World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 10, June 1987

In this issue:

  1. Book Reviews
  2. Papers Received
  3. Announcement

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 10, June 1987, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


Huguette Ly-Tio Fane Pineo, Lured Away: The Life History of Indian Cane Workers in Mauritius (Moka, Mauritius: Mahatma Gandhi Institute, 1984). Pp. 261.

This book was published under the auspices of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of indentured immigration and the abolition of slavery. Under the inspiring leadership of its director, U. Bissoondoyal, the Institute has played a major role in advancing Mauritian Studies. Its efforts are deserving of support. Unfortunately Dr. Ly-Tio Fane's present work reflects poorly on these endeavours.

The project as a whole is poorly conceived. In attempting to satisfy a number of disparate objectives it achieves none. The book consists of three separate sections. There is an historical component in three parts, a selection of documents, and finally a bibliographical guide on the sugar industry and Indian immigratlon to Mauritius. This is an unwieldy structure and its lack of coherence is aggravated by the untidy planning and poor integration of the historical section.

The last section of the book (pp. 211-261) is possibly its most useful, as it provides a handy yet comprehensive guide to the most important primary sources and secondary works pertaining to the central theme. However, the bibliography should have been limited strictly to material dealing with Mauritius. A motley sprinkling of secondary sources, dealing with sugar and immigration elsewhere, detracts from the bibliography's ostensible purpose and reduces its effectiveness as a research tool. In view of the fairly extensive bibliography, it is difficult to understand by the author's own admission that her book was based on "fragmented documentation" (Preface).

Published collections of documents can be a boon to researchers when they are judiciously selected. A case in point is Y. S. Meer's, Documents of Indentured Labour Natal 1851-1917 which has provided historians with easy access to many of the key documents in this field. Altogether, sixty documents, running to 690 pages, have been reproduced. The section of Dr.Ly-Tio Fane's work on documents (pp. 183-210) is, however, too brief and selective to prove of much use to researchers. Moreover, the documents in question are not sufficiently representative of the indentured labour system, as it operated in Mauritius, to be of much educational value at secondary school level or in community teaching.

The first section is the longest and most disappointing of the book. It provides an historical account in three parts of Indian immigration up to 1842, the indentured labour system, and the growth of the sugar industry (pp. 1-182). Part three of this section inexplicably incorporates a lengthy document, the log of the Reigate and a corresponding report (pp. 132-163). This means that the book has less than 150 pages of actual historical commentary, of which only 87 pages deal with indentured labour. Moreover, the commentary is concerned far more with recruitment, immigration, and the experience of the sea passage than with the book's stated object: "the life history of Indian Cane Workers in Mauritius".

The book is, if anything, misleadingly titled for it contains comparatively little on Indian cane workers as such. From the table of contents one would have expected this to have been dealt with in some detail in part II, which is awkwardly headed "The Triumph of Free Labour" (pp. 40-96). However, indentured life and labour on the sugar plantations is discussed very incompetently, in the space of only four pages (pp. 69-72)! In many ways, this is the weakest portion of a poor book. It relies largely on the autobiographical reminiscences of an estate manager of the twentieth century to reconstruct "the unique setting of sugar estates" in the nineteenth century, that is presumably before 1880. The next dozen or so pages are devoted to the labour law of 1867, the protests to which this gave rise in the ranks of mainly "old immigrants", the Frere and Williamson Royal Commission's investigations in the treatment of immigrant labourers in Mauritlus, and to their main outcome, the New Labour Law of 1878. This was a critical decade in the evolution of the indentured labour system in Mauritius and it has featured centrally in Mauritian historiography, but here this book breaks no new ground. We are not provided with a synthesis of existing nterpretations, let alone with a careful reassessment, only with a sketchy and rather superficial factual account.

In several respects it may be said that this book represents a marche en arriere as far as the historiography of Mauritius is concerned. In the first place, it is neither sufficiently focussed nor properly periodised. Too much attention is paid to maritime relations between Mauritius and India before the start of indentured immigration, and there is an undue emphasis on the external aspects of immigration - a preoccupation which underlies the incongruous cover design. Furthermore, we are told practically nothing about Indian cane workers after 1880.

