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Indentured Labor

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Discuss the negative and positive outcomes of introducing indentured labor between the years 1838-1921. Indentured labor can be defined as contracted workers or laborers from other countries for a specific period of time. Some are seasonal workers, whereas others would be on longer-term contracts, of a year or more. In 1838, Indentured labor was Introduced to the Caribbean as result of the lack labor In the plantation fields. Most Indentured laborers brought to the Caribbean were from India, Asia, Africa and Europe. Liberated Africans were also sent to the West Indies at the expense of the government.

Most of these workers signed contracts voluntarily, but were under the control of the plantation owners once they arrived In the Caribbean. Indenture-ship had the greatest impact in Trinidad and Guyana, where the sugar industry continued to flourish after It declined in other islands. With the exception of Halt’, Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico and Barbados, the Caribbean underwent a demographic revolution In the 1800s because of this new Immigrant labor. Indenture-ship became a major labor relations system in Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad.

As a result of the arrival of immigrant workers, the Caribbean benefitted as ell as was negatively affected. Collectively the immigrant workers from different countries had similar positive effects on the Caribbean, whereas there were different negative outcomes from the different groups. Although the importing of the indentured laborers would have eventually been profitable for Britain, the arrival of the first Aslan Immigrants to the Caribbean In 1846 caused a great toll on Britain’s economy. At this time Britain was in the process of fighting the slave trade.

In doing this, they weakened their economy seeing that it brought in an adequate income. They were forced to divert money toward fighting the slave trade and importing indentured servants, rather than appeasing former slaves. By doing this Britain greatly hindered their economic development of the colonies (Engerman S. L. , 1996). Eventually, the Introduction of Indentured labor Improved trade with British India and other nations. The Inablllty of British to submit to the will of their former slaves set back the colonial economy by a number of years. (Sewell, 1863, pp. 129-130).

To the black and white color structure were added people originating from India, China and Japan. More than half a million workers came from India and other parts of Asia to the Caribbean, settling mostly in Guyana and Trinidad, and significantly changing the populations In both these countries (La’, 1993, pp. 89-98). Both societies became multiracial, their dominant populations nearly divided between people of African and Asian descent. It not only disturbed the traditional social structure but also created the indenture forms of labor that led to large-scale migration of the Indian laborers to the plantations in the British colonies.

The interruption of the social infrastructure f the colonies due to the arrival of indentured laborers. caused segregation and discrimination between the indentured laborers and the indigenous people. There was now competition for Jobs, land and social hierarchy. This affected the development of the different colonies. Indentured labor was vital to the development and expansion of new European colonies such as Trinidad. Indentured Immigrants on arrival were assigned to the various sugar estates by the Governor, often with- out any adequate period of adjustment.

They comprised principally Indians and, to a small extent, Portuguese and Chinese. Due to the introduction of indentured labor, there was a great increase in the production of sugar by the expansion of the sugar industry (Northrup, 1995). Between 1851 and 1871, the sugar exportation industry in Trinidad for example was seen to be at its lowest at 12,899 tons exported for the year due to the shortage of labor. As the immigration of contact workers increased and became a steady source of labor, sugar production increased tremendously. It was recorded that in 1871, 93,506 tons of sugar was exported from Trinidad.

This in turn improved the economic and financial position of the Caribbean. Once again it was the islands of the Caribbean were leading the sugar industry. The phenomenon of the migration took a new turn with the migration of the professionals to the developed nations. A large proportion of the migrants were persons with professional expertise, technical qualifications or other skills perceived to be scarce, or needed in labor- importing countries that would be at the upper-end of the spectrum of incomes in India even before emigration. The health services had been improved through the construction of hospitals in the sugar estates.

The Indian mmigrants had introduced skills like tanning and goldsmith trade. They participated in public works for the construction of roads and had thus helped in initiating a modern transport system. The different Caribbean island gained different skill sets due to the introduction if indentured labor. Interestingly, planters themselves, due to their political power decisively manipulated the reconstructions of indentured laborers’ social institutions and community. Planters wielded power over a divided labor market and exploited that division through such legal mechanism as the indentured contract.

