Slavery ended in 1838. One of the biggest negatives of such a system was racism which was found in every Caribbean society. British officials believed that people of Africans descent were inferior and what was worse perhaps these racist attitudes were after internalized by Black and Brown people that is some Africans themselves became convinced that they were inferior to Europeans. With Emancipation in 1838 slaves became free to choose the nature of their future existence. A fundamental development during the post- emancipation period was the exodus of ex slaves from the estates mostly to set themselves up as peasant proprietors.
The movement created a labor shortage which threatened the imminent collapse of the sugar industry. To avoid ruin, planters sought to introduce immigrant labour from Europe. , Africa and Asian and to effect certain technical improvements to reduce the cost of production. There were two groups that came to the Caribbean from the 1930’s onwards who did not have much difficulty into the existing society . They were the free African immigrants and Portuguese from Madeira. By far the largest group of new arrivals , however were the Indians.
Like the Portuguese they came as indentured workers to work in the sugar plantations. They soon became part of the populations of Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica, Grenada and St. Vincent. Because of their large numbers, bringing with them religions, languages and cultural practices quite different from any found in the Caribbean , they enriched but greatly complicated the society. They were neither black or white , they were not Christians and they had their own ancient culture Two other much smaller groups of immigrants were the Chinese and the Syrian/ Lebanese. Like the Indians they brought their own language and culture.
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The first group of Indian immigrants arrived in Guyana in May 1838 on board the ships Whitby and Hesperus. They were distributed among six(6) sugar estates to labour under contract for five (5) years and though their treatment were satisfactory on three (3) of the estates on the others there was ill treatment , sickness and morality. The suspicions of the anti – slavery society were immediately aroused and it secured appointment of a local Commission to investigate immigrant conditions. The enquiry led to the suspension of immigration from India for an indefinite period.
Regular Indian immigration was reopened in 1844 and in the following year two (2) shiploads reached Guyana , one shipload each went to Trinidad and Jamaica. The performance of these labourers exceeded expectations and in 1846 Jamaica requested an additional five thousand ( 5000), Trinidad four hundred (400) and Guyana ten thousand ( 10000). Indian immigration to the West Indies ceased in 1917 and until that time a total of 429,623 immigrant had entered . Many of the Indians who remained in the West Indies continued to reside on and to work for the estates.
A much smaller number worked as peasant proprietors , some cultivated their lands in sugar cane, rice, ground provisions and fruits. These Indians were able to achieve a greater economic standing and social mobility then those who remained in the estates. By definition immigrant labor was not slavery because it was entered into voluntarily. The contract gave rights to the immigrant who was paid for his labour . There was a fixed limit to the period of indentured and when it was over the immigrant was free. However, in practice immigrant labor schemes were slavery under a different name.
Although the emmigrants from India entered into the contract voluntarily, they were often deceived about the conditions they were agreeing to. In the West Indian colonies , conditions similar to those in the days of slavery still existed . They were confined to their estates. Free Indians found it advisable to carry ‘ certificates of exemption from labor’ which allowed them free movement. Indentured laborers could be fired if found off their estates. Immigrant laborers were deprived of women. The root of the problem lay in India, where women were not emancipated because of the religious and social systems.
The proportion of Indian women imported was only 3 per 100 men before the mid 1840’s 32 per 100 by 1870 and a legal minimum of 40 per 100 thereafter. Up to 1870 immigrants had to had been denied the chance to lead normal family lives. In cases where Indian immigrants were married their wives were sometimes taken away to be the mistress of the plantation owners as in the days of slavery. Immigrants were also subject to arbitrary treatment by their employers . This sometimes involved flogging and imprisonment and the immigrant dared not complain.
From 1906 to 1907 nearly 40 % of the immigrant laborers in Guyana received summons for breach of the labor laws. Between 1838 and the 1930’s wealth was mainly in the hands of very small groups in society . Nearly all of it belonged to the white upper class though by the 1930’s a significant number of colored or black or Indian businessmen and farmers had acquired money and property. As planters and businessmen whites continued to be the major group of employers in the Caribbean. The worst white employers treated their workers with contempt but the better ones showed concern for their laborers’ welfare.
For ordinary people life was always a hard struggle. Between 1838 till 1920’s the majority of the people worked for the plantations. Either as full time workers or as casual , irregular laborers during the harvest time and other busy periods. Wages for plantation workers were very low . Things had not changed much till the 1920’s. To escape low wages and seasonal employment on the estates as well as poverty on small peasant plots, thousands of West Indians left the countryside and drifted into the towns . Another way of escaping poverty and unemployment was to emigrate.
Between 1839-1921 and even later thousands of West Indians left their colony , perhaps to leave the Caribbean altogether in order to find work. This was because emigration was the only alternative to get away from poverty and not because they wanted to leave their home. In Trinidad the Indian sugar workers who lived mostly in the central and south parts of the island were in an especially desperate condition by the 1838 till the 1930’s. Most of the West Indians lacked an adequate diet. Although actual starvation was rare the diet was unbalanced.
Malnutrition affected babies and children especially . Working mothers had little chance to breast feed after the first few weeks. In turn this caused a very high rate of infant and child death. Around 1889 nearly one half of all babies in Grenada died before their first birthday . Epidemics swept the region from time to time. Thousands died of cholera between 1850-1854. To make matter worse medical care was not available to most ordinary people in this period. In Guyana out of 7324 deaths in 1871, 3378 took place without the dying person getting any medical care at all.
