Dr. Kwame Nantambu

Afrikan apprenticeship & East-Indian indenture
Posted: October 09, 2001
An analysis by
Dr. Kwame Nantambu

This article brakes new ground by providing primary evidence about the Afrikan experience under apprenticeship versus the East-Indian experience under indenture in TnT after the European enslavement of Afrikans was abolished in the British colonies.

Afrikan Arrival Year is 1516.

Indian Arrival Day is 3 May 1845, when "the fatal Rozack, a Muslim-owned vessel, landed 225 Indians at Nelson Island. The Indian Indentured System ended in 1917.

On the other side of the coin, Indian Arrival Day for Guyana is 5 May 1847, when "two small sailing ships, the Whitby and the Hesperus, arrived in Guyana with 400-odd immigrants from India."

"August 1, 1834 should have been a day of great rejoicing for it was the day laid down for the emancipation of African slaves in the British Caribbean. But August 1, 1834 did not mean emancipation for the African slave in the British Caribbean. Field workers had to submit to six years more working as slaves. Only instead of being called slaves, the slaves would now be called apprentices. For the house slaves, their apprenticeship was for four years."*

"A fact that cannot be denied is that in heavily populated colonies like Barbados the rigors of apprenticeship were just as cruel as what existed before under the slave system. Apprentices, who refused to work, were sent to workhouses where the punishment was the treadmill, being placed in chains, and forced to wear spiked iron collars."

"Apprenticeship was a misleading term, since it had nothing to do with training the ex-slave to adjust from a life of servitude to one of taking responsibility for themselves and their families. If anything, it was the plantocracy who were the apprentices. For the truth was that the plantocracy, after almost two centuries of brutal domination based on free slave labour, was not equipped in a commercial sense, to manage the sugar industry or any business service for that matter, in a free society."

"In fact the British Colonial Office in drafting the Emancipation Act recognised this and was guided by the Minister responsible for colonial affairs who directed that, The great problem to be solved in drawing up any plan for the Emancipation of the slaves in our Colonies, is to devise some mode of inducing the ex-slaves when relieved of the fear of the driver and his whip, to under go and carry out the regular and continuous labour, which is indispensable in carrying on the production of sugar."

"It is very clear that the British authorities feared that the ex-slaves would simply leave the slave plantation after Emancipation and the sugar producers would be ruined. As a result of this fear, all the planters assemblies, in every colony with the exception of Antigua, all passed a number of police laws to create an apprenticeship system, that forced the ex-slaves to work without payment for 40-1/2 hours a week. However, they could be paid over time when the 40-1/2 hour were exceeded. In reality, few plantation owners paid for overtime and devised all forms of excuses to rob the apprentices."

"The ex-slaves resisted this apprenticeship device and armed militias were brought in to force them to go back to the plantations. In Barbados and some of the other colonies, ex-slaves were recruited as special police constables and planters left it to them to persuade the rest of the ex-slaves to return to work. Some persuasion - the brutality to which the apprentices were exposed was merciless even though the colonial office sent out special magistrates to see that the apprentices were treated fairly. The Apprenticeship Act, which guided the judgement of magistrates, rendered them incapable of administerinefusing to work were sentenced to workhouses. Under the Emancipation Act physical punishment was forbidden on the plantations. Instead every colony was permitted to set up workhouses. The workhouses were not controlled by the special magistrates but by the parish vestries, controlled by the Church of England."

"The most usual form of punishment was the treadmill. The treadmill was an instrument of torture introduced from England. Apprentices sentenced to the workhouse, were tied to a bar hanging over a wooden cylinder with steps cut into the circumference. When the brakes were taken off, the cylinder would begin to spin and prisoners had to catch the down coming step or hang by their bodies. To avoid hanging there, the apprentices had to run quickly in order to avoid missing the coming step. The workhouse was a place of torture directed against the ex-slaves who were supposed to be free. In effect, what the ex-slaves had to endure, made a mockery of emancipation. Apprenticeship was more systematic in its cruelty than what occurred on most plantations under the plantation slave system."

"Under the Apprenticeship Act the apprentices had to work without pay on their plantation. They could not leave their plantations even in their own time. Laws were passed to prevent the free movement of apprentices in a colony. This was made possible by the many Vagrancy Acts, which made it illegal for apprentices to leave the plantation. Other laws prevented apprentices from working independently as carpenters, coopers, masons and blacksmiths. Laws also forbade apprentices from opening small retail shops and from owning fishing boats. The special magistrates had to enforce laws, which were weighted against the interest of the apprentices."

"It is on record that slavery was abolished in the British Colony on August 1, 1834. This however is very difficult to accept and history books which failed to recognise the apprenticeship period as an extension of the slave system, must be changed."