In the second place, the book is extremely weak on historical interpretation. It falls squarely within an older tradition of historical writing in Mauritius, in the genre of Albert Pitot and of the early Toussaint. In this tradition, the conclusions arrived at are those of the chronicler rather than those of historical analysis. Hence, Governor A. P. Phayre and the Mauritius Chamber of Agriculture are given the last word on the effects of the New Labour Law in 1878. This cannot be justified on grounds of historical objectivity. Nor is it a neutral exercise as it has the perverse result of justifying the plantocracy's actions and of perpetuating its self-image. Within the framework of planter ideology, the existence of class conflict was seldom if ever acknowledged. In Mauritius, the master-servant relationship was usually portrayed in paternalistic terms, as one which was basically harmonious. The indentured labour system was normally depicted as serving the common interests of "property and labour". It is with this perspective that this book is imbued. It tells us nothing about the ex-slaves displaced from the plantation economy by the massive importation of indentured labourers from India or about the relationship between these two groups. Although the book was ostensibly designed to throw light on the history of the Mauritian cane workers, it can claim as its most dubious achievement, if not to have "glorified a commodity" (the expression is not my own), at least to have spoken mainly in its defence. In the preface, Indian cane workers are praised for ensuring the sugar industry's survival during "harsh times". Moreover, one wonders how the author can seriously countenance the conclusion that the Indian cane workers in Mauritius, in spite of mistreatment, "found their fulfillment in the conversion of their life blood into sugar" (p. 72).

In the third place, there is little or no reliance on economic and social theory in a study, which according to the acknowledgements, forms part of a broader "programme of research, of which the main objective is the scientific study of the immigration process and the economic and social development resulting from it". The study therefore makes little headway in unraveling "the complex social order that grew out of the sugar economy" (Preface). In the rare cases where terminology from the social sciences is appropriated, it is misused. Thus, in the chapter dealing with the labour law of 1867 we have "industrial relations" (pp. 73, 85) and "collective bargaining" (p. 83).

Dr. Ly-Tio Fane has achieved a degree of international recognition as an historian. This book, however, compares extremely poorly with her other published work which includes the excellent La Diaspora Chinoise dans L'Ocean Indien Occidental, and a number of other studies on the eighteenth century.

M. D. North-Coombes
University of Natal

Shahid Amin, Sugarcane and Sugar in Gorakhpur. An Inquiry into Peasant Production for Capitalist Enterprise in Colonial India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1984). Pp. xxiii + 336. Rs. 140.

Shahid Amin stresses the neglect given in the existing literature on commercial agriculture in India to the actual process of production in small peasant agriculture. He postulates the need to correct the resulting analytical imbalance, and he seeks to contribute to such a correction through a detailed examination of sugarcane production in the 1930s, a s pursued in the Gorakhpur region of eastern Uttar Pradesh. Such sugarcane production was conducted in Gorakhpur largely, though not exclusively, by small peasant producers.

The study is firmly set in its nineteenth-century moorings, and Amin shows how by the end of the nineteenth century two of the major features of sugarcane production in Gorakhpur had emerged: first, the ready response of the regional economy to distant markets; and second, the creation of "a complex web of dependency relationships for peasant producers" (p. 39). He argues that "it was not the agency of commercialisation but the process and relations of production in the countryside that provided the material conditions for this phenomenon of dependent agriculture" (p. 39).

Amin describes the technology -- the process of production -- used in the cultivation of sugarcane, the production of raw sugar, and the production of refined sugar. With this identified, and using Marx's treatment of working time, production time, and turnover time (as developed in volume 2 of Capital), he posits the existence of conditions particularly favourable to the entry and operation of usurer's capital: a crop with a long working period and an even longer production period, and the need created, thereby, for the small peasant producer to sustain unproductive labour over long periods of time; this along with the existing dependent relations between small peasant producer and landlord, characterised by heavy rent obligations, which had to be met at specific times, entailing resort to credit.

Amin examines the emergence and growth to a position of dominance of capitalist sugar producers. He demonstrates that in the first phase of capitalist development (from the late 1890s on) the traditional methods of financing, producing, and marketing sugarcane were simply taken over, and the subordination of the small peasant producer to the merchant-moneylender remained. He then proceeds to the heyday of the sugar factories, in the 1930s. He shows, in considerable detail, the working of the alliance of sugar capitalists and the landlord-moneylender-contractor, who supplied cane to the factories. Competition between mills might well result in higher cane prices. But this was of little advantage to the small peasant producers. Any such gain was appropriated by the aforementioned triad.

