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The Peasantry

Define the peasantry. Explain the reasons the ex-slaves left the plantations. Discuss the reasons for the peasantry. Examine the obstacles to the development of the peasantry. Discuss the three stages of the peasantry. Examine the economic, political and economic benefits of the peasantry to the Caribbean.

Peasant farmer in Jamaica

The name given to the group of small farmers who developed after 1838. They farmed very small pieces of land( usually under five acres) and relied mainly on their own labour and that of their families.

Reasons the ex-slaves left the plantations

Hugh Paget stated that the ex-slaves would have preferred to remain on the plantations but ejection or the fear of ejection at a short notice and the high rentals being charged for houses and provision grounds forced them to leave in search of a more secure position.

Reasons the ex-slaves left the plantations

Gisela Eisner concluded that the ex-slaves had not been assured of reasonable wages and conditions of employment. Douglas Hall concluded that practice of the planters charging high rents for houses and provision grounds and their stipulations that the ex-slaves had to work on the plantation if they lived on the plantation drove them away.

The ex-slaves were eager to leave the plantation to get as far away as possible from the place where they endured such hardship, pain and degradation.

Words of came an ex-slave

I am staying right here where mi born. I have a place to live, a piece of land to grow food, and now I am free Busha will pay me to cut cane so I can buy clothes and salt things. Besides which mi mother and mi third child are buried right here on this property and I dont want to leave.

Explain why you would persuade Kwame to leave the plantation. How did the ex-slaves acquired land to establish the peasantry.

Ways in which the peasantry became established

The ex-slaves bought Crown lands where they were offered for sale. They squatted on Crown land. They reluctantly subjected themselves to the Tenantry system in Barbados. They established free villages by working together. Individuals bought land from planters by using saved during the Apprenticeship System.

They rented or leased land from land owners. They received help from church /missionary groups e.g. the Baptists. They received help through the metayage system. They used land left by planter sponsors.

Areas where the peasantry developed.

Jamaica, the Windward Islands, Trinidad and British Guiana offered opportunities for land acquisition. In Jamaica and the Windwards the sugar industry had left undeveloped much of the mountainous interior. In Trinidad and British Guiana a small population and a young sugar industry created many opportunities for land acquisition.

Opportunities for land acquisition did not exist to the same extent in all the territories. In Barbados, St. Kitts, and Antigua- three of the older colonies- small size, a large population and a long established sugar industry left few , if any opportunities for land acquisition. Although the ex-slaves eventually ended up owning lands in these islands a true peasantry never developed.

Stages of the peasantry

Period of Establishment 1838- 1850-60 Period of Consolidation 1860-1900 Period of Saturation 1900 onwards

Period of establishment
This period was characterized by the rapid acquisition of land holdings and a corresponding increase in the number of peasants. So rapid was the increase that by 1842 officials in were reporting daily increases in acreages and numbers.

Jamaica 1838-1861
Year 1838 1841 1845 1861 Number of freeholds 2114 7919 27379 50,000

By 1842, it was estimated that Jamaica had about 200 free villages on 100000 acres for which the ex-slaves had paid 70,000 pounds.

Period of consolidation
The period of consolidation was marked by continued growth, efficiency and strength. The peasants increase in number and strength. Farm size also increased. Export agriculture becomes profitable. Peasants willing to move away from towns. East Indians join the peasantry. Governments begin to change their attitude to the peasants. More land available for farming.

In Jamaica in 1850, exports of rum, ginger coffee, and pimento earned the country approximately 1, 089, 300 pounds of which the peasants contributed 10%. By 1890, the value of cash crops increased to 2,028,300 pounds of which the peasants contributed 39%.

The period of saturation

The characteristic of this stage is the failure of the peasantry to expand at its earlier pace. There was a decline in the number of peasants. This was not uniform throughout the West Indies. In the Windward Islands the peasantry had continued to grow in Jamaica.

Peasant holdings in Jamaica

Year 1902 1930 1954 1961 under 5 acres 108,943 153,406 138761 113239 1.5 acres 5-25 25-100 acres 24,226 31,038 53,237 5,572 40,760 3,803


Reasons for the decline in the Peasantry

New employment opportunities overseas caused peasants to emigrate. The development of non-agricultural economic activities e.g.. Tourism, the bauxite industry. Shortage of fertile land for expansion. The demands for improved living standards forced many to find other alternatives ways of earning a living.

Reasons for continued growth in the windwards

Late settlement and sparse population and mountainous terrain, these islands have never possessed a plantation system which exercised full dominance over the economy and landscape. There has been no alternative economic development in these islands to compete with agriculture or to attract the peasants.

Obstacles to the development of the peasantry.

Planters tried to use high prices to intimidate the ex-slaves- increase the price of land. The used the wage /rent system- this system provided the planters with the opportunity to charge high rents for houses and provision grounds or to lower wage in lieu of charging rent. They tried to get the government not to survey Crown land. The planters got the government to pass laws which allowed for land to be sold in large parcels.

Many refused to sell land to the ex-slaves. There were laws that: Made squatting illegal Restricted emigration and vagrancy Imposed higher taxes on small acreages , houses, animals and items of mass consumption Required that all non-plantation occupations be licensed.

Limit the number of people who could buy land together. Heavy licenses were imposed on the sale of small quantities of sugar, coffee etc.

Benefits of the peasantry

Produced a great quantity of subsistence food and livestock and introduced new crops and or reintroduced old ones. This led to the diversification of the economy and the moving away from the monocultural pattern. Earned foreign exchange. Reduced the dependence on imported foods as they grew crops for the local market and their families. A complex system of direct trading and middlemen trading developed in places like Jamaica.

Led to the development of informal cooperatives. This led to the development of formal systems such as Friendly and Benefits Societies, Jamaica Agricultural Society and Peoples Cooperative Loan Bank in Jamaica.

Peasants initiated the conversion of these plantation territories into modern societies. Ina a variety of ways they attempted to build local self-generating communities. They founded villages and markets; they built churches and schools ; they clamoured for the extension of educational facilities and the improvement in communications and markets.

The peasants benefitted from their new status as they now had an alternative to full time work on the plantations.