mintz - sweetness and power

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  • I do not know if coffee and sugar are essmtial to the happiness of Europe, but I know well that these twO products have accounted for the unhappiness

    of two great rtgions of the world: America has been depopulated &0 3$ to have land on which to plant them; Africa has been depopulated

    so as to have the people to cultivate them.

    -from Volume 1 of J. H. Bernardin de Saint Pierre's Voy


    to Elise LtCompte. who surely worked as hard on the book as I did, before emigrating to graduate school. Marge Collignon typed the final draft with skill and celerity. Dr. Susan Rosales Nelson worked swiftly and efficiendy in preparing the index.

    To the librarians who showed me unfailing kindness at the Van Pelt Library (University of Pennsylvania), the British Library, the Welicome Institute of Medicine Ubrary, the Firestone Library (Princeton University), the Enoch Pf'2tt Free Public Library of Bal timore, and, above all, the Milton S. Eisenhower Ubrary (The Johns Hopkins University), lowe more than I can say. A specia1 salute to the staff of the Interlibrary Loan Depanment of the Eisenhower Library, whose indusuy, dedication, and efficiency are unmatched.

    Many good mends read and criticized portions of the manuscript at different points in its preparation. Among them I must mention my colleague Professor Ashraf Ghani, as well as Dr. Sidney Cantor, Professor Frederick Damon, Professor Stanley Engerman, Dr. Scon Guggenheim, Dr. Hans Medick, and Professor Richard Price. Rich and detailed critical commentary on the entire manuscript came from Mr. Gerald Hagelberg. Professor Carol Heim, Mr. Keith McClelland, Professor Rebecca J. Sc:on, Professor Kenneth Sharpe, and Dr. William C. Sturtevant. I have not been able to deaJ adequately with all of their criticisms and suggestions, but their help improved the text more than they will probably recognize. Special enlightenment was volunteered by a veteran member of the sugar tramp fraternity, Mr. George Greenwood, for which I am most grateful. I also want to thank the members of my departrnentfaculty, staff, and students. Their encouragement and support during: our first decade together have given new meaning to the word collgUzlity. My editor, Elisabeth Sihon, awed me with her skill and fired me with her enthusiasm; I thank her warmly.

    If anyone suffered more with this book than I, it was my spouse, Jacqueline, to whom it is dedicated with all of my love and gratitude-a late present for our twentieth anniversary.

    -Sidney W. Mintt


    Acknowledgments ix

    List of llIustrarions xiii

    Introduction xv

    1 Food, Sociality, and Sugar 3

    2, Production 19

    3 Consumption 74

    4 Power 151

    5 Eating and Being 187

    Bibliography 215

    Notes 228

    Index 261

  • List of Illustrations

    Frontispiece: Europe Supported by Africa and America, by William Blake (1796)

    Following page 78: A uniformed slave cutting SUgaf cane (1722) A late-nineteenth-century depiction of tropical plants, including

    imagined sugar cane An early-nineteenth-cenrury slave gang hoeing and planting canes

    in Antigua A sixteenth-century sug:u' pl:mtarion in Spanish Santo Domingo A seventeenth-cenrury sugar mill in the Fttnch Antilles Nincteenth-cenrury sugar boiling-houses A sugar mill in operation today The Sugar. Hogsbead, by E. T. Parris (1846) Nineteenth-cenrury Fmtch desserts

    Following page 184: Miniarure sugar figures Mexican funereal confections Sugar mold commemorating the silver jubilee of George V of Great

    Britain (1935)' Model of the British royal state coach (19n) Model of the cathedral at Amiens (2 views) (1977) Model of a French sailing ship Model of a medieval castle (1977) Cae.sar',s Thumb French sugar baker sculpturing a nude


  • Introduction

    This book has an odd history. Though it was completed only after a recent and sustained period of writing. much of it grew

    from skimmings and impressions collected over many years of reading and research. Because of its subject matter, it is a figurative sort of homecoming. For nearly the whole of my professional life, I have been studying the history of. the Caribbean region and of those tropical products, mainly agricultural, that were associated with its "development" since the European conquest. Not all such products originated in the New World; and of course none of them, even those that were indigenous, became important in world trade until the late fifteenth century. Because they were produced thereafter for Europeans and North Americans, I became interested in how those Europeans and North Americans became consumers. Following production to where and when it became consumption is what I mean by coming home.

