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indenturship and the caribbean

By chubbyboimarc Apr 08, 2014 1573 Words

Slavery was a system of forced labour implemented by the Europeans in the Caribbean. It was the act by which the Europeans brought Africans to the Caribbean on different ships to work on their plantations against their wills. It started in the 1600’s, many slaves committed suicide even before they could reach to the plantations; many of them also fell sick and died. However, after many efforts to overthrow the slavery system in 1830’s the enslaved populations on the plantations were eventually freed. All the slaves knew was how to do gardening so many of the now free slaves started cultivations of their own land. After the enslaved populations were freed the Europeans were now faced with the problem of lack of labour. When their harvest came around there was no one to harvest it therefore there were great financial losses. The Europeans now were in need labourers and strategized to get them. By 1838 and 1835 Indian indentured labourers were brought into the Caribbean. An indentured labourer is one who works under a restrictive contract of employment for a fixed period in a foreign country in exchange for payment of passage, accommodation, and food. Indentured labour was the means by which many British people emigrated to North America during the colonial era, and in the 19th–early 20th centuries it was used to recruit Asian workers for employment elsewhere in European colonial empires. (Greenwood) Conditions for indentured workers were usually very poor. Many died during the passage, and during the term of indenture (usually between four and seven years) the worker was not allowed to change employer, although the employer could sell the remaining period of indenture, much as a slave could be sold. Indentured labour was widely used as a source of workers from India for employment on sugar plantations in the Caribbean from 1839, following the abolition of slavery. (Robottom) These labourers were to maintain and harvest crops on the plantations. Many of them came with contracts which were to ensure proper working conditions on the estates. However, due to their lack of knowledge the workers did not know that the contracts benefited the plantation owners rather than them. The labourers were only allowed one year contracts by the British government but in 1844 and 1863 that changed eventually it changed to five year contracts. Indentured labourers could safely be regarded as the new form of slavery because of the harsh treatment on the plantations and the way in which they were transported. On May 30th 1845, the Fath Al Razak (indentured labourers transport ship) docked in the Port of Spain harbour in Trinidad and Tobago with 225 adult passengers on board. The passengers were immigrants from India who had come to the British colony to work in the sugarcane plantations after the abolition of African slavery due to the extremely poor living conditions in India. They sailed 93- 113 days on sea during the arduous and dangerous journey that spanned 14,000 miles (36,000 km) to their destinations. The mortality rate on immigrant ships had dropped to about 5.45%. The immigrants were contracted for five to ten years to work in the sugarcane estates in a system that ended in 1917. It also docked onto Grenada, St Lucia, Jamaica and St. Vincent. This Began the East Indian presence on the sugar cane plantations in the Caribbean. The Ease Indians presence in the Caribbean had a great impact on societies and they were never the same again. (Robottom) The interest of west India encouraged the acceptance of immigrant labour but the government was challenged with pressure from the anti-slavery society. They said that immigration was just another form of slavery. The immigrants were exploited in many ways. The plantation owners usually robbed them of their wages. The minimum wages in the contracts were almost impossible to earn. Most estates contained barracks which by law had rooms no less than three meters by three and a half meters in size. This size room was said to be enough room to hold three adults or a couple and their children. Very few planters considered hygiene on their plantations. (Robottom) There were also attempts to entrap Portuguese, Asian Indians, and also Chinese even to a lesser extent French, German, Scots and English as indentured labourers. Not all indentured labourers attempts were successful. (Augier) The following are some of the people who came to the British Caribbean between the period 1838 to 1921 and some of the schemes involved. In the 1840’s, African’s, Maderians and Indians were all entering British Guiana under unlikely schemes. Individual governments had absolute control over their own immigration policies. In 1841 Madeiran immigration was reopened on an official basis yet again and massive numbers went to British Guiana until 1848 when the scheme was suspended