Being located south of Cuba and West from Haití, Jamaica shares many of the islands in the Antilles. The Antilles is a vast territory in the Caribbean that covers the South of Mexico to the Northern Coast of Venezuela, covering an extent of around 273,000 km. The island was originally populated by Arawak natives, who were rapidly exterminated by Spanish colonials. Sharing the fate of many of their Caribbean counterparts, the Sugar Cane Industry played a big role in the need to import external labour, predominantly in the form of slave labour.
Due to its geographic position, Jamaica was exposed to attacks from the British, French and Dutch, thus expelling the Spanish colonialist. This event was particularly marked by the occupation by Oliver Cromwell (1655), which by 1670 it was officially ‘given’ to the British Crown by Spain. These two final events marked not only the end of the Spanish rule but the beginning of one of the most powerful colonies in the Caribbean.
Jamaica became the largest producer of sugar on a global scale, it even produced more sugar than Barbados. The British plantations produced around 77,000 tons of sugar a year between 1820 and 1824. This can give us an idea of the amount of slave labour used to produce such quantities of sugar. It is because of this reason that Jamaica also became one of the largest places for the slave trade in the world.
The economic system developed around the plantations, their owners and the colonial residencies managed to be so prosperous mainly because of the slave trade. Such countries benefited by the slave trade commonly produced sets of legislations that regulated and promoted punishment of enslaved African people. Legislation such as the Barbados Code of Slavery (1661), aimed to protect such enslaved people, but such documents ended up protecting the slave-owners instead. This code established that black people should be treated as chattel property, it established that black (enslaved) people should be treated as a ‘pagan, savage, servile race‘. Such a narrative, opened the door to the legal institutionalisation of slavery in the British colonies in particular Jamaica in 1664 and 1694.
|Jamaica Transatlantic |
War by Bob Marley
Inspired by the Mixtape 007 by Xaviera Simmons, we wanted to showcase the current struggle of post-colonial territories, as well as the current struggles of the diverse minority groups around the world. Xaviera made this a playlist called Revolutionary Roots, inspired by the ‘Black Male revolutionary voice’ of Jamaica and Jamaican radio of the last 60 years.
This playlist lead us to War by Bob Marley. This song is a partial transcription of the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Salassie, when he addressed the United Nations in 1963, asking then not to absolve from responsibility the oppression of his people (Ethiopia), and African countries. He highlighted the role of the countries’ greed as the base for all racial discrimination and colonialism. Below, there is the audio recording of such address.
This is such a powerful speech that resonates through history’s erased or forgotten narratives. As Mussolini forced the Italian’s tanks through Ethiopia 27 years before, Haile Selassie I was being booed at the League of Nations at Geneva. Whilst Italy was aiming to show military power, it was Abyssinia (Ethiopia), one of the few remaining independent spaces in a heavily European dominated Africa at the time. Here are the recordings of such event:
Bob Marley’s War, as well as Xaviera’s playlist, not only lets us remember all those hidden narratives not commonly shared through history books, thus making us remember that many of those old segregations are still very much alive today.
Here is the 30-second sample used for Jamaica’s interactive point.