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Volume 49, No. 3
Nicholas Guillen 100 Years old and More Relevant than Ever
The Joy of Eating: Food and Identity in Contemporary Cuba
Indo-Caribbean Migration: From Perifery to Core
The Role of Plant Substances in Jamaican Slave Dress
Application of a Jamaican Idiosyncracy as a Management Tool
VOLUME 49, No. 3 SEPTEMBER, 2003
(Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden)
Nicholas Guillen 100 Years old and More Relevant than Ever
The Joy of Eating: Food and Identity in Contemporary Cuba 11
Indo-Caribbean Migration: From Perifery to Core 30
The Role of Plant Substances in Jamaican Slave Dress 61
Application of a Jamaican Idiosyncracy as a Managment Tool For Tourism 74
BOOK REVIEWS 92
Books Received 103
Notes on Contributors 105
Information for Contributors 108
THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
The Hon.Rex Nettleford,O.M. Vice Chancellor, Editor
Professor K. Hall, Principal, Mona Campus
Sir Keith Hunte, Principal, Cave Hill Campus
Dr. B. Tewari, Principal, St. Augustine Campus
Sir Roy Augier, Professor Emeritus, Dept. of History, Mona
Professor N. McMorris, Dept. of Physics, Mona
Dr. V. Salter, CSI, Vice Chancellery, Mona (Managing Editor)
All correspondence and contributions should be addressed to:
itor, Caribbean Quarterly, Cultural Studies Initiative, Vice Chancellery, UWI,
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Back Issues and Microfilm: Information for back volumes supplied on request.
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Abstract and Index: 1949-1996 Author Keyword and Subject Index available on
request. The journal is abstracted by AES and indexed by HAPI.
Caribbean Quarterly, Vol.49, No.3, 2003, is our inaugural edition with
abstracts. This will be a regular feature in all future editions. The issue contains
five diverse but nevertheless interrelated articles, as they seamlessly link history
with our present and future. We welcome the article, Nicholas Guillen 100
Years old and More Relevant than Ever by Patricia Castriota and agree whole-
heartedly with the theme. It is fitting that in this year of his centnienniary serious
consideration must be given to his contribution not only as an artist par excellence
but also as a tour deforce in Caribbean thinking. Christiane Paponnet-Cantat's
essay, The Joy of Eating: Food and Identity in Contemporary Cuba discusses
food practices as indicators of collective identity. She concludes that although
current food shortages threaten the possibility of sharing this is still a major
source of connection and communicationfor the Cuban. Indo-Caribbean Migra-
tion: From Perifery to Core by Lomarsh Roopnarine provides an extensive
body of research on Indo-Caribbean migration, a hitherto inadequately re-
searched topic. Information is provided from indenture to the present day.
Steeve Buckeridge's essay, The Role of Plant Substances in Jamaican Slave
Dress provides insights into how the slaves incorporated ancient African arts such
as lace-bark making and the use of plant dyes into their slave dress, changing the
ordinary to the elegant. The final article by Carolyn Hayle, Application of a
Jamaican Idiosyncracy as a Managment Tool for Tourism takes a creative
look at a tourism plan for the Caribbean utilizing Jamaican cultural idiosyncra-
cies. Three book reviews complete this edition.
Nicolas Guillen 100 years old and more relevant than ever to
an understanding of the Caribbean.
It has been said that outside of Cuba Nicolas Guillen is most recognized
for his contribution to the Negrismo movement and the development of a black
aesthetic. While this is unquestionably one of his most important contributions to
the literary world the definition of Guillen as a negrista poet in no way does justice
to the legacy he has left as a Caribbean artist and thinker. The ideas and opinions
embedded in Guillen's poems, prose writings and more directly expressed in the
many interviews he gave, speak to the question of who and what it is to be
Caribbean. A study of his work against the background of comments made by two
other distinguished West Indians, Eric Williams and Neville Dawes reveals that
Guillen is relevant far beyond the borders of the Hispanic Caribbean, across time,
space and language. His notion of 'caribbeaness', no respecter of linguistic
boundaries, is grounded in an understanding of the common history of the region
as a whole which makes him a legitimate symbol for all Caribbean peoples.
Nicolas Guillen, Eric Williams, Neville Dawes and the 'Vertical Ties that
The name Caribbean region or West Indies implies a single entity.
While this is true from a geographical perspective, in other spheres political,
cultural and economic the composition of the region and the subsequent relation-
ships between the various parts are complex. Eric Williams (1970) characterizes
the political and economic landscape as one possessing an appalling degree of
fragmentation. On one hand there is the diversity of peoples and on the other the
commonality of a shared historical experience which has produced similarly
structured societies; products of slave and subsequent colonial societies which still
struggle in the 20th century with their relationship with the developed world.
Williams identifies a particular phenomenon in his discussion on the economies of
the territories, one which is essential in any effort to understand the Caribbean
region. He observes that:
The economic policies pursued by the governments both
independent and non-dependent also serve to strengthen "ver-
tical" ties between the individual territories and metropolitan
countries and frustrate the creation of "horizontal" ties between
the countries of the region" (Eric Williams From Columbus to
Castro. London 1970 p. 499)
This feature of "vertical ties" to the various metropoles, of which the
USA becomes one in the 20th century, and which takes precedence over the
"horizontal ties" between the islands operates as an organizing principle within the
Caribbean at the political, economic and cultural levels. In this way Caribbean
communities have continued to define themselves by way of the colonizers'
perspective, as British West Indians, French West Indians, Spanish West Indians
or Dutch West Indians. Within this paradigm linguistic markers have become
indicators of difference which take precedence over the commonalities of histori-
cal experience. One of the legacies of colonization is this phenomenon of territo-
ries which see themselves primarily in relation to their respective metropolis, and
as a secondary consideration in relation to their sister islands. In this way the
metropolitan centres continue to have considerable influence in the region, long
after demitting office as colonizer. This has militated against regional unity and
prevents optimum co-operation between the entities at the political and economic
These preferred 'vertical relationships' that the islands have fostered
have also had implications for cultural development and identity formation. The
following extract from an address Neville Dawes made in 1975 on the definition
of Jamaican culture illustrates well how these 'vertical ties' dictate the path of
...a certain standard was set by which Jamaicans who wanted to
improve themselves would be measured. It meant, among other
things, that a 'cultured' Jamaican was one who spoke English
with a certain accent, who thought that music was Bach and
Beethoven.....who knew the only art had been created by
Michel Angelo, Leonardo de Vinci, Rembrant etc,...who, all
told, our 'cultured' Jamaican was as near to being an Eng-
lishman as possible." (Neville Dawes "The Jamaican Cultural
Identity" Jamaica Journal, Vol 7, p 35)
Continuing the discussion he points out that within the context of politi-
cal independence, this notion of culture had to be revised. However the complex-
ity of this issue is illustrated in his observation of the fact that many Jamaicans did
not want political independence in 1962 and held the same opinion then as he
spoke in 1975. In 2002 the poll on whether the Jamaican people are better off now
than as a colonial entity revealed a majority percentage which said no. These facts
illustrate the strength of the 'vertical ties' identified by Williams which define the
region politically and culturally. This cultural dilemma, which has at its centre the
uneasy, often oppositional relationship between the culture as designated by
metropolis and that of the other groups in the West Indian setting, is intimately
linked to the assignation of power in the region's communities. Consequently it
has had direct impact on how society is ordered. Ada Ferrer provides an illustra-
tion in her discussion of race and the Cuban Wars of Independence. She points to
the plight of black Cuban officers who in the dying moments of the Independence
Wars were removed from positions of rank, or refused promotions, while white
Cuban recruits from desirable backgrounds were promoted. The objective was to
ensure that the right type of men, men who were 'civilized' would end the war in
positions ready to take up political office in civil society. The definition here of
'civilized' implied a Western European orientation thereby negating the possibil-
ity that black Cubans could be considered as appropriate political leaders.
Like Williams, Guillen recognizes the fact that the West Indies operates
as a fragmented body. The following expert is taken from his acceptance speech
on being awarded The Gold Musgrave Medal by the institute of Jamaica in
In this same period of which we have just spoken, the people of
the West Indies have lived in ignorance of each other, kept
separate by the evil imperialist faith that divided them, that
confronted them, face to face, like quiet ghosts. Mr. Haiti, Mrs.
Jamaica, the Misses Guadalupe and Martinique, Mr. Barbados,
Mrs. Cuba...What can they say to each other in their English, in
their patios, in their French, in their Spanish, in their
papimiento? They have said very little (or nothing) up to now,
but now they are beginning to say more.(Nicola Guillen
Speech made by Guillen on accepting the Gold Musgrave
Medal,Institute of Hamaica, Jamaica Journal, Vol.7 p.27)
Guillen's response to the 'Ties that Bind'
While accepting this as the present reality, Guillen, the poet is free to
look at what is, and through his art project another way of understanding the
reality he sees. A study of his work offers the reader an alternate way of interpret-
ing the region, of defining ourselves. This is part of the invaluable legacy Guillen
left us. Through his poetry and prose writing Guillen re interprets the West
Indian landscape and presents a point of view which challenges established no-
tions of culture and regional politics. The title of his 1934 collection, "West Indies
Ltd" as simple as it is, (and this is the genius of his poetic technique, the power he
imbues in simple structures) alludes not only to his vision of the region as a whole,
but also to its exploitation. The addition of "Ltd" conjures up associations of
commerce and business, casting the region in the role of a multinational corpora-
tion, which is what it has been since 'discovery', a financial venture first for the
colonizing forces and then for the United States. In this way he illustrates the
deleterious nature of the 'vertical tie', which thirty five years later Williams
pinpoints as one of the primary obstacles to a unified approach to regional
development. In addition the use of the English term West Indies implies that the
audience he addresses here goes beyond the Hispanic Caribbean. In this collection
the reader is exposed to issues such as the shared history of the islands and the
similar socio-political and economic conditions which afflict them. The poem in
the anthology which carries the same title is a long one which could not be treated
in its entirety here. Suffice it to say that through this work Guillen reiterates the
vision of the West Indies islands as a connected chain, more bound to each other
than to their colonial parent. He constructs his vision by zeroing in on the many
aspects of reality common to the various limbs (islands) of the West Indian body.
iWest Indies! iWest Indies! iWest Indies!
Este es el pueblo hirsuto,
de cobre, multic6falo, donde la vida repta
con el lodo seco cuarteado en la piel.
Este es el presidio
donde cada hombre tiene atados los pies.
Esta es la grotesca sede de companies y trusts.
Aqui estan el lago de asfalto, las minas de hierro,
las plantaciones de cafe,
los ports, docks, los ferry boats, los ten cents...
Este es el pueblo del all right,
donde todo es encuentra muy mal;
este es el pueblo del very well,
donde nadie esta bien.
In this exerpt (All quotations from Guillen's poetry are taken from the
series Obra Poetica Tome 1, Havana 1974) two notions are effectively illustrated.
There is much economic activity in the Caribbean, seen in the references to the
companies, trusts, docks and the listing of resources like the asphalt lake and the
plantations. Ironically this does not benefit the Caribbean people. Despite being
the headquarters, 'el sede' of companies and trusts, it is a prison, 'el presidio', in
which the Caribbean man's development is hindered, as he lives with his feet tied,
'atados los pies', an effective metaphor which captures the idea of the difficulty to
progress. By listing the various economic activities, which are associated with
several islands and through the use of English terms Guillen skillfully reinforces
the notion that he is describing circumstances which also exist beyond the Cuban
borders in other Caribbean locations. Having built a case to support this 'horizon-
tal' perspective, Guillen ends on a positive note, positing as a solution, regional
solidarity in the struggle to find prosperity, intimating that a future built on this can
Lentamente, de piedra, va una mano
cerrindose en un puflo vengativo.
Un claro, un claro y vivo
son de esperanza estalla en tierra y oc6ano.
El sol habla de bosques con las verdes semillas...
West Indies, en ingl6s. En castellano,
The hand of stone which becomes a fist connotes the determination of the
region to resist and hope of a productive future lies in the image of the green seeds.
He crosses the linguistic boundaries which have traditionally contributed to the
insularity of the individual islands, by reminding us that the designated names
West Indies and Las Antillas are merely different language references for the same
region. A close reading of the poems mentioned and others indicate that for
Guillen the linguistic differences, one of the bases on which the 'vertical' ties were
established and perpetuated, really represent a slight distinguishing feature of the
various islands far outweighed by their common history and consequent analogous
social structures and realities. From a socio-political point of view he recognizes
the historic link of cultural and economic domination between island and metropo-
lis operating in all of the islands, thus projecting a vision of the region as one
family, with the various parts facing similar socio-political and economic chal-
lenges. Guillen has redefined the region using horizontal as opposed to vertical
reference points. Implicit in this vision which interprets the region from the
'horizontal' perspective is the call for regional solidarity. We are encouraged to
shift our gaze from one which looks outwards to one which looks inwards and
connects with our neighbours.
A reading of Bharrat Jagdeo's addressI to the Jamaican Parliament in
August 2002 illustrates the continued relevance of Guillen's early poetry to the
present Caribbean condition. The call for a greater commitment to Caricom in
order to better face the challenges of globalization, his insistence on the need for
solidarity of the Caribbean communities to tackle the pressures exerted on the
region by the developed world are based on the very same notions posited by
Guillen sixty years earlier. This points to the Cuban poet's grasp of the essential
truths of the region's socio-political and cultural condition, a condition little
changed today, evidenced in the continued search for solutions to the problems he
had identified so many years earlier.
Guillen's vision creates the possibility for alternate constructions of inter
island relationships on one hand and the relationship between the region and the
rest of the world, both developing and developed nations on the other. He criti-
cizes the established order by reflecting the regions experience through images of
marginalization, exploitation and injustice. This challenges us to consider alterna-
tives. His poetry provides the space in which questions can be raised to challenge
the existing power structures. The effect of this is the possibility of forging a
consciousness capable of considering how the world might be organized differ-
ently; a consciousness that can respond to the trends like the anti-globalization
movement, whose theme for the meeting in Porto Bello, Brazil, was "Podemos
hacer otro mundo". (We can build another world)
It is also within the cultural sphere that Guillen's writing challenges
established notions and creates an opening for other perspectives. Previously
quoted remarks made by Neville Dawes', make reference to the complex relation-
ship of opposition between the imposed cultural norms of the power groups and
those of the working class, descendants of slaves and indentured workers in the
colonial and independent society. He goes on to explain how this adversarial
relationship leads to two popular fallacies, one being that our culture is really
English and we must work to make it more so and the other, is that in fact it is
really African and we must work to make it more so. While these remarks were
made within the context of Jamaican society similarly polar relationships between
cultures are evident in other Caribbean societies. These notions continue to
dominate the interpretation of West Indian culture in contemporary society. The
skin bleaching phenomena and the repatriation movements3 are examples of this.
Within this context a frame work is created in which there is opposition between
the principal cultural elements as they jostle for validation. Guillen recognizes that
diverse cultural elements through colonization and the slave/sugar society inter-
faced. However, he suggests an alternative relationship should pertain between
these cultural sources. His vision is one in which over the years they come to play
complementary rather than adversarial roles within the national culture, by defini-
tion of that culture as the result of the fusion of diverse races. This is expressed
clearly in the "Balada de los dos Abuelos", another of the poems in the anthology,
"West Indies Ltd.". This poem becomes a lyrical expression of the birth of a
national culture. The persona switches continuously between references to his
African grandfather and references to his European grandfather. The references
span the categories of physical appearance, place of origin and role in society.
Pie desnudo, torso p6treo
los de mi negro;
pupilas de vidrio antartico
las de mi blanco.
This keeps the notion of the close link between the two influences and
their characteristics present, side by side and culminates in the penultimate stanza
with the line "Yo los junto". This however is not an exotic reference to the
"meztisaje" of Caribbean history and lineage. Guillen articulates clearly the
historic problematic relationship between European and African by ascribing
blame through the lines:
iOh costas de cuello virgen
engafiados de abalorios...! (my emphases)
This paints the European as the aggressor and gives moral high ground to
the African as the victim, deceived by the European trader. The paradigm of
power is also outlined in the following couplet through the names and related
actions of each party.
Don Frederico me grita
Y Taita Facundo calla;
It is significant that the poem moves from treating each ancestor alter-
nately to seeing them as a couple, one unit in the final stanza.
Facundo! Los dos se abrazan.
Los dos suspiran. Los dos
las fuertes cabezas alzan;
los dos del mismo tamafio,
ansia negra y ansia blanca,
los dos del mismo tamafio
gritan, suefian, Iloran, cantan.
Suefian, lloran, cantan.
While recognizing his ancestral sources within the reality of their historic
context his interpretation reflects movement away from a relationship polarized in
nature to one of reconciliation between the two cultural elements, a synthesis in
which both groups have an equal share and have played equally contributory roles.
That neither source is ascribed superior value is made clear through the line "los
dos del mismo tamafio"(both of the same stature). The overall impression is that
each element participates in the creation of the "yo" of the line "Yo los junto"( I
join them) rather than being measured against each other. The Cuban national is
the unifying element, the new product of this convergence of cultures, in this
Caribbean space. This effectively removes the notion of the polarity between the
African and European cultures.
The sonnet "El Abuelo", also found in the collection "West Indies Ltd"
expresses the same notion of the inextricable link of the two races to be found in
the Caribbean person, but from a different perspective. Here the subject seems
oblivious to her true cultural background, aware only of her European heritage
because of her physical appearance.
Esta mujer angelica de ojos septentrionales,
que vive atenta al ritmo de su sangre europea,
ignora que en lo hondo de ese ritmo golpea
un negro el parche duro de roncos atabales
The poetic voice insists that her appearance is not representative of her
cultural composition. The black ancestor of which she is unaware can be under-
stood at two levels. Literally he can be the black grandfather whose physical
characteristics have been diluted in his descendant and figuratively he can repre-
sent the inevitable contact between the two cultures which coexist within a
prescribed space, and which is part of the lived experience in Cuban/West Indian
society. While the two poems mentioned seem to speak to the individual they can
also be interpreted at the collective level where the joining of the African and
European is not just the intermingling of races which produces a separate and
different race but more an intermingling of influences and cultures which creates
a new society. Through the "criollo" who looks European but is not European,
race has been removed as a defining marker from the concept of culture, and has
been replaced by existence and experience within the Cuban society. In the same
way Jean Rhys's Antoinette who looked European could not adjust to life in
London because her cultural make up was not determined by her skin colour but
by her lived experience at Colibri. The parameters for defining culture in the West
Indies have thus been reinterpreted.
"El Abuelo has the structure of a traditional sonnet provides a foil for
"La Balada de Mis dos Abuelos", whose call and answer format and patterns of
repetition and rhyme give it a structure more akin to that of a son. It is interesting
that Guillen chose to use these two styles in the same collection to express similar
notions from two perspectives. These two poems become different sides of the
same coin, which seem to reflect at the structural level his understanding of how
Cuban national culture should be perceived; the blending of two elements, son and
sonnet, African cultural element and European, as opposed to the meeting of two
elements, one of which is assigned greater value. This culminates in the birth of a
new nation with its own national identity, in which each citizen has an equitable
stake. In marrying the European literary traditions and the African elements of
culture, his style becomes a tangible representation of this notion.
Lorna Williams lists various responses to Guillen the poet, pointing out
that his style has been much discussed with some critics recognizing him as a
leading practitioner of the "negrista" verse and categorizing his work as an
essential part of the canon of traditional African poetry, while others point to his
use of the sonnet and the traditional meter of Hispanic ballads and conclude that he
is fundamentally a classic poet who manages to express the Afro-Cuban culture
using the Spanish language. These discussions however overlook the most sig-
nificant goal of Guillen's poetic endeavors, discussed in the previous paragraph,
and perpetuate the definition of Caribbean creativity in terms of its "Europeaness"
or "Africanness". Viewing the Caribbean from this perspective makes it impossi-
ble for the region to develop its own identity as a separate region as the tendency
is to define it in terms of the influence of one or the other of the "parental" sources.
From a Freudian perspective separation from the mother and father figure is
fundamental to the development of the child's sense of self. This in no way
advocates "ignoring" or "forgetting" the past but rather prescribes acknowledging
it and using it to define the present while giving direction to the future, under-
standing that the historical experience of the Caribbean has bred a 'new' people.
(In fact another poem by Guillen "Noche de negros junto a la cathedral" focuses
on the importance of remembering accurately the painful history of the Afro-Cu-
ban community without romanticizing the experience.) In establishing this posi-
tion Guillen creates a platform for cultural interpretation to begin from within the
Caribbean space, for cultural norms to be representative of national standards
determined through a Caribbean experience, freed from the practice of retaining
colonial norms as the benchmark for defining culture which has lead to the use of
terms like "superior" and "inferior" cultures. He challenges Cuba and by exten-
sion the Caribbean to establish its new cultural order, based on this notion, which
dovetails with political independence. This new order nullifies the notion of
Western/European superiority, left as a result of the cultural colonization which
accompanied political dependence. In this way he articulates a framework within
which a legitimate West Indian culture can be fashioned; a framework which
would facilitate the type of exploration of cultural notions Neville Dawes (1975)
suggests needs to take place within a context of political independence when he
"Perhaps the truth about our cultural heritage lies somewhere
between these extremes (African and European) and one of our
main tasks in the new cultural way of thinking is to find out just
where it lies and to study the implications of our findings."
One of the consequences of reflecting on Guillen's work is that it reminds
us of our place in a wider Caribbean society, wider than that of Caricom as it is
now defined and in fact suggests the need to reexamine what we mean by
Caricom. His work provides us with a vision of the Caribbean from the inside
looking out, as opposed to from the outside looking in, a shift in orientation which
is relevant at both the socio-political and cultural levels and which moves us closer
to a Caribbean consciousness; closer to a sense of 'Caribbeaness' which is
fundamental to producing communities which can answer Bharatt Jagdeo's call
for the type of regional approach necessary to survive in this globalised world. In
an effort to balance the scales in favor of the fostering of a West Indian ethos
amongst our people we must promote the study at all levels of the prominent artists
and thinkers of our region who irrespective of their disciplines and native lan-
guages express similar ideas about the region's condition. This commonality we
have seen in the ideas of Eric Williams historian and politician, Neville Dawes
writer and anthropologist, and Nicolas Guillen artist and political thinker. Roberto
Marquez has commented on the fact that a lack Guillen's work in translation has
hampered the dissemination of his work on the scale that it deserves. As the
source of material which can stimulate thinking and offer perspectives on issues
still relevant in contemporary Caribbean society it is most appropriate that we
celebrate the centenary of Guillen's birth, not just via this symposium but by
committing ourselves to ensuring that his work is even more widely studied in the
1. Bharrat Jagdeo addressed a special sitting of the Jamaican Parliament during the celebrations of
the 40th anniversary of its independence.
2. This refers to use of chemicals by West Indians of African descent to lighten their skin colour
3. The repatriation movements are groups who seek to return to Africa the land of their ancestors to
live as they do not accept that the Caribbean is their living space. They see themselves as dis-
placed African nationals.
Dawes, Neville "The Jamaican Cultural Identity" Jamaica Journal, Vol 7 pp. 34-37 1975
Ferrer Ada Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868-1898, Kingston 1999
Guillen, Nicolas Speech made by Guillen on accepting the Gold Musgrave Medal from the Institute
of Jamaica Jamaica Journal, Vol 7 p 27 -29
Guillen, Nicolas Obra Poetica Tome I Havana 1974
Guillen Nicolas El Gran Zoo and other poems, editied and translated by Roberto Marquez Havana
Williams, Eric From Columbus to Castro. London 1970
Williams, Loma Self and Society in Nicolas Guillen. New York 1986
The Joy of Eating: Food and Identity in Contemporary Cuba*
Cubans will wholeheartedly testify to the central importance of food in
their life; when asked to speak of their cuisine, they tend to say that food brings a
deep sense of being Cuban. In this paper, I will examine the ways in which food
practices can shape, represent, and reproduce a particular collective identity (Te-
rio, 2000). This will be achieved by situating the socio-cultural dimension of
Cuban cuisine within complex fields of power and identity struggles that have
profoundly shaped this Caribbean island over the last five hundred years. Ethno-
graphic sources for this work come from data gathered during the many visits to
Cuba I have taken over the last seven years.
Anthropologists have long acknowledged that food is more than nutrition
helping individuals to form attachments to their society by engaging behaviour
and relations at many levels. For instance, Levi-Strauss (1969, 1978) says that
food has less to do with what is good to eat than with what is good to think. In
other words, what is considered to be appropriate food is closely related to
social-cultural acts of signification in which societies categorise and organise
nature. Following a similar line of thinking, Douglas (1972, 1997) argues that food
can act as a mental construct to bind people together creating a sense of the
collective self. Fiddles (1991), Goody (1982), and Gamsey (1999) demonstrate
that group eating can highlight relationships that structure social institutions, as
well as collective attitudes. The repertory of associations conveyed by food pro-
vides the people who share them with meaning and a strong sense of belonging. As
Fiddles (1991:33) puts it, "The food we select reflects our thought, including our
conception of our actual or desired way of life and our perceptions of the food
choices of people with whom we wish to identify". The work of authors such as
Pilcher (1998) and Wilk (1999) also reveals that culinary traditions translate a
sense of national belonging making food an active shaper as well as a marker of
collective identity formation.
Because food is so socially and culturally charged, it also impacts on the
political culture of a nation. Like other goods, food acts as a positional marker
within social hierarchy. That is, groups establish boundaries and class differences
by internalising food as taste, in that people develop predilections for particular
types of food. For Bourdieu (1984), tastes reflect social hierarchy based on
economic and cultural capital. According to him, the main source of this differen-
tiation system is habitus- a set of attitudes ingrained in agents so early that they
internalise predispositions such as food tastes that become rooted in their national
identity as cultural capital.
