Sugar in the Caribbean Essay Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1852 Words
Date:  2022-05-17


Sugar is a commodity that has many applications in the society. Cane growing and sugar production is an activity that began many years ago. Before sugar was introduced to the Caribbean, it had already thrived in other places. The origins of sugar can be traced back to the islands of Papua New Guinea, where residents planted it and chewed its husks for energy (Gibson 83). The development and the increase of trading networks in South-east Asia led to the transportation of sugarcane to other countries such as India and China. Indians used to extract the sugarcane juice and produce a popular drink that caught the eye of the Greeks. Cane was later transferred to Mesopotamia, and when the Arabs invaded Persia in the seventeenth century, they took the plant and spread it through the Mediterranean, Middle East, and the Nile Delta (Gibson 83). Additionally, when crusaders from Europe came across cane, they carried back the plant as well as processed sugar back home. Sugar became popular in the whole of Europe and was utilized by the kings and the wealthy who could purchase the commodity. The sources in the Levant that had large tracts of sugar plantations began to decline, and the plant was being tried out in other areas. The Mediterranean weather proved disastrous for sugarcane to flourish because the plant requires abundant water. Portuguese, who were strictly slave traders, would later learn about the Atlantic knowledge of sugar production and use it in a portion of South America that fell under their jurisdiction. Sugar mills began being set up in the region and grew significantly. Labor for the plantations and the mills was brought in from Africans and from the indigenous people (Gibson 85). The area began to produce large amounts of sugar that surpassed that of the Spanish islands. The French and the British dropped their tobacco business and started investigating ways of planting sugarcane and the location to plant the crop. The Dutch helped the French and the British to set up plantations in Pernambuco (Gibson 86). Individuals like James Drax from Barbados had traveled to Brazil to learn about the technology used in the plantation of sugarcane. Royalist exiles such as Richard Ligon came to Barbados and spent years in a sugar plantation farm to set up his own in Antigua. The West Indies were regarded a graveyard because Europeans could not survive the mosquito bites and yellow fever. However, they realized that the Africans were immune to yellow fever and malaria. The planters began to season African slaves to work in the plantations. Africans were brought to the islands in the Caribbean between 1650 and 1700 (Gibson 91). The Africans were being brought to Barbados, and a significant percentage of arable land in the region was transformed to the sugar plantation. The Dutch had provided appropriate funding for the processing of sugar, and this led to much extraction of sugar in the Caribbean region.

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Caribbean sugar transformed the world and amassed a significant wealth for the plantation owners. The trade was enormous and exploitative because of the cheap labor provided by the Africans. The white indentured servants were freed, and the region was left with imported Africans who offered cheap work that enabled the planters to make substantial profits. The Dutch would use earnings from the sugar plantations to buy paintings and build expensive mansions. The imported Africans were left to suffer, and the landscape in the Caribbean region was transformed significantly.

The Sugarcane Landscape and its Transformation

The commercial growing of sugarcane has been in existence since the sixteenth century. The plantation was both an agricultural and an industrial site. The buildings including mills and housing for the workers and the populations supplying the labor formed an integral part of the cultural landscape (Found and Berbes-Blazquez 165). The sugar acreages and production have been declining recently in the Caribbean. However, the remnants of the previous cultivation remain throughout the island chain. In 2008, islands such as Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Barbados, and Trinidad produced appreciable quantities of sugar (Found and Berbes-Blazquez 166). Despite the declines in production, the landscape still dominates parts of the island where sugar is produced. The post-production landscapes in the island continue to mirror times when sugarcane was cultivated. The current populations living in the island reflect social hierarchies developed because of the plantation system. The plantation system in the Caribbean landscape moved through an adaptive cycle through which the land emerged amid a variety of agricultural pursuits. The land developed slowly, consolidated different forms of capital for financing the sugarcane plantation, developed specialized features and patterns over time, diminished due to internal and external disturbances, and reorganized to new plantation systems (Found and Berbes-Blazquez 167). The different phases of the adaptive cycle have differed from one Caribbean island to another. The Caribbean sugar plantation transformed into three stages the Spanish, the classic, and the modern.

The Spanish system was concentrated in Hispaniola. Sugar was introduced in the region when the Spanish settled in 1493. The production of sugarcane peaked in 1580. However, Hispaniola was unable to compete with the exports from Brazil. The Spanish system did not adapt, and sugar production continued to decline. The sugar estates in Hispaniola were inefficient and used old technology. The sugar landscapes later devolved into cattle ranches. Sugarcane production was later extended to other parts of the Caribbean.

