Caribbean Rum: A Social and Economic History

In This Review

Caribbean Rum: A Social and Economic History

By Frederick H. Smith
University Press of Florida, 2005
368 pp. $59.95
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In his autobiography, Colin Powell recalls that his Jamaican-born parents exclusively served Appleton Estate rum produced on their native island: "To serve anything else was considered an affront." In Caribbean Rum, anthropologist Smith adds knowledgeably to the growing body of commodity-based histories, using rum to elucidate, in this case, the history of the Caribbean. He takes us on a journey beginning with the use of alcohol in indigenous Carib religious rituals, continuing through the impact of the American Revolution on British Caribbean rum makers (very negative), and moving on to more contemporary temperance movements. Depending on the sociohistorical context and the quantities consumed, rum can be enslaving or empowering, a symbol of colonialism or nationalism, commonplace or exotic, killer or elixir, sacred or profane. No single thesis unites Smith's entertaining narratives, although it is abundantly clear that the sugar and rum industries have repeatedly used political leverage and trade preferences -- and claims of medicinal virtues -- to win market shares from brandy, whisky, and gin.