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Interdisciplinary approach to the demography of Jamaica

Time Zone: EST (New York, Toronto)
Messenger: Eleazar Sent: 4/8/2012 12:16:50 PM

I found this article about the demography of Jamaica on an evolutionary biology journal website.

The African Diaspora in Jamaica is the result of a well-documented trade in human lives for just over 150 years motivated almost entirely by the rise in demand for luxury goods in Western Europe. By taking historical African embarkation points into account, we compared estimates of maternal contribution of each parental population with historical disembarkation records. The results of the admixture analysis suggest the mtDNA haplogroup profile distribution of Jamaica more closely resembles that of aggregated populations from the modern day Gold Coast region despite an increasing influx of individuals from both the Bight of Biafra and West-central Africa during the final years of the trade. When taking what is known about the negative rate of natural population growth of slaves on Jamaica, these results add an additional layer of complexity to demographic history of Jamaica. Planters found it more economical to import new labour rather than invest in natural reproduction within their existing groups. Coupling low fecundity with the high mortality leads to the expectation of a fluid demographic shift through time to a haplogroup profile distribution more closely resembling those groups arriving later during the slave trade. Present results do not show this, hinting instead at non-random processes in the creation of modern Jamaican matrilineal demography.

The admixture results may suggest a preference among Jamaican planters. Historic evidence suggests the Jamaican planting class held the Akan of the Gold Coast in very high regards [23], although similar anecdotal evidence is mixed [24]. Individual planters may have had ethnic preferences, although it would have been unwise to ignore immediate labour demands. The Jamaican slave market was typified by large purchasers competing for limited number of Africans [24]. The sale of slaves in Kingston, Jamaica's main slaving port, was characterized by timing and market savvy. Prices varied considerably. Often the most desirable slaves were sold at the beginning of the sale in very small numbers for well over the average price of the total sale [25]. As the sale progressed, prices dropped, and often Kingston merchants would make very large purchases for less than the price as a whole. These slaves would then be transported to urban yards to be acclimatized to Jamaica and slavery with individuals from other shipments, and then resold for a profit to planters [24]. The whole process would have resulted in a more heterogeneous cultural mix even before reaching their final destination.

The entire acclimatization process was understandably both mentally and physically stressful for newly arriving Africans. Between a quarter to a half of newly landed Africans died within the first three years on the island [26]. The distance and time individuals spent travelling is negatively correlated with survival [27]; as such, individuals embarking at ports further from Jamaica would be expected to arrive in a more poorly state. It can postulated therefore that despite more than half of all Africans shipped to Jamaica coming from the Bight of Biafra, they may have not survived the acclimatization process as frequently as those individuals from further west along the coast. Individuals arriving from Southeast Africa and Madagascar were significantly disadvantaged in this respect, perhaps evidenced by their negligible contribution to the mtDNA pool of Jamaica.

The slave society on Jamaica also operated in a very rigid social hierarchy; creole slaves had much greater life expectancy, fecundity, and upward social mobility than those born in Africa [3]. The entire society was also highly endogamous, the one glaring omission being the high frequency in which white men fathered children with their slaves, providing an opportunity for intergenerational mobility. Slaves born of mixed parentage were more often the recipients of more favourable positions, including domestics and tradesmen. Slaves of colour were also much more likely to be manumitted by their owners [28]. Considering the estimated paternal contribution by Europeans for modern Jamaicans is estimated at just over 40% [10], African-European admixture may have played an important role in the legacy of the slave population.

The development of modern Jamaican English may also provide insight into the demographic development of the island. The modern creolized English spoken on the island has been traced to relatively uneducated Northern British and Irish overseers and bookmakers and the early African slaves they interacted with. During the initial era of slavery on the island (1655-1700), slave acculturation was a process characterized by direct contact between newly arrived Africans and their European overseers. Though the Gold Coast contributed marginally to the slave trade prior to 1700, the Akan speaking groups from modern Ghana were thought to be the largest concentrated linguistic groups [29]. These early slaves heavily influenced the development of the Creole slave language and culture on the island [30]. Additionally, modern Jamaican English contains many loanwords of African origin, a majority of those etymologically from Gold Coast region [31]. A large part of the pidginization is thought to have been completed within the first few decades, and as the proportion of Europeans began to shrink with the explosive increase in slave imports, newly arrived Africans would be more reliant on established slaves for the acquisition of a common tongue [32]. Contemporary accounts of a 'two-burial' custom also match those found in groups from the Gold Coast [33]. Africans arriving from the Gold Coast may have thus found the acclimatization and acculturation process less stressful because of cultural and linguistic commonalities, leading ultimately to a greater chance of survivorship and a greater number of progeny.

In summation, despite the historical evidence that an overwhelming majority of slaves were sent from the Bight of Biafra and West-central Africa near the end of the British slave trade, the mtDNA haplogroup profile of modern Jamaicans show a greater affinity with groups found in the present day Gold Coast region. Caution must be paid however to the scope of the analyses performed here. The Jamaican slave markets were the largest in the West Indies and sporadic accounts exist of slaves being purchase in Jamaica for plantations in other part of the New World; however, it is difficult to accurately trace the ancestry of the resold slaves. Additionally, after the abolition of slavery in 1834, the island is treated here as roughly a closed system with regards to the African continent. The trajectory of the mtDNA distribution is assumed to have stayed relatively consistent since emancipation; however, constraints imposed on the Jamaican population may have changed through time, influencing modern demography. The end of the slave trade in Jamaica brought about a change in economic climate, with a small albeit recognizable amount of Jamaicans emigrating to other parts of the world, as well as foreign migrant labours arriving from around the globe. Whether any these constraints have significantly affected the mtDNA distribution on the island is difficult to say.

Interdisciplinary approach to the demography of Jamaica

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