“Cane is Bitter”: The “Epigraph” of Caribbean History

Julia Udofia


Cane-cultivation can, to a large extent, be said to symbolize the history of the Caribbean. Following Columbus’sdiscovery of gold in the West Indies and his later realization that the gold supply from the area was finite, hisattention turned to the large-scale cultivation of cane which was then a highly lucrative crop. The cultivation ofcane was highly capital-and-labour-intensive. The more sophisticated and efficient machines for extracting sugarwere expensive and the crop itself was highly perishable which meant that it had to be processed shortly afterharvesting. Negro slavery provided easily available and replaceable, unskilled labour. Under slavery, thehumanity of the blacks was almost completely eroded. This inhumane system of slavery, coupled with thecultural and racial plurality found in the West Indies had far-reaching influences on the Caribbean psyche, suchas are difficult to eradicate even in the twenty-first century. And so, the objective of this paper is to show howcane is bitter as depicted in literary texts by Caribbean writers and why it could be regarded as the “epigraph” ofCaribbean history. The methodology of the work is to first examine a selection of published literary works on thesubject and then have recourse to relevant critical materials in a bid to enhancing the focus of the arguments. Inthe end, it is found out that cane, indeed, is bitter because it was what brought about the uprootment anddispossession of millions of people from thousands of miles of ocean for servitude in the West Indies and alsodestined them to a life of hard toil, dependence, ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, disease and subservience.Keywords: cane, cultivation, epigraph, Caribbean, history, bitter,

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ISSN (Paper)2224-5766 ISSN (Online)2225-0484

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