again. It was resumed in 1850, but never again on such a large scale. The Maderian immigration into the West Indies lasted from 1835 to 1882. In this period 36 000 came: 30 000 to British Guiana, 2000 to Antigua, almost 1000 to Trinidad and only 100 to Jamaica. In 1841 the importation of Africans from Sierra Leone and the Atlantic island of St. Helena, and Africans rescued from slave ships, began. This scheme lasted from 1841 to about 1862. It was very popular at first, but declined after 1850 for two reasons: firstly, private ships were chattered in the beginning to carry the emigrants from Africa, and this made the Africans believe that it was slavery all over again. Secondly, the agents in West Africa undoubtedly entice the Africans with false promises of money and land. As soon as the news of the true conditions in the West Indies leaked back, it was hard to attract more Africans. Then in 1844 British Guiana tried to draw Chinese who had previously emigrated to Malacca, Singapore and Penang. However, these Chinese were content where they were and were reluctant to come to the West Indies. Large Scale immigration began in 1852 from the Portuguese colony of Macoa. The immigrants were convicts or prisoners of war and there were no women amongst them which had melancholic penalties for the scheme in British Guiana. Therefore in 1859 a family immigration scheme was started. (Williams) In 1838, with the flood of 396 Indians, the immense influx of Indian immigration had begun. It was immediately proclaimed an accomplishment in British Guiana, but investigations by the Anti-Slavery Society uncovered that many of the immigrants had died. Some had been flogged, mistakenly incarcerated while others had not been waged what they had been assured. Therefore, in July 1838 the Indian Government suspended emigration to the West Indies while a Commission of Enquiry made a thorough investigation into conditions in British Guiana. Immigration resumed in 1844 and lasted until 1917. Diversity can be defined as having variety or “made up of people or things that are different from each other.” (Webster) In the West Indies there is a wide diversity in societies mainly as a result of the different indentured labourers that came to the Caribbean to work. Africans were the first slaves to enter into the Caribbean; they were harshly treated but still reproduced among themselves. The white planters and clang leaders also had sex with the slaves and mixed both their races to form a new race called the mulattos. After the abolition of slavery during the phase of the indentured labourers Indians, Portuguese, Asian Indians, Chinese even to a lesser extent French, German, Scots and English came to work some of them stayed in the Caribbean and established families and communities. Many of the workers intermingled therefore forming the wide diversity of Caribbean people today. The widest bracket of diversity was the reproduction between the Africans and the Indians to form the “Dougla” race. The Caribbean today still mainly consists of Africans and east Indians. The workers stayed in the Caribbean and started families they also planted crops etc. In the Caribbean there are also diversity in the types of food, dress, music, dance, religion and also cultures due to the need for labour in the West Indies. When the indentured labourers came to the Caribbean they came along with their religious practices, their food and even some of their festivals etc. many of which we still see being celebrated and portrayed to date. Christianity is still the largest religious group in the Caribbean. The Hindu faith is one of the oldest in the world a lot of Hindus came to the Caribbean during the indentured labourers phase and we still see them in society today. Islam owes its beliefs to the prophet Mohammed of the seventh Century. Some Caribbean people still follow Islam today. (Robottom) The Chinese presence always remained very small but their festivals brought colour and sounds to the streets. The best of their festivals was the Chinese New Year with the dragon dance etc. (Claypole) If there wasn’t a need for labour then the Caribbean would not have been as diverse as it is now. The different groups or races of individuals that entered the Caribbean to work played the main role in the diversification of Caribbean societies. In conclusion the need for labour in the West Indies after the abolition of slavery was indeed the primary reason for the diversification of Caribbean societies.

Works Cited
Augier, Gordon, Hall, Reckord. "The making of the West Indies ." 1986. Claypole, John Robottom and William. Caribbean story book 2 . Longman, 1981. Greenwood, Hamber and. "Emancipation to Emigration ." n.d.

Robottom, William Claypole and John. Caribbean Story book 2. Longman group limited , 1981. Webster, Merriam-. n.d. 2014 .
Williams, Dr. Eric. The History of Trinidad and Tobago – Dr. Eric Williams. 1979.

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