World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 8, June 1986

In this issue:

  1. Research in Progress
  2. Book Reviews
  3. Papers of Reports Received
  4. Archive Report
  5. Request for Information

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 8, June 1986, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


[In addition to the lists given in issues nos. 1-7]

D. P. S. Ahluwalia, Department of Politics, Flinders University of South Australia.
"Sugar and Plantations in Uganda."


Maurice Lemoine, Bitter Sugar London: Zed Books, 1985. Pp. 336. Hb 19.95 pounds, $30.95; Pb 7.95 pounds, $12.25. (Available from Zed Books Ltd., 57 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9BU, UK).

To discover that the inhumanity associated with the production of sugar in the past continues in the 1980s is a shock. Maurice Lemoine in his investigation into the plight of Haitian migrant labourers recruited by the Dominican State Sugar Council (CEA) illustrates quite clearly that it does. Bitter Sugar tells a grim tale indeed.

Originally published in French and subsequently in Spanish, this new English translation aims to publicise the vicious labour practices carried out in the Dominican bateys (plantation work camps). Occasionally hampered by inappropriate English translation, Lemoine's book emerges as an admirable piece of investigative journalism.

The major part of the book is a dramatised account of the experiences of migrant Haitians (Kongos) in the Dominican Republic. The largely anecdotal flavour of much of the action and the occasional lapses of continuity indicate a strong reliance on oral evidence. Thus, Lemoine unwittingly reveals the difficulties inherent in such an investigation. The highly sensitive nature of his findings and their political implications make them highly controversial. His detailed account of personal suffering is supported by much political, economic, and historical background material. The book, in consequence, is a cross between a novel and a sociological study.

Despite these structural shortcomings, however, Bitter Sugar succeeds in addressing three main concerns: that working conditions in the bateys are akin to slavery; that the age-old connections between sugar, slavery and, racism are perpetuated; that State corruption by both oountries at all levels maintains political systems which depend upon the labour of the "Kongos" who are among its most cruelly abused victims.

The book explores the plight of impoverished Haitians, landless rural labourers, and unemployed urban workers alike who become temporary cane cutters. Their story is a bleak one of starvation, squalid "barracones" (quarters), no health care facilities, and long hours cutting cane. A grasping truck system and pittance wages ensure that everyone else grows rich at their expense.

Lemoine shows how the workers are controlled directly by the real threat of physical violence: regular beatings and shootings. Armed patrols prevent escape attempts and reinforce the Haitians' complete physical isolation. A successful "marroon" (runaway) is a rare individual. Opportunities for resistance are in fact more effectively controlled by indirect means: debt, physical weakness through starvation and exhaustion, and the elusive but terrifying existence of dreaded VSN (Ton Ton Macoute) spies. Lemoine is needlessly preoccupied with offering proof that slavery exists in the bateys. Twentieth-century methods of labour control often far outdo anything devised by the slave owners of old. In the absence of slavery these are merely pernicious modern alternatives to the age-old problem of labour shortages in a labour intensive industry.

The book illustrates that despite the importance of sugar to the Dominican national economy, Dominicans themselves maintain the age-old stigma that equates cane cutting with slavery and a black skin. This results in a desperate manpower shortage which only the Haitians will fill. However, colour prejudice combines with the intense national rivalry which has traditionally existed between the two countries. The Haitians' black skin marks them out indelibly in Dominican society and reinforces their ostracism and alienation. They are simultaneously needed and despised by their hosts.

Allegations of corruption on all levels indicate the complicity of all from the lowliest officials to Heads of State on both sides; these make astonishing reading. So, too, do the accounts of the illegal "poaching" and capture of migrants by the private plantations, themselves desperately short of workers. Lemoine maintains that no aspect of the inter-state labour agreements corresponds to the reality as experienced by these unfortunate workers.

The author concludes with a hint of optimism however. Haitian returnees increasingly dissuade others from volunteering as migrants; a growth in the political consciousness among the migrants is perceptible; and Haitians are gradually identifying their real enemies. Previously suppressed anti-Duvalier sentiments are being heard among the exiles and membership of their own infant labour organisations in the Dominican Republic grows with the help of sympathetic Dominican activists.

Bitter Sugar is essential reading for those concerned with the plight of Third World sugar workers and labour migrants. Readers wishing a glimpse into contemporary Haitian politics and society will also welcome its revelations. That this book should be published in the UK shortly before the demise of the Duvalier regime gives it an unexpectedly happier ending than Lemoine himself was able to foresee before he originally went to press in 1981.

