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Richard Price and Christopher D.E. Willoughby

Abstract

In 1857, Harvard professor and anatomist Jeffries Wyman traveled to Suriname to collect specimens for his museum at Harvard (later the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, founded in 1866 and curated by Wyman). Though his main interest concerned amphibians, he had a secondary interest in ethnology and, apparently, a desire to demonstrate current theories of racial “degeneration” among the African-descended population, particularly the “Bush Negroes.” This research note presents a letter he wrote his sister from Suriname, excerpts from his field diary, and sketches he made while visiting the Saamaka and Saa Kiiki Ndyuka. Wyman’s brief account of his visit suggests that Saamakas’ attitudes toward outside visitors (whether scientists, missionaries, or government officials) remained remarkable stable, from the time of the 1762 peace treaty until the Suriname civil war of the 1980s.

An Intolerance of Idleness

British Disaster “Relief” in the Caribbean 1831–1907

Oscar Webber

Abstract

Despite the fact that disasters, usually induced by hurricanes, were a near-annual experience in the nineteenth-century British-controlled Caribbean, the immediate response of white elites (plantation owners and colonial officers) to these events has remained largely underexamined. This article fills that lacuna by examining the concerns that, across the long nineteenth century, informed British responses to some of the most devastating nature-induced disasters in this period. Though the damages wrought by these events always necessitated some form of humanitarian relief, across the period 1831–1907 the survival of labor regimes and the plantation economy always remained the paramount concern of British officials. White elites viewed their minority control over colonies in the region as contingent on their ability to make African-Caribbean people labor for them. Consequently, because disasters so often destroyed plantations and other sites of labor, colonial responses to disaster were primarily informed by a desire to coerce the African-Caribbean population back to work. Reflecting a preoccupation with “idleness” that was mirrored in domestic poor relief and disaster relief throughout the British Empire, white elites often attempted to withhold needed foodstuffs and materials for rebuilding from the African-Caribbean population until they re-engaged in labor for the colonial state. This article, through showing that a preoccupation with idleness remained central to colonial disaster response, reveals an underexamined continuity between the eras of slavery and emancipation.