Amin examines modes of transport, with a focus upon the role of the professional carter, showing that the mills created little new marketing, credit, or transport networks. He documents "the dimension of dependence," identifying a vast array of means by which the small peasants were short-changed. He also considers government intervention, with respect to the price of cane (the attempt to introduce minimum prices), and the growth of cooperative marketing (which would, supposedly, be the saviour of small peasant producers), none of this being able "to break the hold of the mills in Gorakhpur -- backed as it was by the power and economic strength of dominant agrarian classes -- on petty peasant cane production" (p. 274).

The essential argument of the book is summed up thus: "the domination of the cane-growing peasantry of Gorakhpur by the mills in the 1930s was contingent upon the formers's prior subordination to the landlords, moneylenders, and the richer peasants" (p. 182). Capitalist sugar producers took over existing structures of subordination and continued to operate within them.

Amin has given us a rich and illuminating study, based upon an exhaustive and imaginative use of the available sources. With analytical acumen, with a lively recourse to peasant sayings which give life to the analysis, and with great clarity, he provides a strong and convincing argument. The book, without doubt, is a considerable addition to the recent social and economic history of India -- a field which is steadily growing in range and quality -- and to the growing literature on world sugar history.

Occasionally, the author provides comparative perspective, by placing the Gorakhpur experience against that of other parts of India, both with respect to sugarcane and to crops like jute and cotton (for example, pp. 282-5), and, more important for readers of this journal, against that of sugar cultivation in other parts of the world, like Cuba, Java, the West Indies, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Panama, where plantation cultivation has been the norm (for example pp. l88-9). These occasional comparative glimpses are always illuminating. They are also always, because of their extreme brevity, tantalising. It is a pity that this comparative exercise has not been taken further. Shahid Amin is eminently qualified to pursue it.

Terence J. Byers
School of Oriental and African Studies
University of London

Stuart B. Schwartz, Sugar Plantations in the Formation of Brazilian Society. Bahia, 1550-1835 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). Pp. xxiv + 616.

Brazil dominated the world sugar market from 1550 until 1650, when northern European countries established their own plantation colonies in the Caribbean. But throughout Brazil's colonial period (1500-1822), and even during the 18th-century gold and diamond rushes, sugar constituted the chief form of wealth in Portugal's only New World colony. Schwartz's study seeks what Marx called "the innermost secrets, the hidden basis of the entire social structure" (Capital, v. 3, chapter xlvii), and he finds these secrets in the organization of production relations.

Schwartz's study began as an investigation of a few published 17th-century account books from the Engenho Sergipe do Conde, the largest mill in the northeastern area of Bahia. The study expanded through admirably industrious research in archives in Brazil, Portugal, Spain, the U.S.A., England, and Italy to become an elaborately detailed description and analysis of a colonial sugar society.

The book illuminates the specificities of Bahia. Portuguese immigrants predominated among the mill-owners until the mid-18th century, but due to partible inheritances and the Portuguese monarchy's refusal to create an hereditary colonial nobility, the group of 150-250 planters experienced a rapid turnover. Only a few families remained an entrenched elite. In the 16th century, Amerindians working as slaves, or in exchange for barter goods or wages, constituted the main labor supply. But the uprooted Indians suffered acutely from famine and European diseases such as smallpox and measles, produced only one-third as much sugar as African slaves, and did not respond, for cultural reasons, to economic incentives. So the Portuguese imported ever larger numbers of African slaves.

Schwartz attributes the notorious sexual imbalance in the African slave population to the slave trade and the requirements of field labor: "in the milling house, the majority of tasks were performed by women". Slave owners used positive rewards as well as negative sanctions to yield gross profits comparable to going interest rates, and even higher when local rum and molasses sales are included. Slaves accommodated, collaborated, and resisted, and if they were unable or unwilling to reproduce themselves as slaves, they did leave a legacy of a sizeable and growing free colored population.

Free labor took various forms. Artisan and service jobs, such as woodcutting and transportation, employed many free workers, whose wages were relatively constant, but fluctuated with sugar prices and became the object of negotiation when new hands were hired. Free cane farmers, varying in numbers from three or four to a dozen or two per mill, supplied cane grown by their own slaves. On mill land, these farmers contracted as sharecroppers, tenants, or lease-holders, in which cases they usually supplied only the landlord's mill, and paid as rent one-fourth to one-half of the sugar made from their cane, plus all other by-products. On their own lands, the cane farmers enjoyed greater freedom. Schwartz characterizes the farmers as aspirants to mill ownership, not as a group of politically independent commercial farmers. Colonial Bahia's unusually long-lived partial division of labor between farm and mill spread the risks and anticipated the l9th-century central mills.