In this paper, the emergence of dominant food tastes leads us to pay
particular attention to the sites where these tastes developed as habitus. Pratt's
concept of "contact zone" (1992) is useful here:
contactt zone is an attempt to invoke the spatial and temporal
co-presence of subjects previously separated by geographic and
historical disjunctures, and whose trajectories now intersect... It
treats the relations among colonizers and colonized, or travelers
and "travelees," not in terms of separateness or apartheid, but in
terms of co-presence, interaction, interlocking understandings
and practices, often within radically asymmetrical relations of
To follow Pratt, dietary changes appeared to have occurred in those
social spaces where everyday interactions were going on between disparate and
asymmetric cultures. In such situations, Euro-dietary tastes became ideologies
used to validate and sustain relationships of domination in the interest of the
colonial political power (Garnsey, 1999). However, research indicates that while
tastes transmit and translate relations of power, they could also sustain ideas
opposed to the dominant power, such as African food systems during slavery.
Thus, the political dimension of food in so-called "contact zones" could inform on
the ways in which the superordinate and subordinate classes recreate a contact
culture and confer to it a sense of authenticity. In this paper, I will examine how
Cuban cooking reflects this process oftransculturation and impacts on the sense of
national identity construction or Cubanness.
Cuba's Culinary Traditions
Cuban diet carries the memory of the island's pre- and post-conquest
histories. As a contact cuisine, it incorporates the dietary practices of its original
inhabitants as well as those of African and Asian origins into the hegemonic
cooking tradition of Spain. Today, these traditions all contribute to the richness of
Cuban creolised cuisine.
The earliest dietary traditions come from the first known inhabitants of
the islands including the Ciboney; the Taino, and the Mayari. Unfortunately, little
is known about the latter group whose culture was eventually absorbed by the
dominant Taino (P6rez, 1995:18).
The Ciboney were semi-nomadic fishers and foragers who lived on the
coast in rock shelters and cave dwellings harvesting fish, shellfish, and turtles
from the sea. On the beaches, they gathered mollusks and crustaceans, and they
hunted mammals, reptiles, and game trapped in deadfalls or spring snares on the
land (P6rez, 1995). They also collected nuts, avocados, cashew fruit, mamey,
papaya, guava, pineapple, and a variety of berries.
Eventually, the Ciboney were dislodged by successive waves of village-
dweller Taino. Like the Ciboney, the Taino fished, but unlike their predecessors
they had a sophisticated form of agriculture whereby, after clearing the land, they
heaped up mounds of earth or conucos in the soft alluvial soil (Rouse, 1992) to
grow root crops such as sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and cassava. Cassava, also
called yucca and manioc, is a starchy tuber that served as the staple food of
Caribbean populations in the pre-conquest period. With the cassava the Taino
made an unleavened bread which could keep for several months, even in humid
weather; this food was labelled "bread of the earth" by the Spaniards (Suchlicki,
1988:302). The Taino cultivated chili and annatto as condiments, and undertook
extensive cultivation of tobacco and corn.
The Taino used distinct cooking methods such as clay-baking and ember-
burning called barbacoa, and later known to us as barbecue (Barer-Stein, 1979).
Fish and birds were coated with mud and baked in an ash fire made in a pit dug
into the sand (Wolfe, 1970:39). Today's pepper-pot was originally a type of stew
with meat and cassareep which used the boiled juice of the cassava root to provide
a peculiar bittersweet flavour.
Although none of the native islanders survived European conquest, their
rapid genocide during the first century of Spanish colonisation, did not erase their
dietary traditions. For instance, one of their legacies is corn. Corn cropping
survived colonialism because it was well adapted to tropical conditions and did not
require a plough or horse. Eventually, corn became a major staple in the slave diet,
and during the economic crisis of the 1930s, cornmeal was eaten daily a fact
that is still vivid in the memory of many Cubans (Villapol, 1993).
Once African slavery replaced Native labour in the sixteenth century,
over twenty ethnic groups were forced to leave their homelands to work on the
sugar plantations. These groups included the Efik and the influential Lucumi from
Nigeria, the Bantu also known as Congo from Angola and Cameroon, and the
Arara or Dahomeyan from West and Central Africa. With the slaves came African
crops such as okra (Quimbomb6 a food staple from the Congo and Angola),
plantains, and a great variety of cooking bananas. Today, fried pounded plantain
(tachino) is considered a delicacy in Cuba.
Although the eating practices of the slave households show up only in
glimpses in the literature, it is possible to imagine the interaction that went on all
the time in contact zones (Pratt, 1992). This enabled African cooking traditions to
be maintained to some degree. Such was the case where slave women had access
to their masters' kitchens. Furthermore, to spare the estate the expenses of provid-
ing for the slaves during the non-crop season, some plantation owners were
amenable to their African labour force maintaining tiny plots of land near their
shelters, a system called conucos y crias (Moreno Fraginals, 1978:202). This in
turn provided an environment conducive to the perpetuation of specific African
dietary practices into Cuban food culture. Many of the soup recipes in contempo-
rary Cuban cuisine come from the rich soup and stew traditions of the African
continent. For instance okra is used in soups with pork and plantain. During the era
of slavery, these okra soups were prepared with jerked pork that was first deprived
of its salt before inclusion.
Of particular interest is that African culinary tradition often entered
Cuban colonial society through the medium of songs. Enslaved Africans, forbid-
den to converse while working, learned to communicate positive images of their
roots through songs that were filled with references to African culinary practices.
These songs form part of a rich layered musical heritage in modem day Cuba. An
example of this tradition is the following song on okra (Faya, 1999:77):
Qimbomb6 que resbala Slippery okra
con yuca y flame with yucca and yam
Que sabroso el quimbomb6 how delicious is okra
cocinado con harina cooked with flour,
con camaroncito seco small dried shrimps
y con came de gallina and chicken meat
Senores no se que pasa Sirs, I don't know what's
con los pollos de hoy en dia: with chickens today:
quieren comer quimbomb6 they want to eat okra,
con yuca, flame y jutia. with yucca and yam.
Quimbomb6 que resbala Slippery okra
pa' la yuca seca. for the dry yucca.
Not only songs, but also religious practices played a part in maintaining
African food habits. This is evidenced in the extensive use of okra in ceremonial
dishes. For instance, asbabah is cornmeal cooked in chicken stock and okra, ilah is
okra cooked with stock, and abeggedch is raw okra paste blended with cornmeal
(Villapol, 1993). This persisting African influence in Cuban cooking points to the
success of the African struggle to resist the cultural vacuum created by slavery
In the middle of the nineteenth century, when planters became increas-
ingly concerned over the effects that abolition of slavery would have on their
profits, Asian contract labourers were imported from Asia including China, the
Spanish-dominated Philippine Islands, and from India. These indentured workers
came to work in cane fields, sugar mills and on the railroads (Perez, 1995:115).
Asian workers brought their love of rice, although rice had apparently
come to the island much before the arrivals of these immigrants. Originally,
imported from Asia and West Africa (Ulijaszek & Strickland, 1993), rice was
consumed in Italy, France and Spain some 25 years prior to the conquest of the
Americas. It was introduced to the Americas by a chance event in 1694 (Suchlicki,
1988, Ball, 1999). For instance Ball mentions that the planting of rice started in
South Carolina circa 1695. Five years later, thirty tons of rice were shipped each
year to the Caribbean, including Cuba to feed the slaves (Villapol, 1993). Its
cultivation in Cuba may have been encouraged by the developments in agriculture
and commerce that occurred in the Caribbean during the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries (Suchlicki, 1988). One could speculate that the knowledge of growing
rice in their native land that West Africans brought with them, completed with the
arrival of Chinese contract labourers in the 1840s would have insured the success-
ful cultivation of the crop in the Americas and the Caribbean.
Today, rice is Cuba's most important staple, perceived as versatile,
durable and filling. In times of scarcity, if rice and beans are stockpiled, Cubans do
not fear hunger. During the harsher years of the Special Period (1992, 1993 and
1994) when rice was extremely scarce, Cuban women created a substitute out of
cut spaghetti to preserve the illusion of serving rice at their tables. The presence of
rice in Cuban households distinguishes a meal from a snack, for instance at
breakfast. Rice and black beans (congri), and rice and kidney beans (moros y
cristianos translated as Moors and Christians) are the dishes most Cubans associ-
ate with their culture. The term congri, according to Villapol (1993), was probably
adopted from neighboring Haiti, for it appears to be a combination of the words
"Congo" and "rice" (riz, French). This would suggest that the term originated
when rice was the main staple of slave consumption, and beans one of their major
sources of protein. Although emblematic of Cuban cuisine, congri, a combination
of rice and a legume, is not exclusive to Cuba, but rather a Caribbean dish that was
established with the African and Asian diasporas. For this reason there are similar
"congri" recipes in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, the Dominican
Republic, and Haiti.
A Cuban variation of congri is known as moros y cristianos, which
suggests the association of the dish with Spain. Europeans were obsessed with
racial purity and associated the colour white with high rank (Farb & Armclagos,
1980). In Latin America, vestiges of this obsession were expressed in colonial
notions of raza pura (race purity) and limpieza de sangre (blood cleanliness), a
legacy of Spain's contact with Northern Africa. This helps to explain how white
rice relates to Christians, a metaphor based on the premise of the natural supe-
riority (purity) of the Spaniards and kidneys with the tainted (subaltern) Moors.
Today, the expression of moros y cristianos has been replaced by congri, which
seems to reflect a certain distancing from the dichotomous European thought and
a movement towards a more inclusive Caribbean attitude.
Cuba's strongest culinary influence comes from southern Spain, includ-
ing Galicia, Andalusia, Asturia, and the Canary Islands. The hegemony of Spanish
cooking evolved with the colonial development of the plantation system for sugar,
and livestock ranching for meat. Whenever possible Europeans imitated cosmo-
politan cuisine and only incorporated local ingredients at the periphery jf their
diets (Pilcher, 1998). This ambivalence toward native food can still be seen in a
dislike of spicy food and the total absence on the island of the American domesti-
cated chilli pepper particularly striking since this condiment has existed for
over nine thousand years in the region (Farb & Armelagos, 1980). Instead, Cubans
use garlic, onion and cumin all coming from a European taste. Also, Spanish
colonists were bread-lovers and bread was of enormous symbolic importance to
Europeans, who considered wheat to be the food of the civilised Christian world.
Bread was also sacred in both the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, which
regarded the ritual use of bread as the flesh of Christ. However, Spanish colonists
were forced to adjust this preference with an environment where wheat was hard
to grow under tropical conditions. They adopted instead rice, corn, and root crops,
including the potato, which was brought to the Caribbean by the Spaniards who
first encountered the crop during their conquest of Peru.
Cubans love their meat: a distinctly European taste, meat is a preference
that originates in the colonial assumption that "without meat in the diet the human
brain [would stop] functioning and civilisation [become] impossible" (Bulnes
cited in Pilcher, 1998:82). In Europe meat has traditionally been associated with
masculinity (Bourdieu, 1984:190). Today, regardless of the tropical climate and
the proximity of the ocean, Cubans prefer meat to fish. Evidence of this is seen in
the fact that a meatless meal is considered eminently unsatisfying and a vegetarian
diet lacking in nutrients.
For a long time beef was the most common meat The rearing of livestock
on the island started as early as 1493 when Columbus brought Spanish husbandry
to the New World. Cuba had good natural conditions for cattle raising. Initially,
stock rearing developed in a haphazard manner in the areas of Santiago, Trinidad,
and Baracoa, and later in the vast central grasslands of Camaguey and Villas Clara
where the animals could be turned loose to graze. Conducted in small-and me-
dium-size ranches (potreros), it was an activity that required only limited capital
investment and very little labour-perhaps one slave to fifty head of livestock. By
the end of the colonial period in 1895, there were nearly 3 million head of cattle
grazing on Cuban pastures (P6rez, 1989). Because of the high demand for working
animals, the industry continued to occupy an important economic role even after
the island shifted to sugar cane.
In fourteenth-, fifteenth- and sixteenth-centuries Europe, Flandrin (1999)
tells us that the status of beef was low; cattle were considered a lower, heavier type
of animal and their meat was perceived as tough, cold, and dry thus difficult to
digest. As a result, the aristocracy depreciated beef and preferred to eat veal, which
was viewed as more refined, having a more delicate flavour, and a lighter colour.
Meanwhile, European peasants were the beef-eating class for whom it was nour-
ishing as well as affordable. This was an attitude that seems to have been trans-
ferred to the New World through the Spanish colonists, most of whom came from
However, not only class cultural practices but also utilitarian factors must
have influenced the shift to a preference for beef. The low production and market
costs of cattle provided the plantation owners with the necessary jerked (salted)
meat that was part of the daily food ration assigned to feed their slaves. Initially,
when it was suggested that fish could replace jerked beef, the landed aristocracy
refused on economic grounds since beef was cheaper than fish (Villapol, 1993).
The dominance of Spanish culinary culture in colonial Cuba suggests the power of
food to legitimate European authority that coincided with changing social divi-
sions in the region.
North American Influence
During the U.S. protectorate, Cuba went through a period of Americani-
sation in which beef-- the all-American food took on a new prestige. After the
1959 revolution, beef was produced primarily for the tourism industry and export.
Cattle raising was modernised and the crossing of Zebu and Holstein breeds was a
huge success. Improved genetic stocks as well as imported feed and better infra-
structure increased production threefold between 1963 and 1989. From the outset
-of the Special Period (1990-2000), which started after the fall of eastern Europe
in 1989, more than 50 percent of the stock of breeding cows disappeared, which
was mainly due to a shift in the 1990s from imported feed to natural pastures.
Although there are signs of recovery, milk production the most important
indicator in cattle raising has not increased.
Since 1959, there has been a prohibition on the killing of beef for
consumption by Cubans. Only animals that have died from natural causes or
accidental deaths can be butchered for domestic use, and violations are severely
punished with stiff fines or detention. The proscription against eating beef is
stricter now that the island desperately needs its cows for milk and calf production.
Furthermore, the shortage of gasoline and tractors have led to the introduction of
bullock farming, making oxen essential animals for ploughing fields and pulling
carts. Interestingly, at the symbolic level this taboo against beef killing in contem-
porary Cuba conveys a clear political distancing from past colonial and republican
Although a number of other animals are consumed, pork is now the
preferred meat and its fat is widely used for cooking. Unlike cattle, pigs are
adaptable and can share their habitats with humans. Usually Cuban households
like to keep a pig or two in their yards an activity that was legalised in 1990 at
the beginning of the Special Period. In times of scarcity, pigs maintain themselves
on what the household rejects and would otherwise waste. Furthermore, pigs are
among the most efficient converters of plant food into flesh, producing about
twenty pounds of meat for each hundred pounds of feed, which is three times the
average for cattle and twice that for poultry (Farb & Armelagos, 1980:172).
Contemporary Cuban Dietary Practices
Usually, men and women work closely together outside the home, but in
the privacy of the family a marked division of labour continues to exist in food
related activities. Men tend to be in charge of bringing the food to the home while
women are responsible for getting the meals ready. Since the severe economic
crisis of the last decade, food acquisition and preparation have added a tremendous
burden to the daily workload of the Cuban working household.
As a general rule, the Cuban day begins with a simple breakfast of milk
with coffee and a slice of bread; or simply a cup of coffee a custom that
originated with slavery (Moreno Fraginals, 1986:59). Lunches and. dinners are
usually hot meals. Lunches at the refectory (comedor) begin around mid-day and
are subsidized by the state.
At home as well as at the refectory, the Cuban meal structure is syn-
chronic in nature, with dishes placed either in the centre of the table for all to share
(at home), or on a tray (at work). When Cubans sit down to eat there is little or no
formality to start the meal. Ordinarily, individual intakes are unrestrained and food
is not measured. Neither are thanks expressed after a meal, for it would be an insult
not to eat. Water or a soft drink is served.
At work, lunches tend to be bland and usually consist of a ration of rice,
dry legumes such as chicharos, some root vegetable, and a serving of sweet rice.
Although basic and repetitive, these meals are nutritionally sound.
Salad vegetables are used at home and tend to be simple greens with
tomatoes, cucumber, and avocado dressed with lemon and salt. However, for
Cubans who usually want the feeling of heaviness from food, salad vegetables are
generally considered "side" dishes rather than "real" food an accompaniment to
a meal, but never the base of it. Fruits are much appreciated. Fresh, they are
usually served as appetizers to a meal because of their vitamin contents and
digestive qualities. Cooked, they are consumed as desserts and frequently served
with cheese. Fruits are used to flavour ice creams, such as the famed Copelia.
The cooking of sweet dishes is a colonial practice that is understandable
for a country whose main industry has been sugar since the middle of the nine-
teenth century (Mintz, 1986). Sugar cane, the engine of late colonial expansion,
grew in vast plantations located in the flatter provinces that stretched across the
island such as Ciego de Avila, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, and Sancti Spiritu. The
non-alcoholic, gayapo (the juice of the sugar cane) was the only food given to
slaves working under the scorching tropical sun.
Special occasions such as the New Year, weddings, birthdays, or the end
of a young girl's childhood at her Quince Afios (15th birthday), are marked by a
large meal taken in a climate of conviviality with lots of puns and jokes. To be
regarded as satisfying, this type of meal should be copious, high in fat, and rich in
carbohydrate. Such festive meals follow a diachronic structure. They start with a
plate of fresh fruit (bananas, watermelon, grapefruit, oranges, mangoes, pineapple
or papaya) followed by a centrepiece (such as meat) congri (black beans), and a
side salad of tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce with avocado when in season. The
final course or "sweet" might be in the form of cooked fruit served with a slice of
cheese, baked custards (flan), or a cake. Coffee is served afterwards to signal that
the meal has come to an end. In Cuba, where coffee and sugar have traditionally
been the exports at the core of the economy, a cup of very strong and sweet black
coffee has come to symbolise neighbourliness, social inclusion, and Cubanness.
Beer has become an important social drink; tapped beer is sold in large
barrels at affordable prices. On special occasions, such as a celebration for work
achievements and important national events, beer drinking is allowed at the
workplace to make the transition from work to leisure and from normal to special
time. Cubans also love rum and rum-based drinks, such as Cuba libre (rum and
coke), and mojito rum and water or soda poured over a base of lime juice with
a sprig of mint to enliven the drink. Any public expression of Cubanness includes
beer and rum, along with music the latter two being by-products of the sugar
and slave economy.
Alcoholic drinking is usually not excessive and seldom solitary. In fact,
cultural circumstances largely determine when alcoholic consumption is consid-
ered appropriate. During celebrations, glasses are freely passed around to make it
clear that drinking has a strong social component. However, although drinking
remains an important expression of conviviality, alcoholic consumption is done in
moderation and most people find intoxication unacceptable, especially if the
drinker is a woman.
Individual eating behaviours such as nibbling are not much practised
since they lack social significance for the group, and overeating is considered to be
in poor taste. Unlike North Americans, whose eating habits tend to be regarded as
an assertion of individual tastes and lifestyles, contemporary Cubans exhibit
cultural uniformity in their gastronomic tastes.
This uniformity in tastes has been strengthened by the refectory culture,
which appeared after the revolution. Since then, comedores have functioned as
institutionalized forums where the same food is shared with everyone at work
disseminating and reaffirming a sense of commonality among people. Pitt-Rivers
(1977:10) writes that "food and drink always have ritual value, for the ingestion
together of a common substance creates a bond". Workers and management alike
eat the same meals a powerful metaphor of shared values which establishes
communion through commonality. This sharing creates bonds, blurs social differ-
ences, and dramatises inclusion, suggesting that comedores are sites that express
and reproduce Cubanness, or a collective sense of national identity. As well, it
prevents the transformation of social relationships into "commodities" by bringing
leisure and work closer together (Rosenzweig, 1991).
Today, food acquisition includes a variety of methods such as the use of
the state libreta, the purchasing of food at farmers' markets, the reliance on black
market channels and food exchange networks, as well as the dollar stores. After its
introduction in 1962, the libreta ration usually included 6 pounds of rice per person
per month, 1 1/4 ounces of coffee per week, 5 pounds of sugar per month, and 1/2
pound of lard and 1 pound of meat per person per month (Suchlicki, 1988:237).
However, in the 1990s rationing quotas frequently failed to supply enough food
for more than two weeks each month, driving vast numbers of people into the
black market to supplement official allotments (P6rez, 1995:385). The recently
re-opened farmers' markets now enable people to purchase their necessary garden
vegetables and fruits, but for Cubans to find meat, coffee and cheese at reasonable
prices, they need to access networks of relatives and friends through black market
channels. Essentials such as milk and oil can be bought at dollar stores, but these
stores are far too expansive for many tables. When people can, they produce their
own meat (pork and chicken) and garden vegetables, selling surplus for cash or
using it tends to be used as a medium of exchange with network members. The
regularity of food acquisition depends, of course, on the market availability of
products and a family's financial status as well as access to US dollars. Food gift
items are frequently used in exchange for labour. Ready-to-eat food stands near
bus stops or on busy streets are found everywhere on the island today.
Food and Identity Construction
Cubanness as Ajiaco
Research demonstrates that the vocabulary of eating has long been used
to characterise transcultural identity construction (Gregg, 1998; Pilcher, 1998;
Wilk, 1999). Cuban history suggests that the desperate need for a coherent na-
tional ideology and cultural identity is the result the long experience of depend-
ency ranging from being the last Spanish colony in the Americas to becoming a
neo-colony of the United States (Chomsky, 2000). Nation-building required a
certain level of perceived cultural unity that Cuban nationalists ideologically
expressed in food imageries.
Several significant peculiarities distinguish Cuban culture from other
Hispanic colonies. One of Spain's richest possessions, Cuba was colonised in the
late fifteenth-century (1492), as part of the rapid overseas expansion of commer-
cial capitalism in Europe. From the outset, Cuban culture was an import that filled
the vacuum created by the early decimation of its indigenous population. Further-
more, because Cuba had no gold or silver to satisfy the Spaniards' obsession with
metallic riches, the island was not considered valuable except in strategic terms:
positioned at the entrance of the New World, Cuba was the logical way-station for
the Spanish colonists who penetrated the continental mainland. Cuba's role was
therefore primarily commercial until the beginning of the nineteenth-century -
"for the most part a cross-roads, a temporary haven for "migratory birds" on their
way to some other destination" (P6rez Firmat, 1989:2). Perez Firmat ibidd.) argues
that under Spanish domination "Cuban culture was doubly lacking: if the extermi-
nation of aboriginal civilisations erased its past, the restlessness of its Spanish
colonisers undermined its future". Cuba had become essentially a contact nation
accentuated by the fact that the aboriginal voice was all but missing, or what Phaf
(1996) calls the "genocide of the authentic". These historical circumstances gave
Cuban culture "a provisional makeshift character" (P6rez Firmat, 1989:2) and
prevented the development of a sense of national belonging because of the over-
whelming prevalence of what was "foreign". Speaking about Cuba, Manach sums
up the issue in the following manner:
Cuba had to start from little more than a tabula rasa. The Cuban Indian,
as is know, did not surpass the infracultural level. No traditional stock of
autochthonous images nourished the initial creole sensibility. Our means of ex-
pression, from the beginning, had to adopt European forms, principally of course
Spanish ones (cited in P6rez Firmat, 1989:2).
The development of the plantation system further stressed this sense of
deracination. The Haitian revolution, which made Cuba the single largest producer
of sugar in the Caribbean, opened the door to virtually unlimited expansion. Slave
imports reached staggering proportions. Some of the greatest fortunes of the
nineteenth century were based on the exploitation of the slave economy in terms
of the slave trade, sugar cultivation, railroad construction and shipping (Schmidt-
Nowora, 1998). Creole reformist leaders increasingly sought greater autonomy
from the Spanish colonial regime so firmly entrenched on the island. As a result,
the need to reach economic and political sovereignty and develop an authentic
Cubanness (cubanidad), started to emerge among the plantocracy.
Among the popular sector, the movement for nationalism (cubanidad)
was created by the tumult of the wars of independence (1868-78 and 1895-98).
Decolonisation and slave emancipation followed by thousands of former slaves
joining the liberation armies gave rise to an ideology of transculturation a
concept ofmestizaje not imagined from the interests of the Spanish metropolis but
from the standpoint of the Cuban colony (Ortiz, 1940). This was cut short by the
military occupation of the United States (1899-1902), which resubjected the island
once again to foreign rule by converting the new republic into a U.S. protectorate.
However, intellectuals, continued to debate the issue of cubanidad, citizenship,
and national identity. Ortiz's (1940) concept of transculturation a phenomenon
of the contact zone validated the construction of a unified national identity.
However, it was not a movement that could dissolve racial prejudice because it
promoted African assimilation into the Euro-Cuban culture. Although conceived
from the periphery, transculturation was based on a vision of a monoculture.
Ortiz's ideological position was exemplified by the culinary imagery of
the ajiaco. The term ajiaco is an Tiano word for stew or pot soup, frequently
applied to Afro-Cuban recipes for boiled meat (beef, pork, and hen), and vegetable
(plantains, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and malanga). P6rez Firmat (1989:23) in-
forms us that in its aboriginal version, the ajiaco was prepared by making a hole in
the ground, putting in whatever ingredients were available, adding the condiments,
and letting the whole stew baked in the sun. As the contents simmered away and
were depleted, new and perhaps different ingredients were added. The ajiaco is
seen metaphorically by Ortiz not as conveying ethnic diversity, but as a blending
of culture. Because the author does not contextualize the ajiaco as a product of the
contact zone, he de-emphasises the unequal relations of ethnic power and coercion
that have driven the process of transculturation. Other scholars have since used
similar pot soups imageries to describe the Caribbean contact zone cultures. For
example, Nunley and Bettelheim (1988) use the metaphor ofcallalou, a local soup
of diverse ingredients to define the "pan-Caribbean aesthetic" based on racial and
cultural blending in the region. P6rez Firmat (1989) sees such a blending as
enabling a receptivity to unpredictable cultural permutations, and though he recog-
nises its creative potential, he also notes its chaotic nature:
The essence of Cuba lies...in that constant cocedura, in the
incessant simmering of the ajiaco, an image that denotes the
lack of a stable, enduring core of cultural indicia. Cubans are
always cooking. Occupying a liminal zone or 'impassioned
margin' where diverse cultures converge without merging.
