World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 3, November 1983

In this issue:

  1. Editors' Note
  2. Research in Progress
  3. Reference Guide
  4. Book Reviews

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 3, November 1983, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


The third issue of the WSHN is given over primarily to reviews of recent books on sugar and allied topics. We also include some additional listings of research in progress and a reference guide to work on the Indonesian sugar industry prepared by Alec Gordon. The collection of papers from the Edinburgh Conference, "Crisis and Change in the International Sugar Economy 1860-1914," is now in the final stages of production and full publication details will be given in our next issue. Anyone who has material (announcements, books for review, reports on research projects, etc.) they would like included in the fourth number of the WSHN, will they please send it to the editors by April 1984.


(An addition to the list given in issue no. 2.)

A. Amin, St. Stephen's College, Delhi, India.
"The 19th century Indian sugar economy."

Colin Brown, School of Modern Asian Studies, Griffith University, Nathan, Q4111, Australia.
"The socio-economic history of the Javanese sugar industry in the post-war period."

David Eltis, Department of Economics, Algonquin College, Ottawa, Ontario K2G 1V8, Canada.
"The 19th century slave trade."
"The impact of abolition on plantation societies."

P. C. Emmer, Centre for the History of European Expansion, University of Leiden, P.O. Box 9515, 2300 RA Leiden, Holland.
"Sugar plantations in Surinam and the importation of indentured labour from Asia."

Erik Gobel, National Archives, Rigsdagsgaarden 9, DK-1218 Copenhagen, Denmark.
"Economic history and trade of the Danish West Indies (St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix), especially 1671-1807."

Cecilia A. Karch, Department of Sociology, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad, West Indies.
"Late 19th and early 20th century Barbadian plantation economy."

Madeleine Ly-Tio-Fane, c/o Mauritius Sugar Research Institute, Reduit, Mauritius.
"The role of major crops in the evolutionary structure of Mascarene economy (late 18th up to mid 19th century)." (The study on spices (cloves and nutmeg) was published in the 1970s. That on sugar-cane is now proceeding.)

Patricia McFadden, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, UK.
"Proletarianization in the sugar industry: a case study of Swaziland."

Stuart B. Schwartz, Department of History, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn., USA.
"Sugar plantation organization and its relationship to the formation of Brazilian society, 1550-1830." (The study concentrates on Bahia.)


A selection of some of the most important recent works on the Indonesian sugar industry compiled by Alec Gordon.


KNIGHT, G. R., "From plantation to padi-field: the origins of the nineteenth century transformation of Java's sugar industry,"Modern Asian Studies, 14, no. 2, 1980.


NIEL, Robert van, "Indigenous economic structure and the colonial economies; cultivations for export in nineteenth century Java." Paper presented to the Cambridge Anglo-Dutch Conference on Comparative Colonial Social and Economic History, 18-20 June 1979.


ANDERSON, A. Grant, "Plantation and petani: problems of the Javanese sugar industry." Pacific Viewpoint, 13, no. 2, Sept. 1972.

COLLIER, William L, "Renting of farmer's rice fields by sugar cane factories. A case study in East Java." Jakarta 1973. IV. Agro Economic Survey. Research note.

ELSON, Robert E, "Sugar and peasants: the social impact of the western sugar industry on the peasantry of the Pasuruan area, East Java, from the cultivation system to the great depression." PhD thesis, Clayton, Monah University, 1979.

GORDON, Alec, "The collapse of Java's colonial sugar system and the breakdown of independent Indonesia's economy." In: Between People and Statistics: Essays on Modern Indonesian History: Presented to P. Creutzbert, by F. van Anrooij (et al) (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1979).

STEVENS, Th, "De ontwikkeling van Semarang als koloniale uitvoerhaven van Midden-Java sinds 1900 en zijn tegenwoordige betekenis." In Between people and statistics.


BROWN, Colin, "The intensified smallholder cane programme: the first five years," Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies, 18, no. 1, March 1982.

MUBYARTO, "Tebu rakyat intensivikasi: prospek dan masalahnya," Prisma, 10, no. 10, Okt. 1981.


Ronald Takaki, Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii, 1835-1920 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983), Pp. xiv + 213. US$14.95.

Ronald Takaki is a distinguished professor of ethnic studies at Berkeley who grew up in Honolulu. He is especially well qualified to write about Hawaiian sugar plantations therefore, and scholars interested in sugar history and the sociology of the plantation will find much of interest in this book.

The book begins with a brief introduction to the foundations of the Hawaiian sugar industry through its early phase into the more robust period of production in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The author underlines the labour-scarce economy of the region and describes how the establishment of plantation capitalism led to the introduction of field labour from an unusually wide range of countries, the Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Norwegian, Korean, Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, Spaniards, Russians and the Germans, not to speak of the workers who were locally recruited. The multi-ethnic nature of the Hawaiian sugar industry then emerges as the major theme in the fascinating study of the sociology of the plantation which follows.

