Eric Williams on the Haitian Peasant

We must not, however, be romantic about this question of peasant proprietorship. Peasant ownership, by itself, is no solution of the agricultural problem of the Caribbean. Haiti is the glaring example. The average holding is small, from three to six acres, and lots of one-fifth an acre are not uncommon. The method of cultivation is primitive in the extreme. The plough is unknown. A hoe and cutlass, valued at $1.20, represent the sum total of the peasant’s instruments of production. He is ignorant of questions of fertility, selection of seeds and plants, protection against insects and disease. his is essentially subistence agriculture, a pre-capitalist economy in which wages are unknown. To the primitive methods of coffee cultivation and preparation is to be ascribed the earthy flavor of Haitian coffee which makes it unpopular in the world market. The preparation of soil is the task of the family or an organization known as the “coumbite”, a primitive method of co-operation which has been described by Dr. Simpson as “one of the most popular, most beneficial, and most durable of Haitian institutions.”

The Haitian peasant is poor, miserably poor. In the expressive creole dialect of the country, he is a “toutiste”: he does everything for himself. The annual incomes of peasants in the district of Plaisance have been estimated at from 40 to 300 dollars, with the maximum figure rare. It is this poverty which has encouraged the Haitian to emigrate to the “superior” opportunities of field work in the sugar industry in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The Haitian peasant owns his land. But that is only half the battle. For peasant ownership to succeed, the peasant must be taught and educated, and his primitive instincts corrected. For failure to do this the mulatto overlords of Haiti bear as great a responsibility as the white foreign overlords elsewhere in the Caribbean who have consistently opposed peasant ownership.

Eric Williams, The Negro in the Caribbean (1942)

Image: Emigration to Cuba at village of Les Cayes, Haiti. Source: Art, Architecture and Engineering Library, Lantern Slide Collection. University of Michigan Library.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted December 6, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    Eric Williams on the Haitian Peasant: http://t.co/xBNUDdib #haiti #trinidad

  2. Posted December 6, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Eric Williams on the Haitian Peasant: http://t.co/xBNUDdib #trinidad #haiti

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