England’s first three settlements in the Caribbean were failures. Colonies in St. Luica, Grenada and Guiana folded rapidly. But in the 1620s, settlements in St. Kitts, Barbados and Nevis took hold and soon the entire region became one of Britain’s most lucrative colonies – mostly thanks, sadly, to sugar plantations run with slave labor.
The African slave trade would last for almost two hundred years, and wasn’t finally outlawed in the British Empire until 1807. During that time, the Royal African Company would transport 3.5 million African slaves to the Americas, which accounted for a third of all slaves transported across the Atlantic.
The mortality rate for slaves during the crossing was one in seven.
One in seven.
But the trade was hugely profitable for those that happened to be born the right skin color, in Africa, in England (particularly for port cities like Liverpool) and in the Americas.
The trade greatly increased the percentage of the population with African descent in the Caribbean – raising from 25% in 1650 to 80% in 1780.
Slavery was finally outlawed in the West Indies altogether in 1839. 215 years after the first colony was founded, and 26 years before the United States ratified the 13th amendment.
It’s a sad and tragic mark on our global history.
Following World War Two, England was bankrupt – and with anti-colonialism on the rise and not wanting to sink themselves into costly wars – they began a policy of peaceful disengagement from their colonies.
Most of the Caribbean declared and were granted independence in the early 1960s, with Guyana being the last in 1966. Several colonies, of course, chose to stay under British rule, but for the most part, the Caribbean was on its own. Finally. After 360 years.
The first cricket matches took place in the Caribbean in the early 19th century, brought over from England by the British Military, which had cricket pitches integrated into their forts.
At first, the game was a tool of imperialism, a way for Africans to learn more about English society. But soon the game became – famously – a tool for revolution, for disproving the fallacy that one race is superior to another race. For throwing the shackles of colonialism off and beating the colonizers at their own game, on their own patch. It was the great unifier of the region, and cultural touch point for West Indian people from Guyana to Jamaica.
The West Indies have played its former masters in two tournament finals: The 1979 World Cup and the 2004 Champions Trophy, both hosted by England. And the lads from the Caribbean have won them both.
On Sunday they will meet in a final for the third time.
Nearly 400 years after British sailors first walked up the beaches of St. Kitts, the former Empire will play its former colony on the other side of the world on the home patch of another former colony.
On the field, Cricket is a complicated game. It’s one of the reasons we all like it. The sport is filled with back-alleys and tunnels and twists and turns and cloverleafs. But off the field, the game – with its colonial history – is just as complex, and makes the games even more riveting. On Sunday, The West Indies, with its team of mostly Africans, will face England, a team of mostly whites. And while the themes of colonizer vs colonized and slaver vs slave seem rote, they add both to the complexity and richness of the game.
West Indies have only been playing Test cricket since 1928, but in more than one way, they have been battling England since 1602. And that is just one tiny subplot in a match – and a sport – that is full of sub-plots. And will be just one more thing for us all to think about as Chris Gayle of Kingston, Jamaica strides to the crease in Kolkata – a city that under British rule had a Black Town and a White Town – to face the blue eyed Peter Willey of Northampton, Northhamptonshire.
Layers upon counter plots upon layers.
That’s cricket, ladies and gentlemen.