The more free time the enslaved people had, the better their standard and quality of life on the plantation. This, of course, worked against the ‘production’ interest of the planter, who sought to minimize free time and maximize productive time. The enslaved, therefore, had to carve out free time against the protests of plantation management.

     Enslaved strategies of malingering, arson, running away or revolt all affected the productive capacity of the estate by interrupting the supply of labour and lessening output. Enslaved resistance stemmed in large measure from their awareness of the importance of their labour to the "risky" productive process. This awareness of their ‘power’ did not suddenly develop within their transplanted communities in the Caribbean but, as earlier shown, was deeply rooted in traditional West African slavery.22

     From the 1767 revolt at Hanover to the Christmas revolt in December 1831, the enslaved people demonstrated their opposition to management’s work regime. The work that did get done on the plantation was, therefore, a subset of the possible work that could have been done. The planters realized this and often labelled the enslaved Africans as "dreadful idlers." However, beyond stereotyping and ineffective whippings, there was little management could do to coerce extra labour from the workforce.

     By pursuing strategies of resistance then, enslaved people introduced into the hectic production scenario strategies which further threatened to increase production costs or halt production altogether. As a result, they managed to secure, and exploit, important bargaining leverage. The Black ‘elite’ on plantations is illustrative of this. For management, the enslaved’s bargaining position translated itself into their grudging adoption of unofficial ameliorated conditions to preserve and placate labour, even before the major Amelioration Act was passed in 1823.

     While it is true that the ‘elite’ workers did gain personally from negotiations through gifts of animals, money, rum, land use and so on, it is also clear that these rewards did not serve to dissuade them from opposing management. This apparent ‘two-facedness’ of the elites, while often being interpreted as either accommodation or resistance, had a firm foundation in West African culture.23

*** Planter Strategies***

     Planters looked for strategies for limiting ‘slave’ freedoms. To this end they reasoned that so long as the enslaved were dependent on the estate for the basic necessities of life, food and shelter, there existed limits as to how "free" they could be. Plantation dependency brought with it, then, curtailment of freedom.24


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August 2000