Peasants, Plantations, and Resistance
Plantations and Peasants
Plantations conjure up time-worn images in Latin American history:
vast undulating fields of grass and scrub trees overrun with cattle
herded by wild-eyed, weather-beaten ranch hands; or flat stretches of
hot lands choked with sugarcane overseen by domineering landlords
who force brutal, backbreaking labor on cowering canecutters under
a hot sun. Thanks to the writings of Gilberta Freyre and his epigones,
we associate plantations most often with slave society. After abo-
lition, however, plantations assumed a new role in most of Latin
During the independence wars
plantations underwent
heavy depredations. The fields were trampled in battle, and slave
labor forces were raided to fill military ranks. Ownership of planta-
tions changed hands when aristocratic families fled or could not ad-
just to the new economies. Plantations fell into the hands of the state
or were swooped up by eager new owners, and fresh blood meant
other changes. New markets stimulated changes in crops as well as
owners; the new planters were often part-time merchants who spent
more time making deals in the city. Absentee ownership became a
common feature of export plantations.
The new-style landowners hired managers to direct field operations
on a daily basis in their absence. They expected the hired administra-
tors to bring to the plantation a sense of continuity; they would be the
voice of the owner. Despite the changes, in other words, the new
owners wanted everything to remain on a smooth course without dis-
ruption. Indeed, the transition seems to have been easy. Black slaves
continued to bend their backs to field labor. It is not unlikely that free
peasants might be found alongside them from time to time, a curi-
ous - perhaps new - but not unusual phenomenon. On the whole,
plantations and laborers abetted the perception that plantation so-
ciety underwent little change with the end of Spanish colonial rule.
Previous Page Next Page