that "attractive wages" would have erased the horror. Thus, the real problem
is less in the formulation of assumptions than in many historians' failure to reveal the
grounds of such assumptions, or in the corollary tendency to mix assumptions and
arguments which pertain to different durations. In a short-term analysis, for instance,
the events of a few weeks, or even those of a day, can make a crucial difference. Quite
misleading then, is the sub-title of Hall's article "The British West Indies, 1838-1842"-
not simply because the evidence rests almost exclusively on the minutes of the Select
Committee of 1842, but also because the testimonies recorded deal mainly with the con-
dition of the estates in that single year and, more important, because the article itself
treats that evidence (and the issue of the motives behind the "flight") in terms which
make the period between 1838 and 1842 a most important lacuna.
The validity of a particular generalization rests, then, as much on the duration
chosen by the analyst as on the factors that are isolated. Because the conditions under
which slavery evolved and Emancipation occurred varied among the territories despite
their structural similarities, one cannot assume the equivalence of Caribbean societies,
nor even the cultural homogeneity of the British West Indies. Some of these had been
British colonies for only a brief period of seventy-five years when Emancipation occurred,
while British rule had been largely uncontested in others for more than two centuries.
Moreover, even in the colonies long held by the same European power, creolization
always occurred in variance with the colonizers' designs and expectations." Finally,
patterns of integration, adaptation, accommodation and resistance most likely varied
from plantation to plantation within the same colony according to the crops planted,
the size of the unit, and the operation of particular labour processes.'2
Thus the tendency (inherited from the British Colonial Office) to analyze the whole
Caribbean in terms of two or three "more important" territories (particularly Jamaica),
or in terms of a few large estates is extremely dangerous when the argument advanced
seeks to integrate the consciousness and the volition of historical actors. We cannot
assume that, from an existential viewpoint, all slaves and labourers perceived either
"Slavery" or "Freedom" in the same manner. To be sure, comparisons and generaliza-
tions about the behaviour of ex-slaves in the immediate aftermath of Emancipation are
useful and necessary. The point is, however, that such generalizations cannot be based
on the assumption of an existential homogeneity of the "slave sector", especially
when that homogeneity itself rests, in fact, on our own "literal interpretations of free-
dom", with the trade-unionist, populist or neo-Marxian tendencies that they imply.
Along with the refinement of theoretical bases, scholars need also to study particular
societies in order to flesh out, as richly as possible, the events or the facts on the
Despite important contributions from Riviere, Hall, Marshall and others, such
studies are still too few. The second part of this paper is therefore a modest attempt
to enrich the empirical field with material from the island of Dominica. It must be
noted that the bulk of the evidence deals with a spatially limited group of estates and is
restricted to year 1838, the very year of final Emancipation, and that the analytical
claims are more modest than those we have been accustomed to expect in the debate
over "the flight". But this should not be surprising, for the point of this paper is simply
that a closer examination of the empirical material can lead us to better questions about
the relationship between labour and the estates only if such examination is conducted
with the epistemological and methodological caution suggested above.
A Magistrate's Reports
William Lynch may have been, for reasons so far undetermined, the most attentive of
the Stipendiary Magistrates who monitored the Dominican countryside in the year 1838.
He repeatedly listed by name the estates in his charge in the parishes of St George, St
Luke, St Mark and St Patrick South, and he managed to provide more detail than most
of his colleagues, though he covered at least three relatively dense areas. Lynch's
carefully prepared reports testify to his ability as an observer. With considerable discern-
ment he sought out the causes that lay behind the events and figures he reported, and
it is quite likely that the Dominica Executive appointed him a Magistrate because he
could be relied upon to cover the wide and important district assigned to him.13
The unique feature of Lynch's reports is a combination of four lists of more than
fifty estates which summarize labour conditions on them. The data in the lists, how-
ever, do not appear with the same consistency, and some of the estates bore the same
name. As a result, I have eliminated part of the lists' contents to obtain a continuous set
of information about forty-one estates from which the evidence for this study is derived
(Appendix). The evidence for each estate consists of:
1) the name of the estate and the main crop(s) produced.
2) the number of apprenticed labourers on 31st July, 1838, the last day of
3) the average number of labourers at work in August 1838, the first month
of "total freedom".
4) the average number of labourers at work and the conditions of work in
5) the average number of labourers at work and the conditions of work in
6) the average number of labourers at work and the conditions of work in
On the eve of final Emancipation, twenty of the estates produced both sugar cane and
coffee, twelve produced sugar cane only, and nine produced coffee only, together, they
employed 2,634 apprentices unequally distributed, from 20 at Bellevue to a much larger
number of 203 at Geneva. Lynch also mentions nineteen other locations, patches of
coffee or cane, that are not included in his original lists. These lists, then, are neither
representative of the whole geographical area for which the magistrate was responsible,
nor of the whole Dominica situation. The number of claims for compensation filed in
accordance with the 1833 Emancipation Act suggests an island-wide mean of eleven slaves
per owner; and 357 of the 872 unlitigated claims involved less than three slaves.14 Against
that island-wide background, Lynch's data project an exceptional picture which, for our
purposes, is nonetheless quite valuable for the light it throws on plantation agriculture in
Between 31st July and 1st December, 1838, the forty-one estates with which we
are concerned together lost 1,030 or 39.10 per cent of their original labour force of
2,634 apprentices. In their efforts to quantify the flight from the estates scholars have
generally relied on evidence going back only to the 1840s, but our data for 1838
document a very sharp decline in the labour force immediately after Emancipation.
In four months, 1,000 labourers, at the very least, left our group of estates, and while
we can only guess at their motivations at this stage of the investigation, it does not
seem that eviction by the planters would be a factor here for at least two reasons.
First, the planters had good economic motives to try to maintain a substantial labour
force. Second, until 1st October, 1838, legislation forbade the expulsion of former
apprentices who were willing to keep their tenancy in exchange for three days' labour
per week."1 Yet the largest withdrawal of labourers from the estates (1,413) occurred
less than sixty days after the end of apprenticeship, in August and September, exactly
when the labourers had, at least formally, legal protection against eviction.
