An indentured servant contract between a Cuban landowner and a Chinese Coolie. Gourata, Don Juan Morena.

An indentured servant contract between a Cuban landowner and a Chinese Coolie

Matanzas, Cuba: 1870. Unbound. This partially-printed contract measures 8.5” x 12” and was completed in manuscript. It is from the “Jurisdiccion de Matanzas” (Matanzas Jurisdiction). The document was patched in the lower right corner before it was used (one of the signatures overlaps the patch). It bears a blue oval handstamp, “Inspeccion de Vigilencia / Del Distrito Sur / De Matazanas” (Surveillance Inspection, Southern District of Matazanas). The document has some light marginal foxing.

In this contract, Don Juan Morena agreed to hire “Gourata natural del pueblo de Chine en Asia (Gourata of the Chinese People in Asia)”, who, in turn, agreed to

“work any job assigned by my employer, be it in sugar mills, in other farms or workshops [and, in return, receive] the sum 12 es (pesatas and 12 ounces of meat daily, 4 pounds of bananas, sweet potatoes or other similar foods, medical assistance and medicine when needed, as well as two changes of clothes a year, consisting of one set of cotton pants and shirt, a blanket, and an additional wool or cloth shirt, acknowledging that I am satisfied with the stipulated salary, although I know and found that the wages of the day laborers and slaves of this Island are much higher, because I consider that difference compensated by the other advantages that my employer has to provide.” (rough translation from the Spanish).

Very good. Item #009574

The “coolie trade” refers to the importation—by force or deception—of Asian (primarily Chinese or Indian) laborers on European-owned plantations as substitutes for slave labor. Hypocritically, it was infamously developed and aggressively pursued by Great Britain at the height of the British attempt to destroy the African slave trade.

The British began by importing 200 Chinese to Trinidad in 1806, after ending the slave trade. By 1838 over 25,000 East Indians had been taken to the British East African colony of Mauritius. Indian coolies were mainly exported by the British to their own colonies, however between 1847 and 1874, up to 500,000 Chinese coolies were imported to British, French, Dutch, and Spanish colonies in the Americas, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

During this period, about 125,000 coolies were transported to Cuba from southern China via the Portuguese colony of Macao. There, almost all were sent to work on sugar plantations, where the worked alongside and were treated no better than slaves. Contract provisions were ignored, and most received insufficient food and no medical care. Under international pressure, the Portuguese ended the Macao coolie trade around 1874, and the Chinese government began to take a stronger stand culminating with a Sino-Spanish treaty in 1877 that terminated all coolie contracts and assigned Chinese consuls to the island to protect Chinese residing there.

For more information see Hu-Dehart’s “Chinese Coolie Labor in Cuba in the Nineteenth Century: Free Labor of Neoslavery,” in Contributions to Black Studies, Vol. 12 and Coolie Trade in the 19th Century on-line at the University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center.

A nice example of a Chinese-Cuban coolie contract from just before the practice was abolished in 1877.

Price: $600.00

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