Did You Know History Stories

Trade ages ago

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Trade with Ancient Rome

There is evidence that the Romans had trade relations with India as early as the 1st century BCE, as documented in the writings of the Roman historian Pliny the Elder.

Pepper and ginger grow wild in their country, yet here we buy them by weight, using so much gold and silver!

Pliny the Elder

Pliny the Elder was a Roman author and naturalist who lived during the 1st century AD. In his work “Naturalis Historia,” he wrote extensively about the trade between Rome and India. He described the Indian Ocean as “the most peaceful of all seas” and wrote about the trade winds that facilitated travel between India and the Red Sea.

Pliny also wrote about the high value of Indian spices and the Roman empire’s demand for them. He noted that the Romans had to pay in gold and silver to acquire Indian spices, which were highly prized for their taste and medicinal properties.

He also wrote about Indian textiles, pearls, and precious stones that were highly prized by the Romans.

Pliny’s accounts provide valuable insight into the economic and cultural exchange between Rome and India during the ancient period.

According to historical accounts, the Roman trade with India was primarily conducted by Indian merchants who traveled by sea along the Red Sea and Indian Ocean trade routes. The trade was driven by a demand for spices and other luxury goods that were not available in the Mediterranean region.

Some notable examples of Roman figures who were known to have been interested in spices and Indian goods include Julius Caesar, who is said to have been a fan of Indian pepper, and Cleopatra, who was known to have imported large quantities of spices into Egypt.

The Roman trade with India is believed to have continued for several centuries, although the exact duration of the trading partnership is not known. Indian spices and other goods were highly sought after in Rome, and the trade was likely a major source of income for Indian merchants.

In terms of the goods that were imported from India to Italy and Greece, spices were certainly among the most highly valued items. Other Indian goods that were popular in Rome included textiles, ivory, and precious stones.

It is not clear what the Indians were taking back from Italy and Greece, as there are few records of the goods that were exported from Rome to India during this period. However, it is likely that the Romans would have exported a range of goods to India, including metals, wine, and olive oil, which were highly prized in the Mediterranean region.

Trade with Ancient Greeks

There is evidence of trade between ancient Greeks and Indians, particularly in the Hellenistic period (323 BCE-31 BCE) when Alexander the Great’s conquests brought the Greeks in contact with various Indian kingdoms.

The Greeks were interested in Indian goods such as textiles, precious stones, ivory, and spices, and Indian exports to Greece included goods such as indigo, pepper, ginger, and cinnamon. The Greek historian Megasthenes, who lived in India during the 4th century BCE, wrote about the Indian exports in his book “Indika.” Greek historian Strabo also mentioned Indian spices in his work “Geographica,” describing their uses in cooking and medicine.

The Greeks also exported their own goods to India, such as wine, olive oil, and textiles. Some Greek colonies were established in northwest India, and archaeological evidence suggests that there was trade between the two regions, with Greek coins and pottery found in India and Indian goods found in Greek settlements.

The Greek-Indian trade relationship was not as significant as the Roman-Indian trade, but there is evidence of cultural and economic exchange between the two regions.

Trade with Ancient Egypt

There is evidence of trade between India and Egypt dating back to ancient times. The Egyptians were known to trade with India for spices, aromatic woods, textiles, and other luxury goods. The ancient Egyptians were also known to have used Indian spices in their embalming practices.

Archaeological excavations at several sites in Egypt have revealed the presence of Indian spices, including black pepper, ginger, and cardamom, which were imported from India. These spices were highly prized by the Egyptians, who used them not only for culinary purposes but also for medicinal and religious purposes.

One of the most significant pieces of evidence for Indian-Egyptian trade is the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a Greek manuscript that dates back to the 1st century CE. The Periplus describes the trade routes between India and the Red Sea, and provides a detailed account of the commodities traded between India and Egypt, including spices, precious stones, ivory, and textiles.

In addition, several ancient Egyptian texts and inscriptions have been found that mention the importation of Indian spices. For example, the temple of Kom Ombo, which dates back to the Ptolemaic era, contains a relief that depicts the transport of Indian spices, including cinnamon and cassia, from the Red Sea to the temple.

Records or artifacts from those times
Latest news article from April 2023
Source – In addition to a Buddha statue, Sanskrit inscriptions from 2000 years ago were found, as were coins from the Satavahana empire from Southern India.

There have been several archaeological findings that indicate the trade relationship between India and the ancient Roman and Greek civilizations.