The rise in the total labour force after September suggests that many ex-slaves
returned to plantation labour after they had explored diverse alternatives. To the extent
that such a pattern can be documented elsewhere, any argument couched in terms of the
ex-slaves' consciousness and volition must take into account an original impulse to leave,
and both the structural and the existential factors which determined the return of some,
or the finality of withdrawal of others. Moreover, as Craton again reminds us, we should
not confuse statistical averages with individuals.16 There is no reason to assume that
the statistics which measure the size of the post-Emancipation labour force on any
particular plantation refer to the same individuals who had been slaves on that same
unit. In fact, in his October report, where the ex-slaves' tendency to return to plantation
labour is first quantified, Lynch notes that the labourers who agreed to work for wages
generally did so on estates that did not belong to their former masters, if only because
they expected higher wages from other employers or because they had destroyed their
old provision grounds in anger.
Unfortunately, Lynch does not provide us with enough data to probe further
into the social atmosphere of those first crucial days, and it is best to postpone any firm
conclusion on the labourers' most immediate flight and the conditions and circumstances
of the September-November return.17 We will thus concentrate here on the general
decrease of 39.10 per cent from July to November, though we must remain wary that
even such a small continuum obliterates important changes for which we can barely
account. The following conclusions are drawn from three different distributions of
that decrease among the forty-one Dominica estates.
The first distribution seems to suggest that the nature of the crop cultivated
on the estate did not by itself make much difference to the former slaves. Sugar
estates registered a decrease of 39.27 per cent in their labour force, while coffee and
mixed estates combined registered a 38.94 per cent decline. Estates producing only coffee
lost more, but in Dominica most of the mixed estates were primarily coffee estates
where sugar production remained marginal (Table 1).
Table 1. Distribution of the July November Decrease
ACCORDING TO CROPS CULTIVATED
Crop Sugar/Coffee Sugar Coffee Total
Number of Estates 20 12 9 41
July Labour Force 875 1,245 514 2,634
% Share 33.21 47.26 19.51 100
November Labour Force 575 756 273 1,604
% Share 35.84 47.13 17.01 100
Net Decrease 34.28 39.27 46.88 39.10
The second distribution is more revealing. The estates can be placed in three groups
in regard to their labour force on July 31: 1) those with 20-50 labourers; 2) those with
51-100 labourers; 3) those with more than 100 labourers. The relative decreases from
July to November suggest that labourers tended to stay away from the larger estates.
The large estates' share of the total labouring population dropped from 46.88 per cent to
39.46 per cent as they registered a net decrease of 48.74 per cent; their average popula-
tion dropped from 123 to 63 workers; 602 of the 1,030 labourers who undoubtedly
deserted (58.44 per cent) came from the largest estates. The mid-range estates did better:
their share of the labour force increased from 29.19 per cent in July to 31.79 per cent
in November. Thus, despite a net loss of 33.68 per cent their relative position improved.
But the estates that best survived the labourers' flight were the small units with 20-50
workers. From July to November, their share increased from 23.91 per cent to 28.74
per cent, despite a decrease of 26.82 per cent of their population (Table 2).
Table 2. Distribution of July-November Decrease
ACCORDING TO SIZE OF LABOUR FORCE BEFORE EMANCIPATION
20-50 51-100 101 +
Labourers Labourers Labourers Total
Number of Estates 20 11 10 41
No. of Labourers in July 630 769 1,235 2,634
Mean (by estate) 32 70 123
% Share of July Labour Force 23.91 29.19 46.88 100
No. of Labourers in November 461 510 63 1,604
% Share of November Labour Force 28.74 31.79 39.46 100
Net Decrease (%) 26.82 33.68 48.74 39.10
It seems, then, that the smaller the est te, the better was its chance to successfully
retain its labour force. That may be related to the conjunction of size and harshness of
slave treatment under plantation slavery. Drawing upon the work of Sidney Mintz, I
have suggested elsewhere that the pressures of capitalist production on slaves' leisure
and performance could be expected to increase with the size of the unit of production,
as the requirements of the unit increasingly modify allocations of time and space to
the slaves. In the case of provision grounds, it is obvious that their existence depended
heavily on the availability of time and land. Thus, the flight from the larger estates,
if evidenced elsewhere, may be read as a statement on past treatment under slavery
and apprenticeship, and also as a commentary on the former slaves' tendency to
expand what we may call "the peasant labour process".1
The third distribution groups the estates according to the conditions under which
the former slaves performed in November. It shows that estates which relied on wage
labour lost a greater proportion of their labour force. On the last day of apprenticeship,
July 31, those estates controlled 2,038 apprentices or 77.37 per cent of the popula-
tion under study. In November, their share dropped to 67.64 per cent of the remaining
labour force, as they registered a net decrease of 46.75 per cent. Of the 1,030 apprentices
who fled for good, 953 (92.54 per cent) worked for wages. Estates which simply asked
for days of labour in exchange for the use of houses and grounds gained in relative terms
despite a net decrease of 16.25 per cent, as their share increased from 6.07 per cent of
the July labour force to 8.35 per cent of the November labour force. Estates which
allowed sharecropping gained the most. Their share increased from 16.55 per cent of the
July labour force to 24 per cent of the November labour force, though they registered
a net decrease of 11.69 per cent the smallest decrease of all the distributions (Table 3).
Table 3. Distribution of July-November Decrease
ACCORDING TO LABOUR CONDITIONS IN NOVEMBER
Labour Conditions Cash Labour-Rent Produce Total
No. of Labourers in July 2,038 160 436 2,634
% Share of July Labour Force 77.37 6.07 16.55 100
No. of Labourers in November 1,085 134 385 1,604
% Share of November Labour Force 67.64 8.35 24.00 100
Net Total Decrease 46.75 16.25 11.69 39.10
Our three distributions have so far considered crops, size, and working conditions
as independent factors. Yet, as mentioned before, we cannot treat historical causality
in a mechanical way; the reality, on the ground, must have been much more complex
than any of our tables would imply. The relative decrease registered by any estate did
not solely depend upon a single characteristic, nor even on a combination of features
intrinsic to that estate. We must remember that not all ex-slaves returned to plantation
labour. Moreover, not all those who returned went to the same units where they had
resided before Emancipation. Thus, for each and every labourer who returned, the
decision implied not one but two evaluations, inherently linked in existential terms
regarding whether or not to return to plantation labour, and to which particular estate
unit should one go. The final decision itself was certainly not made only in terms of the
characteristics of the estate (including its owner's behaviour), but also on the basis of
all the alternatives available in a particular area (including the rejection of units other-
wise accessible in simple terms of supply and demand).
