Rum: A Caribbean product
Rum’s history, is the history of a beverage intertwined with the Caribbean historical development. Associated with this drink, the development of the plantation economy (sugar cane); the transplant of the African population to the Caribbean (the slave trade); the introduction of new species of plant and wildlife (ecological imbalance) and the conformation of the Atlantic commercial circuit.
All this historical framework begins with the dispute over the Caribbean space – at the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century – by the monarchies that were excluded, from the Bulls of the Spanish Pope Alexander VI, of all rights to discover and conquer for the greater glory of God, the lands of the New World.
From this moment on, the Caribbean will be shaken by the presence of corsairs, pirates, smugglers and regular fleets trying to cut off the naval communications of Spain to snatch the riches extracted from America.
Piracy and rum
It’ll be the time of French piracy, characterized by looting and ransom in Hispanic ports; the first notable assault appears (1562), perpetrated by the French privateer Jean Fleury attacking the Spanish ships in the Azores islands that brought from America the treasure of Moctezuma valued at 150,000 thousand ducats, a fortune at the time; The Dutch began privateering with the attack on the Araya Mines (now Venezuela) and one of their pirates Piet Heyn commanding a squadron of the West India Company manages to capture in the bay of slaughters.
In September 1628 , the so-called Spanish Silver fleet that transported the riches stolen in Central America and Mexico; For its part, the English monarchy (Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen), will harass the Caribbean with their sea dogs (John Hawkins, Francis Drake, Henry Morgan and others) who will cause a lot of damage to the insular and continental Caribbean part.
Competition and relentless piracy forced the Spanish to reorganize the defense of their dominions – faced with the human and fiscal impossibility of protecting the entire Caribbean – they strategically withdrew from the peripheral areas and concentrated on areas of the continent where the mining economy was, improve the fleet system for the transfer of their merchandise and managed to fortify the ports of Havana and Santiago de Cuba, San Juan de Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Veracruz and Cartagena de Indias, leaving countless islands of the Caribbean archipelago unprotected , which were occupied by England, France, Holland and Denmark.
Economic model of sugarcane plantation
It’ll be the Netherlands, with its presence in the Brazilian northeast, which will bring the economic model of plantation to the Caribbean and will settle on the English island of Barbados, where under heavy investment, new plant species (sugar cane), slaves from sub-Saharan Africa and the techniques learned in Brazil, to start one of the most modern companies of the time.
Thus, the plantation economy was inaugurated in the Caribbean islands, as an agricultural company to produce export products (mainly sugar), under a private management model, with a disciplined foreign labor force (slaves), with perfectly well-functioning production systems. regulated, mechanical and chemical processes, inserted in one of the corners of the triangular system of the world economy.
This plantation economy is not born from a pre-existing society in the Caribbean, all the gear (investment, production and trade) is born from a new business in these islands, that is, the plantation business reinvents the Caribbean. For its realization, it’s necessary to join the Atlantic commercial circuit, which begins in Europe, from where companies arise, who buy slaves in Sub-Saharan Africa, in exchange for manufactures, weapons, liquor and trinkets and then transfer human merchandise to the Caribbean and they sell and exchange it for American products (mainly sugar) and other raw materials that are later transferred to Europe, thus fulfilling the Atlantic triangular commercial system.
Where is rum born?
Under these conditions, the English-speaking Caribbean islands (Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, Saint Vincent and Trinidad) developed the plantation system; likewise, France came to dominate the eastern part of the Dominican Republic, giving rise to Santo Domingué (Haiti) as the richest sugar colony in the Caribbean, besides its other possessions, Martinique and Guadeloupe; for their part, the Dutch will take over the islands of Curaçao, Bonaire, Aruba, the Guianas and Suriname, among others, for the development of commercial activity and plantations.
From these sugar islands, rum will emerge. Paternity is attributed to the English colonists to the detriment of the Spanish, Portuguese and French, it’s because to date only in Barbados written documentation has been found proving its existence at that time.
The origin of the name is enigmatic, even when the word rum appeared in the Dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Language in 1803; In any case, the known names were cachaca in Brazil, Tafia in the French islands and aguardiente in the Hispanic islands.
When it began to be manufactured in Barbados around 1630, rum was a by-product of sugar, something that allowed plantation owners to earn additional income at the cost of little extra effort. Quality didn’t matter; it mattered that it was cheap and powerful.
These rums were extremely explosive and had a great tendency to ignite when near a flame. Its quality was tested, putting gunpowder on top of the rum and with a magnifying glass the rays of the sun were concentrated:
- If the gunpowder ignited and the rum did not, the alcohol content was assumed to be adequate. If the gunpowder and rum caught fire, it was considered to have too much alcohol.
- And if the rum and gunpowder didn’t catch fire, then it was of poor quality.
As early as 1826, a reliable instrument became available, the invention of Sykes’s hydrometer.
The consumption of rum, began in the Caribbean islands, consumption that reached the popular social sectors such as mestizos, slaves and of course pirates, the merchant navy and the English navy participated, becoming an export product; From the English islands, molasses from cane plantations was shipped to New England, where rum was distilled and a special variety of higher content was often made for slave ships. Rum soon proved that because of its high alcohol content, it spoiled much less than wine and allowed a greater amount of volume to be stored in the same space, which was essential for commercial purposes.
Rum’s production took other destinations towards the Hispanic Caribbean (Puerto Rico and Cuba) from the 19th century, as a consequence of the Haitian Revolution (1790); the race war forced the French slavers to seek other destinations for their company, the plantation. The English plantations began to decline and the business of the sugar plantation came to an end, beginning in principle with the abolition of the slave trade and transferring its investments to Africa and Asia. Cuba already had a class capable of taking on the challenge and presented the objective conditions for the company: the experience left by the English during the taking of Havana in 1762, the fall in production in Haiti, the abundance of slave labor in the Caribbean and the excellent export conditions allowed by the Spanish government. These conditions allowed not only Cuba, but Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to enter the business of sugar cane plantations.
What is the most popular rum?
From the Hispanic islands, one of the most emblematic rums of Casa Bacardí will emerge, promoted from Puerto Rico by a distillery since 1937; However, Casa Bacardí was founded during the 19th century in a ramshackle house in Santiago de Cuba by the Catalan Facundo Bacardí Massó, becoming one of the most commercial rums in the Caribbean and the world.
Today, rum is a different product – it has left the plantations, the infamous slave trade, precarious distillation behind – to match the best spirits.