Peasantry in the Caribbean dates back to 1838. Technically, peasantry is a combination of the cultivation of a variety of goods and the raising of a variety of animals on fairly small pieces of property without the aid of hired labour and largely for subsistence purposes. Brierly and Ruben (1988) describe peasants as typically economically deprived people at the lower strata off society.
Characteristics of Caribbean peasantry
• Historically existed on the crevices of society – any area where the main economic activities of the Europeans did not have control.
• Historically the peasantry existed in opposition to and in competition with the plantation despite their interdependence.
• According to Marshall, Caribbean peasantries incorporated non-agricultural activities such as fishing, shop keeping, and casual estate work.
• Caribbean peasantries have always involved the production of some goods for sale in local markets.
Types of peasant communities in the Caribbean
• European peasant communities
• Runaway slave communities – The maroons of Jamaica, Spanish Santo Domingo and Suriname for examples. (Many of these maroons traded products for weapons and or clothes.)
• Slave farms on the plantation
Significance and contribution of the peasantry to Caribbean society – “Emancipation in Action”
(Sidney Mintz and Woodville Marshall)
• Enhanced money and time management skills of slaves and later ex-slaves.
• Engendered self-reliance, planning and political awareness among ex-slaves.
• Maintaining social and economic stability in rural and non-plantation areas via attempts to build self-generating communities, villages, churches, schools etc.
• Soften the rigid class divisions that existed
• New and renewed cuisines
• Artistry and artisanship
• Slaves learnt cultivation skills and soil management.