Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Shadow play

As coincidence would have it, in 1846 Madeira suffered a a potato blight. Potato was the island's main food crop, and famine ensued with devastating consequences.

As in Ireland, many felt that their only hope for survival was to get off the island. The then-British colony of Guyana was seen as a haven: since the abolition of slavery in 1807 there was great demand for cheap manual labour. Thousands left Madeira under a 'bounty' system: the British government paid the plantation owners for each immigrant transported to the colony, and the immigrants worked as indentured 'servants' out on the sugar plantations, earning their freedom after 2-4 years.

In 1846, 6000 people took the boat to Guyana, with another 4000 following over the next two years. Immigrant death tolls due to climate and yellow fever were sky-high.

Sounds familiar. In some areas, our learning curve is pretty horizontal.

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