In 1640, another adaptive cycle, the classic plantation system began. In this period, the Dutch introduced the Brazil system of cane cultivation to the English colony of Barbados (Found and Berbes-Blazquez 170). The classic plantation system entailed the use of large tracts of land with a significant portion being dedicated to the production of sugar while the rest was allocated for pasture, woodland, and provision lands. The sugar plantations were dependent on capital investments, for instance, the powering of large mills using animal or wind power. Additionally, the plantation system was also reliant on abundant slave labor and protected markets in Europe. The efficiency of the system led to its spread to other regions such as St. Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, Montserrat, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. It later spread to Jamaica after the English took over the island. The classic plantation system was affected when slavery was abolished. The bloody revolution in St. Dominque led to the abolition of slavery and the confiscation of all plantations from the colonizers. The elimination of slavery meant the plantation owners had to undergo a significant loss despite their power of thwarting such legal actions previously through powerful lobbies.

The modern system began in the early 1800s in Cuba (Found and Berbes-Blazquez 173). The system also involved a degree of capital investment and the use of large tracts of land. A significant portion of the land was used for the production of sugar. The modern system also involved the utilization of steam power both for the operation of the sugar mill and the transportation of the sugar. The modern system enabled Cuba to become a renowned nation around the globe for its efficiency and production of sugar. The efficiency brought about by the system later spread to the Dominica Republic and Puerto Rico (Found and Berbes-Blazquez 173). Other regions in the Caribbean that utilized the old system had to update to the new system to extend their sugar production. In conclusion, the transformation of the Caribbean lands into sugar plantations represent an intense move by colonizers to concentrate on land, import labor, and import capital to produce a commodity that was sold almost abroad. The movement by the colonizers was characterized with speed and little local resistance.

Environmental Change in Barbados

In 1627, a group of English and slaves encountered an unfamiliar land. Barbados was an island covered in rich, tall rainforests. The island seemed impenetrable and composed of animals such as turtles and crabs (Cray 3). However, in less than half a century, the colonist had transformed the land to a region covered mostly with sugar plantations. The soils and the tropical climate of Barbados were ideal for the sugar plantation. The first settlers planted the crop for subsistence use. However, when several planters began experimenting the crop to be sold in England, the landscape changed. Once the settlers realized the monetary value they could gain from the cultivation and production of sugar; they began a system of large-scale farming (Cray 14). Indentured servants chopped and burned the rainforest to accommodate land for the cultivation of sugar. The quick transformation of the land was brought about by the profits of sugar production. The Barbadian sugar became an essential component of Britain's economy. Profit from sugarcane production helped England to wage successful wars against foes such as Spain and France (Cray 21).

One of the adverse consequences of the destruction of the environment was the impact on the overall health of the Islanders. The plantation environment made the island susceptible to diseases and illnesses. There was an increased prevalence of tropical diseases. The tropical illnesses had high mortality rates that made the island an undesirable dwelling place for humans. Malaria and yellow fever were the primary tropical diseases that caused death to a significant population. The increasing rates of illness and death led the planters to believe that Africans were immune to the disease than the white indentured servants. For this case, the plantation owners began relying more on African laborers, and this led to increased slavery. Equally important, diseases and slavery were not the only environmental transformations in Barbados, hunger was another consequence. The promise of high returns from sugar plantations attracted a significant number of visitors who transformed land for sugar production. The island was left with minimal space that could be utilized for the production of other crops that would sustain the whole population. Food shortages became rampant, and hunger struck the entire island. Additionally, wasteful hunting practices also took the toll. The focus of the Islanders on the cultivation and production of sugar consumed the land that could have otherwise been used for other industries. The plantation owners and slaves now began depending on imported goods. Almost every product in the island was imported from England, and this transformed Barbados into a huge center of trade for the British Empire (Cray 45).

Slavery in the Sugar Plantations

When the English settlers made permanent settlements in the Caribbean, slavery was no more in England. However, they associated the new lands with slavery, and they came accompanied by slaves. The first slaves to be brought in the Caribbean region were Amerindians, Indians, and Arawak's (Burnard 136). Africans from the west and central Africa were the last group of slaves to enter the Caribbean region. They comprised a significant number compared with the other groups. The planters required a substantial amount of labor to toil the land, plant sugarcane, and rake in the profits. The availability of tropical diseases in the Caribbean made the planters to rely on Africans who were immune to malaria and yellow fever. The farmers began to seek for slaves who could offer cheap labor in their plantations. These slaves were outsourced from Africa. Becoming a slave in the West Indies involved being sold to a merchant for a wholesale price and being kept in the...

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