World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 25, December 1997

In this issue

  1. Reviews
  2. Recent Publications
  3. Conferences
  4. Maple Sugar

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 25, December 1997, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


Margaret Leidelmeijer, Van Suikermolen tot Grootbedriff: Technishe Verniewing in de Java-Suikerindustrie in de Negentiede Eeuw [From sugar mill to factory: Technical innovation in Java's sugar industry during the nineteenth century] (Amsterdam: Nederlands Economisch-Historisch Archief, 1997). Pp. 388. Tables. Graphs. Photographs. Dfl. 52.50 (paperback). ISBN 90-5742-007-4.

The study of the sugar industry in colonial Java has largely focused on the impact foreign-owned ventures on the rural society and economy, leaving the internal dynamics of sugar manufacturing underexposed. This book shows that the sugar industry actually emerged as a monolith in the late nineteenth century. During this century the industry developed from the Chinese-dominated small-scale ventures to the modern large-scale Dutch-owned enterprises, which often operated the latest mechanical technologies in a factory set-up. In all, the production of sugar cane in Java increased from a marginal 5,000 tons in 1810 (perhaps three percent of world production) to 744,000 tons in 1900 (or fourteen percent of world production), rivaling Cuba.

The technological innovations that facilitated this change have a prime place in this book. In that respect it challenges accepted wisdom, which is that the system under which sugar was produced in Java in the nineteenth century generated ineptitude and waste. Under the Cultivation System (1830-1870) most owners and operators of sugar mills were contractors who produced for the colonial government. Government contracts entitled producers to water to power their mills, while colonial officials orchestrated the supply of cane, grown by farmers as tax payments. In addition, contracts guaranteed producers a specified price for sugar, depending upon the quality. Consequently, in the 1870s the Java sugar industry was hardly mechanized, as indicated by the small number of steam engines. The conventional view dictates that lethargy gave way to modernization when the contract system and its privileges were abolished and when the sugar industry was forced to rationalize production due to the challenge posed by beet sugar and the crisis of the 1880s.

On the basis of extensive archival materials and a range of case studies, Leidelmeijer convin-cingly shows that the number of steam engines is a poor and inappropriate indicator of technological change in the Java sugar industry. The author discusses other indicators, such as the improvements in the equipment used to boil the cane juice in order to save on fuel, and the introduction of the vacuum pan after 1835 to improve the quality of the sugar. The introduction of these technologies from overseas and their adaptation to local circumstances were largely the initiative of enterprising individuals. The colonial government provided encouragement and support, but it later also used sugar contracts to compel factory owners to adopt new technologies. For instance, after tests with the Derosne/Cail and Howard vacuum pans in the 1840s had indicated that the "low-tech" Howard system was the more adaptable to local circumstances, the technology quickly spread. Vacuum pans were used by 58 percent of the factories in 1858 and almost all by 1870.

These successes encouraged the Dutch Ministry of Colonial Affairs to appoint an advisor who embarked on a systematic quest for further innovations to improve the quality of cane juice through chemical research and the design of new crushing equipment. His efforts were largely in vain, because he worked in isolation from the owners and managers of the sugar mills. Without appropriate feedback, his suggestions were not practical. The quest for innovations became more fruitful when owners and managers pooled their resources and institutionalized the local network of knowledge in Java by establishing sugar research institutes. By being close to "the field", these institutes were able to contribute significantly to the rationalization of the production of sugar cane between 1870 and 1900.

On the whole, Leidelmeijer's case studies support her thesis that sugar manufacturers and colonial authorities were actively engaged in the processes of technological change during the nineteenth century. However, the adoption of innovations depended on their economic viability. For instance, the intro-duction of equipment used to boil the cane juice from the Caribbean was too labour-intensive and, therefore, too costly in labour-scarce West Java. The Derosne/Cail vacuum pan was technically superior, but too expensive to operate because it required skilled labour. Moreover, steam engines proved to be less than viable, because the cost of fuel meant that water long remained the most cost-effective way to power the mills.

These are just the main features of the book, which offers a wealth of detail. This reviewer has three gripes. First, the book's focus is sometimes too narrowly on technology. It leads the author to unsubstantiated statements, for instance about the profitability of sugar production. It also underexposes the role of market forces in technological change and in the rationalization of factory management. Second, the book only covers the nineteenth century, whereas technological development continued into the twentieth. More important, technological change in the factories was augmented by technological change in the fields and in the overseas marketing of sugar. These three prongs, rather than only one, explain why the Java sugar industry continued to flourish despite continuously falling international sugar prices. Third, this study is highly relevant to disparate academic fields, such as sugar research, technological change, and Indonesia's long-term economic development, but while the book contains a short summary in English, it is written in Dutch which will severely limit its audience and impact. However, these last two grievances do not affect the content of the book, which is highly recommended.

