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Caribbean Studies Handout #3

Topic: Responses to oppression and development of Peasant groups in the Caribbean

Resistance Used by the Amerindians

Resistance to European colonization was due in part to the systems of production that were established in
the region. It is the view that the plantation system was so organized to keep the Amerindians and the
Africans subjected and powerless.

According to Gordon Lewis, the Tainos like the Aztecs, Mayas and Incas were determined to defend what
belonged to them. Therefore, the idea that the indigenes were a passive group of people was a myth.

The Tainos resisted oppression via open warfare with the Europeans this was first noted in 1493 when
they killed Columbus men in La Navidad in Hispaniola. They further resisted during the course of the
Spanish Encomienda system where caciques such as Guarionex of Hispaniola, Hatuey in Cuba and
Agueybana of Puerto Rico fought for the freedom of the natives.

Apart from open warfare used to resist the Europeans the Tainos resisted via running away and withdraw
from settled areas so that the Encomienda could not be enforced.

Sabotage and suicide was used


The Kalinagos engaged in open guerilla warfare with the Spaniards in the mountainous areas of the Lesser
Antilles. Their social organization permitted flexibility has they did not have a traditional noble line with
hereditary power; instead the leadership resided in the best warriors.

The Kalinagos usually retreat in the interiors from there they launched continuous raids on settlements of
the Europeans.

They formed alliance with one group of Europeans to conquer the other.

In St. Vincent they mixed with the Black Caribs after a bloody warfare with the British where they were
deported to the coast of Belize. Today these Caribs are known as the Garifuna people of Belize.

The Kalinagos were not totally subdued as they fought relentlessly to keep their territories. However, part
of their survival today is attributed to the Treaties signed with the Europeans.

A large number of them can be found in Dominica and Belize.


Passive forms of resistance used were acts of sobatage such as damaging tools and equipment and other
property belonging to the planter, malingering ( as protracting an illness or delaying or avoiding work),
deliberately misunderstanding instructions, suicide and induced abortions.

Although these acts were done because power was taken away from them it served as a means of
inspiration for the slaves that they could still control their lives. For example, the deliberate abortions and
infanticides committed denied the planters a continuous source of slaves so that the enslaved labour supply
always had to be replenished by the slave trade.

Running away was another option where most of the enslaved escaped to the mountainous regions and
established their maroon communities. These maroon communities were normally hidden and so the slaves
could ambush the Europeans easily. These communities can be found in Jamaica, Suriname, Guyana and
Hispaniola which boosted the psyche of the enslaved to fight against their oppressors.

Inspite of the brainwashing that ensued under slavery the Africans did not discontinue the practice of
their African cultures. For example, they continued to use their African languages, they told their Anansi
stories, made up songs and they performed in ways that ridiculed the white man.

Although drumming was banned in several territories, they continued this as a major part of their cultural

The Africans also used active forms of resistance which included revolts and rebellions which made the life
risky for the Europeans in the colonies. For example, an African killing a white man and the act of being
poisoned by a house slave made the whites fearful.

Some historians believed that the slave rebellions and revolutions were instrumental in the ending of the
slave trade and ultimately slavery in the colonies.

Indentured Servants

The indentured servants protested due to poor wages and working conditions in Guyana and Trinidad

While some of the indentured servants ran away or refused work, most of them established small
businesses on the side, usually market gardening and invest its proceeds in land and small scale enterprises.

Their efforts at entrepreneurship represented an extraordinary resilience amidst every kind of hardship and
so became less dependent on plantation labour for survival.

Economic independence was successful and this was due to their joint house hold structure ( two or three
generations of family living in the same household) where everyone worked in the family business.

Development of Peasant groups in the Caribbean

The peasantry may be described as that class of people who own small plots of land from which they

gained a livelihood.
Despite the fact that some planters refused to sell land to blacks, many grouped and purchased land. Others

squatted on vacant land and began farming.

The major economic activities of this group were farming, fishing, livestock production and charcoal

Many peasants were denied access to crown lands, some paid exorbitant prices for rent and taxes on land.

The importance of peasantry to the Caribbean

It reduced the dependence on imported food as they grew food crops for the local market and for their

They grew a variety of cash crops such as cocoa, nutmeg and banana, which represented a change from the
traditional mono-crop to multi- crop farming. This diversification led to a decrease in the importance of the
plantation system and enabled the former enslaved to make a vital contribution to the growth and

development of the Caribbean.

A system of direct and middlemen trading developed in places like Jamaica, where not all the peasants who
produced came to market. For example, farmers who lived in the mountainous regions traded with those on

the coast who brought such produce to the towns.

Money earned was used to expand businesses and to send their children to school.
They contributed to the economic system of the region by exporting some of their produce such as spices,

ginger, logwood, coffee, arrowroot, pimento, limejuice and coconuts.

They also developed saving societies for example, the Peoples Co-operative Loan Bank of Jamaica.
They pooled their resources to buy build schools and churches.
As a nucleus of importance, which could constitute the stability of the society, the peasants presence and
activity combined to soften the rigid divisions of race and class in the Caribbean.

1. Ashdown, Peter and Francis Humphreys. ( 1988). Caribbean Revision History for CXC. Macmillan Publishers
2. Beckford, Evol. Caribbean Studies Course Outline and Notes.
3. Beckles, Hilary and Verene Shepherd. ( 2004). Liberties Lost: Caribbean Indigenous Societies and Slave systems.
Cambridge Univesity Press.
4. Greenwood, Robert and Shirley Hamber ( 2003). Amerindians to Africans. Macmillan Publishers.
5. Mohammad, Jeniffer. (2008). CAPE Caribbean Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Macmillan Publishers.
6. _____ ( 2011) Caribbean Examination Council CAPE Caribbean Studies: Self Study Guide. Nelson Thornes
7. Shepherd, Verene. ( 2006) . Freedoms Won: Caribbean Emancipations, Ethnicities and Nationhood. Cambridge

University Press. Pg. 46.

Review Questions
1. Compare and contrast the resistant strategies used by the Amerindians, Africans and the indentured servants to
2. In what ways were the African tradition used as a form of resistance to colonial oppression?
3. What is peasantry?
4. How did peasantry contributed to the socio- economic development of Caribbean society after emancipation?
CAPE 200& 2008

1. Describe the role of peasant groups to the development of Caribbean society and culture. ( 20 marks)

2. Using examples from the Caribbean, explain how Caribbean people throughout history have responded to
oppression. (20 marks)