Cuba lives in a trans-, in a trance... In Cuba the raw and the
cooked give way to the half-baked (1989:26)."
Before the revolution of 1959 very few intellectuals were willing to
envisage a future in which blackness would be recognized as a building element of
the national panorama (Chomsky, 2000), and Ortiz's work was no exception.
Although based on inclusiveness, it was an illusion, for the concept of cubanidad
proposed during the republican years was predicated upon asymmetrical relations
of power and was therefore racist and classist. The image of the ajiaco was
rhetorical rather than manifest. Evidence of this lack of social unity was brought to
the forefront by the 1959 revolution.
Cubaness as Caldoza
Years of longing for independence helped to shape Cuban sense of
nationhood. However, it was only after 1959 that Cuba's search for national
authenticity was constructed from the inside out. The political shift of the 1959
revolution went to the very core of Cuban domestic culture and history. From very
early on, the revolutionary government took pains to validate its power not only
domestically as part of the struggle against U.S. imperialism but also internation-
ally, presenting itself to the world as a full-fledged political model. Cuba was not
to be considered any longer a "subordinate other" that had characterized its long
colonial history as well as the fifty years of its republican period. Instead, Cuban
leaders strove to demonstrate to detractors that the island was standing on an equal
footing with the developed world in fields such as education, health, agriculture
and research. The new food programme was at the centre of the enterprise.
The subsidized food rationing programme cannot be underestimated as
an ideology of positive nation-building. Internationally, this programme not only
increased nutrition levels to the highest in all of Latin America during the 1970s
and 1980s, but significantly reduced social disparities within Cuba. Even during
the Special Period (1990-2000), life expectancy levels for the whole population
were comparable to those of the most developed countries -73 years for men and
75 years for women and infant mortality rate continued to be the lowest in all
of Latin America (Thdriot, 1982; Ubell, 1983; Valdes-Brito & Henriquez, 1983;
Figueros & Plasencia Vidal, 1994).
After 1959, the politics of cultural and ethnic integration were regarded
as an essential step to ease the way into a socialist state. In this respect, the caldoza
furnishes an interesting culinary imagery of Cuba's search for social and political
cohesion. Once a year, Cubans celebrate the Committees for the Defence of the
Revolution (CDR). In 1961, as the revolutionary government asserted its domi-
nance in a highly contested political context, CDRs were created in every city
block and village to guard against attacks and sabotage by counter-revolutionaries.
Since then, throughout Cuba on the eve of September 28, a feast is organised in
each neighbourhood, with meat and beer subsidized by the state. In the late
afternoon of September 27th, the caldoza -an enormous stew of green and root
vegetables is cooked together with pork for consumption during the night. The
caldoza, like the ajiaco, is blended or stirred until it becomes a thick soup. Eaten at
night, the caldoza is shared among neighbours; beer is served, and popular music
(guaracha) is always played into the wee hours of the next day. This annual event
is a recurrent reminder of the ongoing struggle for an authentic revolutionary
Cuba. Symbolically, it is a commemoration that validates the revolution, with the
caldoza as a transformative element linking state, neighborhoods, households,
and races together. If we accept Terio's (2000:237) statement that the choice,
consumption, and representation of foods play a dynamic role in identity construc-
tion and in marking the boundaries between self and Other, then the caldoza can
be read as a powerful imagery of changing social relations. Interestingly, while the
ajaico was rhetorical and a creation of the intellectual elite of the republican years,
the coldoza is an ideological cultural practice that is sponsored by the state and
shared by all Cubans in a ceremony of socialist togetherness.
Special Period in Peacetime (1990-2000)
Forging a strategy of food sustainability became part of Cuba's political
thinking in the 1990s when the collapse of the Soviet bloc sparked the need to
re-assess contemporary economic and environmental policies. The economic
blockade imposed by the United States in 1960 as a vain attempt to crush the
revolution made it necessary for Cuba to reorganise trade relations with the
socialist countries. Thus for many years commerce with the Council for Mutual
Economic Assistance (CMEA) enabled Cuba to rely on a stable market for its
primary exports of sugar, citrus, and nickel. Sugar, the leading cash commodity,
was favourably priced by the CMEA, or exchanged for oil and technological
support. Although this arrangement permitted domestic expansion and gave the
country a strong currency, it also encouraged massive food imports which
amounted to some 3 million tones per year by the end of the 1980s (Figueroa,
1993; Pastor, 1992; Perfecto, 1994; Rosset & Benjamin, 1994).
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba lost its leading trade
partner and the subsidies from Moscow. Cuba was confronted with the urgent
need to find ways to achieve food self-sufficiency in basic agricultural commodi-
ties. Such radical changes placed the island in an exceedingly precarious political
and economic position, with food production declining by nearly 40 percent
between 1990 and 1994. The loss of imports in the form of chemical fertilisers,
pesticides, and feeds, as well as gasoline, machinery, and spare parts brought
production almost to a halt. Since Cuba did not grow much local food for its own
consumption but, rather had grown cash crops for the world market, it was left
extremely vulnerable, lacking access to foreign currency for the purchase of food
imports. At the same time, a tougher U.S. trade embargo hit Cuba's economy hard.
To make things worse, the country suffered from devastating hurricanes in 1993,
1996, and 2001which further aggravated an already critical food situation.
When Cuba came close to starvation in 1992,1993, and 1994 malnutri-
tion, which had been eradicated after 1959, returned. Young children between 6
and 12 months and pregnant women were at high risk for anaemia. In 1993, an
epidemic of optic neuropathy related to vitamin B complex deficiency affected
some 50,000 Cubans (PNrez, 1995:385). It was later established that this defi-
ciency had been caused by the absence in the diet of fat that prevented absorption
of oil-based vitamins.
In the year following the emerging crisis, the government designed an
adjustment programme to assist with long-term recovery, while trying for the first
time in the history of the country to make Cuba truly self-reliant in food produc-
tion. P6rez-L6pez (1994:xiv) identifies the new strategies in the following manner:
* A programme of import substitution, including a food production pro-
gramme (PA) aimed at achieving self-sufficiency in foodstuffs;
* Energy substitution, replacing oil consumption with the use of animals (ox
carts),and human power (bicycles), as well as the reduction of oil-intensive
lines of production;
* Major efforts at export promotion, including the cultivation of new markets
for traditional exports (especially sugar), and the development of new
sources of foreign exchange, in particular biotechnology exports and tour-
* Greater efforts to attract foreign investment;
* Management reforms to increase efficiency and productivity, and
* Toleration of higher degree of decentralisation, autonomy and improvisa-
tion in the actual functioning of enterprises.
Notwithstanding the lack of fertilisers and chemicals, it was essential to
improve agricultural productivity. Fortunately, Cuban agronomists had been
working on organic farming since the mid-1980s, but their research had achieved
only modest results prior to the Special Period, which forced the government to
seek a simple, inexpensive, and more sustainable approach to agricultural develop-
ment. Consequently, the leadership promoted the use of local technologies, im-
proved structural flexibility of rural institutions, and the importance of integrating
both environmental science and socio-structural concerns in agricultural reform. A
land management system based on the Integrated Farm Model stressed crop
diversification, fertilizer reduction, and organic farming without renouncing
mechanised agriculture and scientific/technological advances in key export sec-
tors. Crop rotation, inter-cropping, crop-livestock combinations, animal feeding
on crop residues, animal manure, and tillage are now widely used -practices that
minimise soil erosion by improving ground cover.
Great improvement in agricultural production has come from urban agri-
culture, an industry that relies primarily on organic gardens (organoponicos), and
intensive orchards (huertos intensivos), greatly increasing the availability and
variety of fresh home-grown produce. Urban agriculture focuses on a variety of
vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, garlic, green beans, cabbage,
water cress, radishes, onions, carrots, parsley, and beets that are cultivated in beds
irrigated with fresh water. Municipalities provide extension services and facilitate
access to land and marketing assistance. Research on horticulture and small-scale
composting for soil improvement is ongoing in Cuban universities (Socorro Cas-
tro, Casteleiro Igarza & Parets Selva, 1997).
Urban gardens will very likely impact on Cuba's culinary culture.
Slowly, the islanders are acquiring a new taste for fresh vegetables. To paraphrase
Levi-Strauss (1978), people have extended their category of "real food" to include
foods that were not part of their traditional diets, as for instance the legumes soya
and chicharos. Soya-based cheese (reques6n) as a substitute for dairy cheese is
winning acceptance, and chicharos (a type of split peas) long considered as a low
status food, has gained tremendous ground largely due to the fact that during the
crisis chicharos were cheaper to buy than beans. Also, their consumption was
much encouraged by the government as an important source of protein, as well as
being an energy-saver with a cooking time much shorter than what is needed for
black beans. The legume increasingly constitutes the fundamental diet of present-
day Cuba, so much so that people frequently comment that famine was avoided in
1993 and 1994 thanks to the chicharos. Because of their enormous consumption,
chicharos now belong to the post-Special Period Cuban cuisine and form a crucial
part of the national identity.
It is important to bear in mind that the Special Period has led to changes
not only in dietary habits but also in social practices. La temporada de vacaflaca
, or the "skinny cow period" as it is referred to in Cuba, has brought a high level of
food anxiety. At the height of the crisis, people turned away from sharing to
providing only to their own immediate families. The arrival of a visitor to the
household was seen as a chaotic situation: si una visit no avisa, es un caos
politico; no sepuede tender de la manera que quieres (an unannounced visit is a
political chaos; it can't be looked after as one would wish it). Not only has eating
become a constant preoccupation but it represents a moral dilemma as people are
torn between feeding their family or sharing with friends and neighbours. Fre-
quently, feelings of shame are expressed at not having sufficient food to offer as a
form of hospitality a social gesture that has long defined the Cuban sense of
Although competition has increased, so have local strategies to obtain
quality produce at affordable prices, and to gain access to reliable sources of food.
That the Special Period has led to social tensions is undeniable; however, in terms
of dietary habits, it has created as well an opening for new possibilities that are
entirely consistent with the Cuban cultural character of continuous cocedura.
To summarise, this case study highlights how historical moments affect
dietary practices that parallel changing social relations. In the case presented here,
food changes display a process of transculturation at work. Cuba's cultural stew,
be it the republican ajiaco or the revolutionary caldoza is the paradigm for a
continuing collective struggle for self-definition. If Cuban cuisine owes its exist-
ence to the forced encounters between races and cultures which colonization
engenders, it has also become a strong expression of strands of cultural identity.
Although current food shortages present the potential threat of social disruption,
the sharing of a Cuban meal remains for the islanders one of the greatest sources
of pleasure, celebration, and connection.
*I am grateful to the friends and colleagues whose comments helped me with this research. In par-
ticular, I would like to thank Mariza Chavez and Gail Pool.
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Indo-Caribbean Migration: From Periphery to Core
Ever since indentured East Indians entered the Caribbean following
emancipation in British (1838), French and Danish (1848), and Dutch (1863)
Caribbean territories, they have been studied many times, and many different
aspects of their society have been subject to academic scrutiny, including their
history (Ramdin, 2000; Laurence, 1994; Look Lai, 1993; Mangru, 1987; Luckhoo,
1919), culture (Vertovec, 1992; Nevadomsky, 1980; Despres, 1967; Speckmann,
1965; Smith, 1962; Klass, 1961; Niehoff, 1960), politics (Malik, 1971), gender
(Hoefte, 1998; Shepherd, 1993; Emmer, 1989; Reddock, 1985), education
(Bacchus 1989), religion (Samaroo, 1982; Morton, 1916), and caste (Clarke,
1967; Singer, 1967; Yayawardena, 1963). A great deal of attention has also been
given to the story of indenture, emigration, recruitment, transportation, settlement,
repatriation, resistance, and accommodation (among others, see Kale, 1998;
Ramesar, 1994; Birbalsingh, 1989; Haraksingh, 1987; Rodney, 1981; Brereton,
1981; Weller, 1968). By comparison, scant attention has been paid to Indo-
Caribbean migration. Apart from Leslie Potter's (1989 and 1975) study of post-
indenture settlement of East Indians in Guyana, and a few studies on East Indian
migration in specific regions (for Guyana, see Roopnarine 2002a; for Cuba see
Sarusky 1989; for Jamaica see Shepherd 1986), the literature on Indo-Caribbean
migration is scarce. No scholarly studies exist on the migratory experiences of
East Indians in Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Belize, Grenada, St.
Vincent, or St. Lucia. Few references have been made to Indo-Surinamese
migration, especially in the contemporary period. Yet, as one critic points out, "it
is often the numerically insignificant population movements which best illustrate
the desperation of British West Indian migrants as they sought outlets for the sale
of their labour power" (Johnson, 1998:177).
On a broader level, migration studies have focused on other ethnic groups
in the Caribbean with longer histories of migration, such as the Afro-Caribbeans
(see Thomas-Hope, 1992; Palmer, 1990; Marshall, 1982). These studies have
largely ignored that migration has also been central to the political, social and
economic lives of the Indo-Caribbean people. None of these works have taken
into consideration the fact that, since East Indians entered the Caribbean over a
hundred and sixty years ago, they have moved from plantations to urban areas,
then to various regions in the Caribbean, and most recently to huge metropolitan
cities like New York, Toronto, London, Paris, and Amsterdam. Some have even
migrated back to India.
Given the comparative lack of studies on this topic, it is thus not
surprising that the presence of Caribbean East Indians in various parts of the
world, including North America and Europe, is not well understood. The winner
of the 2001 Nobel Prize for literature, V. S. Naipaul, wrote: "To be an Indian or
East Indian from the West Indies is to be a perpetual surprise to people outside the
region" (1972:33). We know comparatively little about Indo-Caribbean migration
because researchers have largely ignored it. This article examines East Indian
Caribbean migration and demonstrates that, although their migration was not as
large as other migrations in the region, it is important because the East Indians
have been on the move since their 1838 arrival in the Caribbean region; their
movements have resulted from the same global forces that caused other
migrations. Further, East Indians make up a major proportion of the population in
Guyana, Trinidad, and Suriname, and comprise 20 percent of the population in the
English speaking Caribbean.
For convenience, this article will divide Indo-Caribbean migration into
three time periods:
(a)Migration under indenture (1838-1917),
(b)Inter-Caribbean migration (1917-1962), and
(c)Migration to Europe and North America (1962-present).
These periods are not clear-cut and there is in fact substantial overlap so
one particular migration may fall into more than one period.
Migration under Indenture (1838-1917)
East Indian indentured servants began to arrive in the Caribbean
following the abolition of slavery and failed immigration schemes from Africa,
Europe, Asia, and from within the Caribbean. East Indian indentured servants
proved to be a cheap solution to the Caribbean labour problem. Consequently, the
colonial governments in the respective Caribbean regions promoted immigration
and encouraged settlements by offering indentured servants small parcels of land
in lieu of return passage to India. The indenture service was responsible for
bringing over 500,000 East Indians to the Caribbean between 1838 and 1917.
238,000 were brought to Guyana; 143,939 to Trinidad; 43,404 to Suriname;
42,236 to Guadeloupe; 37,027 to Jamaica; 25,404 to Martinique; 8,500 to French
Guiana; and 3,200 to Grenada. Smaller numbers of Indians were also brought to
Belize (3,000), St. Vincent (2,472), St. Lucia (2,300), St. Kitts (337), and St. Croix
(300) (Tinker, 1974). More than two thirds of indentured East Indians stayed in
the Caribbean once their term was over, while the remainder returned to India.
More East Indians would have been brought to the New World, especially to Cuba
and Peru, had not the British government turned down the Spanish government's
request for indentured labourers because of evidence of East Indians being abused
abroad. The Spanish government then brought Chinese contract labourers to Cuba
and Peru instead of Indians.
The indenture service required each East Indian labourer to work with
one employer/planter for five years. In return, the employer was obligated to
provide indentured East Indians with fixed wages, free housing, medical services,
and other amenities. Upon completion of the contract, the indentured servant had
three options: re-indenture for another five years and thus claim industrial
residence, return to India, or become an independent farmer (Kondapi, 1951).
Except for the permission of time-expired indentured servants to move from estate
to estate and the right to commute the last two years of their five-year indentured
service (until 1862) only the first two options were open to indentured servants
before 1870. The plantation management was not interested in indentured
servants becoming permanent independent farmers, especially cane farmers, in the
Caribbean. The Caribbean planters wanted to turn the indenture system into a
settler colonization scheme in order to avoid repatriation costs and retain seasoned
labourers. As a result, East Indian settler communities were formed around a
fifteen mile radius of the sugar estates only after the 1870s in Guyana and Trinidad
and much later in other colonies. During the early phase of the indenture system,
the planters maintained that the establishment of independent East Indian farmers
in the Caribbean would lead to a drain of labour supply from the plantations.
Towards that end, the planters were keen not to divert labour from the plantations
and instituted systems of domination that kept the East Indians anchored to the
plantations. Plantation management discouraged economic diversification and
restricted the movement of indentured servants through use of the pass, or livert,
system. East Indian emigrants were required by law to be physically bound to
their plantation environment during indenture, and were not allowed to move
freely beyond a 2-mile radius without a pass from their employer (Look Lai,
1993:62). Violations of these regulations were often meted out with fines,
imprisonment and flogging:
but before five year
ife run away
or go anybody
an you wukking for dem
estate report dat in station already
an de police looking for you
whey he find you
he eh go ketch you
he eh go beat you
but dey go make de man pay de estate
he have to pay
ife month or two
or week or two
e have to pay de estate (Mahabir, 1985:161).
The system of indentured service certainly facilitated some of the worst
examples of man's inhumanity to man. The contractual agreements gave the
planters total control over the time and labour of indentured servants. Moreover,
indentured servants did have the right to bring their employer to court, but most
often the court system was not objective in dealing with the grievances of
indentured servants (Hoefte, 1989:7). The indentured labourers were given a fixed
wage throughout the course of the indenture contract. This meant that indentured
labourers "could not take advantage of increases in the market value of labour"
(Carter, 1996:101). These rules and regulations, however, were never tantamount
to total restriction and social death. Indentured servants were able, within con-
straints, to adjust to adverse circumstances and manipulate the indenture system to
their minimum disadvantage. As Michel Foucault pointed out, "where there is
power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never
in a position of exteriority in relation to power" (1980:95). Much the same sort of
resistance was noticed among East Indian indentured servants in the Caribbean.
Indentured servants used various modes of resistance to oppose the
planters' domination, commonly divided into two types: non-violent resistance
and active resistance (Mangru, 1996; Hoefte, 1989; Haraksingh, 1987).
Resistance was more individual than collective. Non-violent resistance usually
consisted of such activities as neglect of duty, feigned sickness, and foot-dragging.
Active resistance confronted domination through disturbances, riots, rebellions,
and mass uprisings. Resistance to the authoritarian structure of the plantation
system was marked less by open confrontation than by willful and massive
non-compliance. Psychological resistance and flight were the most common
methods of resistance. The theory that the oppressed choose more often than not
flight instead of confronting domination head on is very telling. This behavior is
generally explained by the reactancee theory," which holds that there is a basic
human desire for freedom and autonomy and, when they are threatened by force,
reactions are aimed at the restoration of freedom (Brehem, 1981:4). A similar
pattern of behavior was found among East Indians under the indentured service.
In British Guiana from 1865 to 1869, 4258 chose flight or desertion instead of
working under onerous conditions. In that country during the period between
1874 and 1890, that number was 9,728 (Moore, 1987:187). In French Martinique,
desertion climbed from 37 in 1862 to 704 in 1884 (Renard, 1993:165-166). In
Jamaica between 1910 and 1921, the number was 380 (Shepherd, 1994:70).
Figures for desertion in Trinidad were 200-300 between 1870-1880 and around
400 in the decade preceding that (Look Lai, 1993:153). 327 desertions were
recorded in Suriname between 1876 and 1916: 286 men, 28 women, 7 boys, and 6
girls (Emmer, 1985:266).
The authoritarian structure of the plantation system, the planters' failure
to provide adequate medical care and housing, and rationing caused defection.
Compulsive deserters, like Luchmon who arrived in the Caribbean in 1879 and
deserted the plantation four times by 1888, suggested that desertion must not have
been difficult to accomplish (Comins, 1893:52). The frontier regions of the
Guianas also provided opportunities to desert. Some indentured servants from the
Guianas decamped to Venezuela or to other Caribbean islands, while others
deserted the plantations with the expectation to find a land route to India
(Adamson, 1972). From Martinique and Guadeloupe, East Indians escaped to the
neighboring islands of Dominica, Antigua, and St. Lucia. Private organizations
also assisted indentured servants to escape the exigency of plantation labour.
According to one source, "secret companies existed whereby a coolie could buy
papers showing his indentureship was over. The recipient was required to buy his
necessities from the granting company and turn his papers over to them which they
would reinvest with another coolie" (Niehoff, 1960:19).
Indentured servants who had deserted the plantations were never
successful in developing "runaway communities" like the Maroons in Jamaica and
in Suriname during slavery (Mintz, 1974). Many deserters became vagrants
wandering aimlessly in the countryside and urban areas, begging and dying from
sheer starvation (Moore, 1987:172). The more fortuitous deserters ended up
working for the interior Amerindians, the Venezuelan coca estates, the small East
Indian landowning class, and the gold industry (Look Lai, 1993:148-153). Some
escaped East Indians from Martinique and Guadeloupe worked for the British
planters in Antigua whom allegedly "paid an old fisherman from the commune of
Anse Bertrand 60 gourdes per immigrant" (Renard, 1993:165).
An investigation into the background of the deserters suggests that they
were usually new indentures or old emigrants who had served out their terms of
contract and re-indentured themselves for the second time. These emigrants were
interested in the bounty given by the planters for re-indenture, but they had no
intention to finish out a second term. Still, some deserters were beggars and
urban-based Indian emigrants, who were unaccustomed to hard agricultural work
in the Caribbean. Desertion rates were not uniform. On some estates, the desertion
rate was high, and the deserters were of various types, while on others estates
desertions were few. This suggests that some plantations were harsher than others
(Look Lai, 1993:151).
The movement of East Indians after 1870 was less evasive and more
spontaneous, although desertion remained a permanent feature of plantation life.
As already noted, the colonial government granted East Indians parcels of land to
settle in lieu of a return passage. This policy actually began in 1851 in Trinidad,
1,010 time-expired indentured workers took the offer, and the policy gained wider
acceptance in the early 1870s (Tinker, 1989:72). Similar land inducement
occurred in British Guiana (1873), Jamaica (1895), and Suriname (1895). The
motive for this policy was twofold. First, it would save the planters repatriation
costs, which in Trinidad in 1870, for example, amounted to US$250,000. Second,
it would maintain a surplus seasoned labour force that was, essentially, at the
planters disposal. The planters saw to it that land settlement schemes were
established in the vicinity of the plantations. Further, most of the land given to
East Indians was of poor quality, and posed serious challenges to successful
community development and independent survival.
Despite these incentives to have East Indian indentured servants remain
in the Caribbean many opted to return to India. About one-quarter of the estimated
500,000 indentured servants who came actually returned (Samaroo, 1982: 47).
The reasons for returning home varied from one indentured servant to another.
Some were kidnapped and duped into accepting the indentureship so they were
anxious to return home when their contracts were over. Others had agreed to the
terms of contract but had families in India. Still, some returnees wanted to go back
to India because of economic hardships in the Caribbean. Brinsely Samaroo
(1982: 51) pointed out that some indentured servants "had not been successful in
establishing themselves in the colonies and ...therefore, had nothing to lose by
returning." A small number of indentured servants did go back home empty
handed. But this had to do also with the nature of the indentureship as was in the
case of indentured servants from the Danish colony of St. Croix (U.S Virgin
Island). The emigration rules stated that Danish emigration was to receive, house
and feed all indentured servants on their return from the colonies. These agents
were to hand over whatever savings time-expired indentured servants had
accumulated in the colonies. But these responsibilities were not fully met. The
official list of names and the amount of money to be handed out to indentured
servants reflected major inconsistencies. The Protector of Emigration remarked
that indentured servants like "Sookaree held a receipt for $105, but this name did
not appear on the list; Futte Singh had a receipt for $165.53 but in the list the
amount was against the name of Bhoosun." (cited in Sircar, 1971:144).
Returnees, however, faced greater challenges, obligations and obstacles
upon re-entry into their respective communities. Indian caste rules required that
returning migrants must go through spiritual cleansing in which they had to spend
substantial amount of their savings to feast the village Brahmin. Moreover, these
caste rules were enforced because the nature of the Caribbean plantation system
had changed the personality, mannerisms, and even physical features of the
indentured servants without them even realizing it. The indentured servants'
language whether Hindi, Bhojuri or Urdu had now a mixture of English, pidgin,
and African languages. Their diet had now a mixture of more meat and fish. The
availability of cheap rum and harsh plantation life in the Caribbean made them
more aggressive so when they returned to India they were seen as misfits and
outcasts. As a result of these obstacles, many indentured servants re-indentured
themselves to the Caribbean for the second and third time (see Samaroo, 1982;
Nonetheless, land ownership provided East Indians in the Caribbean the
opportunity to move from estate barracks to village settlements. This marked the
first free internal movement of East Indians in the Caribbean, but this movement
was more theoretical than practical. The colonial government's policy of
underdevelopment in village settlements and deliberate retardation of economic
diversification made the "free" East Indians dependent on the plantations for wage
labour, fringe benefits and medical services. Some East Indians were even forced
back to part-time work on the plantation. Since emancipation, the Caribbean
plantocracy had been in dire straits. The planters were anxious to have a large and
controllable labour surplus, which, to some degree, was achieved through land
inducements, but they were concerned that if the East Indians "succeeded in
developing crops other than sugar there was a danger of a drain of labour from the
plantation into these other industries" (Smith, 1962:50).
