Tuesday 20 November 2018

Cotton Cultivation in pictures

Another set of 6 Liebig collectors’ cards – this time from 1909. Six panels describe the process beginning with the planting of seeds. In India, a plough is employed while in Africa, the ground is broken by a work gang of teenagers. Harvesting takes place in America’s Deep South and the crop is delivered to a Cotton Gin where the seeds and detritus are removed. Baling and weighing is next in the process before the finished bales are delivered to the waterfront on a horse drawn wagon to be loaded on to a steamship on the next stage of the journey. It’s a familiar subject for cards of this type – a simplified description of a staple product in a complex process that takes us behind the scenes to see what’s otherwise concealed. The distribution of tasks follows ethnic lines – Europeans get involved when machinery is required but all the hard labour is left to people of colour. It’s a sanitised version of a brutal reality. The working atmosphere is genially relaxed. An air of contentment prevails. No coercion, no armed overseers calling for more effort, no flogging of the indolent or disobedient. The illustrations possess a period charm but their studied avoidance of harsh economic realities was repeated in children’s books and annuals, in films and educational materials until relatively recently. Which is one reason why it’s so easy to find people today who believe that colonialism was basically a benevolent enterprise with a few isolated instances of cruelty and injustice.

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