"The only redeeming feature of the apprenticeship system was that it held out some hope to an end to slavery. However, because of ill-will created by the 1834 Emancipation Act, few slaves would have had any confidence in believing that they would be granted their freedom in 1838 or 1848 for that matter."

"Moreover there were no incentives for the slaves to want to stay on the plantations so in anticipation of the ex-slaves leaving the plantations, planters turned to immigration well before 1838. With the help of the British Government a number of immigrant labourers were served from the smaller over populated Caribbean islands with an abundance of slave labour."

With the legal abolishment of slavery in 1838, labourers brought into the British Caribbean were given the status of indentured immigrants to labour under contract for a fixed period of time. The plantocracy hoped that at the end of the indentured period, the immigrants would settle in their respective colonies to which they were indentured. It was also hoped that they would raise families and provide an ongoing source of labour for the plantations."

"From the beginning, planters saw the indentured Indian labourer as competition for the ex-slaves labourers and so helped to keep wages down. Ex-slaves (Afrikans) were paid less than indentured labourers were. If the ex-slaves demanded the same equal pay as the indentured labourers (Indians), they would not be entertained. They could not strike; there were no trade unions."

"The British government was committed to helping the planters in Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad. In addition to other action taken, it gave a loan of 500,000 pounds (or about US $36.8m) these colonies. The assistance of this loan enabled Trinidad and Guyana in particular to engage in large scale Indian immigration."

Indian immigration came to an end in 1917. By that time 250,000 entered Guyana, 180,000 entered Trinidad with only 40,000 entering Jamaica, hardly any entered Barbados. Indian migrants were offered land at the end of the indenture, and assistance in bringing their families to the colony to which they were assigned."

"Immigration to the Caribbean was very attractive to East Indians for the following reasons:

The establishment of the British factory system in India had destroyed Indian domestic industries including the spinning of cloth and tens of thousands were thrown out of work.

Famine due to failing crops and high food prices.

The promise of land to farm for themselves.

The promise of higher wages in Trinidad and Guyana. In India, labourers were paid between 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 pence a day. In Trinidad they could earn 2 shillings a day and in Guyana 1 shilling and 9 pence a day.

Criminals escaping from the police and afraid of returning to the village as well as loafers, could go to the colonies."

"Immigration and in particular Indian immigration, because it was large and continuous, affected the Caribbean in many ways. The impact was most noticeable in Guyana and Trinidad as they received the largest number of immigrants.

It is a sad fact that although the Caribbean is a plural society where the races work together, they do not really mix socially. This goes for all immigrants alike, Africans, Indians, Europeans, Chinese and Portuguese. Friction, both latent and manifest, exists among the various racial groups."

"Few of the various groups seem to know their own history or the history of the other group. None of them knows about, understands, is even sympathetic to the suffering of the African, or is interested in the African experience on the slave plantations."

"The East Indian population is in the majority in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. There is no sense of awareness of the plight of the Africans in those countries. Having acquired a measure of control of the Agricultural and the private sectors, the leadership of the political directorate of the East Indian population now sees the East - Indianising of the civil service, government agencies and the small, artesian class, now dominated by Africans, to be essential goals in the government programme for equal opportunity. Africans are therefore being displaced and discarded from their positions in these areas of employment with no possibility of alternative employment."

"It must be recognised that the victory that came with Emancipation was brought on by a number of slave rebellions, across the Caribbean and the Americas. It was the African slaves that had humanised the lands of the Caribbean and Guyana. That is to say the lands were already laid out, canals and trenches were dug, the streets were laid out, all by African slaves lifting mud in millions of tonnes, cutting down trees by hand and making routes of forest land ready for development."

"It was at this point that two calamities descended upon the heads of the African ex-slave.

1. The African having been crushed by the dehumanisation process of plantation slavery was called "lazy" by the white man because he did not want to go back to the plantation. I have already given very good reasons why he did not want to back to the plantation, but because of that he was called lazy. The same lazy man who had built the plantation without being called lazy now because he does not want to stay on the plantation is called lazy."

2. "The white man used the "lazy" stereotype given to the ex-slave to commit himself to hiring indentured labour. First he tried Madeira's Portuguese who wanted to escape famine, then he tried Germans, and even today, we have a few Germans in Guyana. Then he brought in the Chinese, and lastly he brought in the East Indians."

"In every case whether they were white Portuguese or Asiatic Chinese or ultimately East Indians, they came under conditions of indenture. That is to say, they were protected legally against such things as rape, exploitation, and interference with their religion. The maintenance of their culture was legally agreed upon." "So they came with tremendous advantages which, allowed them their own family life and their own togetherness, to be protected by the conditions under which they were hired."