Takaki takes us through the daily regime of the estates; through what he terms, "The Plantation Camps", a study of the hierarchical structure of estates, their conditions, the culture of the plantation community -- recreation and religion, language and custom; and finally into the arena of conflict, the resistance of the workers to their exploitation. In this last aspect, the author paints a picture of growing industrial militancy which culminated in the great sugar workers' strike of 1920 in which the extraordinary range of ethnic backgrounds amongst the workforce was dissolved into a unified and eloquent expression of class conflict.

Colleagues whose curiosity is satisfied by the hard-nosed detail of economic analysis and who thirst for supporting statistical data will not find that in this book. The book is not especially sensitive either to the dramatic changes in the structure and organisation of sugar production which took place in Hawaii during the years in which the study is located. At a very general level, those whose specialism lies in the study of plantation economy and society will discover much that is familiar in Takaki's depiction of life and labour on Hawaiian estates.

But this is a rich and penetrating study which builds on the very aspect which makes the Hawaiian estates not so much unique as outstanding in the world system of plantation ,production, and that is the extraordinarily ethnic and racial diversity of the sugar industry's workforce. But the undercurrents of ethnicity and class are skilfully interwoven and their special relationship in the context of Hawaii is counterposed starkly with the overarching themes of control and exploitation. In the process, Takaki not merely illuminates features in the history and sociology of plantation labour in Hawaii, he articulates the texture and dynamics of colonialism wherever it occurs.

Adrian Graves
University of Edinburgh

Thomas Becnel, Labor, Church and the Sugar Establishment. Louisiana, 1887-1976 (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press,1981), Pp.xv + 222. 19.20 pounds

In October 1953 a major strike erupted in the canefields of southern Louisiana. This study focusses on that strike and the three main protagonists in it: H. L. Mitchell's National Agricultural Workers Union, the Catholic church, and the sugar growers. The first half of the book is given over to setting the scene. The author discusses in some detail the history of labour relations in the sugar industry from the post-bellum period to the late 1940s, as well as considering the development of agricultural unionism both generally and in Louisiana. Southern Louisiana was one of the few places in the South with a large Catholic population, and as most of the growers were in the church the role played by the clergy was extremely important. The fact that the church, especially Archbishop Rummel of New Orleans, took the workers' part and actively encouraged union organisation is one of the most interesting features of this study. Opposing attempts at unionisation were the sugar growers, organised in the American Sugar Cane League. Good detail is provided not only on their anti-union activities but also their general lobbying for the sugar industry in Washington, where they found a champion in the powerful Louisiana senator Allen Ellender, chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.

Although the second part of the book covers the years 1949-1976, most of it is given over to the attempts to organise the field workers in the early 1950s, the strike over union recognition, and its aftermath. It makes sad reading. The union was rather easily defeated by the growers who could call on both greater financial resources and the force of the anti-labour legal system. In the following years this system was strengthened in Louisiana and other states by the passage of right-to-work laws which effectively outlawed the closed shop and thereby made it virtually impossible to organise agricultural workers with any degree of success.

This is a solid work of scholarship based on a wide range of primary material. Its main shortcoming is that there is not nearly enough on the structure of the industry or the exact nature of the social relations of production to give the reader unfamiliar with conditions in Louisiana a clear idea of the basis for the worker-planter struggles.

It is interesting to reflect on reading this book that sugar workers in a great many third-world countries have won the right to organise and bargain collectively, a right which continues to be denied their brother workers in the 'Land of the Free'.

Bill Albert
University of East Anglia

James Walvin (ed.), Slavery and British Society, 1776-1846 (London: Macmillan, 1982), Pp. 272. 14 pounds; paperback 5.95 pounds.

James Walvin, Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Short Illustrated History (London: Macmillan, 1983), Pp. viii + 168. 14 pounds; paperback 5.95 pounds.

Alison Grant, Bristol and the Sugar Trade (London: Longman, 1981), Pp. 96. 95 pence.

Until about twenty years ago the success of the British anti-slavery movement was usually seen either as the achievement of humanitarian ideology, or as the self-interested liquidation of a moribund enterprise, the argument of Williams in his Capitalism and Slavery. Subsequent research has made the issue seem much less simple. On one hand more emphasis has been given to the social complexities of humanitarianism, while on the other British West Indian slavery has appeared to be rather more resilient and flexible as an economic institution than Williams supposed. These recent tendencies appear in the collection of original essays on Slavery and British Society brought together by Dr. Walvin, including Drescher, Walvin, and Fladeland on popular opinion and anti-slavery, Craton and Geggus on slave rebellions and their repercussions, Duncan Rice on missionaries, Higman on demographic theory, and Eltis on abolitionist views of post-emancipation society. Together they give a good impression of the twists and turns of debate that resulted as imperfect information from the Caribbean interacted with metropolitan preoccupations. But even making allowances for the subject's intrinsic uncertainties, subscribers to this Newsletter may be disappointed that there is no real assessment of the British West Indian plantation economy and sugar trade during the last generations of slavery against which to judge contemporary perceptions and misconceptions. Three rather different views appear (pp. 14-15, 42-4, 168) without any editorial elucidation. Also the book's value as a teaching aid is severely reduced by the absence of the annotated bibliography promised in the publisher's introduction. Dr. Walvin's Slavery and the Slave Trade is a clear and well illustrated survey that should be ideal for sixth-form use; the admitted bias towards the Caribbean in the main chapters is fully compensated by some stimulating preliminaries on the classical and medieval background. Alison Grant's equally admirable Bristol and the Sugar Trade is intended for a rather younger readership.

