In Place of Slavery: A Social History of British Indian and Javanese Laborers in Suriname

By Rosemarijn Hoefte | Go to book overview

I Introduction

On 5 June 1873, the Lalla Rookh docked in Fort Nieuw Amsterdam, Suriname. Fourteen weeks after leaving Calcutta, 399 indentured British Indian immigrants had almost reached their destination, the colonial plantations. It was certainly not a first in Caribbean history, as the first British Indians had arrived in neighboring British Guiana some thirty-five years earlier. It was, however, an important moment in the history of Suriname, and the timing was no coincidence. On 1 July 1863, the Dutch government had abolished slavery in its Caribbean colonies. Planters and the administration had agreed on a ten-year transition period in which the former slaves were to work for employers of their own choice under the supervision of the state. Three weeks before the end of this mandatory "apprenticeship" period, the Lalla Rookh arrived. The immigrants had signed a contract obliging them to work for five years on a plantation in Suriname yet to be assigned. This contract specified the rights and, above all, the duties of the worker. The contract and additional local ordinances placed the immigrant under stringent control and included the so-called penal sanction, which made neglect of duty or refusal to work a criminal offense.

The main objective of the estate owners was to continue their economic activities with labor that was malleable and as cheap as possible. In many colonies, the planters resorted to immigrants to replenish the labor pool. 1 They characterized the ex-slaves as "lazy," "unreliable," and unfit to perform arduous plantation work. Even though planters continued to employ former slaves, particularly in skilled jobs or during the harvesting season, the great majority of them refused to or were unable to consider the possibility of pay increases or an amelioration of working conditions that might have made plantation labor more attractive to the freed slaves, so as to retain their services. Instead, planters followed the immigrant labor strat-

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In Place of Slavery: A Social History of British Indian and Javanese Laborers in Suriname
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Tables vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • I - Introduction 1
  • 2 - A Concise History of Suriname and Mariënburg 8
  • Epilogue: Mariënburg Since the Second World War 23
  • 3 - The Immigration of British Indians and Javanese 25
  • 4 - Demographic Impact of British Indian and Javanese Indentured Immigrants 61
  • 5 - Protection, Power, and Control 80
  • 6 - The Plantation Hierarchy 94
  • 7 - Tasks, Hours, and Wages 114
  • 8 - Social Provisions: Free Housing and Medical Care, and the Plantation Shop 137
  • 9 - Social, Religious, and Cultural Life of the Asian Immigrants 158
  • 10 - Resistance 186
  • Conclusion 203
  • Appendix I 207
  • Appendix 2 209
  • Notes 213
  • Bibliography 250
  • Index 265
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