It is not possible, in such a short article, to assess substantively the combination of
all those factors, nor is it viable to measure statistically the interplay of all the alternatives
on the sole basis of Lynch's reports. Table 4 (which groups the forty-one estates under
Table 4. Crops and Labour Conditions in November 1838
No. of Estates Coffee Sugar Sugar/Coffee
Cash 24 4 12 8
Labour 4 1 0 3
Produce 13 4 0 9
Total 41 9 12 20
study according to the crops they produced and conditions of work in November)
illustrates only some of the historical complexity behind the unilinear trends abstracted
above. Here, the convergence of sugar production and wage labour is most noticeable
and should help to modify the partial results of Table 1. Still, to flesh out somewhat
the interplay of diverse trends, we can turn to two special groupings which combine the
characteristics of twenty estates. The first special grouping comprises the thirteen worst
cases of flight, or those estates that lost more than 55 per cent of their July labour force
(Table 5). They include three of the twelve sugar estates, five of the nine coffee estates,
and five of the mixed estates. Ten of these thirteen worst cases involved wage labour.
(Three involved sharecropping, but the arrangements described were not typical of
Table 5. Estates with Extreme Losses
Crop Labour Force Labour Force Decrease Conditions of
Cultivated July in November % Work (Nov.)
Goodwill S 158 66 58.22 5 day/cash
Wotton Haven C 88 31 64.77 cash
Mt. Prosper SC 102 43 57.84 cash/labour
Champ Flor SC 27 11 59.25 1/3 prod.
Everton C 46 18 60.86 cash
La Tent C 35 13 62.85 1/3 prod.
Aberdeen C 101 34 66.33 5 day/cash
Poree S 29 11 62.06 5 day/cash
Union C 110 19 82.72 cash
Crampigny SC 53 21 60.37 2dl., 1/2 prod
Morne Rouge SC 75 24 68.00 cash
Bois Cutlet SC 31 4 87.09 cash
Providence S 140 48 65.71 5 day/cash
S = Sugar C = Coffee
Table 6. Estates That Gained Labourers
No. of No. of
Estate Crop Labourers Labourers Increase Conditions
in July in Nov. ____
New Providence SC 62 65 4.83 2 dl
Castle Comfort S 54 55 1.85 5/d csh.
Durham C 51 79 54.90 2 dl. produce
Mt Pleasant SC 24 38 58.33 2 dl. 1/2 produce
Malgre Tout C 38 51 34.21 1/2 produce
Pt Guingnard SC 37 43 27.02 2 dl/other cash
Deschaussez SC 28 34 21.42 1/2 produce
Total 294 365
Average 42 52
The second special grouping comprises estates that gained labourers at a time
when all others were losing theirs (Table 6). One estate produced sugar, two produced
coffee, and four were mixed estates. None of them had more than sixty-two labourers
in July, and most of them had less than that, the mean being forty-two. Among these
estates only the sugar estate relied exclusively on wage labour, and it registered the
smallest labour increase of 1.85 per cent or one single labourer. A second estate used
wage labour along with other work arrangements for some labourers, such as house and
grounds in exchange for two field days. One required just two days of unpaid labour.
Two of the estates used sharecropping only, and gave the labourers one half of the
produce. But the most dramatic gains were made by the two estates that allowed the
labourers a choice between sharecropping and two unpaid working days. They both
registered increases, one of them 54.90 per cent and the other 58.33 per cent.
Obviously, despite the more complex picture presented by the last two groupings of
estates, the six tables which form the backbone of this paper raise more questions
than can be answered here. Yet, four conclusive statements seem legitimate. First, in
the four months following the Emancipation of 1st August, 1838, Dominican estates
lost a substantial proportion (39.10 per cent) of their labour force. Second, that decrease
was originally due to the ex-slaves' impulse to leave the plantations within the first few
days following the end of Apprenticeship, an impulse later circumscribed by the existen-
tial and structural constraints that reduced both the statistical availability of alternatives
and the former apprentices' perception of their options. That original impulse is recorded
in the larger decrease of the months of August and September; and the effects of the
constraints are likewise recorded in the larger number of labourers at work during the
months of October and November. Third, because we can assume that the decision to
return to plantation labour was always actualized in relation to particular estates, we
can draw composite pictures of the estates that were likely to attract or repel returning
labourers, but only if we remain wary of the existence of such estates. The most
attractive situation seems to have been an estate of 40 to 60 labourers that offered a
combination of sharecropping and labour rent. The estate least likely to recover its whole
labour force seems to have been one that required a much larger labour force (100
or more labourers) and relied exclusively on wage labour. Though both combinations
entailed an interplay of several factors, the absence or presence of cash arrangements
seems to have been important in both cases.
Lynch himself would have approved of our third tentative conclusion. In Septem-
ber 1838, he reported:
I am persuaded that field labour has not been so
freely yielded for money wages, owing to an ex-
pectation on the part of the peasantry that many
more of the owners of plantations will be compelled
to give out their properties to be cultivated by them
However, even if we assume the "free" flow of labour between the estates an
assumption that further research will very likely qualify the existential issue of
"choice" was complex enough that the characteristics of the estates that were most like-
ly to attract labourers were not diametrically opposed to those of the estates that were
most likely to be rejected by returning ex-slaves. Also, wage levels as such might have
contributed to particular decisions, but we must remember that in the immediate after-
math of slavery wages did not necessarily represent an overwhelming incentive to a
population whose culture had not yet integrated the wilful sale of labour power as a
fact of life. Magistrate Lynch himself wrote:
The master during slavery, and employer subsequent-
ly, never contemplated the possibility of a labouring
population becoming independent of them, whenever
free. The peasant, however, is nearly so, because
he had to supply his own wants whilst in a state of
servitude, and received nothing more towards the
support of himself and his family than six yards of
oznaburgs, three yards of blanket, and a cap, if his
master could give it, every 12 or 14 months, and the
privilege of cultivation as much or as little ground as
he thought proper.
Further studies on Lynch's four Dominican parishes (including this writer's own
ongoing work) will certainly corroborate, disprove or modify some of the above con-
clusions. Even if fully corroborated, these conclusions emerge from an enquiry whose
object is extremely limited both spatially and temporally. As such, they will need to be
reintegrated into a Caribbean if not a world perspective, without which their
relevance remains limited.19 The continuous elaboration of such a larger perspective itself
implies many more micro-studies of this type, developed along more precise epistemologi-
cal lines of the kind suggested in the first part of this paper. Above all, these studies
should reintroduce those who remain, no doubt, the most important actors, and whose
presence fills this story even when they go unmentioned the 1,030 ex-slaves who never
returned to the plantations. For it is they who made the story possible and this study
CO Colonial Office Series, Public Record Office, Kew
1. Elsa V. Goveia, A Study in the Historiography of the British West Indies to the End of the
Nineteenth Century (Washington, D.C.: Howard Univ. Press, 1980), pp. 5-6, 171.
