Peasantry in British Guiana

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“Emancipation brought about more stagnation than freedom for the Africans in British Guiana in the 19th Century.” M.G Smith’s perspective that Emancipation “freed a race but failed to create society”1 raised much argument regarding the role and effect of emancipation on the ex-

enslaved. It is with this view that the researcher critically examined the effects of Emancipation. It was found that the Africans did not improve their living conditions after Emancipation in the 19th Century. In fact, it can be said that these Africans experienced a new form of slavery2 since they were subjected to suppressive laws and deprived of freedom in many significant areas of their lives. Most importantly, their only escape to full freedom in the post- emancipation society was through land acquisition which would foster and boost African peasantry system, and this too was made almost impossible for them. Hence, a renewed dependency on the planters and deplorable living conditions defeated the intention of total freedom from European enslavement.

1

M.G Smith’s perspective meant that Emancipation merely freed the African race from plantation slavery but yet they were exposed to a new form of slavery in society. They were exposed to the realities of a “free” life where they had to provide for themselves and unfortunately in the case of British Guiana where the stratification system was very complex, the Africans were exploited economically, politically and socially. Hence, Smith’s perspective that Emancipation only “freed a race but failed to create a society” 2

Wage labour subservience was considered the new form of slavery in the post-emancipation society.

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