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Enslaved Laborer and Sharecropper Fishing Practices in 18th-19th Century Martinique: A Zooarchaeological and Ethnozoohistorical Study

Wallman, Diane, Grouard, Sandrine
Journal of ethnobiology 2017 v.37 no.3 pp. 398-420
Africans, archaeology, artisanal fishing, fauna, historical records, islands, labor, occupations, plantations, sugars, traditions, Caribbean, Martinique
Throughout the modern day Caribbean, artisanal fishing constitutes an important part of domestic subsistence and household economies. Many of the traditional fishing practices on the islands today were established during the Colonial Period, as enslaved Africans and their descendants developed social, economic, and subsistence strategies to persist under the plantation system. The historical record provides little insight into the day-to-day experiences of these enslaved laborers, including their subsistence regimes and practices. Fishing by slaves in the colonial French Antilles is portrayed in the historic literature as a practice reserved primarily for an “elite” group of fisherman held on wealthy plantations. Archaeology provides insight into the pieces of history left out of the written record and offers valuable information regarding the everyday lives of the enslaved peoples and communities underrepresented in this record. This article presents the results of the zooarchaeological analysis of faunal remains recovered from enslaved laborer and sharecropper occupations at Habitation Crève Cœur, an eighteenth–nineteenth century sugar plantation on the island of Martinique. The data reveal that fishing was an important economic activity for the slaves on this plantation and that the practice of fishing was likely more of a communal act than one for a privileged few. Furthermore, analysis indicates that fishing techniques that continue on the island today originated centuries ago, traditions developed by enslaved laborers living under the severe constraints of the oppressive plantation system.