White and Deadly

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Book Details

Author 
Publisher  Nova Science Publishers
Publication Date   September 1, 1999
ISBN  1560727101
Pages  278

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Description

In 1493, Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to the West Indies, brought cuttings of sugar cane from the Canary Islands, which at that time was Spain's chief supplier. The Spanish colonizers who followed Columbus brought with them a supremely confident belief in European right and power, and a formidable arsenal of cultural domination with which they proceeded to plunder the entire region. But all this cultural technology was to be outweighed eventually by the impact of sugar. These few cuttings of sugar cane brought by Columbus were to have the most profound effect, not only in the Caribbean, but in world structures of imperial power, in the relations between vast communities of people and, ultimately, in the political shape of the world itself.

Sugar was a commodity which revolutionised European habits of consumption. In this sense, it is one of the most significant of the many influences of colonial societies which circulated back into metropolitan culture. Its impact was a direct result of the consequences of plantation slavery and its emergent cultures. It was largely around the production and processing of sugar that a complex Creole society developed, and with it a range of cultural effects which gradually spread to other societies.

The development of sugar as a major industrial crop was a complex process. It was an unfamiliar crop to Europeans, and its production and consumption had to be learnt from other cultures. While it is supposed that a form of sugar was known in both India and China at least 2500 years ago, it eventually spread westward to the Near East and was introduced into the Mediterranean around the eighth century by the Arabs, where it became, and remained, an important crop until the 1500s. While sugar was used as an occasional sweetener in various parts of the world, it was not until its introduction into the Americas that it became a universally consumed commodity.

This volume begins the task of re-thinking sugar in terms of cultural colonization and its post-colonial transformations. Why is such a reading necessary? Sugar consumption, sugar production, plantation economies, the effects of tropical plantations on mercantilist trade have all been analysed extensively, but there are very few studies of the interweaving of these factors with the complex cultural transformations initiated by the tropical sugar industry. The most significant aspect of the cultural analysis of sugar is the discovery that, because sugar is the reason for the most traumatised and disrupted colonial populations, it is also the focus of the most revolutionary cultural developments. The most significant feature of these developments is their 'transcultural' effects which circulate back into European culture. In this, they provide a model for the trajectory of post-colonial transformations of all kinds, a potent demonstration of the global effects of 'post-colonial' cultures.

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