2. William G. Sewell, The Ordeal of Free Labour in the West Indies (London: Sampson Low,
1861); Douglas Hall, "The Flight from the Estates Reconsidered: the British West Indies,
1838-42", Journal of Caribbean History, 10/11, (1978): 7-24; Rawle Farley, "The Rise of
Village Settlements in British Guiana", Caribbean Quarterly, 10 (1964): 52-61; Emanuel W.
Riviere, "Labour Shortage in the British West Indies after Emancipation", Journal of
Caribbean History, 4 (1972): 1-30: Hugh Paget. "The Free Village System in Jamaica",
Caribbean Quarterly, 10 (1964): 38-51; J. R. Mandle, The Plantation Economy: Population
and Economic Change in Guyana, 1838-1960 (Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1974);
Sidney W. Mintz, "Slavery and the Rise of Peasantries", Historical Reflections, 6 (1979):
213-42; Mintz, Caribbean Transformations (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press,
3. Hall, "Flight from the Estates", pp. 7, 23-24; Woodville K. Marshall, "Commentary on
'Slavery and the Rise of Peasantries', by S. W. Mintz", Historical Reflections, 6 (1979):
4. Gregor McLennnan, Marxism and the Methodologies of History (London: Verso Editions,
1981), p. 3; Adam Schaff, History and Truth (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1971); Michel
Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1972); Thomas
Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962) Goveia,
5. Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Review of the Haitian Maroons, by Jean Fouchard, Nieuwe West
Indische Gids/New West Indian Guide, 56 (1982): 181.
6. Hall, "Flight from the Estates", p. 10, quoting from Gisela Eisner, Jamaica, 1830-1930: A
Study in Economic Growth (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1961), p. 192.
7. Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Ti dife boule sou Istoua Ayiti (New York: Koleksion Lakansiel, 1977).
8. Michael Craton, "Searching for the Invisible Man: Some Problems of Writing on Slave
Society in the British West Indies", Historical Reflections, 9 (1982): 403-20. It is interesting
to note that the authors who emphasize the attractiveness of wages are also among those who
underline the ex-slaves' emotional attachment to their provision grounds. See Paget, "The
Free Village System"; Hall, "Flight from the Estates"; Marshall, "Commentary."
9. Goveia, Historiography, pp. 176-177.
10. This criticism applies particularly to Farley (1964) who
a) postulates from the recurrence of slave revolts a general desire for personal liberty and
land ownership in the Guyanese population;
b) identifies this "desire" as "the most decisive and continuous force" (p. 52) behind the
change of residence, and
c) proceeds to discuss the universal law by which alternatives to the labour force in any
"open economy" can be measured in terms of available land space.
All three arguments may well be relevant, but one needs to flesh out both the empirical and
analytical threads that bind them, especially if the analyst tries to integrate as Farley does -
slave revolts which occurred as early as 1763! One needs to show how and why the 1763
revolt sustains the contention that 1838 ex-slaves were eager to be free, and also to bridge
the analytical gap between our understanding of that "desire" (as it manifested itself) and the
verification of a law couched in terms of political economy. See Farley, "The Rise of Village
11. Sidney W. Mintz and Richard Price, An Anthropological Approach to the Afro-American Past:
A Caribbean Perspective (Philadelphia: Inst. for the Study of Human Issues, 1976).
12. Michel-Rolph Trouillot, "Motion in the System: Coffee, Color and Slavery in 18th Century
Saint-Domingue", Review, 5 (1982): 331-388; Fernando Ortiz, Cuba Counterpoint: Tobacco
and Sugar (New York: Vintage, 1970); Barry W. Higman, Slave Population and Economy in
Jamaica,1807 1834 Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1976).
13. See Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons (Session 5 February 27 August
1839) subtitled Papers on the Conditions of the Labouring Population, West Indies, Parlia-
mentary Papers, vol. 37, 1839, pp. 1-468.
14. Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro: the History of the Caribbean (London: Andre
15. "An Act for Amending an Act entitled 'An Act Terminating the Apprenticeship of the
Proedia' Labourers within this Island ...'," July 30, 1838, in CO 73/16, no. 422.
16. Craton, "Searching for the Invisible Man".
17. The most immediate decline stood at 53.64 per cent, as 1,413 labourers out of 2,634 left
the estates in the span of one month. The distribution of that decline, the variations recorded
for the month of September, and the significance of the October and November increases
will be the object of another study: "Dominica: The First 100 Days of Freedom".
18. Michel-Rolph Trouillot, "Caribbean Peasantries and world Capitalism: An Approach to Micro-
Level Studies", forthcoming in Nieuwe West-Indische Gids/New West Indian Guide.
19. Michael Craton, "A Cresting New Wave? Recent Trends in the Historiography of Slavery with
Special Reference to the British Caribbean", Historical Reflections, 9 (1982): 415-416.
COLOURED CIVIL SERVANTS IN POST-EMANCIPATION
JAMAICA: TWO CASE STUDIES
Coloured civil servants represented a significant sector of Jamaica's coloured post-
emancipation elite, yet historians have paid them scant attention.1 Their careers and
their views on a whole range of matters such as emancipation, the European plantocracy,
Afro-Jamaican society and culture, and foreign labour immigration, expand our under-
standing of nineteenth century Jamaica and of the coloured elite in particular.
Coloureds made up an intermediate group, situated between the white planter
class of their fathers and the black majority of their mothers. Their career choices were
limited to either the rural occupations of plantation overseer or shopkeeper, or the urban
occupations of shopkeeper, innkeeper, lawyer, journalist, politician, skilled tradesman
and city worker. As the century progressed, however, some urban professionals and
businessmen acquired small coffee properties or cattle pens, and many more sought
positions in government service. The British colonial office found coloureds acceptable
as civil servants because they were less costly than Europeans and had a greater resistance
to tropical diseases. White planters felt threatened by coloured bureaucrats, however,
since they often served in positions that involved supervision of planters and their
employees. Planter hostility was especially marked toward an entire class of bureaucrats -
stipendiary magistrates, or salaried justices of the peace and that hostility shaped their
conception and performance of their duties.2
This paper examines the careers of two coloured men, Thomas Witter Jackson
and David Ewart, each of whom served as a stipendiary magistrate and as an immigration
official. They represent two opposite bureaucratic types. Jackson identified with the
black majority and antagonized white planters while defending the interests of the black
population. Ewart, on the other hand, identified with white planters and survived pro-
fessionally by supporting the status quo.
