Plantation trades and workers

  • In and around the sugar mill were a multitude of trades and professions which supported the transformation of sugar cane into sugar. These trades shaped people’s identities and culture around plantation life. Cane cutters, supervisors, welders, carpenters are some of the most important works needed to ensure the smooth running of the mill.

Cane cutters

One of the most notable trades was cane cutting. Seasonal work carried out by both men and women, it has been the basis for the import of labour – whether through the period of slavery or through indentureship – until mechanisation gradually replaced the need for manpower, except for the fields located in rugged or mountainous terrain.  This occupation requires fast, rigorous and coordinated work in order to harvest the sugar cane in a limited amount of time without injuries from the sabres. Work for cane cutters usually starts in the very early morning hours, and one cane cutter can harvest upwards of 8 tons a day[1].



Sirdars are supervisors who oversee the work of cane cutters in the field. They too are supervised by a manager. Sirdars gained a rather meagre reputation as they used strong discipline to ensure high productivity, at a time where social relations between ethnic groups were still reeling from slavery and colonial power structures.


Non-agricultural workers

A number of non-agricultural workers operated within and around the factory. These included welders, machine operators, and carpenters. While most of the machinery was manufactured in separate foundries, teams of millwrights, blacksmiths, coopers and welders within factories had an important role to play for the smooth running of the mill. They had to fix and maintain the factory machines and respond to any emergent problem on site. 


[1] “Reportage coupeur de canne: sueur de sucre” Weekend Scope, 14 July 2011

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