Pierre van der Eng
The Australian National University

Jay R. Mandle, Persistent Underdevelopment: Change and Economic Modernization in the West Indies (Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach Publishers, 1996). Tables. Index. Pp. 190.

This book focuses on the former British possessions of the Caribbean, excluding the Bahamas and Belize. Its first chapter provides the theoretical underpinning for the development philosophy followed by its author, Jay Mandle. It concentrates on the author's perceptions of the philosophies attributed to Karl Marx and economist Simon Kuznets. Marx's ideas and their connection to exploitative dependency theory are discussed briefly because of their appeal to some Caribbean scholars. Kuznets' philosophy argues that, rather than being caused only by outside forces, underdevelopment is most significantly affected by institutions and/or ideologies that constrain the adoption of modern technology. He classifies these into what he calls "internal" and "external" constraints to economic growth. The first is the absence of a political and social framework that is capable of accommodating and promoting rapid structural change and that inhibits resolving the types of conflicts that typically accompany these changes. The second includes the external policies of the more developed countries. Mandle follows Kuznets' suggestions by attempting to identify the circumstances that have in the past and continue today to constrain the ability of the people of the Caribbean to become successful innovators in the international global economy. He uses the United Nations' Human Development Index to show that economic growth in capitalistic societies is not normally associated with the immiseration of the masses, a contradiction of the Marxian view. Mandle argues that usually economic growth has beneficial effects on the well-being of the general population.

The second chapter argues that underdevelopment in the West Indies is rooted in the plantation system that dominated most of its history. British policy and the attitudes of controlling elites until the middle of the nineteenth century provided very little room for the kind of structural transformation that normally characterizes modernization processes. These policies ensured that the region would remain an economic backwater, with no chance to experience modern economic growth.

However, the world market for sugar began to change during the middle and late 1800s. European sugar beet production grew rapidly during the latter half of the nineteenth century, causing a dramatic drop in the price for West Indian-produced sugar. Competition was developing in other tropical areas where sugar also could be grown. In addition, because wages were low and working conditions difficult, a scarcity of labour became apparent. As a result, the basis of the plantation economy began to unravel, a trend that became readily apparent in the British West Indies by the beginning of the twentieth century. Alternatives to working on plantations were not promoted by the British government. For example, the industrial revolution sweeping thorough Europe and North America hardly touched the British West Indies. As health conditions began to improve, the death rate dropped below the birth rate. The resultant natural increase, together with a scarcity of jobs, prompted large-scale emigration, first to Britain and later to the United States and Canada.

Because of the gloomy prospects for the sugar industry, Caribbean economic planners began to look for alternatives to replace the plantation system. Eventually, it was decided that industrialization was the answer, but manufacturing is capital intensive and these are poor islands. West Indian leaders reasoned that foreign entrepreneurs and corporations had capital available and they also had the expertise and the foreign trade connections required to create viable enterprises in the Caribbean. After World War II, a concerted effort was made by some of the British West Indian governments to attract this capital and expertise to their islands in an attempt to promote industrialization via a process that came to be known as "industrialization by invitation."

However, manufacturing did not grow according to plans. Foreign investment was not forthcoming in the amounts envisioned, and the little that did materialize tended to be concentrated in Jamaica and Trinidad. Even here, the effects of foreign investment did not approach the levels hoped for by government officials. There were too few projects and the factories that were established tended to be capital intensive, so that they provided few jobs relative to the money that it took to create them. Also, overseas connections for trade did not develop according to plans, thus minimizing the market for the new factory-produced goods.

The manufacturing that did develop emerged as the variety known as "import-substitution." It depended heavily upon foreign inputs, which caused the prices of its products to be higher than in places like North America. Partly for this reason, it had to rely heavily on local markets, which were small and relatively poor. Small and poor markets meant that these firms could not produce in sufficient quantities to benefit from the efficiencies of large-scale economies. Because there was little local competition, monopolies developed and the lack of competition promoted further economic inefficiencies.

The failures of "industrialization by invitation" and "import substitution" prompted many British West Indian planners and policy makers to question the role of private entrepreneurs. Gradually, the mood shifted from an emphasis on private enterprise to one of government intervention. The question became: "How much should government become involved in economic development?" Government officials split ideologically in their answers to this question. Jamaica, Guyana, and Grenada articulated socialist, while the governments of the other islands adopted a less radical approach by maintaining a structure that was basically capitalistic. However, they also increased government involvement in promoting economic growth. These countries attempted to identify a niche in which they could achieve some degree of comparative advantage. Trinidad and Tobago used its petroleum and natural gas resources for this purpose; whereas most of the other islands relied on tourism.