In order to understand the careers of coloured stipendiary magistrates and immigra-
tion agents, it is necessary to understand the local Jamaican judiciary and its relationship
to European planter power. After 1834, Jamaica, like other British West Indian colonies,
had two types of local judges or magistrates, salaried and unsalaried. The practice of
an unpaid magistracy originated in England, where gentlemen of high social status were
considered best qualified to serve the public by reason of independent income, superior
education and leisure. Whatever the system's merits in Britain, however, Jamaica's
version was a failure, condemned by the chief justice himself; he considered at least
half of the 270 unpaid magistrates unqualified "by education, social position, and
pecuniary independence". Magistrates were usually white landowners, their attorneys
or managers, plantation lessees, and assorted parish officials who were, in the words of
the chief justice, "struggling men, barely able to devote their time to the public duty,
and not sufficiently educated to recognize the great importance of that duty". The
coloured attorney general added, "No man in the island has any spare time to give to
the public, we live from hand to mouth in all classes of life." Thdse magistrates con-
trolled the office of Custos Rotulorum, or chief magistrate of the parish, and their
ex officio membership on the elected parish vestries or councils and their presence in
the House of Assembly further buttressed their judicial power. In the local courts,
the white magistrates zealously defended the rights of employers, and were expected
to avoid "anything in the shape of a gratuitous affront" to the planters, which usually
meant not interfering between them and their employees or tenants. Yet stipendiary
magistrates and immigration officials had to "interfere" in order to protect the workers
As official protectors of former slaves during the apprenticeship period, sixty-
three stipendiary justices stood between employers and employees, both in the workplace
and in the local courts. They were paid out of imperial funds, and earned a mere three
hundred pounds a year, plus an allowance of one hundred and fifty pounds. They
adjudicated all employment disputes, inspected plantations regularly, and submitted
written reports to the governor. After full emancipation in 1838, they continued to
serve with unsalaried magistrates, but no longer played a special role in labour disputes.
Their numbers declined steadily over the years, since those who resigned or died usually
were not replaced. Beginning in 1859, sub-agents of immigration were chosen from the
ranks of stipendiaries, so that each of the seven remaining stipendiary magistrates also
headed an extensive immigration district. Stipendiary magistrates were usually
powerless to rectify the injustices they witnessed. They laboured under a variety of
handicaps. Unpaid magistrates, who outnumbered them two to one in local courts,
considered them labour partisans whose intervention between employers and employees
injured the sugar industry. Some stipendiaries were pro-planter, and those who were
poorly educated or ignorant could be awed by planters. As they made their rural rounds,
the stipendiaries' dependence on European plantation personnel for lodging and company
placed them in the awkward position of being beholden to the very men whose conduct
they might have to criticize.4
While most of the original stipendiary magistrates were despatched from Britain,
governors were permitted to make some local appointments. In this way some coloured
Jamaicans were appointed, including John Woolfrys, E. B. Lyon, Richard Chamberlaine,
Thomas Witter Jackson and David Ewart.s The last three still served in the 1860s. Since
more information is available on Jackson and Ewart, this paper focuses on them.
Thomas Witter Jackson
Thomas Witter Jackson, son of a black mother and a white father, became a stipendiary
magistrate in 1837, and was assigned to St Thomas-in-the-Vale parish where he served
for a remarkable twenty-one years. Two years later he was appointed inspector of
prisons, a position he held through the 1860s. In St Thomas-in-the-Vale Jackson
developed such a reputation for fairness that no worker would take out a summons
against an employer without first ascertaining that Jackson would hear the case. His
criticism of high court fees "the old stumbling-block upon which I have been nearly
split three times" led to his removal to St David parish in 1858 and to St Thomas-in-
the-East in 1860. In January 1862 he was appointed sub-agent of immigration for St
Thomas-in-the-East and St David. In both capacities he antagonized the other magistrates,
who tried unsuccessfully to prevent his appointment. Like many of the coloured elite,
Jackson looked white but his St Thomas in-the-East enemies referred to him as the
"nigger magistrate". Within five years their complaints led to his transfer to neighbour-
ing Portland parish.6
Jackson's twenty-one years of service in St Thomas-in-the-Vale contrast sharply
with his brief terms in St David and St Thomas-in-the-East. The transfer from St David
to St Thomas-in-the-East was accompanied by a warning from governor Darling that
further complaints would result in his dismissal from the stipendiary magistracy.7 This
did not happen and, in fact, Jackson's three transfers in seven years probably indicate
more about the negative attitudes of governors Darling and Eyre to coloureds, and their
appeasement of the plantocracy, than they reveal about Jackson's performance.8 Because
St David parish was just next door, Jackson's reputation as a labour partisan undoubtedly
preceded him to St Thomas-in-the-East but other factors may also account for the
immediate hostility of the St Thomas-in-the-East planters. First, St Thomas had not
had a stipendiary magistrate for years, and the magistrates had become accustomed to
running their courts without interference. Second, the black population had requested
a stipendiary magistrate and the planters were likely to resent anyone sent in response
to a popular appeal. Third, Jackson was better educated than most magistrates and
actually outranked the twenty-six St Thomas-in-the-East justices, most of whom came
from the lower levels of the white power structure. Such men were likely to resent
a coloured senior magistrate deeply, and even to consider such achievement in a coloured
man "'a kind of insurrection' ".9
Jackson's tenure in St Thomas-in-the-East is well documented. The injustices and
intense factionalism of the sugar parish, an area the chief justice considered "almost
a distress to travel through", produced a great deal of official correspondence. The parish
was composed primarily of plantation labourers, although some small settlers also
lived there. Most court cases involved disputes between workers or peasants or between
them and the planters. As in the days of slavery, magistrates frequently presided over
suits brought against them or their friends. Justice was hard to find.10
In this environment Jackson and the other magistrates were "in a state of constant
dispute . even on the Bench" and Jackson was "totally without influence there",
according to the chief justice.1 Quite apart from the predisposition of magistrates
to obstruct Jackson in petty sessions courts and his disagreements with them over such
questions as guilt and the size of fines, Jackson's assumption of the sub-agency of
immigration in January 1862, increased his problems. Jackson mentioned an unpleasant
incident in the very first month of his tenure as sub-agent as "the first occasion on
which . [a magistrate's] hostility was displayed towards me by personal rudeness".
The perpetrator, John Walton, often shared the Bench with Jackson in the Morant
Bay Court; an estate manager, he was later killed during the 1865 Morant Bay riots.
