(1999) JLP 43: 31-56
FOLK LAW AND LEGAL PLURALISM IN JAMAICA:
A VIEW FROM THE PLANTATION-PEASANT INTERFACE
This article examines the overturning of aspects of the colonially-derived legal system by folk law in Jamaica, and the implications for the analysis of legal pluralism in plantation societies. The plural society thesis is highly developed for the Caribbean region, the oldest colonial sphere with the most pronounced plantation systems, where social and cultural pluralism has been described as including legal institutions. The land-tenure systems of the peasantries and the elites have been analysed within this context.
The Caribbean island of Jamaica has the longest plantation history and significant peasantization. The article focuses on eight peasant communities in the west-central area of Jamaica where the plantation system has been most profitable. In Accompong Town, the oldest corporate maroon society in the Americas, ‘runaway peasants’ wrested land from the plantation-military regime. In neighbouring Aberdeen, emancipated slaves squatted on plantation backlands and their descendants created ‘family lands’ from purchased lands. In the ‘free villages’ of The Alps, Refuge, Kettering and Granville, post-slavery peasants overturned legal-freehold land settlements. In Martha Brae, freed slaves and later generations transformed a colonial Georgian planter town. In the settlement of Zion, squatters have ‘captured’ government plantation land.
These data raise doubts about the plural society thesis of Caribbean societies, which portrays static and entirely separate legal and customary land-tenure systems. They suggest instead a dynamic interplay between folk law and official legal codes. The analysis also revises the classic model of plantation societies as plural societies, advancing an alternative perspective on legal pluralism in such social systems.