One example of such a finding is the discovery of Roman coins in India, particularly in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. These coins, dating back to the 1st century BCE, suggest that Roman traders were present in India during that time.

Another important archaeological discovery is the ancient port of Muziris, located in present-day Kerala, which was a major trading center for the Romans and Greeks. Excavations at the site have uncovered several artifacts, including amphorae (a type of container used to transport goods), pottery, and coins, all of which point to a thriving trade relationship between India and the ancient world.

Additionally, the discovery of a Roman glass bowl in Pompeii, Italy, that was made in India is further evidence of the trade relationship between the two civilizations.

In terms of written records, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus mentions the trade relationship between India and the Greeks in his writings, specifically in his book “The Histories.” He writes about the various goods that were traded, including spices, textiles, and precious stones.

Coins from India, Egypt, Greece and Rome

Coins from ancient India, Egypt, Greece, and Rome provide evidence of trade between these regions. For example, Indian coins from the Kushan period (1st-3rd centuries CE) have been found in archaeological excavations in Egypt, suggesting that there was direct trade between the two regions during this time.

Similarly, Greek coins have been found in archaeological sites in India, particularly in the northwestern region, which was once part of the Hellenistic world. These coins indicate that there was some level of trade and exchange between the two regions during the Hellenistic period (4th-1st centuries BCE).

Coins from the Roman period also provide evidence of trade with India. Roman coins have been found in southern India, particularly in the region of Tamil Nadu. These coins suggest that there was direct trade between Rome and India during the early centuries CE, with Indian spices being one of the major commodities exchanged.

The symbols and inscriptions on these coins also provide insights into the political and economic conditions of these regions at the time. For example, some Indian coins from the Kushan period depict rulers such as Kanishka and Vasudeva, who were known for their patronage of Buddhism and the arts.

There is no direct evidence on the costs of spices in these regions at the time, as there are no surviving records or accounts of the prices.

However, we can infer from the fact that spices were traded over long distances that they were valuable commodities that commanded a high price in these regions. It is likely that spices were exchanged for other goods, such as precious metals, textiles, and other luxury items, or simply being directly purchased with gold or silver.

Did You Know Stories

The Curry Story!

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This post provides a quick peek into the history and cultural significance of curry, highlighting its diverse and enduring appeal as a cuisine that has captured the imagination of people all over the world.

What is Curry?

The word curry has become popular around the world and is now widely used to refer to a variety of dishes that are typically made with a combination of spices and herbs, vegetables, meat, or fish, and a sauce or gravy.

What is curry? Watch to get a quick overview

There is no – just curry!

When the British colonized India, they encountered a variety of spice-based dishes that were served with rice, and they began referring to them collectively as “curry” as it was too complex for their delicate culinary background.

However, it’s worth noting that the term “curry” is not used in the same way in South Asian countries, where the cuisine is more diverse and complex than what is commonly referred to as “curry” in the West.

Then what is curry?

Did you know that curry actually originated in South India over 4,000 years ago, using local spices such as turmeric and pepper to create a delicious and flavorful blend?

While curry is found in various forms across South East Asia and other regions, it is the cultural significance it holds that is most important.

It is not just a specific dish or spice, but rather a term used to describe a variety of dishes that originate from different countries and cultures.

The word “curry” actually comes from the Tamil word “kari” meaning sauce. It was the British who introduced the word to describe the spice-based dishes they encountered in India.

South indian Chicken curry
South Indian Chicken Curry – Source with Recipe

Curry can be made with a variety of meats, including chicken, goat, lamb, pork, shrimp, and fish. Vegetarian and vegan curries are also popular. The heat level can vary widely, from mild to extremely spicy, depending on the type and amount of chili peppers used in the recipe.

Curry leaves are an essential ingredient in many Indian and Sri Lankan curries, and coconut milk is a common ingredient in Thai curries, while yogurt or cream is often used in Indian curries to create a creamy texture.

Indian vegetarian curries
Different Vegetable Curries Source – has recipes for popular vegetarian dishes

Interestingly, curry powder, commonly used in Western-style curries, is actually a Western invention. In India, most curries are made by blending spices together fresh for each dish.

Curry from around Asia

Curry is a term now used to describe a variety of dishes originating from different countries and cultures, including India, Thailand, Japan, and others. Despite its clearly Indian origins, curry has had a significant impact on the cuisine of many countries around the world.