Walton's unspecified rudeness on board an immigrant ship caused Jackson to deny
him the African immigrants he had gone to collect. The governor supported Jackson's
The next time Jackson tangled seriously with Walton was in his capacity as
magistrate. In December 1863, a Stony Gut labourer sued Walton for assault and the
case went before the two men. It was not the first assault case involving Walton who,
as manager of Pera estate in 1850, had flogged an indentured African youth. The
particulars of this new case are worth recounting; as a typical instance of miscarriage
of justice, it affords insight into a coloured stipendiary magistrate's inability to defend
the rights of the working class. The case involved a woman who, on her way to work,
encountered Walton and accidentally struck his horse on the nose with her hoe. Walton
responded by beating her severely with his walking stick. The case was delayed for
over three months because each time it was called, Walton "would get up and say he
could not wait any longer", and the other magistrates would follow suit, leaving Jackson
alone on the bench. The case was not tried until George W. Gordon's Watchman news-
paper publicized it. Jackson and two other magistrates finally found Walton guilty,
but fined him a mere five shillings, plus costs of fourteen shillings. Although Jackson
considered the fine far too low, he was powerless to increase it. His sense of justice was
further outraged the very next day when magistrate Walton levied a fine of thirty
shillings on a man accused of assault.
Despite such problems, Jackson comforted himself that the Morant Bay court
at least offered him a chance to mitigate injustice because relatively few unsalaried
magistrates attended that court. He absolutely refused, however, to attend for
he was heavily outnumbered there.13 In fact, while Jackson's career illustrates the
concern of one public servant for justice, it also demonstrates that he lacked the power
to enforce it.
Such powerlessness, however, does not appear to have diminished his sense of duty.
He did not shirk his immigrant inspection tasks, even when they took him to estates
run by hostile magistrates. On his difficult circuit of estates stretching from Belvidere,
where he occupied the great house, to the Plantain Garden River district where the most
prosperous estates were, he inspected immigrants, collected planters' payments, kept
accounts and immigrant returns, and wrote reports, all for an average immigration
agent's income of only one hundred nineteen pounds.14 Fragments from his diary
illustrate these days in the life of a sub-agent:
22 October 1862 Complaint agt Headman made by Immigrants at Belvidere.
29 October 1862 Dick and I walked into town I was writing Immigration
returns almost all day ...
5 December 1862 Started on William [his horse], Geo. on Punch, Morant
Bay met Dr Major & had malt and quinine, on to Lyssons,
did not dismount, to Retreat [managed by John Walton]
inspected Africans & Buildings &c. On to Oxford
Mr Walker not in back to Lyssons where I dined &
slept, inspected Africans, Buildings, Books, &c.15
Jackson's reports as stipendiary magistrate and sub-agent of immigration offer
insights into how one member of the Jamaican coloured elite perceived the people he
was supposed to protect. He was an articulate, outspoken observer of rural Jamaican
society who, despite his obvious identification with black Jamaicans, was not entirely
uncritical of them. If generally unsympathetic to planters, he was also aware of their
In the decades following emancipation, Jackson rarely missed a chance to
demonstrate that sugar could be produced more profitably with free than with
slave labour, and that Afro-Jamaicans were industrious and could be entrusted with
supervisory plantation positions. Despite his approval of black independence, he
criticized the younger generation as shallow and restless because they showed no
interest in learning a trade.16 He was intolerant of African religious and medical
practices, dismissing Myal healers as "designing knaves". Jackson understood better than
most magistrates the limited impact of British law on the black community. For
example, he realized that stiff court sentences against Obeah or Myalism merely convinced
Jamaicans that the sentencing magistrate "still feared [those powers] greatly although
he was ashamed to confess his fear".17 He also understood that African immigrants did
not always appreciate his inspection visits to the estates. The visits stopped work and
cost lost wages: they disliked being "brought a distance merely, as they term it. to be
Jackson made no secret of his opposition to immigration, although by the time
he arrived in St Thomas-in-the-East he had ceased to criticize it. His most scathing
denunciation came in 1855 in response to the importation of sick and demoralized
Chinese survivors of the Panama railroad project. He shared the indignation of black
Jamaicans when the government provided free passages and medical treatment for
the Chinese while their own sick and penniless relatives remained stranded in
Panama. There were no Chinese in St Thomas-in-the-Vale, and Jackson's concern for
black Jamaicans, whom he repeatedly referred to as "our people", left him little
sympathy for the afflicted Chinese. He castigated those "pseudo labourers" and
"those little men with long tails and no beards" for bringing "new and loathesome
diseases both moral and physical into Jamaica". He stressed the charity of Afro-
Jamaicans toward this "unjust" imported competition, a charity "worthy of the
imitation of many who, in the plenitude of their own perfection, deny to the sons of
Africa the possession of a single virtue".
Jackson's obvious identification with the "sons of Africa" "our people" made
governor Barkly deplore the "class prejudices which I regret to find in one otherwise
so intelligent". It was daring of Jackson to denounce in such strong terms a labour
immigration supported not only by powerful planters, but also by the governor himself.
