Slavery Scars of the Caribbean Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

" Yun's work focuses most of the attention upon Chinese workers in Cuba. She bases her writing on the primary source of testimonies, petitions and depositions by Chinese workers in Cuba, highlighting many aspects of this group's suffering that have been either ignored or unknown to date.

One aspect of Chinese and Indian slavery is for example the internal diversity within the Coolie culture, mainly, according to the author, as a result of the diversity of situations to which these slaves were subjected

. Yun also speaks about the power relations between Chinese slaves and their owners. This takes a particularly distinctive form for the Chinese, who were removed from their families and their homes with little hope of returning. This lack of hope was the basis of power for the Chinese Coolie slaves. They had little respect for their individual lives, but worked collectively when revolting against their masters. Form the slave owner point-of-view, the result of such revolts was part of the "cost of production"

In return, slave owners maintained control by dividing the revolting workforce by various means; either by physically removing the revolting few to different work stations, by execution, or subordinating them by punishment. According to Yun, the replacement of Chinese slaves was relatively easy and cheap enough to make it a viable as opposed to other means of control. The power of slaves as incurred by an individual lack of respect for their own lives was therefore effectively countermeasured by a similar lack of respect for human life by slave owners themselves. The power of the latter lay in their economic prowess and the ability to replace slaves whenever this was necessary.

B). Slavery in the Danish West Indies

Gunvor Simsonsen's writing in Skin Colour as a Tool of Regulation and Power explores the central role of skin color in the Danish West Indies. According to the article, the social status of a person was directly related to the color of his or her skin. In addition, living conditions and opportunities were also directly affected in this way. Being seen as inferior, black people were then either slaves or indentured servants. Simsonsen however emphasizes that the relationships informed by skin color should not be seen in simplistic terms. While racism is definitely an aspect of this relationship, there are also various subtle social and psychological factors that should not be overlooked when examining the relationship among the free and those living in bondage.


emphasizes that skin color in the Danish West Indies went far beyond biology in terms of perception and socialization. Indeed, the biological phenomenon became a social construct according to the perception of its importance and according to the manifestation of slavery. Indeed, slavery was the instigator of social perception as related to skin color. Hence, the author notes that skin color came to be related to status in the social construct of slavery -- black for example meant slave, while coloreds denoted freed slaves and whites denoted slave masters.

This social perception of skin color also informed the political arena in the Danish West Indies. According to Simsonsen, colonial authorities took measures assign town space according to skin color. In other words, they attempted to limit the presence of both slaves and freed slaves in the general public space

. In addition to perpetuating the oppression of slaves and freed slaves, it also limited the contact of slaves with slave masters to the context of their relationship as master and slave. This further served to maintain the acceptance of the slavery paradigm, and was another means of colonialist control. Public perception was therefore manipulated in such a way as to limit resistance against slavery, which was perceived to be the proper social construct. In short, the colonial authorities ensured, or at least attempted to insure, that slavery remained a generally accepted phenomenon in general society through regulation. The rule of law in this case was therefore a means of power for white slave owners.

C) Slavery in the French West Indies

In his article,

Savage addresses the issue of poisoning in 19th century Martinique. Here, according to historians in general, poisoning was used as a form of resistance. Savage however brings to light two additional factors to consider in terms of poisoning. The first is the fact that poisoning was often not so much an act of resistance as a derivation from boredom. Often, slaves who were treated well admitted to poisoning their masters' livestock and even children. The reason most of them cited was a lack of occupation. A further factor was that, what seemed to be poisoning at the time was in fact the manifestation of environmental factors that caused disease and death. In this way, poisoning and its suspicion was a tool of power to both slaves and their masters. Slaves who did engage in poisoning used it in resistance to slavery. White owners however were quick to suspect poisoning where other factors were in fact the culprit, and hence innocent slaves were often punished for the crime.

In order to substantiate his claims, Savage makes use of primary sources such as court records and accounts by witnesses during the time, such as Dr. Rufz de Lavison. He carefully considers the validity of these in terms of secondary sources of more recent research.

Bernard Moitt

considers the little-researched but important issue of female slaves in the French Antilles from 1635 to 1848. These slaves were extremely important, not least for the various types of oppression they had to overcome. They were not only oppressed as slaves, but also as women and as black people. Their oppression was therefore both political, social, and personal. Even so, these women showed remarkable strength in working to keep their families together. As such, they were the silent pillars, as far as they were able, of their communities.

Moitt bases his work on both archival primary and secondary sources written by French and Caribbean historians. He uses these works to fill a void in the French Caribbean historiography by addressing the issue of black women who were enslaved. This work therefore forms an important connection to other works surrounding the era.

In specific terms, Moitt notes that enslaved women in the French Caribbean, although oppressed on various levels, including the level of their own sociological world, often resisted slavery along with their men, while also using their gender to distinctively battle the phenomenon

. Women for example participated in armed revolt as well as poison, work avoidance and withdrawal.

In terms of the power relationship, slave women used both their physical strength and their gender to enhance the power of slaves to resist European oppression.

D) The Caribbean - Keith Sandiford

Keith Sandiford takes a more idealized position towards the concept of power among slaves and their owners. My means of the writings of six colonial West Indian authors, he explores the metaphor of sugar in terms of West Indian cultural desires. In this way, the author uses the economy of commodity to help the reader understand the intellectual history that underlay the brutality of slavery from the European viewpoint.

Each author that Sandiford explores uses the commodity of sugar as the focal point of his or her writing, and each uses sugar as a basis for negotiation. Each form of negotiation is interesting because it is informed by each respective author's cultural, historical, and personal background. Ligon for example writes from the viewpoint of disinherited British explorer, while Janet Shaw writes from the Scottish viewpoint as informed by the female cultural paradigm. In each case, depending upon the historical background as well as the specific area of focus, informs the reader of a particular form of negotiation that would ultimately both validate and justify slavery in the Caribbean. For these European writers, power in terms of slavery resided in the ability to negotiate ownership of the commodity sugar.


When investigating the slavery phenomenon, it is challenging not to become embroiled in issues of injustice and the emotions related to it. When considering the phenomenon from an objective viewpoint, it is interesting to note that slaves did not simply accept their circumstances or themselves as victims of their masters. Instead, investigating the ways in which power manifested itself on the part of both slaves and their owners reveals important information about not only the status of all the role players as slaves or owners, but also the inherent humanity in both sectors.

Slavery was often a struggle for power on both the part of slaves and owners. It is important and relevant for society today that the various forms that power took during the colonialist period in the Caribbean be investigated.


Brown, Vincent. The Reaper's Garden: death and power in the world of Atlantic slavery. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.

Burnard, Trevor G. Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the…

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