Despite the planters' control, East Indians became gradually less
dependent on the sugar plantations. The world economic depression and the
introduction of European beet sugar on the world market in the 1880s negatively
impacted the Caribbean sugar industry. Caribbean sugar planters were unable to
compete with European beet sugar and many Caribbean sugar plantations were
simply abandoned to avoid bankruptcies. The outbreak of sugarcane diseases and
hurricanes further compounded the problems (Marshall, 1982:8). These
circumstances forced Caribbean planters to remove certain stringent regulations
on the East Indian labour force. The controls over the Crown Lands were relaxed
and the development of the rice industry was encouraged. This was a dramatic
shift both in the planters' conservative position and the structure of agricultural
production. The new regulations placed few restrictions on East Indians'
While the reasons for moving off the estates were multifaceted and
complex, individual motivations had significant impacts on decisions to move.
Those who moved from the estates signified progress. Indeed, the movement from
estates resulted in a number of East Indians becoming wealthy through rice
cultivation, while others became successful small-scale sugar-cane farmers. By
1916, East Indians were responsible for one half of the sugar cane produced in
Trinidad. Around this same period, Guyana and Suriname began to export rice.
One critic stated that if East Indians were given the opportunity to settle land
earlier there would not have been so many desertions on the plantations
The statistics reflect an impressive movement of East Indians from the
estates two decades following the start of the land settlement policy. From 1872
to 1876, an estimated 15,000 East Indians in British Guiana left the estates and
settled principally in Norten Zuill, Huist t'Dieren, Bush Lot, Whim and Maria's
Pleasure. This figure rose to 25,000 in 1881, and by 1911, 65,810 East Indians out
of a population of 127,000 were not living on the estates. In 1871, 32 percent of
East Indians in Trinidad lived in villages and settlements, particularly in
Montserrat Ward, Calcutta, Coolie Town, and Chaguanas (Vertovec, 1992:95;
Wood, 1968:275). By 1900, only 19.9 percent (16,643 out of an Indian population
of 85,615) lived on the estates (Ramesar, 1994:77). A similar movement occurred
in Suriname (Speckmann, 1965:40). The movement of East Indians in Jamaica
was also impressive. More than half of population (18,000) moved off the estates,
principally to Paul Island, Trinity, Fellowship, Race Course, among others
Movement to village settlements offered the East Indians opportunities to
restore, recreate, and re-consolidate some aspects of their homeland culture and
still maintain contact with the wider Caribbean society. Because of this, the East
Indian population experienced occupational growth in rice planting, trading, dairy
farming, shop keeping, money lending, and grass-cutting. These developments
occurred first in East Indian communities and then spread to the Creole villages
and urban areas. By 1910, there was a small but steady stream of East Indian
rural-urban movement. Indeed, two cartoons in the Daily Chronicle in 1921
showed East Indians as the milker and milk vendor in Georgetown, Guyana, and
some milk sellers made "the most-successful-East Indian-of-the-year-list"
One theory states that a stagnant rural economy causes migration to urban
The basic rural-urban migration model concludes that whenever
expected net long-term economic prospects in urban areas
exceed those in rural regions, migration from rural areas to the
city will remain a privately rational decision, even in the context
of high and rising unemployment as experienced in the
Caribbean. (Hope & Ruefli, 1981:143)
Certainly, Indo-Caribbean rural communities in the late nineteenth
century, and even today, were and are marked by high levels of unemployment,
poverty, illiteracy, and suicide (Vertovec, 1992; Dodd, 1976). This
underdevelopment was largely due to colonial administrative neglect and East
Indians exploiting East Indians, particularly in the money lending, fortune telling,
and gold jewelry businesses. Limited opportunities in rural areas prompted
professional and wealthy East Indians to bring their skills and economic activities
to the urban areas. Other East Indian migrations were inspired by stress; some
East Indians were anxious for more stable, year-round employment, and urban
areas were perceived to fulfill this desire. The sugar estates and the East Indian
landowning class were perceived to offer mainly seasonal opportunities and
subsistence wages. Thus, the rural-urban migration of East Indians was
determined by push (rural) and pull (urban) factors.
By 1911, in British Guiana, 5.7 percent of the 126,000 strong East Indian
population lived in urban areas, principally in Georgetown and New Amsterdam.
By 1946, this had increased to 9.9 percent (Despres, 1967:60). The 1943 census
recorded 1279 East Indians residing in Kingston and 2769 in St. Andrews, about
18.9 percent of Jamaican East Indian population. By 1946, East Indians made up
24 percent of the population of Kingston, one of the highest rates of urbanization
among Indo-Caribbeans (Shepherd, 1999:170). East Indians in Trinidad in 1921
comprised only 6 percent of the population in urban areas (Ramesar, 1994:132,
150). Specific data on rural-urban movement for Suriname and the French
Caribbean Islands is sparse. One source notes that in Suriname "from about 1915
to 1920, an important drift to the towns took place. In Paramaribo Indians found
a living as carter, gardener, market trader, small shopkeeper, charcoal seller, gold
smith or tailor" (Speckmann, 1965:43). E. Moutoussamy (1989:28) writes that
urbanization was not popular among French Caribbean East Indians and only after
the 1950s that a "timid exodus into urban areas" began. Conditions in urban areas
were not always favourable. "In the [Trinidad] towns...from 1884...they filled
miserably paid, generally despised jobs as scavengers and porters 'coolie' in the
true sense of that term" (Bereton, 1981:110).
Rural-urban migration was never popular among Caribbean East Indians
and a number of factors explain this phenomenon. First,
Urban life with its attendant culture and nuclear family
orientation did not appeal to a population of rural-agrarian
background, with limited education and lifestyle. The village
community was more attractive for economic activities outside
the sugar estates, and also for cultural propagation. (Persuad,
Sociologist Louis Wirth (1938) wrote in his classic essay "Urbanism as a
Way of life" that city life undermines family stability and social solidarity and
"urban dwellers live in anonymity" with little meaningful contact with one another
(see also Henslin, 2002:379). East Indians felt that the need to adapt to a new
environment was an attack on their identity (see Lavenback and Lewak,
1995:381). East Indians simply did not feel comfortable leaving an environment
where they were a majority for a new one that required giving up some of their
ways in order to blend in.
Second, a number of East Indians were still under indenture and thus
were committed to serve out their contracts on the estates. Many indentured
workers preferred to stay on the estates because of free housing, food, medical care
and so on, although these benefits were never guaranteed. Some indentured
servants were ejected from the estates during the sugar depression. The planters
released indentured workers from their contracts if they were displeased with their
labour performances rather than accruing expenses. For instance in Trinidad in
1848, 30 indentured servants died on one estate because the planters had refused
to provide them basic amenities such as food, clothing, medical care and wages
(Look Lai, 1993:111).
Third, most of the East Indians were unskilled and uneducated, and
therefore were less qualified to take up urban-based jobs for which formal
education was often necessary. Some East Indians, particularly women, who were
without any formal education did well in urban areas through milk trading and
gardening. East Indian women in Georgetown and Kingston were seen selling
milk and vegetables from door to door. For example, in Georgetown, women
made up 77 percent of East Indian milk sellers in 1891, 66 percent in 1911, and 60
percent in 1921 (Barros, 1997; Shepherd, 1986; Tyson, 1939). A majority of
Hindu and Muslim Caribbean East Indians remained unskilled, however, because
they were suspicious about the Christian-oriented schools and restrained their
children from attending. East Indian children were also regarded as a source of
manpower for the sugar estates. According to Bacchus:
Every effort was made by the planters and the state to
discourage or even oppose attempts directed at getting East
Indian children to attend school. It was felt that their education
would make easier for them to escape eventually from their
destined occupation. Even the immigration agents general,
whose responsibility was supposedly to look after the welfare of
the East Indians, were strongly opposed to the extension of the
Compulsory Education Act of 1876 to include East Indian
children . The government, which fully supported the
planters, did everything to frustrate the extension of the
Compulsory Act to the children of East Indian parentage during
the first ten years of their parents' residence in the colony. The
most well-known measure was the 1904 circular of Governor
Swettenham which specifically exempted East Indian children
from the provisions of the Compulsory Education Act.
When emancipation from indenture came in 1917 most East Indians were
illiterate and unskilled and therefore were mainly qualified to do agricultural
work. For example, in British Guiana in 1913, East Indians comprised 40 percent
of the population but only 8 percent were employed in the civil service (Bacchus,
1989:102). It should be stressed, however, that village as well as rural-urban
movements did not cease but continued into the contemporary period.
Inter-Caribbean or Inter-Island Migration (1917-1962)
We know comparatively less about this phase of Indo-Caribbean
migration than about any other period. Studies on East Indian historiography in the
Caribbean have not been chronological and systematic, and there are gaps,
particularly regarding the period under discussion (Thompson, 1986).
Additionally, this period was characterized by the return of migrants from the
Panama Canal, the Great Depression, and civil unrest in the British Caribbean.
Although these events stymied inter-Caribbean migration, some significant
migrations took place. East Indians, however, were peripheral to these migration
Indo-Caribbean inter-island migration began under indenture. As early as
the 1840s, about 500 time-expired East Indians followed other post-emancipation
workers (mainly Germans and Africans) in Jamaica and migrated to Cuba, where
wages were more attractive (Shepherd, 1999:173). Other small but significant
movements of East Indians within the Caribbean during the indenture period were
from Grenada to British Guiana in 1866, from St. Croix to St. Thomas, from St.
Kitts to St. Croix in the 1870s, from Jamaica to Belize in the 1880s and from
British Guiana to Suriname in the early twentieth century. East Indians in Grenada
were forced to move because of economic distress and neglect. "On that occasion
great difficultly was experienced, owing to the poverty of the planters, in finding
employment for the immigrants, and it was found necessary to remove some of
them to British Guiana" (Comins, 1893; Tinker, 1974:109). The planters
generally transferred indentured servants from one estate to another when
problems emerged. It was easier than dealing with the festering social ills on the
plantations. While detailed and specific information on how many East Indians
were transferred is not available for each region, one source showed that between
1881 and 1890 in British Guiana the figures were as follows. 569 were transferred
for murdering their wives, 333 at the request of immigrants, 11 were transferred
for their quarrelsome natures, 265 for insubordination, 14 for ill health, 2,981 for
abandonment or amalgamation of estates, and 9 by order of the Governor
The movement of East Indians from Jamaica to Belize indicated that
"employers from that colony occasionally send over agents to Jamaica, and induce
batches of 20 to 15 to emigrate" (Comins, 1893:24). East Indians' migration to
Cuba assumed a greater importance again after 1902. The capital and investment
of the United States, and the investment and growth in sugar production in Cuba
attracted migrants from other areas of the Caribbean. Between 1902-1930 over
3,000 East Indians migrated to Cuba compared to 50,000 Afro-Jamaicans between
1891 and 1916 (Ramdin, 2000:261; Shepherd, 1999; Shepherd, 1993; Sarusky,
These migrations did not represent the mainstream movement pattern in
the Caribbean at the time. Beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century,
migration was to the economic growth poles within the Caribbean, Guyana and
Trinidad, mainly to fill a labour vacuum on the expanding sugar plantations.
Thousands of contract labourers moved from Barbados and the smaller islands to
work in Guyana and Trinidad. This movement came to an end in 1885 mainly due
to the depression of the sugar industries in the Caribbean, but new outlets for
migration emerged. Thousands from Grenada moved to Trinidad. Thousands of
Haitians moved to the Dominican Republic, and thousands of Barbadians to
Suriname. This migration pattern continues today.
However, the building of the Panama Canal (1906-1914) and the
expansion of the oil fields in Venezuela and Curacao (1916 to 1929) dominated all
migrations. These places became the hub for unemployed and underemployed
West Indians. An estimated 130,000 West Indians, mostly Jamaicans and
Barbadians, found worked on the Panama Canal, while over 10,000 West Indians,
mostly Curacaoians, Trinidadians, and Barbadians found work in Venezuela
(Marshall, 1982). However, this migration ceased as a result of the completion of
the canal and the post World War I economic depression.
East Indians were not totally excluded from this migration phase.
Between 1897 and 1920, 999 and 19 Trinidadian East Indians traveled to
Venezuela and Colon, respectively. Within the same period in Trinidad, East
Indians also traveled to Grenada (155), St. Vincent (94), Suriname (42), St. Lucia
(30), Jamaica (25), and French Guiana (16) (Look Lai, 1993:239). Free East
Indians also traveled up and down the Windward island chain looking for work.
Although there were some inter-island movements of East Indians during
indenture and thereafter, these movements have to be placed in the context of
constrained migration. Some time-expired indentured workers trekked the interior
region of the Guianas for balata and gold, but a majority remained around the
estates. The planters gave time-expired indentured workers grants of land, and in
exchange, time-expired indentured workers were obligated to work on the
plantations, especially around crop time, for a certain numbers of days a week
(Bisnuath, 2000:91:93). Land inducement was also encouraged to make time-
expired indentured workers dependent on the sugar estates. The planters allowed
some degree of rice planting but not to the point to be competitive with the sugar
industries. The lack of opportunities outside the confines of the sugar estates
forced many time-expired indentured servants back to the plantation and thus
stymied any significant out-migration.
Moreover, officials in India and the Caribbean frowned on East Indians'
out-migrating and placed restrictions on their movement. One Ordinance of
India's Immigration Proceedings in 1878 stated:
No passport shall be granted to any Immigrant under indenture,
and no passport except with the special permission of the
Governor shall be granted to any immigrant introduced into the
colony or of the Immigration Fund who shall not have resided in
the Colony for at least five years after his introduction, unless
such Immigrant shall pay to the Immigration Agent-General a
sum equal to the entire cost of his introduction, and such shall be
ascertained and determined by the Immigration Agent-General.
Every person who shall aid or abet the departure from the
colony of any Immigrant who shall not have obtained a
passport, or whose passport shall have expired, shall be guilty of
an offence punishable on summary conviction, and shall on
conviction pay a fine of one hundred dollars for each such
Immigrant whose departure he shall have so aided or abetted,
and in default of payment of such fine shall be imprisoned for
any term not less than three and not exceeding six months. The
one-half of all fines recovered under the provisions of this or the
preceding section shall be paid to the informer (1878, appendix,
Perhaps the most severe form of restriction on East Indian migration
during this period was physiological. Many time-expired indentured servants
believed that they could never become the master of their own destiny. The
plantation system ridiculed the very essence of their humanity to the point where
they became dependent (for fringe benefits, wages, basic amenities) on the very
system that abused them. The plantation system imbued in them a sense of
uncertainty especially on the concept of out-migration. Consequently, many
indentured workers simply accepted the authoritarian structure of the plantation
system and remained on the sugar plantation because the environment offered in
a sense, community and stability (see Haraksingh, 1987).
The movement of East Indians within the Caribbean became more open
and free since their emancipation from indentured service in 1917. This
movement was small and temporary in nature, although a substantial number of
East Indians stayed in the receiving territories. The movement of East Indians to
various regions in the Caribbean depended not so much on the opportunities in the
receiving territories but on the individual aspirations of the immigrants, initiatives
by the colonial government, and efforts by religious denominations.
During the latter part of the nineteenth century, the growing undeveloped
East Indian population clustered around the sugar belt in rural areas of the
Caribbean became a major concern to East Indians, the colonial government, and
various religious organizations. While the colonial government made some efforts
to promote education in East Indian communities (for example, the removal of
Swettenham Circular in 1933), it was the religious organizations, together with the
cooperation of the East Indians, who administered and pioneered this project.
Like the Moravian missionaries during and after slavery in the Danish West Indian
Islands, various missionary religious denominations, including the Roman
Catholics, Methodists, Anglicans and Presbyterians, also set up schools in East
Indian communities throughout the Caribbean. Despite the fact that most of the
schools were conducted in English, as opposed to Indian languages, a substantial
number of East Indian children attended them. This was most noticeable in areas
where the East Indian population was a minority, principally in Belize, St. Lucia,
St. Vincent, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Grenada. Their small numbers made
assimilation into Christianity and the mainstream Creole culture an inevitable
process. For example, in Grenada nearly all of the 3,767 East Indians by 1960
were converted to Christianity. A similar process occurred in St. Vincent and
Cuba, although traces of East Indian customs and religious practices have been
observed in these territories (Thomas, 2000; Birbalsingh, 1997; Sarusky, 1989).
The conversion to Christianity and the exposure to western education
were partially responsible for some East Indians acquiring better jobs such as
estate owners, dentists, druggists, teachers, magistrates, clerks, and Justices of
Peace, particularly in Grenada (see Steele, 1976; Samaroo, 1982). The socio-
economic improvement of East Indians in Grenada and in other areas in the
Caribbean where they have been a minority meant that East Indians were able,
with the help of missionaries, to move away from the exigencies of plantation life
to urban areas and to other territories in the Caribbean. Additionally, the religious
bodies promoted some East Indians to the level of the priesthood and encouraged
other Indians to become teachers and catechists. The aim was to utilize their
experience in East Indian communities throughout the Caribbean with the hope of
making the conversion of East Indians to Christianity a more viable possibility.
Christian East Indians toured various East Indian communities in the Caribbean
and spread the doctrines of Christianity. This movement began in the early phase
of the indenture system but became more noticeable in the closing decades of the
nineteenth century. Although this movement was small and temporary, it
contributed to upward mobility as well as to a modest level of East Indian
Missionary efforts were less persuasive in the Caribbean where East
Indians were a majority, particularly in Guyana, Trinidad, Suriname, and to a
lesser extent in Jamaica. By the Second World War, after being in the Caribbean
for over 100 years, most East Indians in these territories were still suspicious about
Christian-oriented teachings in schools. Their retention of traditional beliefs and
sheer numbers proved to be a shield against acculturation (see Klass, 1961). One
critic argued that the lack of conversion to Christianity in these larger territories
had to do mainly with East Indian cultural values and the insensitivity of the host
...the cultural tenacity of the Indian immigrants represented
simultaneously a form of confident self-assertion against the
forces of Westernization and the colonialist order (as expression
of themselves as Subjects, rather than Objects, in the private and
cultural sphere), and an umbrella of self-protection against the
social derision which plantation society and the larger Creole
value system had reserved for them. (Look Lai, 1993:259)
While conversion to Christianity and racism might have been the reasons
why there was a low school attendance among East Indian children, it must be
noted that a majority of indentured labourers came from illiterate backgrounds and
therefore the incentive towards education may not have been that compelling
(Morton, 1916:41-42: Niehoff, 1960:77). Furthermore, the demands of the social
system in the Caribbean forced some East Indian parents to give "their children
Christian names because they believed their children would have less difficulty in
school than with Hindu names" (Niehoff, 1960:79). Despite these impediments, a
growing number of East Indians expressed preference for western ways. They
began to realize the rewards attached to learning English and being exposed to
western education, without necessarily renouncing their religious and cultural
values. The knowledge of English and western education were prerequisites for
better jobs and socio-economic mobility. By the 1930s, a number of East Indian
children grew up tolerating modes of western assimilation, demonstrating fluency
in English, and emulating western educational standards, art, and mannerisms,
thus making them eligible for higher-level jobs and overseas study. This marked a
significant departure from past conservative ways from a position of active
discouragement from events that would jeopardize their culture and religious faith
to one of active involvement in the mainstream culture. Consequently, many East
Indian children experienced upward intergenerational mobility (Roopnarine,
By the Second World War, there was not only a noticeable improvement
of East Indians in the field of education but also in the economic sphere,
particularly in Suriname between 1942 and 1945, because of the exploitation of
bauxite for the American war industry (Bovenkerk, 1982:35). Through their
successes with rice cultivation, thriftiness, extended family support networks, and
renouncing short-term pleasures in favor of long-term gains, a formidable East
Indian middle class emerged in various territories in the Caribbean. This middle
class was essentially a small, rural, rice planting 61ite. Other East Indians began to
spread their economic activities beyond the rice and sugar cane areas. Their retail
skills, especially shop keeping, were by the 1930s, making inroads in these
economic activities once dominated by the Portuguese and Chinese. For example,
in Trinidad in 1931, East Indians were found in various occupations: shopkeepers
and hucksters (2,174), merchants (126), teachers (440), and proprietors (2841)
(Niehoff, 1960:42; Kirpalani, 1945:107).
These developments generated a degree of Indo-Caribbean migration.
Wealthy East Indians were for the first time able to send their children to study
overseas. As has been the case with Afro-Caribbeans, upper class Indo-Caribbean
parents also sent their children to study in the "mother country," because it has
been historically assumed that their needs educational and otherwise would be
better served there than in the Caribbean (see Thomas-Hope, 1992:2). This
movement began about two centuries ago and is still going on (see Bovenkerk,
1982:35). Nearly all social activists and leaders in the Caribbean, Cheddi Jagan,
Forbes Burnham, Walter Rodney, Eric Williams, Michael Manely, Eugenia Char-
les to name a few, either worked or were educated overseas. Returning students
generally entered professional or white-collar jobs at home, and often introduced
ideas and techniques in the work place and the host society (see Gmelch, 1987;
Equally significant to Indo-Caribbean student migration was that a
number of East Indians traveled to and studied in India, paralleling the repatriation
of time-expired indentured servants, which lasted up 1949 in some Caribbean
islands. Since 1917, East Indian students have competed for overseas scholarships
and for seats at overseas universities mainly to have a wider choice in their field of
education and to foster cultural ties with their motherland.
Data on the magnitude of the movement of East Indian students to former
mother countries, within the Caribbean, and to India is not available for every
Caribbean country, many did not compile such data, but it is clear that East Indian
students traveled from Martinique to France, from Suriname to Netherlands, from
the English speaking Caribbean to England, from the Caribbean to India, and
between the various Caribbean regions. In the latter case migration was possible
when the University of the West Indies and its Extra-Mural Department and the
University of Guyana were established in 1950s and 1960s, respectively. In 1959,
587 Guyanese students were studying in England, 46 in Canada, 94 in Jamaica,
and 205 in the United States (Despres, 1967:124). Although there is no way to
substantiate the number of East Indian students who studied overseas in 1959, it is
safe to say that 30 percent were of East Indian extraction. Figures for Guyanese
emigration and ethnic groups between 1969 and 1976 showed that East Indians
represented 31.8 percent of all emigrants as compared to 51.8 percent for Africans
and mixed categories (Boodhoo and Baksh, 1981).
Other East Indian movements also took place during this phase of
migration. For example, East Indians moved from Guyana to Suriname, from
Trinidad to Guyana and between islands, for trading and religious reasons. The
constant flow of East Indian migrants within the Caribbean suggested that they
were not pushed and pulled by economic factors, but rather the movement was
primarily to strengthen trading, cultural, and religious ties between the various
East Indian communities in the region. Like the Christian religious
denominations, East Indians also sought to revive their cultural and religious
beliefs. Through religious organizations like Santan Dharma and Arya Samaji, the
East Indian communities renewed their culture and beliefs. These religious
organizations were and are still monotheistic and non-idolatrous in their beliefs
and have carried out social and educational reforms and denounced traditional
Brahmin Hinduism in the Caribbean. As a result, there has been an erosion of
ingrained conservative Hindu beliefs among the younger generation of East
Indians and a gradual acceptance of creolized or western ways; this, in turn,
stimulated the movement of East Indians from one Caribbean region to the other.
Several more points should be noted, as they tend to be characteristic of
other phases of Indo-Caribbean migration. First, Indo-Caribbean student, rural-
urban, and inter-Caribbean migration did not cease in the 1960s, but in fact
continues today. Second, although East Indians were exposed to western
education, a vast majority of them were and are still illiterate. The 1943
population census for Jamaica revealed that 10,388 out of 21,278 East Indians (49
percent) were illiterate. By contrast, the illiteracy rate among African Jamaicans
was 28 percent (Shepherd, 1993). In British Guiana in 1946, 56 percent of East
Indians over the age of 10 were literate in English, while the figure was 97.3
percent for Afro-Guyanese (Depres, 1967:112). The situation was not different in
Trinidad. In 1945, 60 percent of East Indians were illiterate in any language
(Niehoff, 1960:77). The literacy campaign brought no miraculous changes in the
external situation of most East Indians, though it set a standard for East Indians to
emulate. Perhaps the greatest change brought about by the exposure to western
education was internal. There were changes in perception of themselves and their
surroundings, which have caused many to migrate, particularly in the post-World
War II era. Third, the economic achievements of East Indians following the end
of indentured service were not uniformly distributed among the various East
Indian communities. Most Caribbean East Indian communities are comprised of a
small wealthy class and a large underdeveloped class. Fourth, Indo-Caribbean
student migration and other forms of migration during this phase did not
contribute to the "brain drain" phenomenon. Although some East Indian students
and workers remained in the receiving territories, this movement was essentially
cyclical in nature, and most students returned and accepted employment in the
civil service, medicine, and law. Except for student migration, this movement was
primarily an instance of migration within the periphery and from the periphery to
the semi-periphery (see Duany, 1992). Finally, Indo-Caribbean migration was not
solely dependent on the efforts of missionaries and socio-economic achievements
in the host territories. Some East Indian families as well as independent women
(especially in trading) took a small part in this migration phase.
