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Economic situation after Emancipation Essay

The Post Emancipation period resulted in most of the ex slaves leaving the estates. Many of them set themselves up as peasant (small) farmers. This resulted in a massive labour shortage which threatened to cause the sugar industry to collapse.

The sugar industry was already in a poor state because of (1) shortage of labour and (2) sugar beet competition. To avoid total decline, planters tried to introduce immigration in the form of bringing in laborers from Europe, other Caribbean islands, Asia and other areas. They also tried to introduce technology in order to reduce the cost of sugar production. However, all of these efforts could not stop the changes from sugar monoculture (planting of one crop which was sugar cane) to agricultural diversification (planting of many crops). As a result of this, many crops were produced after emancipation e.g. banana, cocoa and arrowroot. Agricultural diversification also occurred because ex-slaves grew crops other than sugar cane. These peasant farmers grew not only food crops for eating but cash crops to sell. Peasant farming began by ex slaves but was boosted by the East Indians who came through immigration to work on plantations.

Therefore the emancipation of slaves and their exodus or mass departure from the plantations led to (1) the development of peasant farming and (2) Immigration.

Labour Problems in the Post Emancipation period

Before emancipation, all territories in the British West Indies could be classified as the same because they were all plantation economies based on slave labour. After emancipation island separatedness developed as each island began to take different turns to develop. In other words islands developed at different rates. Larger islands had greater labour problems because they had more land and larger numbers of ex slaves but few of them were willing to work on plantations after emancipation.

Let’s compare Trinidad and Jamaica after emancipation. Trinidad was considered a medium sized territory with a large population of freed persons or ex slaves. Jamaica was considered a large island with an even larger population of freed persons. The difference is that Trinidad had a similar labour problem and saw immigration as the solution to this labour shortage. Jamaica had a lot more problem and therefore an even larger labour problem but the government at the time did not want to introduce immigration to solve this problem.

Attitudes to estate/ plantation labour after emancipation

Attitudes of the ex- slaves

(1) Ex-slaves wanted to turn their backs on the plantation which they associated with slavery and cruelty. They had a desire for personal liberty and land ownership. Of the slaves who considered meaning on plantations to work, many were turned off by low wages on plantations. Those who chose to both live and work on plantations were forced to pay high rents on estate houses.

(2) Ex slaves longed to acqire an education because it would free them from bondage to the soil. Parents believed that it would have been too late for them to progress through education but not for their children.

(3) In general plantation life affected the slaves so much that slaves tried toown land of their own as a means of securing their own property. They felt hopeful that they could succeed if they had their own land because they were familiar with agriculture from working as slaves on the plantations and also there was land available for sale in some territories (e.g. estates which were deserted by owners and state land which was unused)

Attitudes of the planters or plantation owners

After emancipation, the main concern of the white planters was to ensure that they had labour for their plantations. However, some planters had abandoned their estates because they watched the exodus of ex slaves and were afraid of having to pay high wages to labourers. Most planters tried to convince ex-slaves to stay and work for pay by saying that they would provide good working and living conditions on their plantations as well as high wages but this was far from the truth. Many planters also tried to prevent freed men from getting land so that they would not be able to make a living planting crops and so they would therefore be forced to return to plantations to work. They did this by making the land too expensive or the ex slaves to buy.

What did ex slaves do to survive after emancipation?

Some remained on plantations to work for wages
Some became peasant farmers farmers and grew crops to sell
Female ex slaves would get jobs sewing, making handicraft, peddling items and shop keeping Male ex slaves would get involved in small trading, peddling and shop keeping Ex slaves would get together and combine money to buy large plots of land that were too expensive to buy individually and split the land among them.


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