J.R. Ward
University of Edinburgh

William Claypole and John Robottom, Caribbean Story. 2 volumes (London: Longman Caribbean, 1980). 2.55 pounds, 2.65 pounds.

This two-volume history of the Caribbean is designed for schools, especially in the Caribbean. The books are attractively produced, with generally good maps and photographs. Like most textbooks, it is often several years behind current scholarship in the field; similarly, it is often forced to skim over and simplify complex issues. Yet, on balance, Caribbean Story provides a reasonable overview of Caribbean history and makes a valiant attempt to survey the region.

Its treatment of the development of sugar in the Caribbean is useful, although much of what appears in these volumes will be familiar to those interested in the history of sugar. Volume one contains a helpful chapter on the eighteenth century plantation as well as chapters on the decline of sugar and on the role of indentured Indian labour in the nineteenth century. Volume two discusses the sugar plantation after emancipation and the process of amalgamation which affected many estates toward the end of the nineteenth century. The book also highlights the threat of beet sugar and the alternative crops which developed in the region.

In its study of the Caribbean generally, Caribbean Story at times becomes bogged down in overly political narrative at the cost of potentially more valuable social history. Its suggestions for further reading need to be updated, and there are some small errors in the text. Readers of the WSHN may not discover much that is new here; but students of the Caribbean will find this a reasonably comprehensive history of their region and one which devotes considerable attention to the twentieth century.

Gad Heuman
University of Warwick

Manuel Martin Rodriguez, Azucar y decolonizacion: origen y desenlace de una crisis agraria en la vega de Granada: el "Ingenio de San Juan", 1882-1904 (Instituto de Desarrollo Regional, Universidad de Granada, Instituto de Promocion y Desarrollo, Diputacion Provincial de Granada, 1982). n.p.

The cultivation of sugar beet on any scale began in Spain in the early 1880s. The first sugar-beet refinery, the Ingenio de San Juan, whose early history constitutes the main body of this work, was established in the vega of Granada in 1882, seven decades after similar developments had taken place north of the Pyrenees and long after the emergence of sugar beet as a staple item of European agriculture. As Manuel Martin Rodriguez shows in this well researched monograph, Granadan farmers saw the crop as the most adequate solution in their search for a replacement for linen and hemp which were severely hit by the crisis of Mediterranean agriculture of the 1870s. Between 1882 and 1892 the production of sugar beet on the irrigated lands around Granada rose 150 fold, while the area accounted for nine-tenths of national output by the end of the period. Five years later almost the whole of the irrigated part of the vega was given over to beet cultivation and a number of refineries had sprung up.

Before 1898 the fortunes of the Spanish economy were closely linked to the remaining colonies in the New World, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. The Spanish Cortes was the scene of numerous deals struck up between representatives of the Catalan millowners, who exported up to one-third of the output of cotton textiles to the islands, the cereal growers of Castile, for whom Cuba in particular was an important outlet for flour, and those Cuban and Puerto Rican deputies who defended the interests of colonial sugar cane producers. Nevertheless, the so-called Law of Commercial Relations with the Antilles of 1882, which modified the level of customs duties paid on imported sugar into the Peninsula, both satisfied the cane producers because it excluded European production from the Peninsula while granting a sufficient margin of protection to the farmers of southern Spain whose traditional crops were threatened with extinction.

After the loss of Spain's last remnants of empire in the Treaty of Paris in 1898, following that country's humiliating defeat in the Spanish-American War, new developments took place which altered the balance of beet production within the Peninsula. In order to bring in additional revenue to pay off the three billion peseta debt accumulated during the Cuban campaign of 1895-98 Finance Minister Raimundo Fernandez Villaverde imposed an additional tax on imported sugar which, albeit unintentionally, served as a stimulus to domestic production, especially since the former colonial producers had now sacrificed their privileged position in the Spanish market. The author calculates that between 1892-96 and 1897-1901 the volume of sugar beet production in Spain rose by 87 per cent. However, in the Granada region it rose by only 10 per cent. In response to a glut of sugar-beet production caused by the construction of new refineries in Aragon and the two in Castile prices began to tumble, a factor which triggered off the formation of a sugar trust, the Sociedad General Azucarera, in 1903.

The present work, which ends as the trust came into operation, traces the progress of the sugar-beet industry in Granada through the fortunes of its earliest and possibly most representative firm. In his final chapter, Martin Rodriguez discusses the high profitability of a number of the enterprises and their contribution to the evolution of the economy of the region, not least its financial system.

Joseph Harrison
University of Manchester

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