Migration to Europe and North America (1962 to the present)
The current phase of Indo-Caribbean migration began when most
Caribbean countries achieved independence from their respective "mother
countries." Independence marked the beginning of a new style of movement, as
each individual Caribbean country established immigration and diplomatic
relations with North American and European countries (Duany, 1994:99). Except
for Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana, which became Overseas
Department of France (D.O.M) in 1946, and the citizens of which have the right to
enter France without restrictions (Freeman, 1982:30), all the Caribbean countries
with a significant population of East Indians became independent in the late 1960s
and 1970s: Jamaica and Trinidad (1962), Guyana (1966), Suriname (1975),
Grenada (1974), St. Vincent (1979), St. Lucia (1979), and Belize (1981).
Indo-Caribbean migration to Europe and North America has received
more attention than any other migratory pattern because the movement has been
principally to white host societies (see Marshall, 1982). Other significant Indo-
Caribbean migration also occurred. For instance, thousands of Indo-Guyanese
settled in Antigua, Suriname and Venezuela in the 197us and 1980s, while Indo-
Trinidadians moved to other, smaller islands in the Caribbean as well as to the U.S
Virgin Islands (see Narine, 1993). Furthermore, the lack of literature on seasonal
migrant workers within this period suggested that seasonal migration was
essentially a pre-Second World War affair. Hundreds of East Indians from
Guyana, for example, continue to travel an,' work on the sugar plantations in St.
Kitts and Suriname. This movement depended ',i the circumstances and rhythms
of the harvesting seasons in receiving territories. When the harvest seasons were
over, migration ceased. The flow consisted mostly of single males, and thus, it
was little different than during the two previous phases of Indo-Caribbean
migration. One significant difference, however, in terms of development of their
homeland has been that contract agriculture workers found little outlet for their
skills at home because they normally returned with no more working and training
skills than before they had left. Return migrants generally spend their savings on
homes, consumer goods, and themselves. They are more interested in raising their
own standard of living, and thus appear to do better than the general population.
This was true also for Mexican migrant workers (Wiest, 1975), Turkish workers
(Paine, 1974) and Mediterranean workers (King, 1978).
Except for Indo-Caribbean student migration in the preceding period, the
present period marked the first time Indo-Caribbeans made significant contact
with white societies. It was also the first time that East Indians from all classes,
including women, made any contact with advanced industrialized countries.
Although the pattern of Caribbean migration has generally been from rural areas
to cities and then to abroad (Duany, 1994:105), this has not always been the case
for Caribbean East Indians. Many moved directly from rural undeveloped
communities to industrial centers. This was different than previous migrations,
which were essentially lateral and within the Caribbean. Migration to the core
countries of the capitalist world economy was the prevailing trend, although
Guyanese East Indians under the People's Progressive Party in the 1960s, 1970s
and 1980s traveled to the former Soviet Union to study and improve their
knowledge of socialism, one president of Guyana, Bharret Jagdeo, was educated
in the former Soviet Union.
Scholars have used a multiplicity of theories to explain migration from
one country to another. Some have explained migration emanating from
involuntary conditions such as civil wars, to voluntary decision to seek better
conditions (Garcia, 1996:115). Others have used the push and pull model to
explain individual motivations to migrate because of deteriorating conditions at
home and better opportunities at the point of destination. Still other scholars have
explained international migration by uneven global economic developments in
which the core countries extract the labour surplus from developing countries
(Wallerstein, 1974a; Wallerstein, 1974b). The consequence of the movement of
people from one country to another has been argued to benefit both the sending
and receiving societies, though not on an equal basis. Sending countries have
benefited from seasonal and long-term employment, opportunities to trade,
remittances, and outlets to utilize developed skills. Migration also relieves the
sending societies of the burden to provide badly needed social and economic
services to an expanding population. The receiving societies benefited from the
exchange of knowledge, culture, and diversity (Garcia, 1996:116; Boodhoo and
Baksh, 1981). Migration, however, also has the potential to divide families, hasten
the decline of agriculture, and increase the demand for import goods, which many
sending countries cannot afford (see Pastor, 1985). Migration can also lead to loss
of culture, native language, and familiarity (Levenback and Lewark, 1995:383).
Although some studies have argued that Caribbean migration is not
totally as a result of overcrowding, poverty, or economic stagnation, but rather is
a result of "unequal, dependent development" (see Duany, 1992), Indo-Caribbean
migration has always depended on political turbulence and ethnic rivalry (Guyana
and Suriname), economic hardships (Trinidad), special colonial relations (French
Caribbean), and the changing immigration laws in North America and Europe.
Indo-Caribbean migration can be explained by using the aforementioned
theories, but some distinction should be made. First, although these Caribbean
countries emerged from colonial rule with essentially the same status and
experience (underdevelopment and exploitation), their post-independence
political, economic, and social histories were quite different, with the exception of
the French Caribbean Islands, which remained more or less the same status under
French control. Second, the pattern of Indo-Caribbean migration has followed the
economic, political, and cultural practices of their colonial metropolitan centers.
Dutch speaking East Indians from Suriname would rather migrate to Holland,
English speaking Caribbean East Indians to England and North America, and
French speaking Caribbean East Indians to France, with little crossover. For
instance, some Guyanese East Indians traveled to Suriname in 1970s and obtained
Dutch passports and moved to the Netherlands.
Indo-Guyanese moved to metropolitan centers because of political
turmoil, marginalization, fear, and economic hardships under 28 years of
uninterrupted socialist rule from the predominantly black People's National
Congress (PNC) party (Roopnarine 2000 & 2002c; Singh 1988; Toronto Star
1984; Human Rights Reports 1984, 1981, and 1978). The PNC not only brought
80 percent of the economy under state control but also most of the Guyanese
population through intimidation, corruption, clientalism, patronage, and bribery
(Hintzen 1989). Because of these policies, the PNC lost support from various
international organizations, governments, and from a large segment of the East
Indian population (Premdas, 1996). Consequently, two decades after
independence, Guyana slumped from being one the most stable countries in the
Caribbean to the worst in the Western Hemisphere (see World Bank, 1993;
Roopnarine 2003). One commentator remarked that Guyana's top export during
the PNC years was not sugar, bauxite, or rice, but its people (Inshanally, 1991).
Father Andrew Morrison reported that between the 1970s and 1980s, about 10,000
Guyanese each year emigrated to various places abroad, most of them illegally
Emigration has reduced substantially since the predominantly East
Indian People's Progressive Party (PPP) came into power in 1992, although the
recent crime wave and urban banditry particularly around Georgetown and Buxton
have caused many East Indians to seek safety elsewhere. On the whole, Guyana
has improved a great deal, but, according to the Human Rights Report, more than
3 percent of the Guyana' s 750,000 people each year migrate in search for a better
economic future. Guyanese migration will continue because, for several reasons.
First, a larger number Guyanese have become residents and citizens abroad and
are therefore qualified to sponsor their spouses, children, and relatives. Second,
many Guyanese are still disillusioned with current political and economic
situation, but more so Afro Guyanese who "now alleged that they suffer racial
discrimination and political victimization by the predominantly Indo-Guyanese
PPP" (Human Rights Report, 1996:473). The poorest sections of the Guyanese
population, however, are the interior Amerindians, coastal East Indians and urban
Indo-Surinamese emigration was directly related to push and pull
factors, the fear of ethnic rivalry, civil war, and the withdrawal of Dutch support
and aid from various international governments and development agencies.
Before 1975, Suriname remained an underdeveloped, backward Dutch colonial
outpost in South America, although per capital income in Suriname ($4,000) was
much higher than most Caribbean countries due to Dutch overseas aid. After
colonial rule, Suriname did not change much, and, in fact, regressed. The
unemployment rate in the 1960s and 1970s was 30 percent while in the
Netherlands it was less than 5 percent. Moreover, wages were three to four times
higher in the Netherlands than in Suriname. The Dutch government feared that
underdevelopment in Suriname would generate an unprecedented movement of
Surinamese to the Netherlands, and so granted Suriname 3.5 billion guiders over a
ten-year period, but the independent Arron government misused this aid. Because
of political mismanagement, and the fact Surinamese were aware of a better social
and welfare system (unemployment benefits, medical care, etc.) in the
Netherlands, the Dutch development strategy did not reduce the Suriname-
Netherlands migration. Unlike the French Caribbean Islands where the same
social security and welfare system already existed, Surinamese have to migrate to
the Netherlands to get these benefits. One commentator stated that the Surinamese
were investing "their money in tickets to the Netherlands" (Bovenkerk, 1982a:36).
In 1975, 10 percent (40,000) of Surinamese left for the Netherlands. More
Surinamese left following a five-year emigration agreement (1975-1980) between
the Netherlands and Suriname, after the military coup in 1982, and during the
Surinamese civil war in the 1980s. The Surinamese population abroad is about
250,000, with 180,000 living in the Netherlands, particularly in Hague
(Richardson, 1989:218-219). According to the Human Rights Report (1994:506),
Surinamese migration will continue because of the depressed world prices for
bauxite and aluminum, the damaging effects of the country's civil war, high
inflation and poor economic growth.
Indo-Trinidadian migration to Europe and North America is more a
product of push than pull factors. Country Reports on Economy and Trade
Practices (1995 and 2000) stated that the collapse of the 1980s oil boom caused a
recession from which Trinidad has only recently recovered. The closing of many
U.S military installations, which had accounted for 15-20 percent of Trinidad's
workforce, compounded the country's economic problems (Vertovec, 1992). "The
collapse of oil prices in the mid-1980s created an immediate reversal in fortunes of
the economy and in the direction of migratory flows. By the end of the 1980s, the
country had experienced a large exodus of its people to North America" (Phillips,
The French government has, through the Bureau for Migration from
Overseas Department (BUMIDOM), regulated migration from the French
Caribbean Islands. This agency selects and trains immigrants for jobs in France,
but the French government prefers to "accept workers arriving on their own rather
to arrange the movement of workers from the overseas departments and
territories" (Freeman, 1982:33). Nevertheless, in the 1960s and 1970s, between
6000 and 8000 workers from Martinique and Guadeloupe moved to France
(Domenach and Piconet, 1990; Duany, 1994). This modest flow increased in the
late 1970s and 1980s. The 1982 census shows that 190,000 French residents in
metropolitan areas were born in the Caribbean. 19,180 were from French Guiana,
87,320 from Guadeloupe, and 94,940 from Martinique (Richardson, 1989:217;
Movements from the Caribbean coincided with changing immigration
laws in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. labour shortages following
the Second World War caused the British government to actively recruit workers
from its colonies. The London Transport and British Hotels and Restaurant
Association had agents in the Caribbean enlisting workers (Gmelch, 1987:32).
Caribbean countries also encouraged emigration to Great Britain on the basis that
it would save them from the burden of providing social services to a growing
population. From 1951 to 1961, between 230,000 and 280,000 West Indians
worked in Britain (Richardson, 1989:216). By the early 1960s, however, the white
public outcry against colored immigration resulted in the British Government
passing the Commonwealth Act of 1962. The Act specified that West Indians
already living in Great Britain could sponsor their wives, husbands, or children
under 16, but all others were barred from entering Britain. The British
government claimed that unrestricted immigration would create unemployment in
Britain. Many writers believed that the immigration act was hypocritical
(Richardson, 1989:217; Freeman, 1982; Lowenthal, 1972).
Meanwhile Canada and the United States opened their immigration doors
to Caribbean immigrants in 1962 and 1965, respectively, "in tandem with the
closing off of the British outlet" (Rubenstein, 1993:302). Canada removed the
"nonwhite" immigration policy based on social, ethnic and racial backgrounds and
in 1962 began to take in immigrants based on educational and occupational
qualifications (World Migration Report, 2000:238; Henry, 1982:38). The United
States in 1965 removed the differential national quotas, and "U.S. immigration
policy has evolved increasingly toward a system in which provisions apply
equally to prospective immigrants regardless of place of birth" (US Immigration
Policy, 1981:87). These reformed immigration laws shifted the flow of West
Indians from Great Britain to Canada and the United States. For example, in 1970,
Guyanese migration to the United States, Canada, and Great Britain was 37
percent, 29 percent, and 15 percent respectively (Sukdeo, 1981). The reformed
immigration laws had little effect on the historical pattern of migration from the
Dutch and French Caribbean islands to the Netherlands and France. "The most
numerous influx of Caribbean peoples to Western Europe in recent years has been
to the Netherlands from the Dutch West Indies" (Richardson, 1989:218).
It is not possible to gather precise statistics on the size of the Indo-
Caribbean population in Europe and North America because immigration records
are not kept on ethnicity. Foreign governments also do not account for
undocumented aliens in their population census. Additionally, like Puerto Ricans
traveling to the United States, French Caribbean islanders are considered French
citizens and no separate figures are collected by the census (see Freeman,
1982:33). According to U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the
figures for immigrant by country of birth between 1981 and 1998 are as follows.
Guyana: 160,000; Trinidad: 92,000; Jamaica: 357,000. The INS statistics for
immigrants entering the U.S. between 1999-2000 show that 326 came from
Belize, 23 from Guadeloupe, 8 from Martinique, 11 from the Netherlands Antilles,
140 from Suriname, and 3 from French Guiana. The low admittance of
immigrants from the Dutch and French West Indies suggests that migration from
these territories continues to flow primarily to the "mother country."
There are, however, problems with the INS figures. They do not account
for undocumented aliens and they do not show immigration based on ethnicity.
However, if we calculate these numbers in percentage to the East Indian
population in each Caribbean territory, it is possible to come up with a reasonable
estimate of the Indo-Caribbean population in the United States. If the East Indians
make-up 52 percent of the population of Guyana then we can estimate that about
85,000 East Indians left Guyana between 1981 and 1998. Using this method,
trying to account for natural increases in population, and attempting to account for
the large number of undocumented Indo-Caribbeans in the U.S., it is safe to say
that there are no less than 400,000 Caribbean East Indians in the United States. By
the same method, we can assume that there over 150,000 Indo-Surinamese in the
Netherlands and over 100,000 Caribbean East Indians in Canada (see Birbalsingh,
1997:212). The Indo-Caribbean population in Great Britain and France is much
smaller. Vertovec (2000) calculated that there are over 8000 Caribbean East
Indians, excluding undocumented aliens (a small number) living in the London,
while the French Caribbean East Indian population in France is estimated to be
Some additional points need to be discussed. First, while out-migration
from the Caribbean, particularly in Guyana, Trinidad, and Suriname was
dominated by Afro-Caribbeans, the current phase of migration has been
dominated by Indo-Caribbeans. Additionally, Indo-Caribbean migration has not
been restricted to male migrants, but East Indians from all walks of life have
migrated, including a substantial number of women.
Second, student and teacher migration, principally within the Caribbean,
to North America, India, and even to Africa has increased. For example, Cuba has
offered 350 scholarships to Guyana over a five-year period, while India accepts
between 15 and 20 Guyanese candidates every year for academic and technical
training (see Guyana Chronicle, 2001; Roopnarine, 2001). As recent as 2002,
recruits from Africa and the New York City Board of Education were in the
Caribbean enlisting teachers to work in Africa and the United States (Stabroek
News, 2001). A large number of these students and teachers are of East Indian
Third, like other Caribbean migrants, Caribbean East Indians are also
caught up in the cycle of returning and leaving the Caribbean. This migration
pattern is referred to as "cyclical migration", "circular migration", or "recurrent
migration" (Rubenstein, 1982:11). Returned migrants tend to stay a few days,
weeks or indefinite periods in their homeland. A smaller but significant number of
migrants accept prominent positions in the bureaucracy while others live
permanently in the Caribbean. Returnees are viewed by the host community as a
new minority or misfits mainly because of their ways and mannerisms they
adapted abroad (see Bovenkerk, 1982b). While the influx of circular migrants is
from within the Caribbean region, a substantial number of them are from North
America and Europe. Nevertheless, this is a small number in comparison to
migrants who never return to the Caribbean. One study indicated that even though
most Montserratians in London saw migration on a short-term basis only 20
percent returned to live permanently in their homeland (Rubenstein, 1982). Most
Caribbean migrants, after their first and second visits to their respective
homelands, never return but ironically idealize the country they left behind with a
hope of returning some day.
Data on how many Indo-Caribbeans return home is not available. Nor are
there documents of the impact of returnees (except for deportees) on the original
countries in terms of economic development and skills transfer based on ethnicity.
One recent study, however, conducted by Manual Orozco, Project Director for
Central America at the Inter-American Dialogue, showed that Guyanese in the
United States send about U.S$ 100M in remittances annually (Ramotar, 2002).
Some of this remittance was by overseas Guyanese traveling to Guyana. A
substantial part of this remittance is from Indo-Guyanese since a majority of them
left during the three decades of PNC dictatorial rule. A similar pattern of
remittance has been noticed in Suriname.
An analysis of Indo-Caribbean migration shows that East Indians have
migrated from the plantations, to villages, to urban areas, to the Caribbean, and to
European and North American countries. The pattern of migration was not
necessarily in stages. Some East Indians, for example, migrated from
undeveloped rural areas to advanced industrialized countries, while other East
Indians moved between various Caribbean countries and then to North America
and Europe. Not all migrants stayed in the receiving territories. There was also a
significant movement of return or cyclical migration, mainly during the first two
phases of Indo-Caribbean migration. Additionally, while the movement of East
Indians before 1962 was predominantly made up single males, the current period
was comprised of East Indians from all strata of life, including a substantial
number of women.
Indo-Caribbean migration under indenture was limited because
indentured servants were subjected to a plethora of restrictions on their movement.
Yet, when the authoritarian structure of the plantation system proved too
unbearable, indentured servants chose flight or desertion. This movement never
amounted to a mass exodus as happened under slavery, but the continuation of
desertion throughout the indenture period revealed the authoritarian structure of
the plantation system. The more repressive the plantation management became,
the more East Indians deserted the plantations.
The movement of East Indians was less pervasive after the 1870s,
following the colonial governments' granting of small parcels of land in lieu of
return passages. Although land settlement schemes benefited the colonial
government more than it did the East Asians, it had nonetheless led to the
movement of East Indians from the plantations to village settlements. The policy
can thus be said to have enabled the first free internal movement of East Indians
within the Caribbean.
Through a combination of activities such as rice planting, sugar cane
farming, trading, and sacrifices, the movement of East Indians increased not only
from the plantations to villages but also from rural to urban areas. This movement
was regular but small because East Indians were comfortable with rural living and
more importantly, they were skeptical about the Christian-oriented school system.
As a result, a large proportion of the East Indian population was uneducated,
which made them less qualified for urban-based jobs, particularly in the civil
Inter-Caribbean migration depended on assimilation, an increased
emphasis on education, and efforts from various religious organizations, rather
than on opportunities in the receiving territories. These activities generated a
degree of Indo-Caribbean migration mainly for educational, religious, and trading
reasons. This movement was, however, secondary to the larger Caribbean
migration at that time. The movement was essentially lateral, from one peripheral
region to another. Within this phase of migration, East Indians became more
aware of themselves and how others saw them, mainly due to their exposure to
western education and contact with the wider Caribbean community, yet, a
number of factors such as a lack of education, discrimination, marginalization, and
strong attachments to family kinships and traditions stymied Indo-Caribbean
The current phase of Indo-Caribbean migration was principally to white
host societies. It was different from previous migration in that the volume of
migration has been larger, represents the first time most East Indians made contact
with white societies, and it has been from the periphery to the core. The
movement to core countries has depended on political fear, ethnic rivalry,
economic hardships, special colonial relations in specific regions in the Caribbean,
and the changing immigration laws in Europe and North America. While detailed
and specific information is not available on the size of the Indo-Caribbean
population in Europe and North America, it is safe to say that the figure is no less
One final point needs to be made. As important as spatial mobility has
been for other ethnic groups in the Caribbean, it was a particularly crucial symbol
for East Indians to whom it had been denied since their arrival in the region. The
freedom of movement was for East Indians the most important of all freedoms.
The need to move, the desire to go places, and the ability to reach "there," whether
it is 20 or 20,000 miles away, has been expressed in East Indian local motif:
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The Role of Plant Substances in Jamaican Slave Dress*
STEVE O. BUCKRIDGE
"The Caribbean is the story of arrivants from across the Atlantic and beyond,
each group bringing a cultural equipage... -Rex M. Nettleford
Introduction: Cultural Retention
Africans brought aspects of their culture such as folklore, music, religion,
dress, and the knowledge of plants with them to the Americas. These African
customs and beliefs or 'Africanisms' that were retained in the African Diaspora
enabled Africans to maintain a vital link with their ancestral homeland. As slaves
in an alien environment, Africans shaped, modified, and adapted these cultural
elements based on their experiences, needs and circumstances. This resulted in a
vibrant Creole culture in Jamaican society. These African cultural characteristics
were also transmitted to the descendants of African slaves.
Moreover, "Africanisms" persisted not as archaic retention, but as vi-
brant cultural features that continued to grow and develop, in a sense, establishing
new roots in a new environment. Robert Farris Thompson has argued that this
contributed to the enrichment of the Americas with sophisticated and profound
knowledge of herbalism, mental healing and funeral customs to name a few.2
African cultural features were retained and nurtured in Jamaica and other
areas of the Diaspora because they guaranteed the survival of Africans and their
descendants against European attempts at cultural annihilation. Melville J.
Herskovits pointed out that cultural retention was useful because it fulfilled
functions that were indispensable to the survival of African people. Further-
more, keeping African customs alive fostered a "soul-force" as Leonard E. Barrett
stated that fashioned a quality of life for Africans and enabled them to cope with
the horrors of enslavement that made European migrants the prescribed superordi-
Cultural expression as survival strategies played an integral role in the
daily lives of African slaves. As a consequence, one cannot study Africans in
Jamaica or the Diaspora without some appreciation and understanding for the
cultural significance of Africa as source and origin. This study examines one
aspect of slave and freed women's dress: the usage of plant fibres, pigments, and
bark in the production and care of clothing. I argue that the usage of plant
substances in this manner was a feature of cultural retention and expression among
African women and their descendants in Jamaica. Several aspects of African dress
customs were transplanted across the Atlantic. For instance, slave and freed
women in Jamaica continued to wear the headwrap or tie-head and beads as
accessories. They also dyed fabrics and made bark cloth and bark lace as their
ancestors did in West Africa.
Plant substances and Jamaican dress
Slave owners in Jamaica were required by law to provide African slaves
and their descendants with sufficient clothing. Many planters resorted to the
importation of inexpensive coarse European fabrics and some Indian cotton for
slave clothing. Fabric distributions were complemented with a few ready-made
garments, and rations included the tools necessary for slaves to sew their clothes
such as needles and thread. The eighteenth century planter, historian and local
politician, Edward Long, explained:
[Slaves] annually consume a large abundance of chequed linen,
striped hollands, sustain blanketing, long ells, and baize, Kendal
cottons, Oznaburgs [sic], canvas, coarse hats, woolen caps, cot-
ton and silk handkerchiefs, knives, scissors, razors, buckles,
buttons...thread, needles, [and] pins...5
Oznaburgh was the most common fabric distributed to slaves. On the
Jamaica Windsor Lodge and Paisley estates between 1833 and 1837, for instance,
2,676 yards of flax Oznaburgh were purchased for slaves. The Caribbean
resident, Mrs. Carmichael, also emphasized that most planters preferred to distrib-
ute fabrics. She added, "The estates in some colonies give out the clothing ready
made to put on, but others, the more common plan is to distribute cloth with
needles, threads, tapes... Most slaves therefore were expected to sew their own
clothes. Furthermore, Jamaica had no sumptuary laws that stated exactly what
slaves could, and could not wear, as was the case in some Caribbean islands, such
as, the Danish West Indies.8 The Jamaican laws sought only to guarantee the
minimum clothing necessary for each slave.
Since slaves received the minimum amount of clothing it meant that they
had to supplement their yearly rations. The local resident J. Stewart reported that
the annual rations for most slaves was, "as much Oznaburgh as will make two
frocks, and as much woolen stuff as will make a great coat."9 Furthermore, the
intense seasonal labour in the fields combined with the weathering of garments
often rotted or destroyed the meagre clothing rations slaves received. Field
slaves who did heavy manual labour most likely were in constant need of clothing.
Planters expected slaves to obtain any additional clothing on their own.
Many slave women displayed African cultural characteristics in their
dress. The African customs that were brought across the Atlantic to Jamaica
reflected both the resourcefulness and the ingenuity of African people. In Ja-
maica, African women utilized the skills they had acquired in West Africa to
obtain suitable raw materials for dress from their environment. They acquired
some knowledge of native plants from indigenous people, and they built on this
knowledge and developed it further.1 Africans looked for plants that could be
used to make bark cloth and dyes to colour the fabrics they received from their
enslavers. This required a process of trial and error, of experimentation until they
learned to "make fashion" with what was available and accessible to them. For
slave women, particularly rural slaves, the nurturing of an African aesthetic in
their dress allowed them to 'dress up' or 'nice up' the drab and plain clothing they
received from the planter, to transform their appearance from a slave aesthetic to a
more pleasing and familiar African mode in dress. Moreover, the least one looked
like a slave in appearance, the better the individual was perceived by others within
Edward Long revealed that Jamaicans dyed fabrics with juices extracted
from various roots and plants just as their African ancestors did.12 Long listed the
various dyes and pigments used, some of which were later adopted by Europeans
and even used in local manufacturing. Some Europeans in Jamaica also experi-
mented with these substances, and produced dye solutions. Some of the dyes and
pigments used by slave and freed people included the indigo-berry, which stained
paper or linen with a fine blue colour. There was also the scarlet-seed, a shrubby
tree found in the Red Hills and Spanish Town areas. The seeds were used to
produce a scarlet colour which served for both dyer's and painter's use. The oil
from the cashew nut was used to tinge linen to a rusty colour while the milky juice
of the cashew tree trunk was used to stain linen to a permanent black. Other dye
solutions were obtained from the annotto or roucou tree, vine sorrel, acacee, bissy
bark, logged, prickly pear [cactus], prickly yellow wood and the shrubby goat
rue. Juices from the marinade root or yaw-weed were also used to make dye
solutions. Lignum vitae leaves were used to refresh faded fabric colours. Long
does provide a substantial list of dyes and pigments, but he does not provide
detailed information on all the dyes or the process of obtaining the actual dye
solutions. Nevertheless, the list of dye sources gives an impression of extensive
dye production. Enslaved men and women also used Jamaican indigenous plants
like the smaller mahoe for other purposes such as making ropes and hammocks.13
Although the process of dye making continued among African slaves and
their descendants, there is no evidence to date to confirm that weaving cotton into
textiles, as in Africa, was widely practiced in Jamaica. Slaves did weave plant
fibre but weaving cotton was very rare. At the recent archaeological dig at Drax
Hall plantation for example, no evidence of this activity was found. Although
some cotton was grown in Jamaica, spinning was not common. In some British
territories in the Caribbean, such as Berbice, spinning and weaving were done on
cotton plantations by a small number of enslaved persons who also worked in the
fields. In the United States, slave women were very involved in sewing, weaving
and spinning cotton, since in most cases, slaves in the United States were expected
to make their own clothing. Weaving and spinning were often done by older slave
women who were too weak to work in the fields,14 but could also be add-ons to
women's workload done on a quota basis after fieldwork for the day. 15
The absence of widespread cotton weaving was due to several factors.
