Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 September 2009
During the first half of the nineteenth century, the African slave trade in Cuba became illegal and the laws prohibiting it were increasingly enforced, a topic touched upon in chapter 4. Alarmed by the slave revolts of the 1790s in Haiti, movements began in Cuba with the purpose of settling whites on farms and in villages in Cuba not only to infuse the labour force with new manpower, but also in part to counterbalance the large black population and thereby diminish the possibility of revolt. As we saw in chapter 4, the black population in Cuba began to outnumber the whites around 1791 and according to Kiple (1976) this situation lasted up until 1846. Corbitt (1971:2) notes that in 1841 in Cuba there were 589,333 blacks (58 per cent) (436,495 slaves and 152,838 free coloureds) and 418,211 whites (42 per cent). This situation made Cuban plantation-owners uncomfortable and as a consequence incentives were offered to planters to hire workers from Spain, but with little success. The Spanish government then agreed to a plan drawn up by the Junta de Fomento (Promotion Committee) to introduce Chinese coolies (indentured labourers) into Cuba, following an idea the British had used in their colonies. From 3 June 1847 – the arrival date of the first Chinese coolies from China – onwards, nearly 500,000 of them came to the island (Corbitt 1971:6). In this chapter, I discuss some details of the ecology of the Chinese in Cuba between 1847 and the late twentieth century, focusing on the relations among the Chinese, the Africans, and the Afro-Cubans, and the development of the Chinese variety of Spanish.