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74 4 West iNdiaN cuLtuRaL ReteNtioN aNd commuNity foRmatioN oN tHe NoRtH coast t he social and cultural values that developed among West Indians in Honduras are best examined within the context of the postemancipation experience in the British West Indies. Marked by very blurred perceptions of slavery and freedom, the apprenticeship system that preceded full emancipation did little to improve the situation of blacks in the Caribbean. In many ways an extension of slavery, the system allowed for little upward mobility of the newly freed population. The conditions prevalent in the British Caribbean during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries made migration an attractive alternative to conditions of semiservitude in the Caribbean. For instance, in British Honduras , O. Nigel Bolland maintains, the “control of labor and land were two dialectically related aspects of a changing, but persistent structure of colonial domination that continued even after the end of apprenticeship in 1838.”1 The mechanisms that maintained the power differential between whites and blacks during enslavement remained in the postemancipation era. White Belizeans monopolized land ownership, systems of labor, the police force as a means of labor control, and the use of churches, schools, and missionaries as vehicles for instilling within black Belizeans the virtues of subordination and obedience to white authority.2 In addition to the unequal distribution of power and wealth in the colony, the log wood and mahogany export industries continued to decline between 1885 and 1900, making it harder for a large segment of the population to obtain a livable wage.3 By the 1930s, the majority of black Belizeans continued to live in lamentable circumstances. Labor and living conditions were similar to what West InDIAn CUltURAl RetentIon AnD CoMMUnIty FoRMAtIon 75 they had been in the previous century. Most British Hondurans of African descent never owned land and were forced to eke out an existence as subsistence farmers on squatted land or hire out their labor once their crops failed to yield enough produce for sale or consumption.4 For almost half the population, the colony offered little opportunity for a better life. Generally, the most destitute of West Indians were more concerned with keeping their families alive and eking out an existence than with risking immigration to unfamiliar countries in Central America. Immigration required savings and marketable skills, two things the average West Indian did not possess. As a result, a disproportionate number of skilled artisans, mechanics, and other members of the middle class were among the first West Indians to seek opportunity abroad.5 This trend has enormous implications for understanding the history of West Indians in Honduras during the fruit company period, as this skilled group of West Indians disassociated themselves from the black masses in their home countries prior to immigration. Much like their British Honduran brethren, the Jamaicans who chose to immigrate to Honduras during this period fled the constraints of economic deprivation caused by the decreased importance of the West Indies in the international sugar trade. After emancipation, most freedmen in Jamaica had no access to land and relied solely on agricultural wages for subsistence. Thus the power base in Jamaica was located in the estates and the Jamaican Assembly’s policies of creating a landless black peasantry.6 As Dorsey Walker maintains, the population of Jamaica was not rewarded either politically or economically as a consequence of emancipation.7 According to Patrick Bryan, as early as 1846 the free trade policy that removed the protection given to British West Indian sugar aided in the declining conditions of the sugar islands.8 The shortage of vehicles to generate capital and improve production techniques meant that the daily operations of the sugar industry retained the character of pre-emancipation society. Jamaican workers, according to Thomas Holt, “were dispossessed of political defenses and were a heavily exploited group.”9 Add to this the fact that by 1910 the number of sugar estates on the island was reduced to only one-third of what they had been on the eve of emancipation, and the situation for the Jamaican worker proved dismal.10 Malnutrition and poor housing were the norm and undoubtedly were the causes of the high rate of infant mortality. As a result of the increased economic hardship, many displaced and dispossessed Jamaican workers began to seek opportuni- 76 RACe, nAtIon, AnD West InDIAn IMMIGRAtIon to HonDURAs ties abroad.11 As evidenced in an article from a New Orleans newspaper reporting on the conditions of the sugar industry in Jamaica...


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MARC Record
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