There is still evidence of the plantation society being adapted in the Caribbean today. This can be seen from critically analyzing the contribution of the plantation system through the social structures, economic model and lifestyle of the society. There will also be a comparison between the plantation society and the Caribbean society to show their relevance in the Caribbean society today.
Slavery occurred in the Caribbean during the 16th to 19th centuries. There was a social and political order which formed the social structures and class related lifestyles on the plantation society.
During the time of slavery, slaves were imported from Africa to work on the plantations to aid in the cultivation of cash crops which included sugarcane and tobacco. The main aim of the plantation society was to create a profit which aided in the development of Europe. Although the main aim was to make a profit, a social structure was developed which distinguished the slaves from their masters and create a clear line of authority and servitude.
(Barrow and Reddock 2001) defined the plantation society as a particular class of society with distinguishing characteristics of social laws of motion governing change and the political organization.
On the plantation, the slaves endured great oppression and depression. Since they were properties, they were generally exploited and found themselves at the bottom of the stratification system. To control the affairs of the plantation, a class system was developed. At the top of the pyramid was the white ruling class or the planter class which consisted of white plantation owners and persons who were closely associated with them. Under the white ruling class was the mixed or mullattos population together with the poor whites and free people of color. At the bottom was the black and non-white labor class. Within this class there was existence of racial divisions and labor hierarchy. This was the most notable aspect of the plantation society and was maintained by force and control. Each class had a status of their own and there was little movement for mobility especially with the interbreeding of blacks and whites since race was a major factor for stratification. Based on the various classes within the plantation system’s social structure, society was composed of various ethnicities.
Amongst the slave population there was also a pecking order which was divided into field slaves, domestic slaves and skilled slaves. The domestic slaves were offered more privileges than the field slave. They normally saw themselves as being superior which created a social division amongst them. This was reflected in the food they ate as well as the clothes they wore.
There were majority of unskilled workers during the plantation era. There were large areas of land used for production and the working class was excluded from centralized decision making due to social hierarchy.
Some other distinguishing features that was found on the plantation society was mono-crop production for export. There were strong monopolistic tendencies. Also, a rigid system of social stratification that included high correlation between racial and class hierarchies.
According to Mohammed, defined Social stratification under slavery defines the plantation society,” as a rigidly stratified system of social and economic relations enforced on plantations in the Americas”
Another distinguishing feature was the issue of weak community structure, marginality of peasants who engaged themselves in subsistence production and periodic work on the plantation.
Bearing in mind of the social construct of the past, the changes which took place leading up to the present day, the social hierarchy moved from a mobile structure which happened due to the changes caused by emancipation and the mass immigration that followed. The need for bettering ones’ social standing moved from the issue of the color of the skin to the need of educational, occupational and economic status. Another change which allowed for the differences in the post emancipation era was the migration of the whites back to Europe which made space for upward movements for the colored and black persons in both the social and political arena. There was also migration in search for better life’s and better jobs. Persons wanted to upgrade their standards of living and social mobility for example United States and Canada. By the twentieth century, the middle class controlled most of the leadership positions of political parties throughout the Caribbean.
Although, it can be said that politically there has been changes as compared to political emancipation of today’s society from that of the plantation society, it is still noticeable in most societies that the economic power is still in the hands of white ownership. Classes, even after political Independence in 1960, colonialism is still intact.
There is still working class being excluded from social hierarchy. This can be seen by social class not able to move up the social ladder. The low wages which persons receive as salary monthly reflects to the Plantation Society. During the Plantation Society, it was seen that women was paid less wages as men, even though they were able to do the same job as men. In the construction industries, women who are skilled are still being offered lower wages and men who are unskilled are paid more. The issue of exploitation is evident. The working class exploited for the profit of higher class and is allowed by political power to make the rich richer and the poor poorer which contributes to economical hierarchy which is accepted as normal but evident of this as the persistence of economical plantation society today.
Culture displayed through our African customs are still present today in society. We can observe it through our ethnic wear, religious designs, the language we speak and the food we eat. Culture remains one fundamental aspect of the plantation society which plays an important part of our heritage. We have seen women becoming bread winners in households. The movement of upward mobility though small business owned by locals. We have education as an important factor in society and is offered to all.
The issue globalization is one that is still occurring presently. Caribbean countries depend on mother countries to sell their products. Cocoa, nutmeg and banana is still being shipped to Europe in exchange for low foreign currencies so these mother countries buy these products at lower wages from countries and send it back as finished products and sell it back as a higher cost.
The Caribbean today can be seen as a plural society. Their pluralities can be characterized by division of race, ethnicity, religion and cultural differences. The hierarchy that holds the plantation society can be seen today through housing, jobs, lifestyles, wealth, education just to name a few. Housing is an example of class separation, where certain neighborhoods are inclusive to members of certain class.
It can be said from a social structure and economic standpoint that there is still remnant of the plantation society in the Caribbean today. There has also been a change made including social mobility and political control which makes society different in some ways but similar in many ways to that of the plantation society.