In Jamaica by 1898 there was only one doctor from every 19,400 Jamaicans. The woman of the peasant and laboring classes was a sturdy independent person. She worked long hours in the fields. The women both black and Indian , who worked on the estates earned their own wages and could support themselves and their children if necessary. Despite poverty and the struggle to survive and bringing up children the strength and self reliance of the women were important aspects of family and social life. Going to school was part of normal life for most children from 1838.
But a very large number did not go to school at all. In Guyana and Trinidad Indian children presented special problems . Far fewer of them attended school compared with Black children. Since Indians formed the main part of the sugar industry’s labour force in these colonies both planters and colonial governments were reluctant to spend money on educating their children. Even when in Trinidad after 1851 government ran school with no church control or influence were set up Indian parents were still afraid that their children would be badly treated .
There were also problems of language and cultural differences. As late as 1911, 97% of the Indian born children were illiterate. The Immigration of Portuguese, Chinese and East Indians to the West Indies introduced new elements of race and class into a society traditionally composed of people of European and African origin dependent for their social position on a combination of colour, wealth and education . The new immigrant groups were neither white nor black except possibly for the Portuguese and they held a balance between the two.
One of the most important legacies of slavery was a three tier social structure. Society in 1839 was divided into three major classes . These were in descending order of power and status , the white – the upper class, the colored black – middle class and the black masses – the former slaves. One of the most important variations in social structure in some colonies was the addition of a fourth group. In Trinidad and Guyana so many Indians settled that they came to form a large section of the population separated from the other three groups by culture , religion , race and legal restrictions.
After 1838 there was a gradual increase in the size of the middle group as people from the Creole masses moved into it. This process is known as social mobility. There were two main ways in which Blacks at the bottom of the society could move up . The first , through economic success either as an independent farmer or by practicing a skill eg. Carpantry, masonry or tailoring. The second , through education. The Overall Impact of Emancipation -Immigration undoubtedly helped to perpetuate the efficient use of labor.
Nevertheless in the first two or three decades immigration halted the economic decline of the colonies and brought them substantial prosperity. -The importation of immigrants stimulated the expansion of social services , especially medical facilities which were applied first to the immigrants and then extended to the population at large. -The increase in population led to the development of a larger and more efficient police force. -Immigration swelled the ranks of shopkeepers and hucksters while many more engaged in peasant farming on land acquired by grant or purchase.
In order to avoid repatriation and immigration expenses , planters and laborers made grants of land to the Indians in commutation of return passages. Indians in Guyana received free land grants of 32000 acres (1891-1912 ) ,Trinidad received 23,000 acres(1885-1895) and 31,766 acres (1902-1912) -The employment of immigrants in manual field labor opened up in a wider range of employment for resident Blacks as artisans , factory workers and policemen. -The growth of the rice industry in Guyana and Trinidad were due to the Indians. To the Indians can also be attributed the introduction of age old traditional Indian skill in irrigation into the West Indies, both in rice production and sugar industries. - The vast majority of East Indian immigrants were tied to plantation agriculture and continued to experience the low standard of living and destitution common to the West Indian working class generally. Nevertheless through industry and thrift some were able to acquire wealth which was used to educate their children in the professions of medicine, law, teaching and to become community leaders. The entry of the various immigrant groups into the West Indies led to the emergence of a plural society where the races mixed but did not combine. Friction , both latent and ,manifest existed among the different occupation groups. Example in February 1856, the notorious ‘ Angel Gabriel’ riots formed by the apocalyptic negro preacher James Orr, resulted in the widespread destruction of Portuguese shops in Guyana by negroes suffering from a sense of oppression and competition from the Portuguese businessmen.
Among the field worker also some hostility did develop since immigration had a tendency to lower wages. By and large, the governing class failed to develop measures to effect a harmonius integration of the races. Like the Negro – creole population , the immigrants who remained in the West Indies after their indentureship , realized the value of wealth and education to give them a higher status and they sought to achieve these attributes whenever possible . In terms of wealth, the Portuguese and the Chinese were more successful they set themselves up as etty shopkeepers as soon as their indenture ended . Whenever their means allowed, the Chinese , Portuguese and East Indians secured higher education for their children. The negro population sought employment mainly in teaching and in the public service. By moving to the Caribbean , Indians on average increased their living standards considerably. Indian women living overseas did have fewer children than in India, but the death rate in the Caribbean except during the early years of immigration was also considerably low , resulting in a demographic growth rate higher than in India itself.
Suicide , martial violence and return migration decreased overtime , while Indian ownership of land , savings and even physical stature increased . In reality the attraction of the earning potential of the Caribbean can be deduced from the massive influx of Asian migrants . They could have opted to go to other destinations. The Indian immigrants succeeded in transferring their two main religions, Hinduism and Islam ,to their new homes . By the 1850’s temples and mosques were being built in Trinidad and Guyana were people regularly prayed.
The Hindu pundits and Moslem imams became very influential leaders of the Indian population in these countries, for religion was their main source of pride and unity, As a result Indian in these two territories showed great resistance to the Christian churches’ to convert them. the Canadian Presbyterians had the most success ,but most Indians held on to their faiths. Some did convert, partly to gain jobs or higher social status. The religious world of the Caribbean, already complex, was enriched by the faiths brought by the immigrants from Asia.
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