Conceptually, therefore, the enslaved West Africans always knew that they were free to enjoy certain rights based on traditional West African slavery.18 Within this construct, which emphasized the significance of African continuities, they were "always free."19 In this sense, ‘free’ implied a right to personal status and individuality based on the West African ‘slave mode’ of production, an understanding which the Atlantic World system of "chattel slavery" attempted to deny them.


     The sugar plantation was, ultimately, an economic concern. As such, economically based long-term resistance directly and continuously affected the planter. Resistance did not always mean running away or revolt. Resistance, for the greater mass of enslaved people, meant carving out ‘free’ spaces with or without the master’s consent. For the greater mass of enslaved people, this meant obtaining time, for example through ‘slave gardens’ or by feigning sickness. For the elite ‘slaves,’ more elaborate methods for securing "free" time were pursued. By refocusing our analysis of the elite from a discussion on "accommodation" and "resistance" to interaction in terms of a power discourse with management, this paper also introduces the underlying principle by which enslaved people manipulated their masters’ system to achieve their end of ‘freedom’ even during slavery.20

     In Jamaica and, in the context of "chattel" slavery, the idea of ‘freedom’ for the enslaved person meant not only physical removal from the estate but included also the space created by any withdrawal of his labour from the production schedule. As initially advanced, the enslaved’s time was demanded by two competing centres. One concerned plantation production; the other concerned self. Any time not spent in production bettered the enslaved’s standard of existence while it hampered plantation productivity. As far as plantation management was concerned, therefore, the enslaved's "free time" was synonymous with unproductive time and needed to be curtailed. However, the planters’ dependence on enslaved labour curtailed the extent to which they could remain inflexible on the matter. The enslaved West African valued his "free" time and struggled to secure it as a customary right.

     For enslaved West Africans, free time was necessary for them to recover from the rigours of plantation production. It offered also scope for socialization and personal time to tend their own crops and to attend market.21


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August 2000