Many years ago, between the late seventeenth to mid-nineteenth centuries, King Sugar ruled the New World and by the eighteenth century Jamaica became the largest and richest sugar producing colony owned by the British. Although it was the Spaniards who originally introduced sugar cane to the region and cultivated it on a small scale, it was the British who were responsible for the phenomenon of the large-scale cultivation of sugar and the resulting introduction of the institution of slavery.
The Plantation was born. With the abolition of slavery in 1838 and the inevitable decline of sugar, the Jamaican society went through a number of changes. Ironically, the more things changed the more they remained the same. The economic and political power remained in the hands of the Creole and predominantly white ruling class while the newly freed slaves found themselves floundering in an alien and unfriendly non-plantation environment.
The legacy of this era is fraught with uneasy class and race relationships, economic hierarchy, power and control, symbolized by the icon of that era, the Great House. This scenario continues to be played out even today in Jamaica with limited changes in the structure and operation of modern independent society. Even in the urban environment, the ‘big houses’ are often surrounded by large and desperate poorer communities reminiscent of the plantation Great House and its dependent supporting labour community.
The television series - ROYAL PALM ESTATE - speaks eloquently to this reality. Although centered in an actual plantation environment, it represents a microcosm of the larger society with its wide ranging social and economic characterizations. This factor alone accounts for its wide appeal and success with a cross section of Jamaican society.
In Jamaica today, the Plantation is alive and well. Class stratification is still evident. The race question remains unresolved even as Jamaicans strive to realize the national motto - Out of Many, One People.
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