That legal document created tension that fuelled labor discontent and protest from Blacks whose bargaining power, weakened due to the reservoir of contracted labor (Speckmann, 1965, p. 302). Moreover, Blacks, being unaware of the details of the indenture contract viewed indentured laborers as a voluntary labor force that replaced them in a life of servility on the plantations (Seenarine, 1999). Planters wanting to prevent labor unity exploited and encouraged racial boundaries based on the color hierarchy that exists in Indian society.

Indentured laborers, as new arrivals coming from India, were members of a caste ociety. Upon arrival in British Guiana, indentured laborers come across Blacks and utilized the caste system of Indian society to construct Blacks and other groups as inferior. That construction of the Blacks as inferior was further encouraged by what appears to be, the refusal of the Blacks to work on plantations. When in fact, Blacks wanted to negotiate for better wage, unlike indentured laborers whose wage were determined by the plantation owners (Rodney, pp. 120-123).

In order to concretize the existing social hierarchy and labor market division, the plantation society tructured social relationships that were against indentured laborers as a group. Cultural differences included language, clothing and religion were used to further the divide between laboring and other groups. There existed a high degree of racial exclusivity in residential concentration of the population in villages, communities, and in broader geographic areas (Hintzen, 1989, pp. 4-10) . Overall we see great transformations in the cultures of the migrating populations.

The abolition of the British slave trade in 1807 signaled the end of the trade in African slaves and the eginning of the trade in Indian indentures. As such, it meant the continuous intermixing, or creolizing, of cultures that would eventually place the Caribbean in a position of cultural vulnerability. As a result of indentured labor in the Caribbean, the Indian cultural experience was brought to the ongoing process of creolization that was already influenced by the Kalinagos, the French, the Africans and the English (Seecharan, 1999-2000).

Indians in the Caribbean, despite some brave efforts, suffered the loss of the culture they brought from India, primarily through roselytizing schemes by the English Churches. For the Caribbean the constant creolization set a hindrance in the cultural aspect of the islands. One of the major negative outcomes was due to the change of the Indian immigrant lifestyle. The Indian indentured laborers, where brought from their country where their beliefs and lifestyle practices were instilled in them.

One of the most criticized aspects of indenture-ship was the alarming number of Indian wife murders in all the sugar colonies. Both in Guyana and Trinidad shortage of women was a major problem throughout the period of indenture-ship. The problem became worse when some of the European overseers and Africans who were both physically and economically stronger than Indian men tried to live with Indian women. The shortage of women created a social crisis. It led to lowering of the standard of morality in the Indian community and resulted in violent murders of unfaithful wives.

Indian men were known to commit brutal and barbaric crimes against women in fits of Jealous rage. The colonial government called on the plantation owners to keep watchful eye over workforce and to report on wives deserting their husbands for other men. Transferring husbands or imprisoning them, flogging the men, shaving the heads of women were the punitive measures, colonial administration used to try and contain the situation and, in time, polyandry, where one woman having several husbands, became an acceptable practice on the plantation.

The arrival of Portuguese indentured labor to the Caribbean had led to several financial disadvantages for the general population of the former British colonies. The Portuguese were known to run away or after their indenture- ship period was over, to stay and open small stores nd stands to sell goods. This created a conflict between the small local business owners and the Portuguese immigrants. The Local business owners saw them as a threat, seeing that they would generally sell their goods at a lower cost, leaving the local business man without his regular customers. This put a financial strain on the local business man.

Slave emancipation made the Caribbean planters the most vulnerable employers in the Atlantic world, at least in the more sparsely populated areas. The replacing of freedmen by Asian, and Indian immigrants showed a fondness for creating an conomical workforce, in spite of the fact that in hiring indentured labor from Asia, they seemed willing to engage many more laborers than were required. The extra labor was economically advantageous as the planters moved away from the system of the ‘Jobbing gangs’, composed of freedmen, who arrived irregularly and on short notice and were willing to perform only certain types of work.

Lack of personnel, abolitionist pressures from the metropolis, and the relatively easy access to land all made it impossible for the planters and the West Indian government to imitate the overnments of Western Europe in their attempts to create a labor force responsive to monetary incentives. Although the commencement of indentured labor helped the economic and financial position of the Caribbean islands, it also caused cultural and social strains.

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