The role of Jews in plantation slavery is not documented at all. This silence is troubling especially since so many students visit the museum each year. They end up getting a rather distorted account of Jamaican, not just Jewish, history.
In his prophetic song, “Columbus”, reggae philosopher Burning Spear warns that
“A whole heap a mix up, mix up
A whole heap a bend up, bend up
Go ha fi straighten out”.
How Jewish people came to be engaged in plantation slavery in the Caribbean is a rather long and complicated story. The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, more popularly known as the Spanish Inquisition, launched a holy war against non-Catholics in 1480. Jews and Muslims were the targets of attack. The tribunal was not abolished until 1834, the very same year that slavery was outlawed in the British Caribbean.
Muslims from North African, who were called Moors, had invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711 and occupied it for almost 600 years.
The Spanish Inquisition was a belated attempt to purify the land of ‘foreign’ religions. Many Jews supposedly converted to Christianity but practiced Judaism in secret. The Alhambra decree, issued in January 1492, put an end to the pretence. It demanded the expulsion of Jews.
Columbus’ ‘discovery’ opened doors of opportunity for Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal. Many Sephardic Jews went to Brazil where they made fortunes in plantation slavery. According to Ralph Bennett in an essay, “History of Jews in Brazil”, “It is believed that the first sugar cane was brought by a Jewish farmer from Madeira to Brazil in 1532. Sugar cane became the foundation of the Caribbean economy for several centuries”.
never knew about this..