At emancipation in the British Caribbean in 1838, newly freed blacks in larger territories established “reconstituted peasantries” on non-plantation lands. Similar village adaptations were impossible on some smaller islands where planters continued to control all of the islands' lands. In St Kitts and Nevis landless freemen emigrated to Trinidad by the hundreds to establish individual independence and to support kinsmen and friends left behind. Within a decade most migrants from St Kitts and Nevis had returned. They had thus carved out a “migration adaptation” in response to planter oppression at home and livelihood opportunity elsewhere by expanding individual livelihood spaces across the Caribbean Sea. They thereby began to establish extra-island networks of potential labour destinations while at the same time resisting permanent commitments in any one direction except for periodically returning home. Migration and return has persisted as a widespread livelihood strategy among individuals of small Caribbean islands who continue to face economic and ecological uncertainties, conditions similar to those on St Kitts and Nevis at emancipation. Individual adaptability, not group behaviour, has always been important in migration and return in the Lesser Antilles. © 1980, All rights reserved.
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