The amount of cotton grown in Jamaica was too small to have an impact on the
local economy. Furthermore, most British West Indian economies, including
Jamaica, specialized in growing sugar cane. Growing cotton in Jamaica, for the
purpose of weaving textiles would compete with British cotton manufacturers.
Edward Long, for example, recognized this, when he stated that:
There is little of it [cotton] worked up at the places of its growth,
except in the fabrics of hammocks; and even this little branch
has never yet reached Jamaica.In some parts of the island, as in
Vere, a few industrious housewives make knit stockings with it,
for their families; but some few planters spin their own wick for
lamps in crop time; but, probably, not a third of a bag is spent in
this way, as the greater number buy what is imported from Great
Britain...which is proof of great value of the West India colo-
nies, which do not rival Great Britain in manufactures, over
those which are dangerous competitors with her.16
A cotton industry in the colony would not only compete with British
manufacturers, but also require slave labour that would otherwise be utilized for
sugar production. Therefore, a local cotton industry that required weaving and
spinning skills was not encouraged by the colonial power. The Jamaican economy
was so dependent on sugar production that attempts in 1841 to diversify and
revitalize the declining economy with cotton and silk manufacturing failed.
Another factor was that the British West Indies was closely tied into the
Atlantic trading network. The absence of a local textile industry meant that the
colonial society was forced to become dependant on Britain for the necessary
manufactured goods such as cloth and clothing. The trade between Britain, and her
West Indian colonies including Jamaica, provided an abundance of British apparel
and textiles for vast numbers of settlers and colonized people. In addition, the
colonies provided not only an easily accessible market for British manufactured
goods, but also a large consumer society consisting of a predominantly African
slave population that was rapidly expanding. Slaves' consumption of British
textiles along with their limited spending power to purchase some refined fabrics
in local markets, suggest that slaves' role as consumers from the seventeenth
century onwards, contributed to the economic growth, longevity, and prosperity of
the vibrant textile industry in Britain.
African slaves were familiar with the techniques used in the manufacture
of cloth, and textiles, such as, spinning and weaving, since these were practiced in
Africa. However, the availability and distribution of textiles and clothing to slaves
did not create the need for these skills in Jamaica. Meanwhile, knitting was
introduced by Europeans and was practiced among some slaves. This was primar-
ily a European craft, done by a few industrious house wives [white women], as
Long stated earlier, and taught to African slaves.18 Knitting continues to be
popular in contemporary Jamaican society. The absence of sources regarding quilt
making among slaves also suggest that this was very rare in Jamaica. Unlike in the
US South, where this was a popular activity for female slaves in winter months,
this was not so in Jamaica. The tropical climate was too warm for quilts, while on
plantations located at high altitude or cool regions of the island, slaves received
blankets to keep warm.
One of the most interesting African customs in dress that was main-
tained and nurtured in Jamaica by African slaves was the production of bark cloth
and bark lace. As in West Africa, Jamaican slaves learned to make clothing from
various plant fibres and trees from as early as the seventeenth century. The English
King, Charles the Second, for example, who reigned from 1660 to 1685, was
presented with a lace bark cravat by the Governor of Jamaica, Sir Thomas Lynch,
who governed from 1671 to 1674, and again in 1682 to 1684.19 This bark industry
was vibrant, and was a very important industry to the livelihood of slaves and
freed people. According to Long, in the eighteenth century, clothing was also
made from coratoe leaf mahoe bark, date tree, mountain cabbage and the down-
tree-down.20 Long does not elaborate on all the plants or exactly how most of
them were manufactured into clothes. Therefore much of this bark cloth industry
remains unknown. Further, European settlers did utilize the products of tree bark
and bark clothing, and many perhaps, benefited from the profits of their slaves'
activities in this type of industry.
In a series of interviews conducted with several elderly Maroon descen-
dants in Accompong Town, it was revealed that the bark was often stripped, beaten
soft and the fibre pulled out, separated, carded or combed to untangle and dried.
The fibre was then woven into textile, sewed or tied and worn. Banana fibres
obtained from the bark, and the coratoe fibre obtained from the cactus like leaves
were treated in the same manner. The bark from other trees used for this purpose
included the jimmy or white bark and the trumpet tree. In these cases, the bark was
stripped down to the inner thin layer. This thin strip was beaten, dried and also
woven together.21 The exact weaving technique is not known since this is no
longer done and the knowledge has been lost over the decades. Nor do we know if
the weaving was done on specific looms orjust the mere hand twisting and plaiting
of fibres, perhaps similar to weaving baskets or mats. It is also possible that the
weaving of these plant fibres was similar to the process of making Raffia cloth in
the Congo. Despite this, Long reported that, the most popular form of bark
clothing made by slaves and freed persons came from the laghetto tree and its
relative, the bon-ace22
The laghetto, also known as the lace-bark tree, had laurel-like leaves and
was found in the woods of Vere in the parish of Clarendon, and also the parish of
St. Elizabeth. It was native to Jamaica, Cuba and Hispaniola, and grew in wood-
lands on limestone hills. The tree in all three territories was valued for its medici-
nal properties and manufactured products. The tree grew to a height between five
and ten metres tall.23 The inner bark was of a fine texture, very tough, but could
be divided into a number of thin filaments, which after being soaked in water,
could be drawn out by the fingers. It was rolled into large 'puff balls', dried, and
then stretched in the sun to be bleached white. The end product resembled fine
lace, but could also imitate linen and gauze.24 Edward Long recalled:
The ladies [slaves and freed women] of the island are extremely
dexterous in making caps, ruffles, and complete suits of lace
with it; in order to bleach it, after being drawn out as much as it
will bear, they expose it stretched to the sunshine, and sprinkle
it frequently with water...It bears washing extremely well...with
common soap... and [is] equal to the best artificial lace...the wild
Negroes [Maroons] have [also] made apparel with it of a very
The bon-ace tree was found near Montego Bay, and it too spread like the
laghetto bark, however, it was not as durable, and therefore not used as much in
clothing. The laghetto or lace bark tree was so durable that it was used for other
products. The bark and fibre were used to make ropes, hammocks, and whips for
driving animals, and to beat or punish slaves. The actual lace fibre or filament was
used to make doilies or 'fern mats' to decorate tables and home furniture; and it
was used as a sieve or strainer during cooking. Other types of clothing and
accessories made from bark lace in Jamaica include, bonnets, fans, and slippers. In
addition, both men and women used the laghetto linen for mourning.26 The plant
fibre was used most in clothing manufacture. The herbal council member, and
local resident of the Accompong town Maroons, Mrs. Caroline Ena Lawrence,
remembered her mother telling her about lace bark. She recalled, that her grand
and great-grandmothers made lace blouses, frills for dresses and skirts, and that
some women were very "stylish" in that they wore combined outfits consisting of
a lace bark blouse and a banana fibre or coratoe fibre skirt.27
Early records by Sir Hans Sloane, and Edward Long reaffirms that this
popular clothing industry based on bark lace/cloth manufacture developed from
quite early, and by the eighteenth century, slaves, freed persons, and Maroons in
Jamaica were involved. The fact that Maroons were the ones most extensively
engaged in this activity by the eighteenth century is logical; sugar was 'king' by
this time so those in sugar cane production would have had less time to do it.
Furthermore, several lace bark forests existed predominantly in those regions of
Jamaica designated as part of Maroon territories.
The peace settlements with the Maroons in the eighteenth century would
have given the Maroons greater control over this industry. Edward Long does not
mention men's participation in this clothing production, which suggests that
women not only made the lace products, but also traded and controlled this
industry. This enabled women to provide clothing for themselves, their family and
members of the slave community. Most likely, Jamaican women both slave and
freed, found lace making more profitable and worthwhile than textile weaving,
and therefore concentrated their efforts in this industry when they could. Since
slave men received more clothing than women did, some men saw no need to
participate in this type of creative process. Others, perhaps, chose not to be
involved because of the stigma associated with bark cloth. In some West African
societies, such as the Asante, bark cloth was made and worn by the poorest
Slavery impacted slave men and women in different ways. Slave women
were expected to be creative and flexible. They worked in the fields during the
day, and continued to work in the slave household at night. Yet they kept the
customary practices of African dress alive such as bark cloth manufacturing. Slave
women's essential roles as mothers, healers, teachers and even spiritual leaders
within the slave community made them ideal conduits for the transmission of
African customs in dress. As slaves, African women and their descendants had
contributed to the success of the colonial economy, yet they were not allowed to
enjoy the fruits of their labour. Their innovation and experimentation in dress was
a response to their oppressed state, and a desire to create their own economic
sphere. This enabled some to trade and be financially independent of their men-
Slave women's labour determined the standard of living within the
enslaved household. They were expected to take care of the house, raise the
children, and make the clothes so everyone could be presentable. They were also
responsible for the personal hygiene of family members and this included caring
for clothes. European propaganda had long portrayed slaves as unclean and filthy,
and perhaps, a few slaves were demoralized by their oppressed state and thus
indifferent to filth. However, Africans were familiar with the importance of
cleanliness. West Africans had a long reputation for personal cleanliness whereas
many Europeans, especially the English, for a long time "suffered from the
reputation for avoiding soap and water." Africans bathed daily and could hardly
believe the filth of their European enslavers. The industrial revolution brought
social changes in Britain, and people began to take washing more seriously. The
demand for soap increased, and palm oil from West Africa, became the major
ingredient in the manufacture of soaps. Enslaved Africans and freed persons took
care of their personal appearance and they enjoyed 'looking good' and dressing up
for special occasions. African slaves regularly surprised their owners by a combi-
nation of indifference toward their appearance during the workweek and their
appearance for festivities, religious ceremonies and market day. Their attention to
clothing suggested a positive attitude towards their appearance.
The caring for clothes was varied, and the process was often tedious and
lengthy, depending on the quantity of clothes, colour and type of fabrics. Slaves
turned to their environment, just as they did for bark cloth and bark lace, and they
looked for plants to make soap and to assist in the care of their clothes. According
to Edward Long, vegetable soap was made from the coratoe cactus, and the
broad-leafed broom-weed, while perfume was obtained from musk wood and rose
wood, for the body and to make clothes smell good. Some plants were popular for
their natural soap properties and easy availability, such as, the soap berry bush and
soap wood.32 During a visit to the Accompong Town Maroons, it was revealed
how some of these plants were used. The leaves of the soap wood, when rubbed
against clothes in water, produced thick and sweet scented suds that left clothes
smelling and looking clean. The leaves did not stain and after use they were shaken
off the clothes. These plants were also used for bathing. Other plants used as soap
and to create suds were the Lignum vitae leaves, which prevented colours from
fading and chopped young ackee pods.32
The caring of the planter's clothes was carried out by washerwomen, who
were 61ite slaves and worked in the Great House sometimes under the supervision
of the white mistress. The white 61ite did not allow their clothes to 'mingle' with
those of their slaves instead their clothes were washed separately and usually on
specific days. During the washing of clothes, garments were often sorted accord-
ing to colour and undergarments were washed separately. As in Africa, enslaved
women in rural Jamaica washed by riverbanks or in rivers and streams for easy
access to water source; clothes were 'beaten' on rocks with a paddle or stones to
get rid of heavy dirt, and carved coconut husk was used as a brush to get out
difficult stains. The white elite viewed the process of'beating clothes' on rocks as
backward and primitive, and some members of the 61ite felt that this activity only
damaged the clothes.33
Most white settlers preferred their clothes to be washed in tubs with a
scrub board as was customary in Europe and adopted in urban Jamaica. Mean-
while, white garments were scalded[constant stirring while being boiled] and then
hung in the bright sunlight to be bleached white. Dried and crumpled or crushed
clothes were pressed with a hot iron heated on a coal or fire stove.34 In some
areas of contemporary Jamaican society, clothes are still washed in this manner,
however the usage of natural plant soaps is no longer popular. Slave and freed
women, who made vegetable soap, and bark lace, were also required to market
their skills to enhance their family financially. Despite all this, enslaved women
were still able to meet the economic demands placed upon them by the planter
In Jamaica, bark cloth production, especially from the laghetto, contin-
ued to be an important industry through the nineteenth and into the early twentieth
century. In 1823, the visitor Cynric Williams described an encounter as follows:
I overtook a girl on the road with a veil over her face, which I
thought at first to be lace, but found to be made of the bark of a
tree; it is drawn out by the hand while the bark is green, and has
a very pretty effect. I slackened my pace for the pleasure of
conversing with her. She was mounted on an ambling pony,
and was attended by a negro boy on foot...she was herself free,
and the negro boy was her slave.35
Williams' experience with this veiled girl leads to several discussions
about dress and class within Jamaican colonial society. The girl's veil was most
likely made from the laghetto tree, and it appears to have been not only pretty, but
also very thin in texture, like regular lace, so much so that Williams was deceived
at first glance. However, what is most interesting is the fact that the girl was
veiled. The evidence of enslaved women or freed women veiled in the British
Caribbean is very rare and therefore deserves in depth analysis. Williams appar-
ently seemed surprised to see a veiled woman to the extent that he "slackened" his
pace for the pleasure of conversing with her. Williams' curiosity was perhaps
awakened because he had not seen a veiled woman before during his tour of the
island. This suggests that veiling was not a popular form of dress in Jamaican
There are several possible explanations for wearing a veil in this context.
Perhaps the veil was worn to cover facial scarring or disfigurement. Or, this could
have been an adaptation of the mantilla, which was popular among Spanish
women and brought in by immigrants from the Spanish colonies. Her veil may
also be a reflection of Islamic influence in dress brought over by early Muslim
slaves from Africa or early Spanish slaves of Moorish descent and adopted by
some Jamaican women over the years. The veiled girl may also have been a
Muslim who willingly embraced this type of Islamic custom in dress. Although we
know very little about Muslim slaves in Jamaica, we do know that there was a
Muslim community in the nineteenth century, and that some Muslim slaves like,
Muhammad Kaba, in the parish of Manchester, corresponded with other Muslims
in Africa.6 By means of correspondence, Muslims in Jamaica were made aware
of Islamic customs in dress in Africa, and could implement these customs among
the faithful in Jamaica.
Nevertheless, the girl's dress, and especially her veil, set her apart and,
portrays her identity as an 61ite woman of some social standing among the free
blacks and coloured population. Although this form of dress was not popular, the
evidence does suggest that some Jamaican slave and freed women may have worn
veils as a marker of their 61ite status and wealth, as was customary among some
classes of Muslim women in West Africa.37 In this context the girl's veil, plus her
possession of a slave boy and a pony were signs of some wealth and affluence. We
know nothing more about this veiled girl who was traveling to Black River, apart
from Williams' reference to her. He does not mention her name but does state that
she was free. He did not refer to her in his usual manner of addressing mulatto
women as "brown girls" which suggests that she was of African descent or black.
If Williams had requested more information from her maybe he would have
appeared too "familiar" and his behaviour considered inappropriate.
Despite this, he managed to learn that her journey was to "lodge a
complaint against a white man for having threatened and even offered violence to
her person," and that she "thought it very wicked and very unlike a gentleman, for
the King George to take away people's negroes [slaves] without paying them."38
The veiled girl's opportunity to travel to report her problems to the authorities
again suggests some sign of a privileged status, while her argument for compensa-
tion to slave owners for the freedom of their slaves reflected her own interest as a
slave owner. Freed persons who possessed slaves and money were materially and
socially above the slave community and sought to maintain their status.
The survival of African customs in dress, and the usage of plant sub-
stances in the care and production of clothing, required creativity and ingenuity
and the principal transmitters of these customs in dress were women. Melville
Herskovits pointed out that a distinctive characteristic of African societies in the
New World was the role women played as the principal exponents and protectors
of African culture.39 Planters were not concerned when slaves retained certain
aspects of their African culture such as dress, which emphasized the differences
between Africans and whites; they also did not wish to provide more expensive
clothing. The continuation and nurturing of these African customs in dress not
only reflected African harmonious relationship with their environment, but it also
enabled women to maintain a vital link with their ancestral homeland, and simul-
taneously resist cultural annihilation.
*This study is an excerpt from my forthcoming book titled, The Language of Dress: Resistance and
Accommodation in Jamaica, 1760-1890.
I. Rex Nettleford, Caribbean Cultural Identity: The Case ofJamaica (Los Angeles: UCLA Latin
American center Publications, 1979), 1.
2. Robert Farris Thompson, Flash of The Spirit (New York: Random House, 1983), p. xiv.
3. Melville J. Herskovits, The Myth of The Negro past (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958), pp. 292-299.
4. Leonard E. Barrett, Soul Force: African Heritage in Afro-American Religion (New York: Anchor
Press, 1974), p. 1.
5. Edward Long, The History ofJamaica or General Survey of the Ancient and Modern State of the
Island: with reflections on its situation settlements, inhabitants, climate, products, commerce,
laws and government. 3 vols. (London: T. Lownudes, 1774), 2:493. Edward Long lists several
types of fabrics that were distributed. A description of some of these fabrics are: perpetuana-a
durable wool fabric manufactured in England beginning from the sixteenth century; Oznaburg
or Osnaburgh-coarse linen originally made in Osnabruck, Germany. Baize-coarse woolen fab-
ric that has a fine and light texture, today it is used chiefly in lining, coverings and for curtains.
Holland cloth-linen fabric directly from Holland (the province called Holland), when bleached
it is called Brown Holland and is to be distinguished from the later "Holland cloth" or "real
wax" Dutch manufactured imitations of Indonesian batiks popular on the West African coast.
See Oxford English Dictionary, second edition for further details.
6. Invoices, Accounts, Sale of Sugar etc. Jamaica Windsor Lodge and Paisley Estates (1833-1837)
Manuscript Collection, 32. National Library of Jamaica (hereafter cited as NLJ).
7. Mrs. Carmichael, Domestic Manners and Social Conditions of The White, Colored, and Negro
Population of The West Indies. 2 vols. (London: Whittaker, Treacher, and Co., 1833), vol. 1, p.
8.Barry Higman ed., Slave Society in the Danish West Indies: St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix.
(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), pp. 116, 149.
9. J. Stewart, A View of The Past and Present State of the Island ofJamaica with remarks on the
moral and physical condition of the slaves and the abolition ofslavery in the colonies., (Edin-
burgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1823) p. 269
10. Barry Higman, Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, 1897-1834. (Kingston: The Press
University of the West Indies, 1995), pp. 224-225.
11 .We do not know exactly what Africans learned from indigenous people regarding clothing sub-
stances. However, Columbus did reveal that the indigenous people wore and made some cotton
fabrics and they dyed these fabrics as well. The knowledge of making hammocks was a skill
that was passed on to Africans by the early inhabitants.
12. Long, The History of Jamaica, 3:736-858.
13. Ibid., pp. 731 and 857. In this article I have used the "common" or popular names for the Jamai-
can plants. However, Edward Long included both the Botanical/Latin names as well as the
14. Higman, Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, p. 172
15. White, Ar'nt I a Woman?, p. 115. C. C. Robertson, personal communication, 7 July, 1998. See
also Claire Robertson, "Africa into the Americas? Slavery and Women, the Family, and the
Gender Division of Labor" In More Than Chattel: Black women and slavery in the Americas.
eds. David Barry Gaspar and Darlene Clark-Hine (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
1996), pp. 21, 23.
16. See Long, The History ofJamaica, pp. 693-695
17. W.J. Gardener, A History ofJamaica from its discovery by Christopher Columbus to the year
1872, (London: E. Stock, 1872) p. 412.
I8.Helen Bradley Foster, New Raiments of Self: African-American Clothing in the Antebellum South,
(Oxford: Berg, 1997) pp. 122-124.
19.Georgina Pearman, "Plant Portraits" Economic Botany, 54: 1, 2000, pp.4-6; See also Sir Hans
Sloane, A Voyage to the Island of Madera, Barbados Nieves, St. Christopher and Jamaica,
(London: B.M. 1707-25)vol.2, pp.22-23. Sloane does not state the date of the governor's pres-
entation of the cravat to the king. Sir Hans Sloane recognizes that this is not unique to Jamaica,
and that the custom of bark cloth production can be found in the "Indies" and in Africa. He par-
ticularly mentions a tree called the Enzanda, a sort of mangrove tree in the Congo, which when
beaten, cleaned and stretched in length, is used for clothing.
20.Long, History ofJamaica, 3:858. See also Sloane, A Voyage to the Island of Madera, 2:22-23,
and the Appendix.
21. Information gathered during a visit to Accompong Town, St. Elizabeth. I met with several of the
timber cutters and those knowledgeable about trees. Interviews and informal conversations
were held with, Mrs. Caroline Ena Lawrence, Mr. Joseph White, Mr. Curry and the deputy
colonel, Mr. Robinson, along with Buywood, and John Wright on November I 1, 2002.
22. Long, The History ofJamaica, 3:858. see also Georgina Pearman, "Plant Portraits" pp.4-6.
23. See Charles Dennis Adams, Flowering Plants Of Jamaica, (Glasgow: The University Press,
1972), p. 484. The tree grows only in Cuba, Jamaica and Hispaniola in limestone areas. It is not
certain to what extent slaves in Cuba and Hispaniola did use the bark lace to make clothing.
Nor do we know if there were some informal trade connections between the islands related to
this industry. This requires further study and research. In Jamaica, the tree is very rare due to
over usage for lace. Lace bark clothing production was a striving industry in Jamaica up until
1938, while ropes were still made from the tree until 1941. Other factors that led to its demise
are urban sprawl, deforestation, and making vine sticks for yam hills. The Bark of Trees (Sale
Prevention) Act of 1929 offered no protection to the lace bark. Only a few young trees have
been found recently in Portland and in the cockpit country. For more details on lace bark in Ja-
maica see also Patrick Browne, The Civil and Natural History ofAmerica in Three Parts, (Lon-
don: T.Osbome and J. Shipton, 1756), p. 371. See also Georgina Pearman, "Plant portraits"
and Sir Hans Sloane, A Voyage to the Island ofMadera 2:22-23. Both Long and Browne use
the Latin terms as well as the common names. Despite this, the common name of many of
these plants and trees were not consistent across the island, rather names sometimes varied
from region to region and from parish to parish. Most likely the same applies for Cuba and His-
24. Long, The History of Jamaica, 3:747-748; Sloane, A Voyage to the Island ofMadera, 2:22-23.
25. Ibid., 3:747-748. This unfortunately is no longer done in Jamaica. There is a collection of lace
bark products on display in The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in Britain. The last lace bark
item donated to the gardens in 1948 was a whip from the nineteenth century. See Georgina
Pearman, "Plant portraits", pp. 4-6.
26. Ibid., Bark lace production has become a lost art form and many people today do not remember
this process or know very little about it. A few men in the Cockpit country still make ropes
with the bark but doilies and strainers are not made. The rarity of the tree today has led to a
loss of this craft. Information about the usage of the tree and its location obtained in several
conversations with various persons including, Dr. G.R. Proctor and Mrs. Tracy Commock of
the Institute of Jamaica; The Accompong Town Maroons; Mr. D'Owen Grant and Mr.
Lawrence Nelson of the Jamaica Forestry head office; an e-mail conversation with Mr. Alan
Moss, who had acquired some doilies for the UWI library exhibit space, in Barbados. See also
the exhibits of bark lace and its products in the Institute of Jamaica Natural History Museum,
in Kingston, Jamaica.
27. Information obtained during an interview with Mrs. Caroline Ena Lawrence, in the Town Hall on
November 11, 2002 in Accompong Town, St. Elizabeth.
28. McLeod, The Asante, pp. 148-149.
29. Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, (New York: Vintage
Books, 1974) p. 553.
30. Ibid., pp.552-555.
3 I.Long, The History ofJamaica, 3:857. Long listed the types of plants used to make soap. He dis-
cusses the process of making vegetable soap for some, but says very little about the soap bush
and soap wood. These plants can be found in several areas of Jamaica such as the Cockpit coun-
try. Long also provides the Latin terms for these plants. For more details on the plants see
Adams, Flowering plants of Jamaica, pp.440, 546, 560.
32.Information gathered based on interviews and field research in Accompong Town, November 1 1-
13, 2002. Several of these plants grow in the area and the Maroons assisted me in locating
them. According to the Accompong Town Maroon resident, Buywood, Some farmers still
wash with the soap wood in near by streams after working in their grounds.
