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Respectability in the Eyes of the Colonizer Essay

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Updated: Nov 22nd, 2021

Background information

Colonialism occurs when a superior or powerful country captures a third-world country and starts to reign in that country as a subordinate; all the properties of the less powerful country are managed and controlled by the powerful country. Countries that colonize others control the labor, resources and linguistic structures of the native population. Colonialism mostly refers to the time in history from the 15th to 20th century when individuals from Europe made colonies in other countries. There are two forms of colonialism which include; settler colonialism and exploitation colonialism. Settler colonialism comprised a big number of colonists whose aim was to look for a fertile piece of land to cultivate. On the other hand, exploitation colonialism included fewer colonists who were interested mostly in getting assets to export to the metropole (Kohn, 2006, par.1).

The aim of this paper is to explore the issue of respectability of the Caribbean people in the eyes of the colonizers. The colonizers in the Caribbean territories set standards that required the colonized individuals to respect them. The respectability issues comprised of; education, skin color, marriage, class segregation and religion just to mention a few.

Economic factors of the Caribbean

Economically, the Caribbean regions rely mostly on foreign capital. Caribbean economic reliance is more amalgamated by the monoculture advancement that was started by colonialism which viewed these regions mainly as sources of raw materials that could support the growth of the industries which are in the British metropole. Therefore, sugar became the important and most profitable commodity in the entire country. Slaves in the Caribbean were employed in these sugar cane industries and the amount of money the slaves received for their labor depended largely on their behavior. Thus, if they did not conduct themselves well in the eyes of the colonizer, they would not be paid much money but if they behaved well, they received a favorable amount. The establishment of sugar mono-crop reliance can be attributed to the failure today to expand to a more varied industrial base which in one way or another could have led to a positive impact on the whole economic development. The monoculture reliance and external direction on the side of the Caribbean economy definitely brought in the establishment of the plantation economy. Through the concept of the plantation economy, the Caribbean is known since 16th century to be fundamentally absorbed in the international industrialist division of labor. This is an aspect that has left a heritage of ethnic disagreement and unstable group and underdevelopment in the Caribbean economy (Mars, 1998, p.20).

The sugar Can Alley (1983) video which has analyzed the life of the less privileged slaves and how they interact with one another and their colonizers is a good example that shows why the enslaved had no other option due to their economic hardship than to follow colonial standards. In this video, there was an island called Martinique which was once disreputably full of traded African workers who worked for little or no wages in the sugar canes plantation. This island brings out the story of a young boy who was an orphan and his personal challenges in life as well as the tales of various characters surrounding him. This young boy lived in a small house near the sugar canes plantation together with his beloved grandmother Adamantine. This video highlights some experiences or challenges faced by several people in life who lived on that island and it is clear that their economic status was not satisfactory. Therefore, the best way to earn their living was to conform or follow the colonial standards by working as slaves in the sugar plantation.

Caribbean farming system

In the Caribbean, women were also fully involved in farming or agricultural activities and they were expected to work the same as men did. Therefore, there were no different farming systems for males and for Caribbean women. Right from the beginning, the farming system required that women’s responsibilities as agricultural workers were more important than their child care, reproduction and domestic roles. The Caribbean system was the only system that did not favor man economic involvement at the cost of the women. In the slave plantation, both men and women were equally involved in agricultural work and were both uniformly oppressed. Moreover, distinct in the privileges and rights of the slaves depended on differences in employment status within the slave plantation and slave women’s place was not controlled by the men of her group. This means that the slave woman was her own provider economically and she was not protected from the cruel realities that were in the public field of work (Barrow, 1994, p.5).

Laws and Acts passed in the Caribbean

Enslavement was the first experience most of the Africans had in life in Connecticut where they were moved from their own land forcibly and the land was owned by the white colonist as their own property. The Africans were forced to work and they were dispossessed of individual independence. In the 18th century, the Africans who worked as slaves played a major part in advancing the wealth of the colonists. In addition, the colonists inscribed laws and traditions which required the slaves to adhere to obedience and respect. More laws were passed barring the slaves from running away from their owner or boss, from walking in the colony without permission, from carrying in stolen commodities, from abusing or insulting white people, from coming together at night to discuss anything and from uttering any offensive words. Any slave who contravened these roles was punished by whipping him or her. The people who were enslaved were defined as primarily distinct from white colonists in the presence of the law and bound to postpone to white colonists under most situations. The purpose of writing these laws clearly indicated that the enslaved were not to submit to the white power willingly (Barrow, 1999, p.243).

For example in the 1976’s film, ‘the Last Supper’, there is an overview of the life of the less privileged slaves and the way they interacted with the white colonizers. They had no option but to follow the colonial standards. They were considered as resources that were to be used and managed thoroughly, including inhumanity or animosity and brutality at work. In addition, women were treated brutally because many colonists claimed that many pregnancies were used as a reason for laziness which was an abuse of the plantation system. In this video, pregnant slave women who did not adhere to the set laws either died or miscarried as a result of beatings and complications which were attributed to stressful work. The above tortures made many slave women to fear reproduction. In addition, if a female slave and her unborn child could stay alive until childbirth, situations were mostly unhygienic and risky that babies could rarely survive for more than a few days after birth.