Despite these efforts, there was only limited economic growth during the 1980s. The growth that did occur took place mainly on the smaller islands. For example, the economies of Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana experienced annual declines of almost three percent, while the economies of Jamaica and Barbados slightly increased, but at rates of less than two percent annually. The World Bank was frequently called on to help resuscitate the economies of the West Indian countries during the 1970s and 1980s, through the granting of loans. However, the World Bank normally requires the recipient countries to devalue their local currencies, reduce the size of government expenditures, reduce domestic taxes, liberalize tariffs, and privatize public sector commercial enterprises. The experiences of Jamaica seem to suggest that the restructuring imposed by the World Bank, as a prerequisite for receiving loans, has not produced the level of economic growth hoped for in the Caribbean.

Mandle compares the economic growth rates of Caribbean countries with some of those in Asia and finds that the rates in the Asian countries were much greater during the 1980s. He suggests that the reason is "because the citizens of those [Asian] countries were better educated and possessed to a greater extent the human capital necessary to introduce and work efficiently in a technically advanced environment." (pp. 159-160) Mandle shows the ineffectiveness of the educational systems found on most of the West Indian islands and concludes that education is one of the keys for future economic growth. The Asian countries, he notes, spend far more on educating their children to compete in a technologically sophisticated world. Teachers need to be better trained, curricula revised, and standards raised, particularly in the sciences and in the area of basic skills such as reading, writing, and mathematics.

Complicating the educational problems and the inhibiting effects they have on economic growth, is the fact that the proportionately few who are well-educated in the West Indies are more likely than others to emigrate to more developed countries, thereby creating a serious "brain drain". Mandle estimates that about 40 percent of the population from the British West Indies has emigrated to the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. The figure is too high because he has mistakenly double counted in adding persons living in the United States who were born in the British West Indies to those living in the U.S. who are of British West Indian ancestry. I estimate that the correct figure is closer to 28 percent. Nevertheless, Mandle's point is valid because 28 percent is still a very high figure. One means of solving the "brain drain" dilemma is to develop ways to use the expertise of the West Indians who have emigrated elsewhere. Mandle draws on the writings of economist Ralph Henry who recommends that "the time has come for the region to take steps to derive some benefit from this high level of emigration [other] than merely remittance payments." (p. 175) One possible way of accomplishing this is to recruit highly skilled West Indians who have emigrated to return to the Caribbean for relatively short periods. These returnees can share their expertise and entrepreneurial skills with the islands of their origin. In addition, efforts should be made to encourage emigrants from the West Indies living abroad to establish linkages and networks that could stimulate a greater flow of products from the islands to outside areas. In these two ways the British West Indies should benefit from the accretion of skills that have been accumulated by Caribbean people living abroad. Thus, Mandle sees the modernization of the educational systems in the West Indies and West Indians living abroad as keys to the economic future of the British West Indies.

Jay Mandle has long experience in writing about the British West Indies and this book is representative of his insightful thoughts about development in the islands of the Caribbean. It should be required reading for anybody seriously interested in the modernization of the former British West Indies.

Thomas D. Boswell
University of Miami

Elborg Forster and Robert Forster, eds. and trans., Slavery and Sugar, Family and Race: The Letters and Diary of Pierre Dessalles, Planter in Martinique, 1808-1856 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). Pp. 322.

The letters and diary of Pierre Dieudonné Dessalles, written between 1808 and 1856, provide historians and other scholars of New World slavery and colonialism with a remarkable contemporary source of material on Caribbean plantation society of the nineteenth century. Through the intimate thoughts and reflections of this prominent French colonialist, living the better part of his life on his estates in his beloved Martinique, we are offered rare insights into the attitudes and values of a paternalistic slave-owner regarding his slaves, his family, sugar production and the management of his plantations, and race relations, as well as politics and society in both the metropolitan and colonial settings. The documents presented in Sugar and Society, Family and Race are edited translations of the original letters and diary, published in four volumes in the 1980s by Henri de Frémont, a descendant of Dessalles, and Léo Elisabeth. In Sugar and Slavery, Family and Race, Elborg and Robert Forster present the most salient and historically pertinent portions of these documents in a single, elegantly translated, and cogently presented volume.

