Sugar Cane Alley Sugar Cane Alley and Van Onselen’s article, Worker Responses in a Labor Coercive Economy, show the life of Africans after slavery has been abolished. Sugar Cane Alley took place in Martinique on the sugar cane fields, while Van Onselen’s article took place in Rhodesia in the mines. Sugar Cane Alley and Van Onselen’s article both show Africans working to make a living but not being able to fully leave because of the control of the white owners.
The white owners tricked their workers into staying the villages by using money and other ways to think they had it best at this field or mine. The white owners made it extremely hard for their workers to leave the fields or the mines by having laws to follow and debts that need to be paid. In Sugar Cane Alley all the African workers live in an area called “Black Shack Alley”, all the adult women and men everyday go to work on the fields cutting down sugar cane. While the parents are away working the children are free to roam about the town.
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One of the main characters Jose lives with his grandmother and runs around with all the other children getting into trouble. After getting in trouble and burning down a man’s garden and chickens, all the children are put to work on the sugar cane fields. Jose is the only one who is not allowed to work on the fields because his grandmother believes he will get out of that town and do something great with his life. Jose looks up to an older man, Mr. Mdeouze. Mr. Mdeouze tells Jose stories from Africa and the ones his father told him.
Jose is mesmerized by Mr. Mdeouze and all his knowledge. Mr. Mdeouze tells Jose when it is his time to die he will go back to Africa and be happy. Mr. Mdeouze keeps Jose’s heritage alive by telling him stories of Africa and reminding Jose of where he came from. One of the stories Mr. Mdeouze tells Jose is about slavery. He talks about how nothing has changed except the white men do not own the blacks anymore and cannot beat them. He says the whites still have control over what they do. Mr. Mdeouze dies and Jose is sent to school.
Jose attends an all black school, where they can have some education and the smartest ones then go on with their schooling and the others most likely end up working on the sugar cane fields. Jose is one out of two that are picked to continue on with his education and take a test to receive a scholarship for another school. At school Jose becomes friends with a boy named Leopold who has a rich white father and a black mother. Leopold is told not to play with the black children he attends school with but cannot go to a white school because he is a mulatto.
One day his father sees him playing with Jose and gets kicked by a horse and as a result ends up dying, while on his death bed Leopold’s mother begs his father for Leopold to have his last name but his father refuses because he is not white; without his last name he will get nothing from his father. Leopold has it easy and hard because he has a good life because of his father but hard because he will never have everything a white child has and can grow up and have.
The workers in Sugar Cane Alley are paid very little and whites built the houses for them to live in and own the general store where they buy their groceries. Almost all of the workers if not all of them have credit with the general store, which means they are in debt to the whites who own everything. If any of them want to leave they are going to have to pay off their debt which is hard because of their low wages. The whites still have control over them by keeping them in debt.
Instead of owning them and being able to beat them for leaving, they can get them back because of their debt. In Van Onselen’s article the white owners were doing the same thing as the whites in Martinique. They controlled them by their debt. They kept them in rural areas around the mines had them use the general store that they used and kept them in debt also. Another way they controlled the African workers was by paying them with money that can only be used in that mining town, called tokens. There were workers who traveled from mine to mine searching for better treatment.
The white owners also kept the workers there by having alcohol for them and also women, for the traveling men to sleep with and keep them there to work. The whites also gave them meat after a 10 hour shift and they could look forward to that all day while they worked. There was a scurvy problem and all the African workers were said to look like skeletons. The traveling workers would hear of the best mines to go with the best treatment and more likely end up at a mine where more could be offered.
Sugar Cane Alley compared to Van Onselen’s article only looks at the debt used to keep the workers in place, while the article looks at more reasons for why the workers were deluded into staying at the mine. Money, sex, drugs, and alcohol tricked the workers into staying and then they couldn’t leave because of their debt and it was all just a way for the whites to stay in charge. Jose made his way out of the sugar cane fields because his grandmother believed in him and pushed him for a better future, while Leopold was walking the line of having a good life and being grouped with the rest of the Africans in the village.
Slavery as a word might have ended but the Africans working on the fields or the mines still were a part of a different kind of slavery. The workers were still treated unfairly, it was extremely difficult for them to leave, they worked long hours, and money was very hard to keep and come by. Education was the only way to get out of the typical life a worker had, traveling from place to place and the abuse.
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