33.Brian Moore and Michelle A. Johnson, eds. The Land We live In, Jamaica in 1890, (1889-1890;
reprint, Mona: The social History Project publications, 2000), pp. 27, 76; for the white perspec-
tive on washing clothes in rivers and streams.
34. Information based on numerous interviews with elderly people, retired domestics and washer-
women, and from personal observation while traveling throughout rural parts of Jamaica. Slave
women washing clothes is a popular theme in several early prints and illustrations. They often
portrayed women washing by rivers and streams, beating clothes with stones and sticks or pad-
dle. See illustration, West Indian Washerwomen, N/11270, NLJ.
35. Cynric R. Williams, A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica from the Western to the Eastern
End in the year 1823. (London: Hunt and Clark, 1826) p. 83.
36. Although we know very little about Muslim slaves we do have evidence that some Muslim
slaves were communicating with fellow Muslims in Africa. See R.R. Madden, M.D. Twelve
Months Residence In the West Indies during the transition from slavery to Apprenticeship, 2
vols.(1835;reprint, Westport: Negro University Press, 1970) vol2, pp. 199-201 and also Philip
D. Curtin, Africa Remembered. Narratives by West Africans from the era of the slave trade.
(Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1997), pp. 163-167. The correspondence of these Muslim
slaves took place over a period of forty and sixty years
37. Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins and Joanne Eicher, "Dress and Identity," in Dress and Identity, eds.,
Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins, Joanne Eicher and Kim Johnson (New York: Fairchild, 1995) p.
13. Roach-Higgins and Eicher provide a discussion on how dress communicates positions
within social structures.
38. Williams, A Tour Through the Island, p. 83.
39. Quoted in Barbara Bush, Slave Women in Caribbean Society. 1650-1838,(Kingston: Heinemann,
The Application of a Jamaican Idiosyncrasy as a Management
Tool for Tourism
In 1998, the Jamaican Government, in response to continuous prodding
from the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, commissioned a Ten-Year
Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism Development. The draft Master Plan was
released in late 2001. The response from the JHTA was predictable and called into
question the Association's understanding of the issues facing Jamaica's tourism.
The source of the disagreement was a growth target of 5% set for the sector by the
Tourism Master Planners. The JHTA found this target "Unambitious." Yet, over
the years they have continuously complained about low occupancy levels. The
Master Planners were not short of data on which to base their predictions. A
Carrying Capacity Study prepared by Desmond Hayle & Associates, the platform
on which the locational strategy for the Master Plan was based, indicated that as of
the year 2000 there were "no external forces affecting Jamaica's tourism." Today,
the underlying issues affecting Jamaica's tourism remain the same even taking into
consideration the recent events in the source markets. The Hayle study
emphasised issues of a social, economic, environmental and physical planning
nature that were critical for the advancement of growth within the sector. The
study warned that if left unattended the industry could experience severe
disruption with long-term consequences for the entire country. This coincided
with sentiments expressed by Jean Holder, the Secretary General of the Caribbean
Tourism Organization, who in a speech in Nassau in December 2001 expressed the
view that "for the Caribbean to return to business as usual prior to September 11,
2001, was totally unacceptable."
According to Z.H. Liu in a piece entitled Tourism Development A
Systems Analysis, "it is generally held that the tourism system is composed of four
elements: the tourists of the generating regions, the transit routes, the destination
regions, and the industry- which are interwoven in function and spatial
relationships" (1994). To date very little thought along the lines expressed by Liu
has been given to Caribbean tourism. However, the Secretary General of the
Caribbean Tourism Organization put forward six challenges that face Caribbean
tourism in the future which if taken seriously may lead to structural changes in
keeping with Liu's theory. These challenges are, namely:
The reluctance of Caribbean people to accept change.
The need to create a proper understanding of the tourism
industry in either economic or social terms.
The lack of control of the Caribbean over its tourism industry.
The Marketing of the Caribbean as a single destination.
How to revitalize the Caribbean product into a fashionable,
competitive and profitable offering.
The need to make Caribbean tourism into a modem scientific
industry. (Holder, 2001)
To understand tourism is a difficult task. Many of the existing conflicts
and problems within the sector have emanated from differing understandings of
what tourism is and, therefore, what strategic interventions are necessary for
tourism to provide the revenue necessary for the economic and social benefit of a
country. This uneven platform has resulted in many untenable informal
arrangements, unfulfilled expectations and conflicts. Jean Holder illustrates the
problem this way: "tourism workers and communities do not have the same
feelings toward tourism as do the "political directorate and the tourism
professionals. Tourism is viewed by many of the people in the Caribbean as an
extension of the plantation economy." This statement reflects the negative feelings
toward this sector that have spilt over into the wider society. Hence, JHTA's
predictable response to the draft Master Plan.
This paper, therefore, seeks to examine the objectives set out in the
Ten-Year Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism Development by looking at a
metaphor that describes the Jamaican character against the backdrop of principles
of management, marketing and sustainable development. The object of the
exercise is to suggest possible methods of developing Jamaica's human resources
as a market differentiation strategy for use in the tourism sector thereby creating a
competitive advantage. This strategy, however, calls for new approaches to old
The sentiments expressed in the Carrying Capacity Study also echoed
those of a previous report by Dunn and Dunn (1994) that highlighted the plight of
some of the people who work in the Negril area, the focus of their study. They
found, for example, that 69% of the people working in the resort area of Negril
used pit latrines. It also highlighted the negative reaction of the visitors to the sight
of shacks and garbage. These data are substantiated by more recent research
documented in Tourism and People 2002 by the same authors on the perception of
tourism in the Montego Bay area. The significance of both the Carrying Capacity
study and the work carried out by Dunn and Dunn (1994) should not be dismissed
as matters pertaining to infrastructure. They speak to the broader issue of the well
being of those employed in the tourism industry and its environs.
Some of the critics of the Ten-Year Master Plan claim that the projection
of 5% growth was "unambitious." These comments portray unfamiliarity with the
underlying issues. An evaluation of the Jamaica Tourist Board statistics showed
that the 1999 occupancy rate was 57% that represented a 3% decline over the
previous year. These figures give credence to the Master Planners' suggestion of
5% growth. Total tourist arrivals in Jamaica have shown some deceleration in
growth inland-based tourism in the last few years. In 1998, Jamaica
underperformed when compared with the rest of the Caribbean region. The 1998
Jamaica Tourist Board statistics showed that the average hotel room nights sold
were 2,806,261 but the average available hotel room nights for the same period
were 4,778,945. It is clear that Jamaica is not as appealing to the marketplace as it
once was. The challenge is to find out why this is so and develop strategies to
return the industry to growth. In other words, the accommodation sector has been
unable to fill its existing room capacity and unless efforts are made to understand
why, it is reasonable to assume that a growth rate of 5% is acceptable and may
even be ambitious.
Many reasons have been put forward for the low occupancy rates. Some
of these include high crime rates in Jamaica, high prices and poor product quality
in some areas including the accommodation sub-sector. A number of studies and
data show that poor infrastructure, crime, harassment, and environmental
degradation have become an almost permanent fixture on the Jamaican tourism
landscape. The 1978 Tourism Product Development Company's Annual Report
indicated that many of these issues caused concern at that time. Twenty-four
years later, these issues are still under review. This calls into question the
strategies that have been employed in the past and supports the argument that the
sector is not fully cognizant of the real issues. The previously cited Dunn & Dunn
1994 report highlighted an even more worrying trend of visitors' reaction to
poverty and environmental degradation. Some of the visitors interviewed
indicated that they would not return to the island because of these conditions. So
there appears to be a correlation between poor social conditions and visitors'
attraction to the destination. It has been suggested that visitors feel a sense of guilt
when they visit a destination, live in luxury for a few days and then realize that the
local people live in real poverty. The end result is low occupancy. If this is in fact,
the case, it seems logical to set out on a mission to determine the root causes) of
The problems that face the Jamaican tourism sector are many and deep
rooted. Environmental degradation and poverty are but a mere manifestation of
the problem. A book entitled Why Worker's Won't Work (Carter, 1997) seems to
have located the source of the problem. It appears Jamaican tourism middle
managers in particular do not empathize with the plight of the Jamaican worker
with the result that problems outside of the work place become problems within
the work place. This impacts on service. It is not entirely the fault of the middle
managers as they have been given targets and objectives that must be met.
Additionally, some of the managers have never experienced the severe conditions
in which their workers live nor have they taken the time to find out. The latter
action is not a part of the Jamaican management culture. In some cases, those who
have experienced these conditions by virtue of their own personal experiences do
not now wish to be reminded of them nor do they wish to be associated by their
peers with this environment. This reaction is not typical to Jamaica. Many
studies on the rise of Afro-Americans speak to the same issues. However, their
respective responses of such managers have in many instances created more
problems for themselves and their own ability to succeed.
Carter's book suggests that the workers experience hardships in their
living conditions, their commute to work and in their working conditions. This is
compounded by poor interactions between the managers and the workers, which in
turn acts as a deterrent to growth in the tourism sector. This notion is further
emphasised by Hayle (2000) who suggested that if Jamaica's tourism history were
to be categorized it would fall into five areas, three of which speak to human
resource issues and organizational structure. These categories are:
1) Poor and hostile attitudes of the Jamaican people toward each other and to
a lesser extent toward visitors;
2) Lack of appreciation for Jamaican national assets and treasures;
3) Lack of understanding of the role of Government;
4) Weak institutional capacity and inappropriate organization structures;
5) Poor marketing and pricing strategies;
Using previously mentioned studies and issues as a backdrop it seems
necessary to review objectives set out in the Master Plan. The five key objectives
1. Growth based on a sustainable market position;
2. Enhancement of the visitor experience;
3. Community-based development;
4. The building of an inclusive industry;
5. Environmental Sustainability.
A glance at the objectives shows that emphasis must be placed on the
social components of the problem if the objectives are to be achieved. The success
of the Plan rests heavily on the management of Jamaica's human resources. From
all indications the Master Plan draws heavily on the principles of sustainable
development. Yet, recent studies have outlined inadequate schools, housing,
health facilities and transportation as major areas of concern for the tourism sector.
Deficiencies in these basic facilities impact heavily and directly on the local
residents of the resort areas, thus threatening the very sustainability on which the
Master Plan objectives have been premised. A contributor to the problem could
well lie in the fact that the concept of sustainable development itself is vague and
poorly understood even though it has become a "buzz word."
A 1991 Commonwealth Secretariat report, entitled Sustainable
Development: An imperative for Environmental Protection laid out six principles
for sustainable development. These are:
1. Critical environmental assets be left in tact; where there is doubt, the
precautionary principles should apply.
2. Renewable resources be used in general only to their sustainable yield
3. National accounting systems be based on a full valuation of all activities
and assets and reflect the depreciation of environmental assets
including environmental and social costs.
4. Finite natural resources in plentiful supply be exploited subject to
environmental appraisal and equity considerations, but that scarce ones
be managed and substitutes sought assiduously.
5. The relationship between a community and its environment be considered
an integral part of sustainable development.
6. Considerations of equity (within and between countries) be taken into
account in all decisions concerning environment and development.
While the Commonwealth Secretariat report speaks specifically to the
environment, the last two elements five and six are of vital interest to the tourism
sector. In reviewing numerous reports on the topics of sustainable development
and the environment, it has become clear to this author that the importance placed
on "the environment" varies depending on the country of origin of the
writer/reviewer. In other words, environment/sustainable development does not
mean the same things for someone from a developed country as it does to someone
from a developing country. In an article published in the Daily Observer of March
11, 2002, regarding which city was considered to have the best quality of life, the
researchers reviewed 39 criteria including issues ranging from politics and
economy to medical and public services, entertainment, shopping, schools,
housing and environment. In that article European cities were adjudged to offer
the best quality of life but American cities were adjudged the cleanest. For a
developing country such as Jamaica, issues of entertainment and shopping could
hardly be given serious consideration when by last reports squatting was estimated
at 600,000. Developing countries, therefore, need to define sustainable
development within their own context.
So in the case of Jamaica, environmental issues are manifestations of the
social issues that plague the country. Therefore, it seems reasonable to suggest that
Jamaica should develop its own response to the issue of sustainable development
and avoid the tendency to follow blindly the urge to tout environmental causes. A
correction of the social ills is more likely to evoke a more positive response from
a much larger constituency than issues of the environment. This is not to
downplay the importance of the environment but rather to underscore its origins in
the Jamaican context since tourism sells two types of interactions to visitors: one
with its natural resources and the other with its people. All five of the objectives
of the Master Plan are based on the development and inclusion of the Jamaican
people. Yet, both the human and natural resources are in poor condition.
Ironically, the Master Plan objectives can be reduced to two main themes:
6.1 Human resource development through tourism
6.2 Improvements to the quality of Jamaica's natural resource base.
From these two objectives will flow strategies that encompass the other
three objectives in the Draft Master Plan.
A closer look at Carter's work might help to explain some of the hurdles
facing Jamaica's tourism. For example he says: "The weight of casual
observation leads one ineluctably to the conclusion that local work organizations
are impregnated with hostilities, and that poor work attitudes and low labour
productivity have been, and continue to be, some of Jamaica's main hindrances to
economic progress and social well-being." The theoretical framework for Carter's
study postulates that it is not technology or technical ability that drives workers
nor is it management efficiencies but rather "one's own motivation." If this is so
then management must ascertain what motivates their workers. This answer may
lie in a basic management theory known as Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The
details of the theory will be discussed later in this paper.
Carter points out that workers in the tourism industry are well aware of
what needs to be done and they have the skills to perform the assigned tasks but
because they feel like "second class" citizens they have refused to cooperate or
perform. There appears to be truth to Carter's position as some studies show that
harassment and aggression toward the visitors come from "a feeling of relative
helplessness." Dunn and Dunn's (2002) recent work entitled People & Tourism
confirms this. The findings of Carter's study have a profound impact on the
tourism sector. Carter's work introduced internal factors affecting working
conditions whereas previously cited studies point to external issues affecting
Carter (1997) further suggests that much of the money spent trying to
change attitudes of the workers would best be spent correcting some of the ills
within the working environment. For example, in one section of his book he
identified ten factors responsible for low levels of motivation. Managers and
workers were asked to rank by order of priority certain moral factors that they felt
were of importance to them and in the second instance to their workers. The moral
factors were divided into two categories: one of psychological needs such as
recognition, appreciation, growth, development and participation; and the other of
hygiene such as wages, working conditions etc. Both the workers and managers
ranked the psychological needs as a high priority. However, the managers did not
appear to realize the importance of psychological needs to workers, they only
applied these needs to themselves. The managers determined that the workers
were motivated by hygiene needs. In marketing this is referred to as a "Gap." It
represents a "disconnect" between what management THINKS it is delivering
based on its workers' needs and what the workers really need. It is not surprising,
therefore, that there are problems in managing the workforce.
Carter also showed that workers have no confidence in management
based on its inability to understand that the "key determinant of one's motivational
status is the feeling that one's employer is interested in one's welfare and
happiness, both as a worker and as a person." Closer analysis of this statement
indicates the importance of the human resource element in the tourism equation.
It also indicates a failure on the part of the decision-makers within the industry to
understand the real issues affecting tourism and, explains why the JHTA sees the
projected 5% growth as unambitious. The statement that an employer is neither
interested in the welfare and/or happiness of the employee nor in him as a person
clearly illustrates issues relating to internal working conditions and issues that
affect personal lives of workers. This is precisely the point made by the Carrying
Capacity study in using social indicators as a barometer of the health of the sector
within each resort. Attention must be paid to these critical issues for it is on these
that strategic decisions must be made. Issues such as housing, schools, and
transportation, access to health care are examples of matters that affect the daily
lives of employees even though these elements are outside of the control of the
employer. It is easy to dismiss these issues as being external to tourism but they
are indeed central. However, these provide organizations such as the JHTA, as
part of the private sector, with the justification to lobby the government for
improvements in living conditions for the residents of the resort areas. Whereas
individual hotels may not have the money to be able to provide the improvements
necessary, they can use their influence to seek the necessary improvements. This
would be a clever internal marketing tool, which would cost no more than time and
A clue to understanding the Jamaican worker may lie in a lecture entitled
Ambiguity and the Search for Knowledge" (March 2000) by Professor of Social
Anthropology at the University of the West Indies, Barry Chevannes, according to
The blurred focus of the Jamaican's perception of himself
frequently invites metaphors for description. 'Every John Crow
tink him pickney white' is still among the most expressive and
has been for generations the most brutally accurate.
The quotation continues:
[E]veryone thinks what belongs to him is of the best (literally,
every John Crow thinks his child is white). (Nettleford cited in
The discussion in the lecture continued by analysing whether the term
"white" as used in this context meant that John Crow was white in status or white
in colour. This writer will not follow that line of reasoning but rather will draw
another inference from it. The underlying message in the metaphor is powerful and
has much relevance when analysed against the background of Carter's work, noted
management theories and the current social problems being experienced by
The metaphor of the John Crow and his pickney epitomizes the Jamaican
character. Regardless of perception of others, the individual Jamaican believes he,
his possessions, his ideas and solutions are always the best. This characteristic is
exhibited in many ways. The most striking example being Jamaica's entry into the
bobsleigh arena. In its initial stage, the notion of Jamaica entering a bobsleigh
competition was as ridiculous as John Crow thinking "his pickney white." To the
unfamiliar, Jamaica is a tropical country. The average temperature is 88 degrees
F. Yet, a group of Jamaicans decided that because they were good at "pushcart
derby" they would be good at bobsleighing. To further illustrate the point about
the character of the Jamaican people, a recent radio talk programme attempted to
analyse what made Jamaicans "tick". One of the discussants expressed the view
that Jamaicans think themselves better than everyone else and this attitude
manifests itself in the desire to live in large houses and drive expensive cars and
the need to be trendsetters. Another observer gave the example of the "ghetto
girls" who spend large sums of money on hairstyles and clothes in an effort to
stand out from the crowd, the idea being that since they did not have large cars and
houses like their upper and middle class compatriots, they would show their worth
in this way. The phenomenon has not confined itself to the "ghetto." In a recent
article in the Jamaican Daily Gleaner of December 2001 entitled "Why Jamaica
suffered a Financial Sector Crisis" Dr. Gladstone Bonnick, former Chairman of
FINSAC listed a number of reasons for the collapse of the Jamaican financial
sector. First on the list was "the mindset of domestic entrepreneurs: Concerning
this, Dr. Bonnick wrote:
Here are some predominant characteristics of the indigenous
entrepreneurs that were responsible for rapid expansion of the
financial sector over the last decade and a half:
Too eager to get rich
Too competitive with each other in demonstrating the trappings
of success reflected in the rush to form larger and more
The penchant to build large high-rise head office building "the
edifice complex". (Ibid)
In the same article other reasons were put forward for the demise of the
financial sector. Some of these were: management of financial institutions,
macroeconomic planning deficiencies in the regulatory environment and
deficiencies in information flows. Dr. Bonnick's analysis applies equally to the
tourism sector. This is not surprising as the cadre of persons who managed the
financial sector came from the same pool as those who manage the tourism sector.
The difference is that the latter has not yet faced the level of collapse that the
This John Crow phenomenon has positive and negative sides to it. For
example, Jamaican athletes are ranked among the best in the world and, in general,
Jamaicans refuse to take second best to anyone whether inside or outside of
Jamaica. This refusal to be second leads to constant conflicts and disagreements.
This point is very well illustrated in Why Worker's Won't Work (1997) which
concludes by listing a number of recommendations to management from the
workers. The comments of the workers are very instructive:
"Management must see workers as human beings and not just
tools of production.
Show some of the interest in us that we show for the tourist. Do
not harass us either. Treat us like working-guests we are people
"Learn to say "Good morning', "Thank You," "Please," "Miss,"
"Mr." "Mrs." Some of us are old enough to be your mothers and
fathers. It is just circumstances. We are not as rich or as
educated, but we are people too. We earn a little respect."
The workers point out that while they feel a sense of loyalty to local
managers because they are "one of us" they have come to realize that they receive
the least empathy from the local managers and are mostly likely to receive the
worst treatment from them. This is clearly a negative manifestation of the
discussion of "white" as it relates to status in the metaphor. The attitude of the
local managers translates into "I am better than you because I am a manager."
Bonnick too made reference to local management as oppose to foreigners. While
the principles of management taught both locally and overseas remain the same,
the applications, maybe because of environment, upbringing and tradition, are
different. It, therefore seems reasonable to conclude that the environment in
which managers function and their socialization into the world of work have
impacted negatively on their ability to manage effectively. Bonnick makes
reference to poor policies and control mechanisms and more particularly what he
calls "the stature needed at eye level with the moguls of the insurance industry."
This statement with minor modification can also be applied to the tourism sector.
Lack of courage is a significant factor affecting tourism in Jamaica. It
hampers growth and development in every sphere of the sector. However, for
tourism it is not the moguls that are the problem but the middle managers. This is
particularly true of those in the public agencies who are either politically aligned
or who for fear of losing their jobs lack the courage to take hard decisions that
ultimately could lead to vast improvements in people's lives. In the current
climate, these hard decisions will have to be made by the managers or the market
will make the decisions for them. Jean Holder put it bluntly when he asserted "that
the days of meet and greet tourism are over. The need for analysis based on
scientific evidence has arrived."
In a piece entitled "Community Tourism in Jamaica," Hayle (2001)
made reference to this lack of respect as an impediment to growth in the Jamaican
tourism sector. She said:
The first and most difficult constraint to overcome is the lack of
genuine acceptance of community involvement from within the
tourism sector. It is not uncommon to hear lip service being
paid within the industry to community participation but behind
closed doors hear the same individuals express the need to "find
a way to keep the visitor away from those people." "Those
people" to whom they refer hold the key to Jamaica's fortunes in
tourism. It is the natural charm and intrigue of "those people"
that have, for years, mesmerized visitors to this country. The
point is that a medium for mutual respect and trust must be
found if Jamaica is to maximize its true potential in tourism.
Respect for Jamaicans must first come from Jamaicans.
Carter, like Hayle, points out that recent events and experiences present
an opportunity for a new beginning. Indeed, it is the only beginning if the Master
Plan is to meet its objective and even more urgently for Jamaica's own survival. It
requires a shift in the Jamaican tourism paradigm. It requires a new look at
sustainable tourism. It requires policymakers and stakeholders to have a clear
understanding of the concept of national development, and the role that tourism
plays in such a process. Sustainable tourism requires a strategic approach to
managing human and financial resources to achieve a specified outcome. For
countries, the desired outcome is to raise the standard of living of their people.
Sustainable tourism therefore dictates that people must, of necessity, think
differently. This is the real challenge. How can the tourism sector overcome its
negative John Crow stance and use that same instinct to empower each and every
According to Hayle (2000) these changes can come about through
sustainable tourism that is a management process designed to bring about an
orderly and equitable distribution of wealth within a country. Hayle claimed that
the first element in the process, however, is respect: respect for self, community
and country. This means being able to respect the opinions of others and to listen
and accept their ideas. This concept is a rudimentary management tool and one
that must be practised. A major bone of contention between Jamaicans who work
in the tourism sector and those who do not, regardless of the educational level, is a
feeling by the latter that they are not welcome to enjoy the tourism plant on the
same level as a visitor "from overseas." This resentment has been building since
the early days of tourism in Jamaica. It came to a crescendo in the 1970s and then
went dormant but it is beginning to simmer again. The Jamaica Tourist Board
statistics for the first quarter of 2002 shows a decline of 11%. The need is now
urgent to consider the domestic market as a major source of revenue. However,
before that can happen some other things have to change. Some of these include a
discussion on the term "domestic tourism" which refers to both excursionists and
stay-over visitors. This willingness to accept others, their ideas and their presence
leads to greater movement of people from one community to another and
eventually gives credence to the notion of domestic tourism. To foster this
understanding, ventilation of the definition of "tourist" might also prove helpful. If
the policymakers themselves accept that domestic tourism is a lucrative market
and that Jamaicans, by definition, can be classified as tourists then public financial
resources can be allocated differently. Domestic tourism also serves to raise
self-esteem in the local population as well as to increase value for national assets
Even the process of budgetary allocation can then be approached in a
more efficient and effective way. The current approach to the budget is on a
Ministry by Ministry basis rather than on a national priority basis. The current
approach does not foster feelings of sharing or cooperation between agencies but
rather makes for contentious dealings one with the other. In fact, feeds the John
Crow mentality. For example, when a Ministry whose portfolio, on the surface is
unrelated to tourism, is asked to improve a facility for "tourism" the most frequent
soto voce response is "we don't work in tourism." If, on the other hand, the
country's priorities were based on a quality of life premise by sector with
allocations disbursed accordingly, the emphasis would be on achieving national
targets. The net results might be satisfied citizenry and by extension a satisfied
foreign visitor and increased visitor spend. (Hayle, 2000)
Maslow, a management theorist in the early 1930s, pointed out that
people have five needs that must be met. The most basic of these needs is food and
shelter. By focussing on Maslow's theory it is evident that people in general, not
just in the tourism sector, need housing, education, and access to health, transport,
and employment. If these basic needs are not satisfied it is likely to impact
negatively on job performance. This point was illustrated by the comments of the
workers interviewed by Carter. According to Maslow workers will continuously
seek to satisfy these needs at whatever expense. This phenomenon does not
exclude the workers in tourism. Another management theorist, Herzberg,
postulated that there were maintenance and motivational factors operating in one
person at the same time (Davis, 1977, p.54). These maintenance factors include
status (John Crow), interpersonal relations, job security, working conditions,
salary and personal life (Carter). In his book Human Behavior at Work, Davis
says that if Herzberg's theory were followed it would lead to the conclusion that
blue-collar workers and people in developing countries would not "designate some
maintenance factors as motivators." (Ibid, p.54) He goes further to conclude that
"management recognizes that different persons have different needs and even the
same person has different needs at different times, so motivation is contingent
upon situational conditions at a particular time and place." The issue, therefore,
appears to be how to continuously analyse internal and external conditions and
ibidd) develop appropriate management strategies to motive employees. This
seems relevant to Jamaica given both Carter's and Chevannes' writings.