As a colonial sugar planter, Dessalles is introduced through the conceptual prism of paternalism - that double-sided, and sometimes multi-faceted, phenomenon of slave society - which defines the nature and the parameters of master-slave relations. In the words of Eugene Genovese, paternalism, far from constituting ostensible benevolence, is some-thing that "'grew out of the necessity to discipline and morally justify a system of exploitation. It did encourage kindness and affection, but it simul-taneously encouraged cruelty and hatred.' " (p. 4)

What we see in the letters and diary, and what we begin to understand, is how paternalism worked itself out as a code of behaviour in the concrete expression of Dessalles' values and in his application of these to the society around him. We also see how Dessalles was forced over the years to alter and adapt these values to cope personally with a world whose realities were no longer the secure and familiar ones of the Ancien Régime. Slave emancipation and the inauguration of the Second Republic are cases in point. As regards the latter, Dessalles, a die-hard royalist who dutifully celebrated the anniversary of the execution of Louix XVI every 21 January, nonetheless, came to see Louis Bonaparte as the man of the hour and the "authority needed to bury that 'dirty Republic' " (p. 5) of 1848 once and for all.

As for slave emancipation, here, too, Dessalles shifted his bearings and came to terms with the transition from slavery to emancipation and "free" or associated labour on his own plantations. Moreover, he came to terms, albeit grudgingly, with the free coloureds and with their emergence in the colony as legitimate participants in the political arena. In the end, he even had praise for Cyrille Bissette, (by 1848 an accommodationist, but formerly an uncom-promising spokesman for the rights of free coloureds and gradualist on the issue of slave emancipation), whom Dessalles, as a court magistrate in 1822, had voted to condemn to death for distributing subversive literature that purportedly prompted the island-wide slave rebellion of that year.

But the focus of Dessalles' paternalism is most evident in his values regarding religion, family, and his own slaves. We see this vividly in the early years of the diary and letters, before the political events in France, whose colonial repercussions pushed him to reassess and realign his own position on these issues. A practicing, devout Roman Catholic, Dessalles believed in the civilizing and Christianizing potential of religion, but he also considered only the outstanding slaves, and especially his favourite slave and life-long companion, Nicaise, to be capable of receiving such influences profitably. For the average field slave, it was the authoritarian aspects of religion that provided the disciplinary tools by which to promote order, stability, and obedience among them, and which allowed the smooth running of the plantation. In this respect he encouraged marriage, baptism, natural reproduction, and family ties and responsibilities among his slaves.

As for his own family, Dessalles, the paternalist, was devoted to providing for the financial well being of his wife and six children from the ever-diminishing profits of his plantations and several metropolitan assets - in spite of their perennially ungrateful and disrespectful attitude toward him and their outright selfishness. It was in his relations with his house servants that Dessalles found the moral comfort and solace absent in his relations with his immediate family, especially with his two sons whose overriding concern was to obtain their share of the paternal estate. Dessalles' inordinate familiarity with his domestic slaves prompted his wife bitterly, if aptly, to observe that Dessalles loved his house servants more than his own children. Nicaise (Dessalles' sexual companion or his son) is a case in point. The mulatto slave, Saturnin (in all probability Dessalles' son) is another. And so, like many West Indian creole or creolized planters, Dessalles had parallel families: the one legitimate, white, Catholic, and French; the other creole, coloured, nominally Catholic, illegitimate, and above all unavowed. The "proprieties" for a long-established bourgeois Catholic of good breeding like Dessalles required that one remain fastidiously silent on such matters. The scandal was not in the act, but in allowing it to become public knowledge.

In his attitudes toward the field slaves we see yet another side of Dessalles' paternalism. Overseeing all aspects of the operation of his well-established sugar estate, La Nouvelle Cité, and the newer and smaller coffee and provisions plantation, La Caféière, he found the means by which to reinforce and legitimize his paternalism. In keeping with the mentality of slave-owners throughout the New World, Dessalles believed that the ever-present and overriding fear of punishment was the only way to get any work out of black slaves, who by nature, he believed, were lazy, indolent, and uncivilizable. In short, they were a different species who, because they were childlike and ignorant, needed to be governed by the stern but paternalistic hand of the master. Such fear also established the ultimate superiority of the master and of his unquestioned authority over his subjects. The quintessence of the master-slave relationship, thus, resided in the threat and use of fear, and it was at the heart of paternalism. Dessalles' efforts to produce the "ideal" slave, and by so doing to become the "ideal" master, no matter how well intentioned, invariably fell short of his expectations, therefore warranting additional punishments and recriminations, often followed by a pardon.