"Now the African slave never, never had anything like this. He came out of a situation, in which all that the indentured people had, under the law of protection had been denied him. Even his name, he could not keep and the institution called the family was forbidden to him. All was lost and even after Emancipation when Christianity, such as it was practiced, was offered to him by what was called the Roman Catholic church and its Protestant off - shoots like the Anglicans, He encountered extreme and blatant discrimination. Although all were supposed to be equal in the sight of God, black people sat at the back of the church while white people sat at the front."

"The East Indians who came, brought with them a culture, within which, before they left India, black was equated with evil. Therefore, there came with them a ready-ness to despise the black man without the black people knowing this. The Chinese and the Portuguese had their cultures protected by the law. The only people who were not protected in this dreadful cultural dichotomy were the blacks."

"Therefore, when these new people increased in numbers as the East Indians had in Guyana and Trinidad, they have the arithmetical advantage over black people under the so-called democracy of one man, one vote. They have now increased in numbers to such a point that within this last century, they are in the majority in these countries."

"We have a similar situation threatening in Guyana and Trinidad were the arithmetic of race has put East Indians in control of what is supposed to be a democracy with one man, one vote. Therefore, we now have a situation where there is no way that the black man will ever regain the political control that he has lost to the arithmetic of numbers.

Today the East Indian is boisterously condemning the blacks for the same thing as the whites used to. "He's lazy," "he doesn't want to work," "he is a thief", "he is a dog". A leading East-Indian had actually gone on television and said so. I have seen the tape. The tape is in the series called "Redemption Song" put out by the British Broadcasting Corporation. There is an episode which is called "How the East Indians came to Guyana and Trinidad" and I invite anybody to look at the episode. They will see East Indians facing the camera in Guyana and saying that these people are black dogs and that they are labourers."

"The East Indians have introduced the whole caste system where the blacks become the untouchables, and are suppressing black people by alleged democratic principles. These East Indians who have not worked for their freedom, or to build up the plantations and the canals, are now the political rulers."

"The wealth of these countries came from sugar. And it was that sugar, that wealth, which came from black backs, black sweat and black hands. When you see the monuments of Europe, people do not know that blacks have contributed to their construction. Slave labour was the foundation for one of the largest banking institutions in Europe.

People do not associate Barclay's Bank for example with slavery because it seems so far removed. Yet Barclays was the name given to a sugar producing island in the Leewards and it was the wealth that they made from sugar that they used to set up their banking system."

"There is no way that the black people of Guyana and Trinidad will ever gain their own economic and political empowerment and franchisement with any right to go ahead planning things for themselves. There are going to be overrun by the East Indians. Racism in the Caribbean is not only changing in form but East-Indians have now joined white people as the leading players in the process of re-enslaving the African-Caribbean people."

It must be clearly understood that within the system of European global supremacy or globalisation, Asians are considered "Honourary Whites" or "Quasi Europeans."

And this is the appropriate designation for the proponents of ethnic supremacy in TnT within this European global schema.

The fact of the matter is that the Euro-British imposed system of apprenticeship was callously designed to cement the Afrikan in a permanent state or status of powerlessness.

But more viciously, the Afrikan was denied any sense of his true history, identity and culture.

In fact, all these three experiences were demeaned, denigrated, devalued and destroyed.

In addition, the Afrikan family unit was totally and purposely destroyed in order to deny the Afrikan any positive sense of kindship, unity, togetherness and community.

The Euro-British placed the Afrikan in "no-man's land" where he still remains today. This is the most detrimental and mental effect of the European enslavement.

On the other hand, the East Indian was legally allowed to retain his history, identity and culture. All these three experiences remain intact, even today.

The Euro-British imposed system of indenture was a concerted, planned effort to cement the East-Indian in a permanent state or status of power. They enjoy this status in TnT today.

This is the on-going, apocalyptic intifadah the Euro-colonial British government created as a result of Afrikan apprenticeship and East-Indian indenture systems.

As Bro. Malcolm X once observed: "A man who tosses worms in the river is not necessarily a friend of the fish."

Such has been the reality of the poisonous Afrikan apprenticeship experience in Euro-British colonial TnT.

It is now the same Afrikan ethnic supremist experience under the descendants of indenture in re-colonial TnT.

(*This is an excerpt from Let's Save the Children by Liqa Maemiran Zacharias with Dr. Ruth E. McAfee, 1st edition, 1998, pp. 71-81. To obtain a copy, call 632-1914.)

Shem Hotep

Dr. Nantambu is an Associate Professor, Dept. of Pan-African Studies, Kent State University, U.S.A. a Public Policy versus Human Needs

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