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The Development of Systems of Production

A system of production refers to the ways in which an economy is organised to produce

commodities to sustain society. (Mohammed 2007). They may be as simple as those of the
Arawaks (Tainios and Kalinagos) e.g. hunting and gathering or subsistence farming. Early
systems of production:


The Spanish colonists established a new type of system based on large-scaled farming and
animal production. They needed a ready supply of labour, and the Indians as the conquered
people became the labour force. The Spaniards idea was an economy based on wealth (gold) as
a means of creating and maintaining an empire.

This system was introduced by Columbus in 1498. By this system, a Spanish colonist would be
given a number of natives to work for him. In return he was responsible for teaching them
Christian principles (Roman Catholic Faith), paying them wages and looking after them
generally. The system was legalized under Ovando (1502 -1508), and in 1509 King Ferdinand
decreed that the system should be adopted throughout the Spanish empire. It lasted until the mid
15th C. Although under this system the Indians were free, in practice they were forced to work.

Many died from over work, starvation, European diseases etc.

Encomienda was then seen as a get rich quick scheme by which gold and silver was
obtained by forced labour and sent to Spain for its enrichment.


The collapse of the encomienda system encouraged the Spanish to seek replacement labour.
Their choice was Africans. Slavery as a system of production, linked to the cultivation of sugar
and the social and economic organisation of the plantation. Slavery was an institution of
ownership of one group by another based on power. It is justified on religious or economic

Black Africans were first brought to work on the Spanish colonies. They eventually
became the sole labour force for the English French and Dutch colonies.

The Africans were an involuntary labour force.

Slavery was a total institution in that it determined all aspects of the African people, how
the plantation was organised and by extension the entire society, which formed the basis
of the Plantation society.

Attempts at dehumanizing the African slaves

Choosing Africans from different tribal groups for the plantation so that communication
and kinship ties were kept minimal.

Giving them European names and forbidding them the practice of their religions and
customs so that any form of social and family life was discouraged.

Providing harsh punishment, torture and even death to ensure the submission of the
Africans to the will of the Europeans

Ensuring further division among the slaves based on colour (lighter skinned slaves were
house slaves and not treated as harshly as the field slaves)

The stratification of society based on colour and race further dehumanize the Africans as
the very characteristics that made them Africans were the very characteristics that
identified them as the property of others.

Plantation System

The plantation was a system established by the Europeans, where different ethnic groups were
brought to live and work on the plantation far from their homelands. They were encouraged to
distrust each other and look on the European as superior. Labour was cloloured and the whites
were the owners, managers and supervisors. The Plantation System became a sophisticated
economic mechanism that dominated the culture and society of the Caribbean.

George Beckford, portrayed the Caribbean society as a plantation society, where the labour
force on the plantation were rigidly divided based on race and colour and class. Whites and
people of lighter colour were the wealthier members of the society historically and they continue
to be so, although other groups are increasingly accessing social mobility through education.

The Plantation Structure


The emancipation of slaves necessitated a replacement labour force, particularly since the ex-
slaves refused to work on the plantation. The planters in the British WI turned to the importation
of labour primarily from Asia. However, the Indian and Chinese labourers were not regarded as
chattel as the continued to practice their religion, speak their languages and maintain their
traditions. These new labourers were offered contracts of one to three years with return passage
at the end of the period or a piece of land. The indentured workers were treated as slaves.

1. They were paid extremely low wages

2. Their accommodation was very crowded and unsanitary

3. They were bound to their estates and if found too far from the estate were charged with
vagrancy, flogged and jailed

4. If they tried to run away, they were hunted down charged with breach of contract and returned
to the plantation

4. Many died from poor nutrition and the rate of suicide was high

This replacement labour force continues to influence the social and economic affairs of the
plantation system as in the time of slavery.

Responses to Oppression and Genocide

Group Type of Resistance Reasons for the Failure of

Amerindians Suicide many died from diseases, ill-
treatment and superior weapons

African slaves Passive Resistance- malingering, (go-slow), Disorganized

faking illness

Active Resistance Sabotage (damaging Spontaneous

tools), suicide, maroonage (slaves escaped to
the mountains and formed free settlements in Betrayals
was very prevalent in the larger mountainous
territories e.g. Jamaica, Belize. Whites got
reinforcement from
The Haitian revolution was the most outside
successful revolt was independence was
declared in 1804.

Economic enfranchisement

Economic enfranchisement is the condition whereby a country or nation achieves the right to
determine how it will develop its system of production (Mohammed, 2007). The downturn in
sugar prices caused the decline in the plantation economies; as a result the peasant farmers
developed alternative crops (cocoa, banana, coffee, ginger arrowroot) for export and national

The peasant system developed an economic basis for independence from the plantation and the
colonial rule by:

attempted to developed a diversified local economy

freed slaves became self-sufficient
freed slaves became independent of the plantation and low wages offered by the
plantation owners
developed an export market

Saving societies


Mohammed, J. (2007). CAPE Caribbean Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach.

Malaysia: Macmillan Publishers Limited.

Dookhan, I. (1975). A Post-Emancipation History of the West Indies. Hong Kong:

Longman Group.

Augier, A. F. & Gordon, S. C. (1979). The Making of the West Indies. Trinidad: Longman
Caribbean Ltd.

Hamber and Greenwood. Books 1& 2