Dessalles' world - in its paternalistic quintessence - was, thus, a "fantasy world", which ultimately brought him little satisfaction and even less respect as paterfamilias. Dessalles became increasingly creolized, increasingly withdrawn from his legitimate family, increasingly withdrawn from France. He found comfort only in his favourite slaves, his lifelong friend and confidant, Nicaise, and Saturnin and his family, with whom he - the only white member of the household - shared lodgings and, finally, affection for his beloved Martinique.

Carolyn Fick
Concordia University, Montréal


Barry Carr, "'Omnipotent and omnipresent'? Labor shortages, worker mobility and employer control in the Cuban Sugar Industry 1910-1934," in Avi Chomsky and Aldo Lauria (eds.), At the Margins of the Nation-State: Identity and Struggle in the Making of the Laboring Peoples of Central America and the Hispanic Caribbean, 1860-1950 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998).

R. W. Plews (ed.), The History of Icumsa. The First 100 Years, 1897-1997 (Berlin: Verlag Albert Bartens KG, 1997). Hardback. ISBN 0-905003-15-2. Available from the U.S. National Committee for Sugar Analysis, 1100 Robert E. Lee Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70124, U.S.A. for $30. Try alternatively the British Sugar Technical Centre, Colney, Norwich, England NR4 7UB. This book is a record of the work of the International Commission for Uniform Methods of Sugar Analysis. For centuries sugar traded according to type, place of origin, and colour. An appreciation that the international trade in sugar required uniform methods of analysis led to the founding of ICUMSA.

Silverio Flores Cáceres, Las Enfermedades de la Caña de Azúcar en México (México, D.F.). Available from the author at Calle Sur 75, Núm. 4, 228 Col. Viaducto Piedade, C.P. 08200, México, D.F. Chapter 1 has a brief history of the sugar industry in Mexico.

Guntwin Bruhns, 250 Jahre Rübenzucker 1747-1997. Was Marggrafs Entdeckung Bewirkte und Veränderte (Berlin: Verlag Dr. Albert Bartens KG, 1997). Pp. 48. 19.80 DM. Paperback. ISBN3-87040-066-8. Available from Verlag Dr. Albert Bartens KG, Postfach 38 02 50, D-14112, Berlin, Germany. Fax: (030) 803 20 49. This attractive, handsomely illustrated volume is produced in collaboration with the Berlin Sugar Museum.

Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997).


At the University of Halle-Wittemberg, Germany, 4-8 September, 1998, a session of the Congress of European Latin Americanists will be devoted to "Los complejos azucareras y la globalización futura". The organizer of the session is Dr. Alfredo Bolsi, Instituto de Estudios Geográficos, Universidad de Tucumán, Av. Benjamin Araoz 800, 4000 Tucumán, Argentina. E-mail: filo!

The Association of American Geographers will be holding its 1999 meeting from 23-27 March in Honolulu. Hawaii seems an appropriate place in which to discuss the sugar industry. I am prepared to organize a special session. Please let me know by July lst if you wish to give a paper. Jock Galloway,


The severe ice storm that struck eastern Ontario, southern Quebec, and parts of northern New England in early January 1998 did a good deal of damage to the maple sugar industry. For those of you who live comfortably in the tropics, an ice storm occurs when moist warm air overlies a ground-level layer of air at below freezing temperatures. Rain falling from the warm air cools in transit, and forms a layer of ice on all that it touches. Usually these atmospheric conditions are of very brief duration, but on this occasion they lasted a long time and exceptionally thick layers of ice built up. The weight of the ice brought down power lines, snapped limbs off trees, as well as doing other damage. Maple trees suffered.

In Eastern Ontario, approximately 25 percent of the "taps" were adversely affected, in Quebec 30 percent. Although the full extent of the damage will not be known until the end of the season, producers estimate that the yield of syrup in the "maple belt" from Maine through to Wisconsin will be down by 10 percent. Producers who escaped the storm may well benefit from higher prices. The damaged trees, of course, will take years to replace.

Our thanks to the Ontario Maple Sugar Producers' Association, of Strathroy, Ontario, for this information.

The World Sugar History Newsletter is compiled by Jock Galloway and Peter Blanchard. The subscription rate is $15 for two years (four issues). The date on the address sticker is the subscription expiration date. Personal cheques made out to World Sugar History Newsletter and drawn on Canadian or American banks are acceptable as are international money orders. Correspondence and subscriptions should be sent to Jock Galloway or Peter Blanchard, Victoria College, University of Toronto, 73 Queen's Park Crescent, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1K7. E-mail: or Back issues of the Newsletter can be found at our website: