The history of sugar production is not complete without mentioning slavery.
There is no denying the dark historical link between slavery and sugar production. Whenever we taste sugar today, we must not forget the bitter sweat and blood behind its sweetness.
Sugar is primarily gotten from sugarcane and derived through a tedious process. In the past, the process was entirely carried out by African slaves.
Manual labour in vast sugar plantations was one of the reasons for the high demand of African slaves. The slaves were not only responsible for the cultivation and harvesting of the sugarcane, but also the production of sugar. The slaves had to work for long hours under the scorching heat daily.
The slaves would have to wake up at 4 o’clock and work in the fields until sunset. On a regular day, a slave worker would yield up to 6 tonnes of sugarcane daily. They were burnt, strangled and otherwise tortured to terrorize them into obedience.
When the cane was ripe, the enslaved workers cut the sugar cane by hand with large curved machetes and loaded the stems onto carts. Mills were slow and inefficient so during the harvesting season the slaves worked in the mill and boiling house 24 hours a day to process the crop.
They worked under strict supervision by the European supervisors. They were often made to work with gags in their mouth to prevent them from eating the sugarcane while they worked. There are reports that the slave masters put padlocks in the mouths of some slaves during work.
According to slave records, over 11 million African slaves were captured and enslaved from Africa before 1800. Six million out of them worked in sugarcane plantations. Slave labour has a connetion to sugar production. When the Haitian Revolution occurred around 1800, it affected 43 per cent of Europe’s entire sugar supply.
Although some other ancient records that reveal that millions of African slaves worked in cotton and tobacco plantations, the number of those who worked in sugar production is staggering.
The labour of enslaved Africans was integral to the cultivation of the cane and production of sugar.
For this reason, Africans must not forget that the sweetness in sugar is symbolic to our heritage.
When next you taste sugar, remember that slavery once existed and is still in existence n many parts of the world today.
Header Image Credit: The Times