Anni Midwood
University of Glasgow,

Charles Edquist, Capitalist, Socialism and Technology: A Comparative Study of Cuba and Jamaica (London: Zed Books Ltd., 1985). Pp. xiii + 182. Pb 6.50 pounds.

In a previous issue of the Newsletter I called for more comparative institutional studies of the sugar industry in different countries and Edquist's book is a brave attempt to move in this direction. He has chosen to examine the differing historical experiences of Cuba and Jamaica with respect to the mechanisation of sugar cane harvesting between 1958 and 1980. It is a good topic for comparative analysis being both highly specific, yet having extensive economic, social, and political consequences in both countries.

He begins by outlining his analytical framework, which may be termed a "structural-cum-actor oriented approach". This inelegant label simply means that while it is important to understand the total context within which technical choice decisions are taken, this context rarely determines directly the technique selected by an individual decision-maker. In most cases, the latter has an element of choice and this must be allowed for in the analysis. This is unexceptional but it is not clear where it gets us. At this level of abstraction such an approach would surely include both neoclassical economics where agents minimise costs subject to the structural constraints given by an implicit system of property rights, existing technology, and a set of factor prices and marxian analysis where men make history but not in circumstances of their own choosing. As it is, the effect of this chapter is that of taking a dive into a bowl of cotton wool.

There follow two descriptive chapters on Cuba and Jamaica respectively which identify the 'actors' in each sugar industry, i.e. sugar mill owners, cane farmers, wage workers and the government, and outline the technical changes in cane harvesting which occurred from 1958 to 1980. The main difference between the two countries is that whereas Cuba adopted mechanical harvesting on half its cane acreage during this period, Jamaica continued to cut al l its cane by hand. These chapters make informative but unexciting reading because there is no argument being sustained and no clear direction to the analysis.

At this point, Edquist returns to his analytic framework to introduce the concept of a "social carrier of technique". This is an agent which has the interest, organization, power, information, access and knowledge to choose and implement a production technique. More conventionally, it is simply a firm or enterprise of some sort. He then compares the determinants of technical choice in the two countries. The main conclusion is that by the mid-1970s, all actors in the Cuban industry favoured mechanical cutting while none of the actors in the Jamaican industry supported mechanical harvesting. In the latter case, this was because mechanization was not profitable to plantation Owners at existing wage rates and productivity levels and the powerful trade unions opposed the harvesters because of the difficulties of finding alternative employment for their members with open unemployment running at 27% of the labour force.

Edquist then considers the consequences of the choice of technique. This is the longest and most interesting chapter in the book. However, the first section in which he examines the performance of the Cuban cane harvesters is blighted by lack of detailed cost information which the Cuban authorities refused to supply on grounds of national security. This is unfortunate because discussing technical choice without reference to unit costs is like reading Hamlet without the Prince. In the remaining sections, the author argues that Cuba would have done better to purchase Massey-Ferguson harvesters from Australia during the 1960s instead of relying first on poor quality Soviet machines and then granting the patent rights on a Cuban designed harvester to its West German manufacturer. Nevertheless, the single minded pursuit of a machine appropriate for Cuban conditions did lead to the generation of a wider technological capability on the island. On the employment issue, Edquist is sympathetic to the plight of Jamaican cane cutters but he opposes the continued adoption of "appropriate technology", i.e. manual cutting, on the grounds that it will trap the Jamaican industry at a low level of productivity and wil l not stimulate indigenous technological capacity. The book finishes with a brief chapter which draws out the implications of the study for other developing countries.

Despite its admirable intentions, this is a lightweight volume which lacks a cutting edge to its analysis. The danger of an interdisciplinary approach is that it falls between several stools. In this case, the treatment of economic issues is technically weak which is partly attributable to lack of crucial data. However, there are no compensatory political insights into bureaucratic infighting in Cuba which must have occurred amongst different groups favouring different harvesters, nor is there any discussion of the power structure or internal policy making process of the Jamaican sugar unions.

Chris Scott
London School of Economics and Political Science

Gary A. Puckrein, Little England: Plantation Society and Anglo-Barbadian Politics, 1627-1700 (New York: New York University Press, 1984). Pp. xxvi, 235. Illustrations.

