ABSTRACT

The supreme importance of slavery in Caribbean labor history has sometimes concealed from view the subtler varieties of coer­ cion used to maintain an adequate labor supply in the region. Reference has been made to the European indentured servants who peopled the early British and French plantation experiments in the Lesser Antilles in the seventeenth century, and to the Asian contract laborers who arrived in large numbers after (and some­ times even before) emancipation on various islands. But Puerto Rico provides us with a very special instance of forced labor-an instance that throws real light upon slavery itself and, to a lesser extent, upon the relationship between race and social structures. The Puerto Rican case is not unique in all particulars. In Cuba, for instance, Chinese contract laborers were imported in very large numbers before emancipation and worked alongside slaves on the same enterprises. In Barbados in the seventeenth century, Eu­ ropean indentured servants and enslaved Africans and Amerin­ dians cut cane together under British masters. Thus the Puerto Rican experience, in which African and Creole slaves and freeborn "white" Creoles worked side by side, is but one of several. Each such case shares certain features with the others. In all, acknowl­ edged ethnic and/or "racial" differences tended to separate those of one status (for instance, the slaves) from those of another (for

instance, the indentured servants). In all, those of nonslave status were complementary to the slaves-at least, until final emancipa­ tion erased that category from the Caribbean region, island by island. Accordingly, differences in status among categories of forced labor illuminate the local code of race and ethnic relations, and say something as well about the intrinsic characteristics of each such category. Just as the presence and status of enslaved Africans in Cuba threw light upon the position of the Chinese con­ tract laborers, so too those laborers, by their presence and status, help to enhance our understanding of Cuban slavery.