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Colonies sucrières des Caraïbes

Lundi 12 décembre 2016
Ce que l'histoire apporte à l'anthropologie

Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power. The Place of Sugar in Modern History, New York, Viking Penguin, 1985.

La question:
Comment les micro-unités locales privilégiées par l'enquête de terrain sont-elles inscrites dans des processus de longue durée et articulées à d'autres localités?
La méthode:
L'ethnographie associée à l'histoire vise à restituer ces interrelations, et l'anthropologie vise à modéliser les dynamiques globales dans lesquelles jouent ces interrelations. L'ethnographie historique décrit comment le local se reproduit dans l'interrelation avec le global.

Les colonies sucrières des Caraïbes forment une région exemplaire de ces jeux d'échelles entre le local et le global, circonscrits dans le temps de l'histoire globale: de 1500 à 1900.

Sidney W. Mintz, The so-called world system. Local initiative and local response, Dialectical Anthropology, Vol.2, No.4 (November 1977), pp.253–270. Sp. 255:

Sugar-cane was brought to Santo Domingo in 1493, and was being grown there in 1494; a grinding mill was built no later than 1503; and the first sugar we know to have been produced there is documented for no later than 1505–1506. The rising price of sugar in Europe after 1510 was a stimulus to Spanish colonists in the Greater Antilles, especially as it became clear that the gold resources of the islands were scanty.

Un sens paradoxal iconoclaste est donné à l'ethnologie du chez-soi, ce que Mintz appelle coming home, quand il étudie, au retour de ses séjours ethnographiques aux Caraïbes, comment européens et nord-américains sont devenus consommateurs de sucre. Ce qui est trivial, c'est de raconter comment les européens ont contrôlé les Caraïbes, par les armes et les échanges économiques. Ce qui est moins évident, c'est de décrire l'interdépendance entre l'Europe et les Caraïbes: (xvi) what forces beyond the nakedly military and economic ones maintained this intimate interdependence.

(xvi) Histories of the products that colonies supply to metropolises. In the Caribbean case, such products have long been, and largely still are, tropical foods: spices (such as ginger, allspice*, nutmeg, and mace [fleur de muscade]); beverage bases (coffee and chocolate}; and, above all, sugar and rum. At one time, dyes (such as indigo and annatto [roucou, rouge] and fustic) were important; various starches [amidons], starch foods, and bases (such as cassava, from which tapioca is made, arrowroot, sago, and various species of Zamia) have also figured in the export trade; and a few industrial staples (like sisal) and essential oils (like vetiver) have mattered; bauxite, asphalt, and oil still do. Even some fruits, such as bananas, pineapples, and coconuts, have counted in the world market from time to time. But for the Caribbean region as a whole, the steady demand overall and for most epochs has been for sugar, and even if it is now threatened by yet other sweeteners, it seems likely to continue to hold its own.

[*Le quatre-épices est à l'origine une épice unique, le Pimenta dioica ou piment de la Jamaïque, nommé aussi all-spice ou tout-épice et appelé ainsi parce qu'au broyage il développe des senteurs de gingembre, de girofle, de muscade et de poivre. Par extension, le terme désigne également un mélange de ces quatre épices.]

(xxiv) Why Europe? Because these island plantations had been the invention of Europe, overseas experiments of Europe, many of them successful (as far as the Europeans were concerned); and the history of European societies had in certain ways paralleled that of the plantation. One could look around and see sugar-cane plantations and coffee, cacao, and tobacco haciendas, and so, too, one could imagine those Europeans who had thought it promising to create them, to invest in their creation, and to import vast numbers of people in chains from elsewhere to work them. These last would be, if not slaves, then men who sold their labor because they had nothing else to sell; who would probably produce things of which they were not the principal consumers; who would consume things they had not produced, and in the process earn profit for others elsewhere.