Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Barbados, the African Slave Trade and the Sugar Industry Part 2
When the African slaves arrived on the island planters and their agents checked the state of their health of newly arrived Africans using the most intimate and humiliating examinations. Slave-traders would use many tricks to disguise ailments that could prevent a sale: anuses were plugged with wadding, grey hair dyed black, and palm oil rubbed into the skin to create a healthy looking shine. The healthiest people were sold
first. Others, sick, injured or old, were called ‘refuse slaves’ and could take weeks to sell. These people were auctioned, or most terrifyingly, sold in a scramble. ‘Once a signal is given (as the beat of a drum) the buyers rushed at once into the yard where the slaves are confined, and make choice of that parcel they like best.
The noise and the clamour…increase the apprehensiveness of the terrified Africans…In this manner, without scruple, are relations and friends separated, most of them never to see each other again’.
Sales were bought by the traders for goods equal to 3£ and were paid 5£ for every slave that reached Barbados alive. They were then sold to the planters for between 11 to 15 £. The punishment for killing a slave at one time was also said to have only been a 15£ fine.
Along with sale went renaming – a process designed to deny a person’s former identity and reinforce the control of his or her owner.However, Africans often managed to keep their own names as well, passing them down from generation to generation, as an assertion of their personal
identity and a link to their own culture and ancestry.
Slaves could be sold at their master’s discretion, reinforcing their status as possessions rather than as people. On arrival on the plantations enslaved Africans were subjected to a process of assimilation – theywere given less hard work as they built up their strength and acclimatised to their new way of life. Even so, 1 in 3 died within the first three years in the West Indies. It was a rule of thumb that one slave was needed for every acre of sugar cane plantation; therefore the supply of labour could only be sustained by continually capturing and transporting more people plantation owners instituted ‘breeding’ as another way to sustain the slave population
The daily existence for enslaved Africans on the plantations was hard and relentless. Plantation life combined the requirements of a rural labour force with the control of industrial workers, and the sugar mills were equivalent to the harshest factories. A daily routine would involve being woken at 4.00 am, and labouring from 6.00 in the morning until 6.00 at night; a six-day week could involve 96 hours work . The agricultural cycle provided no respite, as after harvesting there was the sugar crushing and boiling, which often necessitated working through the night before the cane juice turned sour, and then preparing the fields again. Slaves often slept where they were, too exhausted to even return to their huts.
A wise manager would train the slaves under his care to be carpenters, coopers, masons, blacksmiths and wheelwrights to replace those who died on the plantation due to premature death. Building work had to be done, buildings repaired, wheels and barrels built to transport rum and sugar. The slaves with these special skills played an invaluable part and yet were not valued.
The slaves worked year round except for Sundays, Good Friday, Christmas, Boxing Day and specially approved holidays. On a few plantations they also had Saturday afternoons off.
Plantation work was arduous from the cultivating of the crop from dawn to duck tilling the soil with hoes. then the planting of the cane, weeding and nurturing the young suckers. At Harvest time wish was once a year in Barbados. Then slaves would be sent into the fields with circular knives called sickles. They would slash off the grassy part cutting the cane low to the ground without damaging buds from which the ratoon would spring the following year.
The canes harvested were then piled int trailers which were pulled by donkeys or ox to the windmill stations. Though the factory work was not as labour intensive as the field work it called for more skill and at times could be very dangerous. When the canes arrived at the windmill stations, they were fed into rollers that were turned by the windmill to crush the cane and extract the juice. It is said the slaves kept a sharp machete near by in the event that someones had got trapped in the rollers. There was no stopping the rollers and the persons had would be amputated on the spot.
After the canes were crushed they were dried and used for fuel in the boiling process that would follow. The juice would be taken from the windmill stations to the boiling house where it was strained to remove all impurities. The juice was then passed through a series of copper pots. At the end of the process the contents of the final pot were transferred to the vat to cool. This cooling marked another stage of production and the sugar crystals emerged after a few days. The contents of the pot were then poured into vessels with perforated holes and these were placed on racks from which the molasses dripped into troughs bellow. the last thing to be produced was rum a lucrative commodity which was made from the waste matter left over from the preparation of sugar and molasses.
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