"Immigration has been a curse to this Island," Jackson concluded, and
the voice of the whole community seems at length
to pronounce its doom. It has diffused vice and
disease throughout the land, and burdened us with a
heavy debt. It is very probable that Asiatic cholera
was brought into the West Indies by the Asiatic
coolies, and examples of paganism and suicide have
been exhibited to our people by the Chinese. It is to
be hoped that no further attempt at immigration
at the public expense will ever again be tolerated in
this country, unless, indeed, it will bring back our
people from Navy Bay.19
This was not the last time that Jackson risked offending a governor, for in 1863 he
expressed sharp resentment at being subjected to "suspicion and distrust" in lieutenant
governor Eyre's investigation of a leak of official correspondence to the Press.20
Jackson's observations on immigration could not have endeared him to planters,
either. His analysis of St Thomas-in-the-East labour relations in the 1860s revealed the
failure of the planters to adjust to emancipation and a free labour market. They depended
on the control of labour power guaranteed by the indenture system, which was no
substitute for intelligent labour management, incentives, and training, Jackson thought,
because it encouraged low productivity. When he suggested jail as a punishment for
underproductive workers, planters responded that jailing employees merely deprived
them of needed labour. Jackson criticized African "idleness" because immigrants often
performed only one task per day, but that criticism, in the final analysis, was less a
reproach to employees than to employers who failed to use modern methods and to
Jackson believed in the work ethic but, unlike most of his contemporaries, he
did not limit the definition of work to labour performed by blacks for whites. In the
1840s he wanted black youth to learn a trade, and in the 1860s he urged that African
immigrants be industrially trained, both for their own moral and material benefit and for
the good of the planters and the country:
In vain I have urged the necessity of training them
to habits of industry, as well for their own sakes as
for the sake of the planter and for the good of the
country. Complaining loudly and bitterly of the
inertness of the negro, that nothing can induce him
to take as a day's task, more than he can, with ease,
perform in five or six hours, the planter, himself,
can not or will not, move out of the beaten track, but
in spite of his own immediate interest, and of ex-
perience and remonstrance, he encourages these new
people to pursue the same course, to adopt the same
pernicious slothful habits which he so vehemently
denounces as a principal cause of his own downfall
and of the country's agricultural decadence. In a
land where labour is so scarce as to require its im-
portation from foreign sources, and where all its
appliances are so primitive and inartistic a nature
it is astonishing that neither in the laws providing
for the importation of labourers, nor by the prac-
tice pursued in adopting labour to our wants, is there
the slightest provision made for insuring proper
teaching or industrial training, or for effecting im-
provement, moral or physical.21
Jackson's criticism of Africans was also tempered by his belief that they had the
best of the situation. Taste as well as necessity led them to subsist on nature's bounty,
and he marvelled at how well they did so "in this spontaneously productive island"
and at how much of their meagre wages they saved. To Jackson's credit, his invocation
of two nineteenth-century catch phrases to explain Africans' uninterest in working
longer hours tropical exuberance and lack of artificial wants was not accompanied
by the usual solution, denial of African access to land and the promotion of African
consumerism. It is surprising, however, that in 1864 Jackson could still write of the
ease with which workers could satisfy their needs by hunting and gathering,' for that was
a year of severe drought and economic depression, and the rural population of St
Thomas-in-the-East suffered considerably. Perhaps Jackson's ability to empathize
with the immigrants' situation declined as his own problems with their employers
The strain of being an unwanted and reviled coloured "interloper" among the
white St Thomas-in-the-East establishment eventually told on Jackson's proud nature.
He became convinced that enemies had poisoned the custos against him, and smarted
at the custos' lack of respect for his age and seniority on the bench. An incident in the
parish vestry in 1864 finally ended his stay in St Thomas. The custos summoned him to
a vestry meeting to answer questions and ordered him to take his seat. Jackson never
sat in any vestry because of the hostile planter majority, and he refused to sit, saying
that he did not wish "to be treated like a blackguard". He then departed, muttering,
"in a tone so low that I am satisfied I was not distinctly heard by anyone and without
a particle of theatrical gesture 'go not into their Council my soul, into their Assembly
In a report to the governor the custos represented Jackson as having been drunk
and loud-mouthed on that occasion, and the governor censured him for disrespect and
transferred him to Portland.23 An entry in Jackson's notebook for January 12, 1864,
sums up his bitter experiences in St Thomas-in-the-East. "The tyranny nourished by,
and the Interests involved in, this abominable place, are too detestable and designing
to be easily suppressed," he wrote. At least during the days of slavery, "Interest . .
would have afforded, what Freedom and Justice now deny".24 Written on the eve of the
parish riots which killed the custos and several magistrates and marked the end of the
post-emancipation era in Jamaica, the entry proved prophetic.
By coincidence, Jackson was in St Thomas-in-the-East on personal business when
the parish riots broke out in October 1865. Thinking he could exercise some influence
over the rioters, he ignored warnings to turn back; he was resting at Amity Hall estate
in the Plantain Garden River district when rioters attacked the great house, wounding
Jackson and a number of others. He survived to give testimony before the Jamaica
Royal Commission, where he offered the opinion, that his transfer from the parish
had contributed to the discontent of the working class.25 The irony of the attack on
Jackson may be explained in several ways. He may have been unfamiliar to the
attackers, or they may have been too furious to obey his orders to stop. The opinion of
an Anglican curate expressed by some black St Thomas-in-the-East malcontents on the
eve of the riots may have applied in Jackson's case as well: "They say you do no harm,
but you share the spoils (i.e., receive government pay)."26
One may well wonder why Jackson remained a stipendiary magistrate when he
wielded relatively little power and received little reward. During that period Jamaica
did not offer a wide range of career choices to men of mixed ancestry and slender means.
Jackson could have protected his position were he more obsequious, but he refused to
compromise his principles. His obvious identification with and concern for "the
Sons of Africa", "our people", help explain his dedication. He willingly risked his
career to defend their interests.
Like Jackson, David Ewart was so light-skinned that he probably could have passed for
white in a community where he was less well known. At least one governor thought
him white, but lieutenant governor Eyre described him as "a coloured gentleman married
to the coloured daughter of the Receiver General of the Colony". Ewart became a
stipendiary magistrate for St Thomas-in-the-East in 1835 and later served as magistrate
in St David, Kingston, St Andrew and Clarendon. He held a number of other positions,
including treasurer of the St Thomas Savings Bank and Assistant Judge of the Court
of Common Pleas in St David. In 1848 he succeeded a future governor, Charles Darling,
as agent general of immigration, a position he held for sixteen years, longer than any
other incumbent.27 Unlike Jackson, Ewart was a landowner, with a small property at
Healthful Hill in St Thomas-in-the-East. He later inherited or purchased his father-in-law's
sugar estate, Pera, in the same parish.28
On the subject of black Jamaicans, Ewart was paternalistic at best, convinced
that British guidance was the necessary ingredient for black success. At worst, he was
contemptuous of black Jamaicans. In the face of visible evidence that former slaves
had pioneered new export crops and were feeding the entire island Ewart, like the white
planters, spoke of the difficulty of "direct[ing] the attention of our native population"