Neither Portugal nor Brazil ever developed refineries; the colony exported clayed whites and raw yellows and browns for metropolitan consumption and re-export. Apparently the long trans-Atlantic voyage increased deterioration of the better qualities, and the more powerful European trading partners insisted on importing raws for their own refiners. Portuguese wine producers pressured against rum imports.

Schwartz dedicates considerable space to technology. In the field, thick clay soils discouraged plowings but the long, 9-10 month harvest permitted using the slaves on practically a year-round basis. The major innovation was Otaiti cane in the early 19th century. In the mill, the three-roller vertical press, cheaper and easier to build, faster and more powerful than the two-roller horizontal mill, was introduced in the early 17th century and became the chief innovation in manufacture. Mill owners found firewood in the abundant forests, so the Jamaica train linking a single furnace to a series of kettles did not become necessary. Nor did the practice of burning bagasse, more viable with the fibrous Otaiti cane, but which required iron rollers and extensive drying.

Schwartz's 27 figures and 58 tables present much quantitative data invaluable for comparative analyses, but this ambitious book transcends the Bahia case studies to grapple with the more general questions. If the system did not develop into sustained economic growth, this limitation derived more from the metropolis' mercantilist policies, which discouraged reinvestment, than from a lack of backward linkages or slavery. Slavery was neither unprofitable nor a deterrent to innovation; in several ways slavery anticipated free labor relations, and was so widespread as to involve virtually the entire free society in its defense.

Schwartz enters firmly into the feudalism-capitalism debate. He rejects the former term because, while feudalism survived in 16th-century Europe, the Portuguese absolutist state made its presence strongly felt as the source of land grants and as a mediator between merchants, planters, and other fractions of the dominant colonial sectors. Schwartz denies, however, that the state represented an independent bureaucratic force. Brazil lacked, moreover, "a peasant or serf class subject to extra-economic coercion that limits its personal liberty and property rights so that neither labor nor its product is fully commercialized . . ." Not law, but the nature of the productive process shaped the social relations revealed in this extraordinarily rich volume as the "innermost secrets" of the Bahian sugar society.

Peter L. Eisenberg
Universidade Estadual de Campinas

C. Ch. Goslinga, The Dutch in the Caribbean and in the Guianas 1680-1791 (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1985). Pp. xii + 712. 115 guilders.

This book by Cornelis Goslinga, emeritus professor of the University of Florida, is a sequel to his The Dutch in the Caribbean and on the Wild Coast 1580-1680 (Assen: 1971). However, the subjects dealt with in this volume are different. In the earlier study Goslinga chose to concentrate on the political and military developments caused by the Dutch penetration in the Americas. The social structures of the first colonies were hardly discussed at all, the Dutch share in the Atlantic trade and in the plantation economies only cursorily. Not so in the present study. Each of the three Dutch colonial areas in the Caribbean (the Leeward Islands, Curacao, and Guyana) has been given a chapter in which data on slaves, freedmen, and slaveholders are presented. The Surinam maroons and the Berbice slave revolt receive a separate treatment. Commerce gets its fair share with chapters on the slave trade and an original contribution on the intra-Caribbean trade. The economics of plantation agriculture are considered too briefly. The sections at the beginning and the end of the book dealing with the West India Company (WIC) in the Netherlands are a thin frame for a picture unmistakeably Caribbean in character.

This is a first attempt at synthesis of the Dutch expansion in the Caribbean. On occasion, Goslinga has added to the facts derived from the literature and printed sources with new findings from his own archival research. However, he was not able (this should not be taken as a reproach) to fill the lacunae or change the overwhelmingly antiquarian character of the literature. Some of the imbalances and blank spots in Goslinga's book can be explained by the material out of which he had to construct it. Thus, one should expect that the Society of Surinam and the Society of Berbice would be at least as thoroughly covered as the WIC. This is not the case. The discrepancy reflects the current state of knowledge of these organisations. Another blank spot in the historiography of the Dutch Caribbean is demography. Reliable evidence about the sizes of the different ethnic groups is non-existent, let alone figures on mortality and fertility. This implies that essential data are lacking for measuring the performance of the plantation economy or for an analysis of the process of creolisation. It would have been better if Goslinga had pointed out the major deficiencies in the stock of knowledge and restricted his attempt at synthesis to the areas in which it is really possible.