This book could have been very good. We very much need thorough, modern political, social, and economic histories of each of the British West Indian sugar islands. The materials are available: there are adequate older secondary works from which to start; the traditional major archival repositories are better organized and more accessible than they used to be; and we have good guides to many of the less well known repositories.(1) And the interest is there in a combination of the growing national awareness in the islands that seeks an understanding of the present through a knowledge of the past, of the current fashion in social history, and of the kinds of concerns that inspire us who happily enjoy the World Sugar History Newsletter. Unfortunately, this book ignores the resources at hand and discards the opportunities available. In attempting too much, perhaps, and in doing poorly what he does do, Dr. Puckrein leaves the reader profoundly dissatisfied.

I have to say right away that I have a grievance with the author. We shared the discovery of one of the major new sources upon which he drew, a record of all the exports of Barbados for the three years from mid-1664 through mid-1667. Not only does he nowhere acknowledge my assistance with these Customs journals but, worse yet, he fails to do anything with them. He offers little more than a description of them (pp. 57-60). His Table 4.1 is useless and the numbers in it not to be trusted. The original Customs data could have been turned into a detailed analysis of the Barbadian sugar trade and sugar economy during the height of the island's golden age. I warn readers of my difficulties with the author because I fear that I may have overcompensated by being too generous in these remarks.

The opportunity foregone in Dr. Puckrein's discussion of the Barbadian economy is matched by a similar shallowness in his treatment of the island's social and political history. One has the right to be disappointed in this regard, also, because of the promise implicit in his doctoral dissertation, "The Acquisitive Impulse: Plantation Society, Factions, and the Origins of the Barbadian Civil War (1627-1652)," (Brown University, 1978). The commitment to a more extensive chronological coverage indicated in the title of this book is not honored because the few pages of his Chapter 8 that deal with society and politics after the 1650s are completely derivative and represent neither new research nor new insights. Nevertheless, what he says about the politics of the planter class does demonstrate that what went on in Barbados during the 1630s and 1640s was not simply an extension of the Cavalier and Roundhead struggle at home; just as he wrote in his dissertation, it was much more complex than we thought it to have been. But except for Chapters 6 and 7 (and part of Chapter 8) -- which would have made a good scholarly article -- there is not much of value in this book. Caveat lector!

(1) See my review article, "New Guides to Primary Sources on the History of Early British America", William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., XLI (April 1984), 277-295.

John J. McCusker
University of Maryland


G. B. Hagelberg, "Some Current Questions of Sugar Policy and Implementation in Barbados," Central Bank of Barbados Economic Review, Vol. XII, No. 1, June 1985, pp. 23-30.

G. B. Hagelberg, Sugar in the Caribbean: Turning Sunshine into Money (Washington, D.C.: The Wilson Center, 1985). Pp. 42.

F. Rosillo Calle, "The Brazilian National Alcohol Programme (P.N.A.): A Technological Perspective," PhD thesis, Aston University, Birmingham, U.K.
This thesis analyses Brazil's P.N.A., the "ProAlcool". It is concerned with the technological components of the production/utilization of industrial alcohols by fermentation, for use as fuels and chemical feedstocks. From 1975 to 1985 nearly 50 billion litres of alcohol from sugarcane have been produced to this end - 9.2 billion litres in 1985 alone. The installed capacity is about 12.5 billion litres/year -- a 40% annual increase since 1975. Further expansion will depend on many factors: e.g., world oil situation and advances in fuel technology. Consumption estimates vary from 16 to 60 billion litres annually by the year 2000, depending on whether alcohol substituting for diesel oil is included.

The thesis considers also socio-economic issues, criticisms, failures, and achievements of the P.N.A.; bioenergy technology and the possible role of the programme and its duplicability within a Third World context. Bioenergy represents the main hope for many less developed countries (LDCs) of achieving greater energy and economic independence. For the first time bioenergy is being used on a large industrial scale to provide man with his modern energy needs, of which the P.N.A. is the best testimony. The P.N.A. can serve as a "school" to other countries willing to take a similiar path.



Archival resources in Hawaii for sugar historians are abundant and diverse and promise to expand dramatically in a few years. A Commission has been at work to list and locate historical materials in Hawaii. A preliminary listing, from which this description has been drawn, is available from the Hawaiian Historical Society. The principal Collections are listed here.

The University of Hawaii Hawaiian-Pacific Collection has a particular focus on sugar. Full holdings of the Hawaii Sugar Planters' Association publications are supplemented by a wide collection of technical sugar journals and periodicals. Of particular interest are five sets of plantation records ranging from 1876 to 1935. These microfilm records are well catalogued. They include correspondence to and from factories and headquarters, production records, mill records, payrolls, time books, supply records, and engineering data. The collection also has an extensive collection of diaries, letters, and notebooks of early sugar planters. A large and steadily expanding resource is the collection of theses written in the various Colleges of the University, particularly in plant physiology, economics, and history. The collection is open Monday-Saturday, 8:00-4:30. Hawaiian Collection, Hamilton Library, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI 96822.

