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Comparing Haiti, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico Term Paper

Related Topics: Slavery Economy Puerto Rico Haiti

Pages:7 (1964 words)




Document Type:Term Paper



The Caribbean nations of Haiti, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico share in common a history of tumultuous colonial rule. Yet different Old World colonial governments had presided over each of these countries, leading to completely different languages, cultures, customs, and institutions. The French left the most lingering legacy on Haiti, and Haitian slaves ended up leading the world’s first successful large-scale slave rebellion. British rule in Jamaica would also eventually dissolve, as slavery became an untenable model for the global labor market. Spanish-ruled Puerto Rico likewise capitalized on the slave trade and the free labor extracted from it, but slavery in Puerto Rico was less linked to race as it was in either Haiti or Jamaica. This is not to say that Puerto Rico is not as marred by slavery as were Jamaica or Haiti, but the colonial system did ensure a lingering social stratification based on class status. This paper compares and contrasts Haiti, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico according to three main themes: slavery, family, and the peasantry. Slavery, family, and the peasantry are themselves interrelated concepts that contributed to the evolution of disparate cultures on these three Caribbean islands. Based on anthropological evidence, the central thesis of this paper is that in spite of their abundant historical and linguistic differences, Haiti, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico share in common similar sociological patterns related to power and labor exploitation.


Slavery is the defining feature of the settlement of the New World, particularly in the Caribbean after the establishment of cash crop economies. The sugarcane industry became predominant throughout the Caribbean. However, Puerto Rico was a relative latecomer to the sugarcane economy. Sugarcane had been a thriving global commodity in Jamaica and Haiti before it became a viable cash crop in Puerto Rico, as Mintz points out in The Ancient Colonies. Although plantation-based slavery was not as salient in Puerto Rico as it was in Jamaica or in Haiti, Puerto Rico still employed slaves—some on plantations but many who worked more in urban centers as domestics (Godreau, Cruz, Ortiz, et al 120). As Puerto Rico evolved a different economy from that of Jamaica or Haiti, one less dependent on a single crop like sugarcane, the system of slavery manifested on the Spanish colony differently. By the time sugarcane plantations were established in Puerto Rico, various members of the peasant classes, not just non-whites, compromised the growing racially-mixed underclass (Mintz 143).

In Jamaica and Haiti, on the other hand, slavery and race were inextricably entwined. Describing the revolution in Haiti, Dubois describes the New World’s first large-scale successful slave rebellion in Avengers in the New World. Chapter Four, “Fire in the Cave,” describes the build-up of tension among the slaves, who “often found supporters ready and waiting,” (Dubois 96). Long before the advent of social media, the insurgents organized en masse as if beating to the sound of the same drums. One plantation manager named Pierre Mossut wrote with alarm, “There is a motor that powers them and that keeps powering them and that we cannot come to know,” (Dubois 96). The “success of the insurrection” in Haiti dealt a blow to the colonial governments in Haiti and resonated throughout the Caribbean (Dubois 96). Ironically, the Haitian slave revolt proved so successful that even some of the French plantation owners pleaded for the British to occupy the colony as “the only way to preserve the institution of slavery,” (Dubois 117).

Slaves were also socially stratified in both Jamaica and Haiti, with some having access to greater status, freedom of movement, and privileges…

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…their low social status. For example, in Jamaica, the church contributed to the creation of free villages after abolition. Mintz also claims Haiti and Jamaica both had a vibrant peasant class to establish new post-colonial sociological institutions (115). In Haiti, religion was crucial for the empowerment of the peasantry, all of which were liberated slaves. Religion can be a means to oppress or to liberate the peasantry, and is a potent form of cultural identity construction. For example, voodoo in Haiti is central to culture, custom, and identity. The peasnatry adapted the religion of the oppressor to serve their own needs, and to resist their African traditions from being subsumed by Catholicism (Laguerre 36). Voodoo has borrowed continually from the religions and customs of the colonial powers, enabling the people of Haiti to retain power and control over social norms and sociological institutions. As Laguerre puts it, voodoo “expressed the solidarity of the village,” (36). In Haiti, the voodoo religion literally became the bastion of power for the peasantry. In Jamaica and Puerto Rico, religion served also as a vital force for social and psychological empowerment of the peasantry.


Colonialism, racism, and slavery have all “defined the Caribbean region,” but it would be a grave mistake to assume that the will and character of the people did not transcend or subvert the ravages of the exploitative labor market and brutal colonial regimes (Geggus 83). This paper has examined the ways slavery, the family, and the peasantry manifested differently in Haiti, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Because each of these three nations was presided over by a totally different culture and colonial government, their histories and cultures naturally evolved differently from one another. Yet in spite of differences in language and custom, Haiti, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico demonstrate remarkable…

Sample Source(s) Used

Works Cited

Dubois, Laurent. “Fire in the Cane,” in Avengers of the New World, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Geggus, David. “The Caribbean in the Age of Revolution.”

Godreau, Isar P., Cruz, Mariolga Reyes, Ortiz, Mariluz, et al. “The Lessons of Slavery: Discourses of Slavery, Mestizaje, and Blanqueamiento in an Elementary School in Puerto Rico.” American Ethnologist, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2008, pp. 115-135.

Laguerre, Michael. “The Place of Voodoo in the Social Structure of Haiti.” Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 3, 1973, pp. 36-50.

Mintz, Sidney Three Ancient Colonies: Caribbean Themes and Variations, Harvard University Press, 2012.

Safa, Helen. “The Matrifocal Family and Patriarchal Ideology in Cuba and the Caribbean,” Journal of Latin American Anthropology, Vol. 10, No.2, 2005.

Stinchcombe, Arthur. “Planter power, Freedom, and Oppression of Slaves in 18th century Caribbean”, from Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment, Princeton University Press, pp. 125-158.

Stinchcombe, Arthur. “Race as a Social Boundary: Free Colored versus Slaves and Blacks,” from Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment, Princeton University Press, pp. 159-172.

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