Slavery Scars of the Caribbean Past Thesis

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Slavery

Scars of the Caribbean Past

Although abolished for what appears to be a long time, slavery is still very much an issue in the collective cultural conscience of today; whatever culture this may be. The sheer inhuman treatment and often violent reaction to such treatment during slavery still elicit considerable emotion in many hearts today. However, brutality is not the only issue that slavery brought about. Indeed, there are many complex economic, cultural, gender, and other issues that resulted from the oppressive forces as opposed to the oppressed. These complex forces -- and the various forms of power exerted both by slave owners and their slaves -- will be the focus of my study.

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Specifically, this paper will explore the historiography of slavery in the Caribbean from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth century (1624-1853). I will consider the economic basis of motivation for slavery, often taking precedence over simple humanity. I will show that economic gain was at the basis of the often cruel treatment of the slaves by Europeans. They also considered their power to lie in their economic prowess and propensity for development. Issues such as color, the medical and scientific approach, slave gender roles, slave resistance to white power, as well as social factors often informed the power relationship. For slaves, for example, power tended to exist in their cultural knowledge and their ability to live in an often hostile natural world. It was therefore a clash of two different forms of power: economic progress as opposed to native ways of living and knowing.

TOPIC: Thesis on Slavery Scars of the Caribbean Past Although Assignment

It is also interesting to note that the European drive towards economic growth resulted in oppression by means of slavery not only for Africans, but also for immigrants as well as natives throughout the world. It is for example an interesting but little-known fact that the Chinese played a significant role as slaves in the economy of the British West Indies. In addition, the oppression suffered by slaves also took the form of sexual oppression, where white slave owners often sired mixed-race children with their female slaves.

During the centuries in question, European imperialism ushered in a new era of economic growth that could only be achieved through the use slaves. Largely at the basis of this economy were the large sugar plantations and the ever-growing slave trade in the Atlantic. What Europeans at the time perhaps did not take account of is the fact that the masses will not submit to oppression indefinitely. In addition to their cultural and native propensity for survival, the slaves had an additional factor in favor of their power relative to the European economy: their numbers.

Although slavery in the early twentieth century was a subject that historians tended to steer clear of, this attitude has largely changed, and recent work has brought to light a significant body of knowledge for the enlightenment of today's scholar. Slavery in the French, Danish and British West Indies, as well as the Caribbean as a whole, will be addressed in my study. It will be seen that the governments of these countries tended to "sell their souls" as it were for economic reward, largely ignoring their own morality and sense of human decency in favor of spreading the borders of their vast empires; the slave suffered the consequences of this unabated greed and quest for power. It is however also significant that, while Europeans were cruel and greedy in their interactions with those who were their slaves, the slaves also exerted a significant amount of both influence and power on their white owners. While white slave owners exerted economic power, the power of slaves resided in the combination of their cultural values and their knowledge of their native environment and its potential dangers, along with their ability to survive.

The paper will follow an outline to address the four basic areas of study in exploring this relationship of power between slaves ant heir owners: A) Slavery in the British West Indies; B) Slavery in the Danish West Indies; and C) Slavery in the French West Indies; D) Slavery in the Caribbean.

A) Slavery in the British West Indies

In Reaper's Garden: death and power in the world of Atlantic slavery, Vincent Brown structures his arguments around the main concepts of death and power, as well as how these affect the culture of Atlantic Slavery during the 18th century. Although popularly-held concepts of slavery allocate the paradigm of power to the generally European colonist and death to the generally black or other type of ethnic slave, Brown points out that death was equally a reality for European colonists. At the same time, power was not an unknown paradigm to the once-free slave, or indeed to black slave owners. As such, the uncomfortable relationship between Jamaican slaves and their British owners is addressed in terms of the relationship between death and power, which is equally uncomfortable. Vincent Brown's thesis is then that there is an intrinsic relationship between death and power at the time, which can be addressed on the grounds of the cultures involved. It is the result of this death/power dichotomy that, although Jamaica was a fertile land filled with rich potential, what wealth it did yield came at a terrible price.

Brown also notes that the sheer numbers of slaves in Jamaica as opposed to the number of European colonists were a cause for concern. He shows that, like death, power was a movable concept, relevant to both Europeans and their African counterparts. The slaves were powerful because of their numbers, while the Europeans relied on their ranks and wealth to wield power over their slaves. Hence the sense of unease in the relationship between the British and the Jamaicans.

The concept of death also dictates the use of sources for Brown's book. Whereas it was a generally accepted fact at the time that mostly the elderly and very young children die from disease and immunity problems, Jamaica took the lives of the young, strong adults as well. Hence the preoccupation with death, and hence the author's use of an illustrated book from the late 18th century, Johnny New-come in the Island of Jamaica, as a primary source and illustration of his points.

Vincent Brown structures his arguments around the main concepts of death and power, as well as how these affect the culture of Atlantic Slavery during the 18th century. Although popularly-held concepts of slavery allocate the paradigm of power to the generally European colonist and death to the generally black or other type of ethnic slave, Brown points out that death was equally a reality for European colonists. At the same time, power was not an unknown paradigm to the once-free slave, or indeed to black slave owners. The book provides a platform to examine how death and power relate to each other and how they were often used in conjunction by both slaves and their owners.

Trevor Burnard's subject of discussion is equally brutal, and indeed somewhat more graphic than that of Brown. Also concerned with power, Burnard provides the reader with an understanding of brutality and tyranny, as well as how these were used as weapons to bend and indeed break the will of their slaves. As primary source, Burnard uses the often brutal accounts in the diary of Thomas Thistlewood, a slave owner during the early 1750s.

The brutality, as Burnard notes, is only however part of the story surrounding paradigms of power on the platform of slavery. Burnard addresses three basic premises of the relationship between black and white in Thistlewood's account. In addition to white brutality as instrument of oppression, and black resentment as countermeasure, there was also a relatively more amicable interaction between black and white. Burnard for example notes that Thistlewood, having lived within a predominantly black culture, gained much knowledge of the native food, medicine, and customs of the time.

These interactions however did little to temper the brooding violence as a result of slavery. According to the author, white slave owners were decidedly nervous around the obvious power that the black slaves had in their numbers and the solidarity of their suffering. Nicolas Lejeune's defense of his own brutality to his slaves demonstrates the general paradigm among slave owners, that slaves are unhappy and volatile, to be controlled only by a fear that is greater than their growing unhappiness.

According to Burnard, history demonstrates the validity of white concern in Jamaica -- there were many revolts and indeed near-revolts in Jamaica, of which Tackey's revolt was so well organized that it nearly ended European rule in Jamaica. Such was the power of black resentment towards their white oppressors. The power of the slave then lay in emotion, whereas the oppressive power of the European was generally economic or indeed based upon what was perceived at the time as the superiority of skin color.

It is interesting to note that the European power and economy were used not only to oppress African slaves, but also other cultures,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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