Incentives are given to enslaved women

In the early 1800s, the only sugar colony that was in the British Caribbean was Barbados, in which a growing plantation economy existed together with the naturally growing slave plantation. The demographic makeup of the slaves’ residents of creoles in the islands, their work systems and the pronatalist assessment of someone planters led to increased birth rates. However, this mutually strengthening relationship between economic growth and reproduction was changed with the eradication of slavery. This was because women who were the majority in Barbados experienced coercive pressures leading to great labor conflict and a drastic increase rate in infant mortality. After the slave women had negotiated for their freedom, a package of incentives was given to them to improve their conditions or status of childbirth, pregnancy, rearing the child and generally the family life. An example of the estate in which women benefited from these incentives was the Codrington Estates where pregnant women were supplied with fresh fish. The importance of fresh fish to pregnant women was to assist in the growth and development of the infant and it also played a major role in cognitive abilities in young children. Codrington estates were one of the estates which were selected since after work slaves both men and women would look for company and relationships with the people from the next or neighboring estates. It was then reported that the Negroes had the habit of walking away from the estates especially on Saturdays and did not come back till Monday in the morning during work time. (Barrow, 1999, p. 145-147).

Marriage in the Caribbean

Marriage can be defined as a legal agreement or civil condition, a religious ceremony and a social practice all of which are different by official jurisdiction, religious policy and culture. The laws and traditions that were written by the colonist required the slaves to be accepted in partaking in the Christian society. They had the right to take the sacraments and their marriages and family units were guarded by the custom, law and the church. However, the lack of lawful traditions on slavery permitted planters to describe slaves as chattel. Black slaves who lacked moral character did not enjoy the protection of their families by the law or custom (Fuente, 2004, par.14).

In the Caribbean, slaves could marry legally since this was one of the slave laws passed and it recognized a marriage that was performed by an Anglican minister as legitimate in law. A slave couple required a written permit from their owner or if they did not live in the sugar cane plantation, the supervisor. This and the reality that they had to be charged a small fee and go through a thorough assessment by the minister clearly explain why most of the slaves preferred formal marriage. Slaves’ marriage was encouraged in order to improve their moral character and to also get them ready for freedom. There was also the concept that marriage could lead to social advancement and domestic comfort. However, resident planters did not accept the slave marriage done formally. The only marriage that was lawful was the Anglican marriage and the slaves could participate in it. (Altink & Henrice, 2004, par.5).

Aspiration of the slaves to change the future of their children

In a nuclear family, the child has the right to be taken care of by the parents. The Caribbean’s women started resisting the culture of the Caribbean. They resisted colonialism, slavery and the system of the plantation. The system of the plantation was that both men and women should work equally (Bission, 1986, p.35).

In the Caribbean, a conflict arose between the planters and enslaved women who were fighting for their rights to work in the ‘light’ labor. For example, four women were brought before a Jamaica magistrate because of absence from work for a period of two weeks. They defended themselves by saying that they had many children and therefore they were not supposed to undertake any heavy farming work. The main issue for the four women was exemption from work for the pregnant mothers and adequate time to be allocated to the breastfeeding mothers to take care of their children. The stipendiary magistrate talked to the pregnant mothers and those who had young children but his speech did not work. After four days later, he went back and ordered four mothers with six children each and three pregnant mothers to labor as usual. Some of the women who took time off to go and breastfeed their children were punished by being jailed in the sugar cane plantation for two weeks every night. Such conflicts as to when a child needs to be weaned and how a sick child ought to be treated clearly showed that there were struggles about working hours and the family structures. These are some of the issues that made many of the Afro-Caribbean to retreat from marriage until incentives were offered to them that could favor the growth and development of the nuclear families (Bryan & Patrick, 1991, p. 96).

Barbados and Leeward

The increasing pressure to perform or to work affected all the enslaved individuals both men and women. However, there were challenges that were facing the enslaved females specifically and reproduction was the main challenge. The interesting part is that the colonial government and the planters were informed about the demographic challenges of the slaves’ territories that they greatly contributed to low birth rates and increased the infant mortality rate. Some of them accepted a wide variety of pronatalist rules with the purpose of changing the situation. These rules in some ways provided for advanced levels of healthiness rights and care in relation to the life of the family though they also contributed to rising intervention and surveillance (Paton, 2008, par.16).

In some other estates like Barbados, Leeward and Jamaica; incentives were given to women after their newborns had lived for about one month. In addition, the women were also given additional bonuses during the Christmas period. However, this was unfortunate because these incentives led to many differences either to encourage women to get more children or to the possibility of the survival of the children. To improve the fertility rate of the enslaved women, labor demands for pregnant women and women with young children were reduced. For example, in the Leeward Islands, the Slave code said that women who were five months pregnant or more could only be requested to perform light work. Almost all the women who benefited from this kind of exemption of hard work in the sugar cane plantation appreciated it. According to white colonists, it was believed that Africans had methods of forming sexual and romantic relationships which attributed to the low birth rate. Therefore, in Barbados and the Leeward Islands, only the enslaved women who had many children who were born through wedlock were entitled to the exemption from hard labor (Morrissey, 1998, p.36).

Caribbean kinship

Kinship is an important principle of individual sociality, which affects political, economical and reproductive character mostly in small-scale communities (Quinlan & Flinn, York, 2005, par.3). The Caribbean family has a characteristic of having feeble social capital and this has led to negative results for several individuals, family and communities at large. Caribbean family relationships are mostly individualized as is clearly shown by the high percentage of single parents. An example of individualism is destabilized kinship and community ties and disorderly family structure. Therefore, individualism in the Caribbean has been disadvantageous to the Caribbean society in normal community activities and larger social challenges or problems affecting both the family and community. For example families with a single parent have less income and greater occurrences of poverty compared to families with two parents. Therefore, most of these parents worked in the sugar cane plantation for long hours and had little or no time for their families (Chamberlain, 2003, p.65).


In summary, it is clear that the standards that had been set by the colonizers made the slaves naturally hate to live the same kind of life as the colonizers. However, the women who lived in the urban areas were more privileged in getting materials, comfortable living standards and higher status by having relationships with the rich white men.


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Chamberlain, M. (2003). Rethinking Caribbean families: Extending the links.

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