    Most people in the Caribbean region, descendants of the aboriginal Amerind population and of settlers who came from Europe, Africa, and Asia, have been rural and agricultural. Working among them usually means working in the countryside; getting interested in them means getting interested in what they produce by their labor. Because I worked among these people-learning what they were like, what their lives were made into by the conditions they lived under-I inevitably wanted to know more about sugar and rum and coffee and chocolate. Caribbean people have always been entangled with a wider world, for the region has, since 1492, been


    caught up in skeins of imperial control, spun in Amsterdam, London, Paris, Madrid, and other European and North American centers of world power. Someone working inside the rural sectors of those little island societies would inevitably be inclined, I think, to view such networks of control and dependence from the Caribbean vantage point: to look up and our from local life, so to speak, rather than down and into it. Bur this insider's view has some of the same disadvantages as the firmly European perspective of an earlier generation of observers for whom the greater part of the dependent, outer, non-European world was in most ways a remote, poorly known, and imperfect extension of Europe itself. A view that excludes the linkage between metropolis and colony by choosing one perspective and ignoring the other is necessarily incomplete.

    Working in Caribbean societies at the ground level, one is led to ask in just what ways beyond the obvious ones the outer wc-rld and the European world became interconnected, interlocked even; what forces beyond the nakedly military and economic ones maintained this intimate interdependence; and how benefits flowed, relative to the ways power was exercised. Asking such questions takes on a specific meaning when one also wants to know in particular about the histories of the products that colonies supply to metropolises. In the Caribbean case, such productS have long been, and largely still are, tropical foods: spices (such as ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and mace); beverage bases (coffee and chocolate); and, above all, sugar and rum. At one time, dyes (such as indigo and annatto and fusric) were important; various starches, starch foods, and bases (such as cassava, from which tapioca is made, arrowroot, sago, and various species of Zamia) have also figured in the export trade; and a few industrial staples (like sisal) and essential oils (like vetiver) have mattered; bauxite, asphalt, and oil still do. Even some fruits, such as bananas, pineapples, and coconuts, have counted in the world market from time to time.

    But for the Caribbean region as a whole, the steady demand overall and for most epochs has been for sugar, and even if it is now threatened by yet other sweeteners, it seems likely to continue to hold its own. Though rhe story of European sugar consumption has nOt been tied solely to the Caribbean, and consumption has risen steadily worldwide, without regard to where the sugar

    INTRODucnON .xvii

    comes from, the Caribbean has figured importantly in the picture for centuries.

    Once one begins to wonder where the tropical products go, who uses them, for what, and how much they are prepared to pay for them-what they will forgo, and at what price, in order to have them-one is asking questions about the market. But then one is also asking questions about the metropolitan homeland, the center of power, not about the dependent colony, the object and target of power. And once one attempts to put consumption together with production, to fit colony to metropolis, there is a tendency for one or the other-the "hub" or the "outer rim"-to slip out of focus. As one looks at Europe the better to understand the colonies as producers and Europe as consumer, or vice versa, the other side of the relationship seems less dear. While the relationships between colonies and metropolis are in the most immediate sense entirely obvious, in another sense they are mystifying.

    My own field experiences, I believe, influenced my perceptions of the center-periphery relationship. In January 1948, when I went to Puerto Rico to start my anthropoiogica'i fieldwork, I chose a south-coast municipality given over almost entirely to the cultivation of sugar cane for the manufacture of sugar for the North American market. Most of the land in that municipality was owned or leased by a single North American corporation and its landholding affiliate. After a stay in the town, I moved to a rural district (barrio); there, for slightly more than a year, I lived in a small shack with a young cane worker.

    Surely one of the most remarkable things about Barrio Jaucaand, indeed, about the entire municipality of Santa Isabel at the time-was its dedication to sugar cane. In Barrio Jauca, one stands on a vast alluvial plain, created by the scouring action of once-great rivers-a fertile, fanlike surface extending from th