Other weaknesses in this attempt at synthesis are clearly of Goslinga's own making. Frequently he presents his findings in a confused manner that hampers checking and understanding them. This is most apparent in his presentation of figures. Tables abound, but none of them has a caption; the references to the sources are sometimes too general (e.g., NWIC 268-271, about a metre of documents), sometimes forgotten (e.g., tables pp. 12, 35, 322-323, 325, 345, 536); or the works referred to are missing in the bibliography (e.g., Ellis for the table on pp. 50-51). More serious is the fact that Goslinga does not explain what he has done to test the reliability of the figures he has collected. He seems to have spent greater effort on the slave trade figures. His appendix on that subject contains valuable additions to the work of Unger and Postma. The figures on the financial situation of the WIC are just brute data which he himself considers unreliable (p. 28). Certainly, an analysis of Company bookkeeping would have required a separate monograph, but this juggling with figures does not add to knowledge either. The same goes for the quantitative data used in the chapter on plantation agriculture in Surinam. Clearly, an attempt at synthesis of these subjects is premature.

Similar problems occur in the treatment of subjects that do not depend primarily on figures. The leading theme of chapters 3 and 4 seems to be the difference in the pattern of political conflicts on Curacao in comparison to the Leewards. On Curacao constant divisions occurred between representatives of the WIC and the local merchant elite, while on the Leewards sections of the internally divided elite found supporters among the Company personnel. In the abundance of facts on sundry issues, chronologically ordered according to terms of governorship, I could discover little to support this generalisation. In most of the other chapters, it is similarly hard to discover general statements among the multitude of often unrelated particulars and to reconstruct a line of argument. It is a pity that Goslinga, who knows so much about the Dutch in the Caribbean, did not succeed in presenting it in the form of a consistent argument supported by reliable data.

Ernst van den Boogaart
Nutsseminarium aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam.


John A. Larkin, "The International Face of the Philippine Sugar Industry, 1836-1920," Philippine Review of Economics and Business Vol. XXI: Nos l & 2, March and June 1984.

M. S. C. Bakker, "Industrieel Onderwijs en de Nederlandse suikerindustrie" (Technical Education and the Dutch Sugar Industry), Research Centre for Engineering Science Innovation and Society, TWIM-Studies 1985. (Copies of the above article and an English summary are available from: Martijn Bakker, Afd. W & Mw, Technische Hogeschool Eindhoven, Postbus 513, 5600 MB Eindhoven, Holland.)

G. B. Hagelberg, "The Barbados Sugar Industry: Responding to Change in a Small Country," Zuckerindustri III, 1986, pp. 85-91.

John La Guerre (ed.), Calcutta to Caroni. The East Indians of Trinidad (St. Augustine, Trinidad: University of the West Indies, Department of Extramural Studies). $2.50 (U.S.) surface, $5.00 airmail. (This is a second, revised edition of the work originally published (1974) by Longmans.)

J. A. Watson, The End of a Liverpool Landmark. The Last Years of Love Lane Refinery (Tate & Lyle Refineries Ltd., 1985). Pp. 92. (Details on price and availability from Tate & Lyle Sugars, Thames Refinery, London E16 2EW, U.K.)

John A. Heitman, "Organisation as Power: The Louisiana Sugar Planters' Association and the Creation of Scientific and Technical Institutions, 1877- 1910," Louisiana History Vol. 27: No. 3, 1986, pp. 281-94.


Following heavy demand, a limited number of copies of the well reviewed papers from the first International Sugar Conference, entitled Crisis and Change in the International Sugar Economy, 1860-1914, B. Albert and A. Graves (eds.) (420 pp. 61 tables, 5 graphs, 18 maps, ISBN 0 9509580 0 6) remains in stock. If you have not ordered a copy for your institution, local library, or yourself, you are strongly advised to do so soon. To clear the remaining copies we are offering them to readers of WHSN for 8.50 each, (12.50 to others) post included. Please send your order to Ms Judith Sparks, School of Economic & Social Studies, UEA, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, U.K.

World Sugar History Newsletter compiled by: Bill Albert, School of Economic & Social Studies, UEA, Norwich; Adrian Graves, Department of Economic & Social History, University of Edinburgh. All correspondence to Bill Albert, School of Economic & Social Studies, UEA, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, U.K.