Unfortunately, it appears to be a point that has eluded most Jamaican tourism
The sustainability of the tourism sector depends on the fulfillment of the
needs of the human resource component at whatever level and in whatever fashion
these needs may occur. The responsibility for such fulfillment lies not only just
with the public sector but also with the private sector. The Government in a
destination is responsible for providing the regulatory framework that leads inter
alia to the creation of adequate housing, and other social amenities for the local
population as well as enforcement of laws and regulations. The private sector on
the other hand must play a part in ensuring its own survival by creating
opportunities for raising the living standards and self-esteem of its workers and by
extension the nation while, of course, ensuring for themselves profit. This is
perfectly acceptable once it is earned in a responsible manner. For example, on a
flight from Miami to Jamaica in June, 2001, American Airlines showed an in-
flight film on a company called SAS. It is a software company whose manager felt
that he had one of two options. He could either provide the best working
conditions for his employees or he could spend his money with "headhunters"
(recruitment agencies). He chose the former and his workers spoke highly of the
company, the fact that they felt empowered to do their jobs and said they would
work no where else. Recalling Herzberg's theory, this type of approach is needed
to cater to the nature of the Jamaican worker.
A powerful but little used management tool is internal marketing. Kotler
(1996) defined internal marketing as "marketing aimed internally at the firm's
employees." This is particularly important in the hospitality and tourism industry.
It is also particularly important given the nature of Jamaican workers. Kotler
points out that employees are part of the product. In the Caribbean, some
hospitality and tourism firms are beginning to understand this concept. These are
the firms whose "bottom line" projections will exceed expectations. In a recently
concluded study on Human Resource Issues in Caribbean Tourism, (Cowell et al,
2001, p.62) the Trinidad Hilton Hotel is cited as a case in point. According to the
Human Resources Manager, "one of the key strategic objectives of the hotel is to
empower front-line Associates to see themselves as professionals who are in
business of providing service and to take pride in doing so." He goes on to say, "if
our internal customers are happy, then they will delight our external customers."
Another example is the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Jamaica that boasts, "We are ladies
and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen." It is interesting to note that both of
these properties are chain hotels and their managers are non-Caribbean people.
Richard Normann of the Service Management Group developed the term
"moments of truth." This refers to the moment when the employee and the
(external) customer make contact. This term was developed for the hospitality
industry because it was felt that this industry was unique and that its employees
were part of its product. Additionally, it was felt that the closer management came
to filling the needs of its internal customers the better chance it had of satisfying
its external customers. This is also true for the internal workings of a country. Its
people are also a part of its product. Similarly, for visitors to feel welcome and
appreciated in a country the residents of that country need to have their basic needs
satisfied. The average tourism player understands marketing to mean advertising
and promotions. That is, how many advertisements can be placed in a particular
medium or how many "fam" trips to a particular destination can be arranged in a
given period. In a recent report Reinventing Caribbean Tourism, Jean Holder
states categorically that the days of "meet and greet, cocktail party going tourism
is over." He repeated this point in his speech to the Governments. Tourism as it is
being practised in the world today calls for strategic planning at the highest and
most sophisticated level.
In today's environment, the interaction between management and staff,
staff and staff and between departments is critical to the survival of any business.
Returning to the discussion on internal marketing, it is a process that involves the
following steps. (Kotler, 2000)
1. Establishment of a service culture;
2. Development of a marketing approach to human resource management;
3. Dissemination of marketing information to employees;
4. Implementation of a reward and recognition system.
Before this discussion can proceed, some basic parameters need to be
defined.These are a definition of service culture and a definition of a marketing
approach to human resource management. A service culture according to Kotler
is a culture that "supports customer service through policies, procedures, rewards
systems and actions." Kotler goes on to say that "culture is the glue that binds the
organization together." Companies that have weak culture havefew, if any, shared
values and norms. In these organizations, employees slavishly follow rules and
regulations that do not set out to make either the employee or the customer
satisfied. Kotler makes two interesting observations:
An internal marketing programme must have commitment from
Middle managers are the barriers to most successful internal
marketing programmes because they are trained to "watch costs
and increase profits." They confuse good customer service with
Carter also made reference to the middle managers as the impediments to
productivity in the Jamaican tourism industry and Bonnick alluded to deficiencies
in this category of the management cadre of the financial sector. This raises several
questions: Are middle managers process oriented rather than performance
oriented? Are they taking national idiosyncrasies into consideration? Are they
blending the management principles that they were taught with their own cultural
experiences in an effort to get the best results possible from each employee? Or
does senior management stymie their creativity and initiative?
Creating jobs that attract the people best suited for them is the result of
using human resource management as a marketing tool. This particular
component speaks directly to the use of the John Crow mentality in the Jamaican
work place to select the best person for each job within an organization and then
give them the authority and latitude to carry out their jobs to the best of their
abilities within the scope of work. One key to success in creating a service culture
then lies in the selection process. A second is the ability of the manager to create
the shared vision. A well-defined job description, classification system and work
procedures, along with good management/work relations go a long way in
empowering staff. Orientation and continuous training are vehicles for
empowering and motivating employees. Orientation lets the new hire understand
the culture of the organization while continuous training serves not only to
enhance the value of the employee and to increase his or her self-worth but also
benefits the company by way of increased productivity. It seems that Jamaica can
benefit from using the internal marketing process.
Another important component of this strategy is the creation of team
spirit and, thus, a sense of belonging. This component not only serves to build the
organization but also serves to build the nation. In keeping with the management
theories cited, if the lower order needs of the workers have been adequately
fulfilled then workers begin to seek to fill higher order needs of self-esteem and
self-actualization. The end result is increased productivity and revenue for the
private and public sectors. This notion of team can be extended to include the
communities within which organizations are located. These communities can
become part of the tourism team. Issues of education, health, housing, recreational
spaces and justice are but a few of the likely candidates for work projects which
extend outside of the confines of an organization but which have profound
implications for the well-being and profitability of that organization.
The Ministry of Tourism and Sport is responsible for implementing the
objectives set out in the draft tourism Master Plan. To achieve success the
Ministry needs to review the objectives set by the Master Planners against the
background of worker, middle management attitudes and national culture. Having
analysed the issues, the policy making entity then needs to devise a strategy most
likely to bring it success.
* Objective one: The Growth based on a sustainable market position. This
can be achieved by raising living standards for the Jamaican people the
details of which are laid out in the Carrying Capacity Study of 2000. It can
be argued that this is a chicken and egg situation with tourism needing a
high living standard to survive but high living standards need to be provided
through tourism revenue. This leads therefore to the conclusion that some
basic investment in human, natural and physical resources must be provided
by the Government. This investment forms the base on which the private
sector can build.
* Objective two. Enhancement of the visitor experience. The visitor
experience will be enhanced once the physical product has been improved
and both the public and private sector make concerted efforts to include
Jamaicans not only as a part of the product but also as part-takers of the
product. The onus is on the private sector, in particular, to develop
acceptable management practices within their organizations to foster a
culture of empowerment and participation. Human resource development
as a differentiated marketing strategy is a winner. The result is increased
and sustained market growth and ultimately an enhanced visitor experience.
To ensure the continuance of this winning strategy appropriate regulatory,
monitoring mechanisms with provisions for analysis and feedback must be
put in place.
* Objective three: Community-based development. This objective can only
come into being if the mindset within the tourism sector changes. If this
does not occur there will be physical community-based projects but the true
spirit of community tourism, as intended by the people on the South Coast
of Jamaica when they coined the term "community tourism," will never be
achieved. The action required here is genuine public/private /community
discourse to identify community issues in order of priority and strategic
* Objective four: The building of an inclusive industry. While listed as
number four, it is actually the most important of the objectives. It is also
the only objective that will determine whether or not Jamaica regains its
position of the early 1950s as a top destination in the tourism market. The
challenges outlined for objective three also apply to this objective.
* Objective 5: Environmental Sustainability. This objective is very well
understood by the industry as a valuable marketing tool. However, its true
potential will not be realized until and workers' and residents' basic need for
food and shelter are identified as a priority within the tourism annual work
programme. This is not to suggest that the Ministry of Tourism and Sport
should build houses for every Jamaican but that it, along with its sectoral
interests, should ensure that the housing needs of the residents within the
resort areas and environs are addressed by the relevant agencies. This
should be done on a phased priority basis until adequate housing is provided
for all. Shelter was one of the areas of concern raised by Maslow. The other
area of concern was food. This speaks to public incentives and private
initiatives to create employment. The sector can seek linkages with other
sectors to stimulate growth and employment. Tourism does not have to
provide the answer to every problem but in the interest of harmonious
working relationships with its constituents it would be wise to seek
solutions to obvious problems before they manifest themselves into major
Karla Lunta, a travel writer, recently described Jamaica as "the rooster of
the Caribbean a loud and swaggering country, nattily plumed, and relentlessly
seductive." At this stage of Jamaica's tourism life cycle, to be described in such a
manner is unacceptable. There are sufficient tools, be they folklore or management
theory, that can be used to translate the five objectives of the Master Plan for
Sustainable Tourism Development into a workable plan of action. The success of
the Plan will eventually lead to a better Jamaican tourism product and by extension
a better quality of life for many Jamaicans.
The challenge thrown out to the World by the Commonwealth Secretariat
in its report was for change in lifestyles. Hamish McRae (2001) in "2020 Vision
for the Future" cited tourism and music as the areas in which Jamaica had a
comparative advantage and suggested that Jamaica should concentrate on services.
To those products identified by McRae can be added sports and entertainment.
Jamaicans have excelled in these areas. The John Crow mentality is at its best in
these areas. To use these strengthens to its competitive advantage, but Jamaica
must come to grips with managing its human resources. This problem is not
beyond Jamaicans but it requires change. Jean Holder said "the reluctance of
Caribbean people to accept change" was one of the challenges facing Caribbean
tourism. Reluctance to change is rooted in our past. Only within the last five to
ten years have the Caribbean people been forced to face the issue of change. This
has come about through the introduction of the New World trade order. The
region is still in shock. Notwithstanding the fact that most of the Caribbean has
been Independent for years, very few, if any of them, ever stopped prior to or after
Independence to question the direction which it needed to take. There is a book
"Who Moved My Cheese" which suggests that the cheese is constantly moving. So
it is for Caribbean tourism. Professor Chevannes gave us the clue; Carter the facts;
Herzberg and Maslow the theory. It is for us to put the pieces together. If
Jamaicans like to be in charge and be top dog then management must create the
climate that will allow each employee, regardless of his status, to shine. The secret
of successful management is being able to motivate staff. This calls for humility.
Can Jamaican managers suppress their own John Crow mentality in the short run
as their contribution to the development of Jamaica's tourism? The managers who
do will be startled by their own success. To use another Jamaican metaphor this
will separate"the sheep from the goat!"
Beers, Robert S. The Marketing of Jamaica as a Tourism Product, The Daily Gleaner, January 11,
Carter, Kenneth L., Why Workers Won't Work The Worker in a Developing Economy: A case study
ofJamaica, McMillan Education, London, England, 1997.
Chevannes, Barry, 'Ambiguity and the Search for Knowledge: An Open-
ended Adventure of Imagination". Kingston, Jamaica, March 2001
Commonwealth Secretariat: "Sustainable Development: an imperative for Environmental Protec-
tion", London, England. 1991.
Cowell, Noel, Crick, Ann, Freckleton Marie, Jaywardena, Chandi. "Human Resources Issues in
Caribbean Tourism", Caribbean Tourism Organization, Bridgetown, Barbados, 2001.
Dunn and Dunn, "Visitor Harassment in the Negro Areas." A study commissioned by Tourism
Action Plan Ltd., Kingston, Jamaica 1994.
Dunn and Dunn, People and Tourism, Arawak Publications, Kingston,
Davis, Keith. Human Behavior at Work, McGraw-Hill, Inc., U.S.A., 1977.
Hayle, Carolyn, "Community Tourism, en El Caribou, Tourism in the Caribbean, Plaza y Valdes,
S.A. De C.V., 2001.
Hayle, Carolyn, "Sustainable Tourism a Challenge for Jamaica, 2000", n.p..
Hayle, Desmond & Associates: "Carrying Capacity Study for Sustainable Tourism Development",
commissioned by the Commonwealth Secretariat, Kingston, Jamaica, 2000.
Holder, Jean. "Reinventing Caribbean Tourism, An Overview of Caribbean Tourism Performance,
Issues and Challenges in the 21st Century and Recommendations for Action", Barbados, 2001.
Kotler, Bowen, Machine. Marketing for Hospitality and Tourism, Prentice Hall, U.S.A. 1996.
Ministry of Tourism and Sports, "The Ten Year Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism Develop-
ment", Kingston, Jamaica, May, 2001.
McRae, Hamish, 2020 Vision for the Future, Harvard Business School Press, U.S.A. 1996.
THREE BOOK REVIEWS
Moitt B. Women and Slavery in the French Antilles, 1635-1848 Bloomington and
Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 2002xviii + 217pp. (cloth), ISBN 0-253-
Moitt offers an interesting book that provides insights into the life and
work regime of enslaved women in the French Antilles. He immediately locates
his book within the task of recovering the historically absent voices and experi-
ences of enslaved women within Caribbean historiography. A task well estab-
lished and concretized by the works of Mair, Shepherd, Bereton, Beckles et al but
which has focused mainly on the English speaking Caribbean and also on the
sugar empire. Though his analysis deliberately sets out to change the geographical
focus the main area of concern is still sugar and his conclusions are important as
they highlight the conclusion that many historians have reached on life for en-
slaved women in the British Caribbean i.e. that the level of work exploitation was
stupendous and that the practices of the white "masters" not only bordered, but
rested solidly on, an administration of evil.
Moitt prefaces his book by highlighting the problem of the relevant data
pertaining to his subject being "highly fragmented, spotty and often in poor
condition". Nevertheless this did not deter him from looking into "every nook and
cranny" and trying his best to decipher, every scrap of information that came his
way. By so doing he hoped that his book would allow "the slave women of the
French Antilles to speak for themselves" (xviii).While postmodernist writers like
Hayden White have pointed out the problems of such an enterprise, one is never-
theless persuaded that Moitt has offered some insightful glimpses into the life of
these women who, though "their lives were shaped by slavery... responded... with
vigour, fortitude, a sense of self, and a will to prevail over adversity" (ix).
In Chapter 1 he deals with "...the black woman's early presence in the
slave societies of the French Caribbean" (xvi). His purpose is to establish, for the
reader, the context in which these women came to the regions under study in his
book. From the outset, however, Moitt appears conservative in his assessment of
the conjugal relations that took place during this period. While clearly stating that
"conjugal relations between black males and white females were rare" (2) and that
the establishment of a mixed race community was due largely to white males
having sexual relations with black females, Moitt offers no real insight as to
whether these relations, from the outset, were coerced. This is a telling aspect that
must be highlighted in any work attempting to allow these women to "speak for
themselves". Nevertheless Moitt briefly traces the early origins of their presence in
the French Antilles in the early part of the seventeenth century and then in more
detail into the eighteenth century when more data becomes available. He argues
that the small influx of white males brought about by the white male engage
system (which was instituted in places like Martinique and Guadeloupe and which
lasted from the 1640s till the end of the century), did not solve the centre problem
but served more to establish in law and custom the "demonizing" of the black
Moitt's strong point is that he brings to the fore many of the burning
issues and questions that have been raised about enslaved women in the English
speaking Caribbean. However, he often leaves the reader with the same level of
expectancy that one is left with when reading the English sources. For example he
points out the issue of the use of enslaved women in stud farms (13) but ends off
by saying that this issue remains "an open question". Indeed his unwillingness to
go beyond the quantitative aspect of his material is perhaps the one drawback to an
otherwise fascinating study. Indeed statements like "...there was an acceleration
in conjugal relations between black women and white males" (15) without stating
the context under which this "acceleration" took place serves only to add to the
dehumanization of the enslaved women's (and men's) experiences. Indeed Moitt
points out, (in agreement with historians like Barbara Bush), that the exaggerated
stereotyping of the black woman's sexuality acted against her in the surviving
documents (pl6), however the argument that 6migr6s suffered social regression by
their association with these women holds very little strength in light of the
overwhelming evidence that shows both "lower" as well as "upper" class males
consorted with their enslaved women! Perhaps the main point of Moitt is that,
ultimately, as far as gender was concerned, the black woman suffered a double
burden i.e. sexual exploitation and work abuse over and above that of her male
Chapter 2 deals with changing demographic patterns and how these
affected the society. Here he attempts to analyze two issues: firstly, whether or not
the idea that enslaved female imports outnumbered males as was the trend in the
British Caribbean and, secondly, the effects that unbalanced sex ratios had on the
enslaved females. Moitt rightly begins his analysis by pointing out that the record
keeping habits of the eighteenth century slave traders were questionable and that
this 'clandestine' activity generated "huge gaps in the historical demography of
the slave trade" (20). Moitt builds on the contested analysis of historians like
Curtin, Thornton and Geggus et. al. to conclude that the pattern of male preference
for imports also held sway in the French import activities centered on Nantes.
Perhaps the more important issue for the historian would be to comment on the
actual situation in the colonies where the data shows an equilibrium or even
greater number of females existing in the colonies. Moitt again highlights the
importance of sexuality on the estate and the fact that women were often valued
for their reproductive capacity. Indeed he cites one case noted by Pdre Labat in
which enslaved women on an estate produced "... an infinite number of chil-
dren"(29) leaving the reader to speculate about the will of these human "breeders"
in the whole process. Whatever his qualitative shortcomings Moitt is able to
convincingly show that the demographic ration by the late eighteenth century and
into the nineteenth century on islands like Guadeloupe, Martinique and Saint
Domingue definitely favoured women. This favouritism worked against them as it
meant their performing the heaviest burdens on the sugar estates.
Chapter 3 naturally follows on from the point of labour established in
Chapter Two and focuses on "...an analysis of the gender basis of the allocation of
tasks while focusing on women in field labour, household production, petty trade,
and marketing"(xvii). Basically Moitt says that work for women on the French
estates followed that of their compatriots on the English islands in terms of the
harshness of centre and the unfairness and arbitrary nature of the punishments. He
points out that a patriarchal and racist plantation system meant that enslaved
women were expected, generally, to do the same tasks as men, and as was the case
they were the backbone of the sugar labour force and often formed the bulk of the
field hands in the all important first gang. Additionally, the elite positions fell
more to enslaved men than they did to women, with women being allowed more
'nurturing' supervisory positions over enslaved children or in the Great House. He
further develops this point in chapter four with his discussion of the hospitalieres.
Additionally, the women supplemented enslaved diets (the ordinaire) with their
work on the slave gardens.
Chapter 4 "discusses labour in the domestic sphere, which includes not
just cooks and household staff but doctors, nurses, midwives, seamstresses, and
slave women engaged in other pursuits" (xvii). Moitt begins with the contentious
point that women engaged in household activities had easier access to manumis-
sion. He is on surer ground however when he stated that "they were still slaves and
remained subject to the whims and caprices of their owners"(57). Perhaps the
statement should have read that they had easier access to official avenues of
manumission when in the house as, undoubtedly, the unofficial routes to manu-
mission such as marronage and hiding away in towns, no doubt offered as much,
if not more, avenues and opportunities for de facto freedom. Notwithstanding this
point, Moitt's statement needs also to take into account testimonies like that of
Mary Prince who pointed out that often, and from the enslaved perspective, life in
the Great house was far from pleasant and perhaps not worth the slim chance of an
eventual manumission. Whatever the opinion of the enslaved, the white "master"
class saw a retinue of domestics as a status marker that had to be maintained. This
accounts for the relatively large focus group of domestics that Moitt examines. He
is eager to show that the large number of domestics was a function of context, both
in terms of the small number of whites that they catered to and also in terms of the
variations between urban as opposed to rural settings (61). Additionally the
looseness of the term 'domestic' and its applicability for a wide range of functions
also serves to widen this focus group. Under the rubric of 'domestic' centre/sphere
Moitt seems to lump the hospitaliires, washerwomen, seamstresses, hucksters and
nannies of white families. While much distinction is made among the various jobs
the basic separation between 'domestic' and field 'labour' is often highlighted by
18th century planters and contemporary historians. A question may be asked
concerning the way in which the enslaved women saw this distinction as the
available evidence often showed the fluidity of 'field' and 'house' assignments
due to the sexual whims or punishment fancies of the planters. Perhaps the main
point is that both 'classes' of women were united under the degradation of the
same plantation whip.
Chapter 5 deals with "...how women functioned as mothers, wives,
concubines, and prostitutes, how they lived and died" (xvii). Here, then, Moitt's
book offers some really novel insights into the lives of enslaved women. He begins
the chapter by making an earnest effort to put forward the enslaved perspective as
it concerned marriage. The telling example of one enslaved woman who refused
marriage on the grounds that "... I am miserable enough as it is without having to
bring children into this world to be more miserable" (81) can be taken as an insight
to not only how this woman felt about marriage but also as a deeper comment on
the issue of conjugal relations for the purposes of procreation. That the example
Moitt selects concerns a black woman's rejection of a black man, is secondary to
the fact that black women in general sought to maintain control of their sexuality
during enslavement. Moitt's analysis in this regard is lacking. He focuses largely
on the legal aspects of marriage during enslavement without a focus on the
women's own perspectives on, not only marriage, but the sexual intimacies asso-
ciated with it. Indeed such exciting tidbits as that expressed by one woman that
"My body is yours, but my heart is mine" (86) is sadly not taken to its logical
historical conclusions in Moitt's chapter. Indeed this hesitancy by Moitt to clearly
state the extent of the white men's atrocities against the sexuality and body of the
enslaved woman is hinted at rather than clearly stated. For example he makes the
interesting observation that mixed-race children were usually the first offspring of
an enslaved woman or the only off-spring if only one child was birthed by the
enslaved woman (90). What he does not clearly state is the implication of rape not
only in its frequency, but also the act of the conscious and deliberate sexual abuse
of virgins, implicit by his data, and performed almost as an institutional act by the
lustful white male plantocracy. Indeed Moitt spends only a disappointing one and
a half pages of this 21 page chapter under the heading of "sexual abuse".
Chapter 6 "details the brutality, mostly physical, to which slave women
were subject by slave-owners and other plantation personnel in positions of
power" (xvii). Moitt highlights the sheer brutality and horror of the system and
points out also that the Code Noir, though having clauses for the 'proper' treat-
ment of the enslaved was largely ineffectual as the laws had to be interpreted and
applied by judges and jurors sympathetic to the cause of the white protagonists. As
he stated "... racial solidarity among whites in the French Antilles and the siege
mentality that fostered it led to rulings that almost always went against the slaves"
(116). As a result women had to rely on their own spirit of resistance which is the
purpose of chapter 7. Enslaved women resisted in much the same manner as did
their male counterparts and used their gender and job allocations to further this
theme. This was in fact the case in the British islands and historians have docu-
mented these acts under headings of "Armed resistance, marronage, poisoning
(both of themselves and their 'masters') malingering, work avoidance" and "work
stoppage" etc. The new aspect that Moitt advances (and which leaves the reader
wanting to read more), is his very small section on "women's associations" in
which he points out that women bonded together into associations and pursued
activities which often "frightened authorities"(150). Moitt must be credited for his
expansive scholarship in this regards as he clearly states the importance of literary
works (novels) as "...authentic representation of the Caribbean historical experi-
ence" (126). A perspective often overlooked by many Caribbean historians.
Chapter 8 deals with the struggles that enslaved women had to free
themselves and their loved ones, particularly their children, from the cruel hold of
enslavement. As is the general rule Moitt highlights the accepted historiographical
point that manumission often followed sexual favours. Additionally, he estab-
lishes from early in the chapter that only a small minority of individuals actually
benefited from this route to freedom. This being said he builds the case that
"...domestic slaves and concubines, whether urban or rural, were the principal
beneficiaries ofmanumission"(158). He is at pains to point out the often protracted
struggle that was associated with manumission and the fact that often the former
owners stood in the way of the enslaved seeking their freedom. Manumission thus
often relied on the industry, determination and ingenuity of the enslaved in order
to come to fruition. (This being the case even though state aid was available for
enslaved people wishing their freedom.)
The greater reliance by enslaved women in the French colonies on legal
avenues for securing their freedom is one area that Moitt invites further research.
More work also needs to be done on the interesting fact that "On many planta-
tions... slaves left without passes" and that "...the manner in which these passes
were obtained could reveal much about slave resistance" (55). Moitt fails to take
up these challenges himself and, admittedly, the scope of his book did not neces-
sitate such a venture.
This reviewer wholeheartedly agrees with Moitt's belief then, that,
"Many aspects of the experience of slave women remain deeply disturbing, espe-
cially those that involved cruelty by slave-owners meted out in a manner and on a
scale bordering on the macabre."(176). Where we differ however is Moitt's
contradictory, concluding belief that "...this study was not designed to elicit pity
or sympathy" (176). How could one not feel these emotions especially if one
wants to allow "the slave women of the French Antilles to speak for themselves"
(xviii)? Indeed the Rankean manner in which many contemporary historians
engage in the recovery of the enslaved experience borders on a disturbing trend
which perpetuates the dehumanization of the enslaved within historical accounts
of both the Anglo and Francophone Caribbean. In conclusion Moitt has presented
a book whose main strength lies in its significant contribution to an area of
Caribbean historiography (Francophone) that is now being greatly expanded.
JOHN F CAMPBELL