AfricanAmericanHistory (1)

The geography of south america did not just favor

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The geography of South America did not just favor Africans, it also favored certain types of crops. This fact would come to play a significant role as sugar began to spread to the new world. In the 16 th century sugar was becoming an extremely lucrative commodity. However, growing sugar requires a tropical climate, and harvesting sugar is a strenuous and painful task. The Europeans were quick to realize South America's potential as a sugar growing colony and immediately went to work planting. They met with great success, “In 1591, sixty-three mills in Pernambuco produced 5,500 tons or on average 87 tons per mill...It would appear that the size of Brazilian operations was considerably larger than in the other industries. This differential is also implied by the larger number of slaves employed. Brazilian mills averaged about sixty slaves owned by each mill...” 4 Compare that to plantations in Cuba and Madeira which produced only a fraction of that amount, and it becomes clear that, at the time, South America was the world's largest sugar producer. This new wonder crop did have one major drawback, it required back breaking labor to harvest. As it was mentioned earlier, the native population was not at all suited for institutionalized agriculture. Add to that the incredibly difficult nature of sugar cane, and you soon realize that the native Americans are basically useless on a sugar plantation. This realization only furthers the Europeans reliance on African slaves, “in terms of skills, health, and 3Vinson and Klein, African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean. 27 4Stuart Schwartz, Tropical Babylons: Sugar and the Making of the Atlantic World, 1450-1680, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, , 2004). 15-16
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involvement in more routinized agricultural labor, the Africans were perceived as far superior to their Indian fellow slaves, and the three to one price differential paid by planters reflected this perception. As capital was built up from sugar sales, there was a progressive move toward Africans on the part of all of Brazil sugar planters” 5 Sugar would become a tremendous cash crop, and where it went African slaves followed. This proliferation of sugar demanded more slaves to harvest the crop. As the world's demand for sugar rose, so too did the demand for slaves. The issue was only compounded by the fact that slaves harvesting sugar cane did not have a very long life expectancy. The cruel nature of slavery combined with the extraordinarily demanding nature of harvesting sugar cane insured that most slaves were worked to death. The Europeans would not be daunted though, “Brazilian sugar dominated European markets. Thus slave importations began to rise dramatically, and by the 1630s and 1640s Africans were arriving in much greater numbers to Brazil than to Spanish America.” 6 It was simply more economically sound to keep working slaves to death and import new ones.
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