This paper attempts to examine some of the subtle consequences of imperial control. It tries to show how the metropolitan-colonial relationship itself as distinct from any individual acts of imperial exploitation or oppression, can be debilitating to the colonial society. In order to do this some historical background is necessary.
Foundations of the Society
In Jamaica, under British rule, we have never had indigenous populations and settlers eyeing each other with jealousy, mistrust, and scorn. We have been an entirely imported society. There were, for a long time, masters and slaves, and society was cut into its clear divisions of those who owned and those who were owned. But while plantation slavery divided, it also bound the free and the unfree in a terrible, sadistic intimacy. Planters lashed their slaves; but they also played with them.
The English did not introduce slavery to the Caribbean, but they learned to use it and they developed the use of it. They did this because they wanted to produce sugar and they needed a labour force. There were early attempts to provide, by forms of indenture, a labouring population of whites. But demand outran the limits of this supply and so the recourse to Africans began: not because they were black, or stronger, or less easily burned by the sun; but because they could be had in large numbers. Later, when African slavery was well begun, when the slave populations were sufficiently numerous, and the working whites diminished in number, the myth grew that Europeans could not labour in the tropical heat. The notion that certain occupations carry more prestige than others has always been accepted. The estate-owner, or manager, clearly was, and still is, considered to hold a more important position than the cane-cutter. But on the slave-estates it was also established that only negroes could be cane-cutters.
And so, for nearly two centuries, we were kept as a slave-worked plantation colony producing sugar and other tropical staples for export. With our small resources devoted to production for export we became dependent on imports. The siting of our important towns on the coast lines had nothing to do with aesthetic values or even with comfort. It reflected the dominant importance of the overseas connection. The ships brought governors, soldiers, imperial instructions, and essential supplies for the support of the plantation system; they took away the produce of the estates. Confined, for the most part, to the small transactions of unpaid slave-labourers whose chief efforts lay in estate-production, the domestic sector scarcely grew and the economic pre-occupation with exports and imports bred its social consequences. The eyes of those who conducted affairs were focused abroad where the markets lay. Moreover, because we were British and were tied by regulation, and then by association, primarily to the British market, our economic as well as our political welfare depended on conditions prevailing in the all-powerful metropolis. Even now, with political independence, we still look to ‘the ship’ with subservience. Because we live by exports we tend to ask questions about what people abroad will buy. Because of our dependence on imports we tend to look abroad for the necessities and the comforts we want. In short, we have not been taught by experience to begin with questions about our own needs, and our own means of supplying them. We have learned to be first curious about the needs and the products of others.