to the "abundant resources of this Island". Because they retainede] the habits and
inclinations engendered by slavery [they] have gained no knowledge of these resources,
and can therefore have no conception of their value". He believed that "to speak of
the labouring classes as if they could benefit their lot, and as if they had the command
of their own powers is as preposterous as to speak of the riches of the Mine develop-
ing themselves without the aid of the Engineer".29
Ewart's career left little doubt that the engineers were the plantocracy and the
colonial administrators, and he spent a lifetime deferring to them. Lieutenant governor
Eyre discovered that, as agent general of immigration, Ewart hardly ever inspected
parishes where indentured labourers were employed. Eyre was not sure whether Ewart
was "idle to a degree and utterly deficient in energy and zeal", or merely afraid to do
his duty. "What I complain of most in Mr Ewart's case." Eyre wrote in 1863, "is that he
does nothing of his own accord as the Head of a Department ought but requires not
merely to be moved but driven to action not only to have his attention called general-
ly to a subject but to have every particular and detail pointed out to him. I consider him
also to be very wanting in candour and ingenuousness."30
The criticism was deserved, but the offences were merely survival mechanisms
Ewart learned through the school of experience. He was the kind of bureaucrat planters
and some governors seemed to prefer. With considerable candour Ewart admitted that
he was indeed afraid to do his job if it meant damaging planter interests. The peculiar
legal situation of all locally appointed officials, white as well as coloured, underlay his
caution. Local appointees had no judicial immunity and were liable for all damages
incurred in lawsuits brought against them in the performance of their duties. Ewart paid
heavily on at least two occasions. As a stipendiary magistrate, he had to pay nearly
five hundred pounds in damages and costs, and as agent general of immigration, a
custos sued Ewart for the temporary loss of services of fifty-five Chinese employees
who had travelled to Spanish Town during harvest time to lodge a complaint against
the custos. These two occurrences, Ewart confessed, "can never fail to remind me that in
acting under instructions I cannot evade my accountability to other Parties who might
decide to contest the ground upon which any opinion I may offer may affect my
Nowhere was Ewart's reluctance to enforce the law against planters more evident
than in the matter of harsh labour discipline. In four cases of corporal punishment of
African immigrants between 1848 and 1850, Ewart dismissed evidence of planters' use
of riding whips, canes, switches, and sticks as an exception to the rule, merely "those
acts of intemperance of which employers are sometimes guilty in their dealings with
the native labourers". Only the intervention of a missionary or a governor himself forced
Ewart to bring the abuses to the court and only once was he willing to concede gross
planter neglect and malfeasance. On that occasion in 1850, he discovered that St Thomas-
in-the-East planters were not paying their new indentured workers any wages at all,
arguing that food and clothing allowances and medical care cost more than their labour
was worth. Ewart termed the excuse shallow and the system pernicious, denying immi-
grants "all industrial progress" and leaving them as destitute after twelve to fifteen
months'employment as when they left the ship. Yet he found it "impracticable" to
provide redress, because estate records were in disarray.32
Ewart's policy for Afro-Jamaicans and immigrants emphasized British trusteeship.
He deplored African immigrants' abandonment of field labour once their indentures
expired, and he predicted they would become "corrupted and demoralized" in the
independent villages. While he appeared genuinely concerned about African alcoholism,
his solution was to bank their first year's wages for them. Whether the "ignorant African
be ten or twenty years of age", he wrote, "he stands equally in need of the same
restraining and protective guardianship until able to guide and protect himself'.33
As head of the immigration department Ewart's one great enthusiasm was black
North American immigration to Jamaica. This had been one of his father-in-law's projects
in the early 1840s. Ewart took up the matter in 1854 and recommended the emancipa-
tion of American slaves on condition that they emigrate to Jamaica. He also recom-
mended that black American capitalists be allowed to purchase abandoned Jamaican
estates, on condition that they nominate a number of qualified Afro-American immigrant
labourers for free passage to Jamaica. Ten years later similar plans were still being
explored, but Ewart was on his way out as head of the immigration department.34
In January 1864, the lieutenant governor dismissed both Ewart and his Jewish
subagent A. J. Lindo, Jr, from the immigration service for lax estate supervision
which resulted in the deaths of nineteen Indians on Lowlayton estate, St George. The
dismissals sparked one of many struggles between Eyre and the Assembly, whose
coloured and Jewish members rushed to the defence of the two men. They demanded
copies of correspondence on the case and, when Eyre invoked executive privilege, they
summoned Ewart to appear before a special committee where, instructed by the
governor, he respectfully declined to reveal the details of his dismissal. Three times in
one day this ritual was repeated, and then Ewart's champions, in defence of Assembly
privilege, consigned him to jail. Twice the supreme court released him, and twice Ewart
begged the Assembly for mercy. The members were amenable until they discovered that
he had spent a night at a fellow stipendiary magistrate's home, and back to jail he went,
to be released once more by the court.
Despite the Assembly's clumsy efforts, Ewart lost his immigration post. He
failed to obtain redress from the colonial office for "all that I have suffered in mind,
in person, in reputation, and in privation of domestic comfort", and he sued the coloured
speaker of the Assembly for illegal imprisonment.36 The Morant Bay disturbances some
months later obscured the outcome of the case.
Ewart retained his commission as stipendiary magistrate, however, and Eyre sent
him to St Thomas-in-the-East as Jackson's replacement. In the aftermath of the October
riot he tqok depositions from witnesses and reported directly to the governor. Ewart's
house on Pera estate had been heavily damaged, and he was undoubtedly in no mood
to sympathize with the black population. Still, his effusive support of the governor was
excessive. Eyre was under fire in the British press for his harsh repression of the riot,
which included the unjust execution of the coloured politician,George William Gordon.
In January 1866 Ewart wrote his condolences to the governor on the "exaggerated and
ungenerous" press reports and expressed his conviction that Gordon was indeed the
instigator of the "rebellion". Eyre entered Ewart's letter as evidence before the Jamaica
Royal Commission.37 In 1867 a new governor, Sir John Peter Grant, appointed Ewart
to a committee to investigate claims arising from the disturbances. Until his death,
which occurred in 1871, he remained a spokesman for white planters.38
The dilemmas faced by coloured bureaucrats and the compromises they were forced
to make are of considerable historical interest. The careers of Thomas Witter Jackson
and David Ewart represent two civil service models in a Jamaica that did not provide
many honourable and secure alternatives for ambitious coloured citizens. Jackson
consistently defended his dignity as a coloured magistrate and refused to compromise
his principles, which centered on competent work and a vigorous defence of the rights
of peasants and workers. As his avoidance of the Bath courthouse and the St Thomas-in-
the-East vestry meetings show, he avoided situations where his presence could make
no difference to the exercise of justice. Ewart's role that of obsequious civil servant -
was based on a credo of survival. A minor landowner and son-in-law of a prominent
British planter, Ewart feared and upheld the plantocracy, but was insensitive to the
condition and needs of the masses.
If tenure is any gauge of success, then as stipendiary magistrates both men proved
to be successful bureaucrats. Jackson's frequent transfers, however, revealed the perils
of competence, outspokenness and principle in matters that directly concerned the
plantocracy. Ewart's inability to distinguish between laissez-faire and gross negligence
led to his dismissal as agent general of immigration, yet he continued to serve as