The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum Library and Archive has the corporate records of several major sugar companies, in particular, the corporate records of Theo. H. Davies, the business records of the Dillingham Corporation, a library of 88,000 books dealing with Hawaii and the Pacific. Open on a limited basis and by appointment. The Museum Photograph Collection contains 500,000 pictures of Hawaii and the Pacific. 1525 Bernice Street, PO Box 1900A, Honolulu, HI 96819.

Particularly valuable for research is the Grove Farm Homestead Museum. The repository of the complete records of the Grove Farm Plantation, 1855-1935 and the personal papers of the founder and operator, G. N. Wilcox, offers a complete view of a highly successful, innovative sugar company. Expanding the view beyond Grove Farm are the files of correspondence with the H.S.P.A. from 1895. The correspondence to and from the Bureau of Labor of the Association provides a rare view of the state of labor relations through the period. The archive is open 40 hours weekly and by appointment. Dr. Barnes Riznik, Director, PO Box 1631, Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii 96766.

Hawaiian Historical Society, the collection of 19th century materials consists of a large collection of manuscript material, 3,000 photos, diaries and letters of mid-nineteenth century figures, and extensive holdings of 19th century newspapers. Holdings include, for example, the early records of Castle and Cooke and cover the establishment of plantations in 1853 and 1856. Open Mon-Fri, 10-4. 560 Kawaihao Street, Honolulu, HI 96813.

Kauai Historical Society and Kauai Museum contain manuscripts, newspapers, and general Kauai material, particularly of the period 1850-1920. Uninventoried ledgers and mss materials from a major plantation are also available. PO Box 1778, Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii, HI 96766.

Lyman House Memorial Museum offers a collection of 7,000 publications, 10,000 photos, a collection of New England newspapers (600 issues) which has been completely indexed for Hawaiian materials, including early sugar efforts. Open 30 hours weekly and by appointment. 276 Haili Street, Hilo, HI 96720.

The Alexander and Baldwin Museum. A new museum and archive will open later this year in September at Puunene, Maui, Hawaii, for limited use. Eventually this museum will offer an extensive collection of records of the Alexander and Baldwin Companies and the many plantations and mills absorbed into HC & S, the largest sugar company in Hawaii, dating from 1850.

Hawaii State Archives. This archival collection dates from 1792 and contains an amazing collection of public records and papers of officials from the Kingdom to the present day. Of particular interest to sugar historians are the Collections of the Bureau of Immigration, (1882-1915), the Board of Health, later the Board of Sanitation, from 1886, the Attorney General, 1850ff, the Hawaii Supreme Court, 1850ff, and the various circuit courts. These latter records are largely in Hawaiian until the late 19th century and are being made available in translation. These records provide detailed information on immigrant and indentured labor from 1850-1900. Territorial records, beginning July 14, 1900, to 1959 are also available and remarkably complete. The papers of the Territorial Governors are heavily concerned with immigration, labor, and strike matters and are particularly revealing on the relationship of the Territorial government to the sugar industry. Open Mon-Fri, 7.45-4.30, Iolani Palace Grounds, Honolulu, HI 96813.

Hawaii Sugar Planters' Asssociation Library. The Library is a working collection serving the HSPA Experiment Station. It is not a public collection. In addition to the records attendant on such work, the library has an extensive collection of published materials on sugar, including a complete collection of Hawaiian Sugar Company annual reports. In 1982-84 the HSPA assembled and brought to the Library all of the early records which were located in an inventory conducted by the Hawaiian Historical Society. These records are slowly being brought out of storage and processed. Since the Library is a private, special purpose collection, it is not generally open to the public. Requests from serious researchers are considered on a case by case basis to the extent that resources and staff permit. 99-193 Aiea Heights Drive, Aiea, Hawaii, 96701.

TheHawaii State Historical Records Advisory Board is currently engaged in a detailed survey of record repositories with a view to implementing a program of preservation and control of records. Information can be obtained from the Hawaiian Historical Society, address above.

Ed Beechert
University of Hawaii


United States sugar policy and/or the US beet sugar industry between the wars.
If anyone is working on these subjects or knows someone who is, would they please contact Bill Albert.

ERECTING SHOP c1896 -- M'Onie, Harvey & Co. Limited, Engineers, Glasgow.

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, University of East Anglia, NORWICH, NR4 7TJ, UK.