restricted access 5. Provenance: Creating Context in Saint Lucia

From: Creole Clay

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97 5 Provenance Creating Context in Saint Lucia All the buildings for the manufacture of sugar and the dwelling houses of the whites and the blacks, the plantations of provisions and canes, the canal, the lime kiln, the canoes, the pottery, the carts, all the machinery for the manufacture of sugar, 30 oxen, 27 mules, all the goats and sheep on the Pointe Riviere lands, 100 slaves of all ages and generally all the appurtenances of the said estate. —Inventory for the Praslin Estate, Saint Lucia (1778) Despite the number of potters working in Choiseul today, and despite the literally millions of functional pots they and their ancestors have made and sold over the past two hundred and fifty years, all mention of this occupation seems to have escaped the historical record. The turbulence of the colonial period in Saint Lucia is certainly a factor in the absence of documentation of everyday life, as local histories tend to focus on the constant battle for control of the island before 1814, its progress as a British colony after this date, and the gradual evolution of the nation state that followed. Natural and manmade disasters have also played a part, particularly the Great Fire of Castries, which burned through the night of June 19, 1948, destroyed 80 percent of the buildings in the capital city and wiped out irreplaceable archives and libraries. The fire started in a tailor’s shop on Victoria Street, where an unattended charcoal-heated iron set the wooden house on fire; hopefully there was not a coalpot involved, although coalpots and clothing irons were common companions at the time.1 These lost archives may have included some record of pottery production on the island, but the simple fact remains that the lives and occupations of the working classes in the Caribbean were rarely documented. Figure 5.1.The remains of the nineteenth-century sugar mill on the Balenbouche Estate in southern Saint Lucia.The huge iron waterwheel and cane-crushing roller system were purchased from the George Fletcher Company of Derby, England, a major supplier of industrial sugar processing equipment to the British colonies in the decades following the founding of the company in 1838. 98 Creole Clay Living memory provides a context for St. Lucian pottery over the past several generations, but substantial questions remain regarding the earlier provenance of both pots and potters. This chapter will make the attempt to broaden this context through four case studies, beginning with the historical background of the two most commonly made pots in Choiseul, the kannawi and the coalpot. In the search for ceramic heritage on the plantations of Saint Lucia, physical evidence and slave records from the Mamiku and Balenbouche Estates offer a means of exploring the intersections between people and clay in the colonial Caribbean. The omnipresence of earthenware pots, bricks, and tiles in the colonial world is undeniable. Based on the shards that litter the landscape there was no lack of ceramic activity, but there are very few records of who the makers were, where they were working, or what they actually made. Barry Higman’s research on the occupations of slaves in the British West Indian colonies identifies three slave potters in Saint Lucia in 1815, ten in Barbados in 1817, and thirteen in Trinidad in 1813; further information on these individuals, if available, would be enlightening.2 Fireresistant clay was used extensively for roofing estate houses and working buildings , and brick pavers were ideal for flooring because they were (and are) easier to clean and, unlike wood, are unaffected by warping or insect damage. On the plantations , industrial sugar wares were an entire classification of earthenware production that included cone-shaped molds for draining the molasses from wet, crystallized sugar, and their companion vessels, the vase-shaped drip jars. On estates with windmills or crushing operations separated from the boiling house, earthenware gutters often transferred the cane juice from one location to another. And, of course, the hundreds of people living and working on agricultural estates , both slaves and slave owners, needed to eat, every single day. Most foods had to be cooked in some sort of pottery vessel, and the starchy staples—yam, plantain , breadfruit, rice, and so on—needed to be boiled, often for extended periods of time. Imported cast iron cooking pots were used in the estate house kitchens, but in most West Indian colonies the only utensils commonly distributed to slaves for food preparation were knives.3 And yet plantation...


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