Japanese curry (known as “karē” in Japanese) is a popular comfort food in Japan and is often served with rice or noodles.

Japanese Pork Curry
Japanese Pork Curry – katsu kare – Source with Recipe

Japanese-style curry typically includes meat and vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and onions, and is thicker and sweeter than Indian or Thai curries.

The curry roux used in Japanese curry is made with a blend of spices, including turmeric, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon, but it is milder and sweeter than Indian curry.

Some popular Japanese curry dishes include katsu curry (served with breaded and fried pork or chicken), beef curry, and vegetable curry.

Burma (Myanmar)

Burmese curries are known for their strong flavors and use of local spices, such as turmeric, ginger, garlic, and lemongrass.

Burmese Fish Curry
Burmese Fish Curry – amat hin – Source with recipe

One popular Burmese curry dish is “ohn no khao swè” a coconut milk-based chicken noodle soup that is flavored with a blend of spices, including turmeric, paprika, and chili powder.

Another popular Burmese curry is “amat hin” a spicy fish curry made with tomato, tamarind, and chili.

Malaysia and Singapore

Malaysian and Singaporean curries are heavily influenced by Indian cuisine, but they also incorporate local spices and ingredients, such as lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves.

Malaysian Chicken Rendang Curry
Malaysian Chicken rendang curry – Source with recipe

One popular Malaysian curry dish is “rendang” a dry curry made with beef, chicken, or lamb that is flavored with a blend of spices and coconut milk.

Another popular Malaysian curry is “laksa” a noodle soup that can be made with a curry broth that is flavored with spices and coconut milk.

Singaporean Curry Laksa
Singaporean Curry Laksa – Source with recipe

In Singapore, “curry laksa” is a popular dish that features a spicy coconut milk-based broth with noodles, seafood, and vegetables.


Indonesian curries are known for their complex flavors and use of local spices and ingredients, such as turmeric, ginger, lemongrass, and tamarind.

One popular Indonesian curry is “rendan” which is similar to the Malaysian version, but is usually spicier and more complex in flavor.

Indonesian Seafood Curry - or Gulai
Indonesian Seafood Curry – or Gulai – Source and recipe

Another popular Indonesian curry is “gulai” a curry made with meat, fish, or vegetables that is flavored with a blend of spices and coconut milk.


In the Philippines, curries are not as commonly consumed as they are in other Southeast Asian countries, but there are some traditional Filipino curries.

One popular Filipino curry dish is “kare-kare” a peanut-based stew that is made with oxtail, beef, or pork, and is usually served with vegetables and rice.

Ginataang Manok
Filipino Chicken Curry – Ginaatang Manok – Source and Recipe

Another popular Filipino curry is “ginataang manok” a chicken curry made with coconut milk and spices such as ginger and turmeric.


Thai curries are known for their bold and spicy flavors, and they often include a combination of meat, vegetables, and aromatic herbs.

Thai curries are typically made with a paste that includes ingredients such as lemongrass, galangal, chili peppers, and shrimp paste.

Some popular Thai curries include green curry, red curry, and massaman curry.

Thai Chicken Curry
Thai Curry – Source

Green curry is spicier than red curry and is made with green chili peppers, while red curry is milder and sweeter than green curry and is made with red chili peppers.

Massaman curry is a relatively mild curry that is flavored with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg, and is often made with beef or chicken. Thai curries are typically served with rice or noodles.


Cambodian curries are characterized by their use of herbs such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal.

Cambodian Curry
Cambodian Curry Amok – Source

Fish amok is a popular Cambodian curry dish made with fish, coconut milk, and a blend of spices including turmeric, garlic, and chili.

Another popular Cambodian curry is kari sach ko, a beef curry flavored with lemongrass, ginger, and kaffir lime leaves.


Lao curries are known for their spiciness and often feature local ingredients such as buffalo meat and padaek, a fermented fish paste.

One popular Lao curry is “mok pa” a fish curry that is steamed in banana leaves with a blend of spices, including galangal, lemongrass, and chili.

Laos Curry
Laos curry – Kaeng Nor Mai – Source

Another popular Lao curry is “kaeng nor mai” a bamboo shoot curry that is typically made with pork and flavored with a blend of spices including garlic, ginger, and turmeric.

Current usage of the word curry

The term “curry” then spread to other parts of the world, and today, it is commonly used to refer to a range of South Asian-inspired dishes that are served in Western countries.

When people in western countries hear the word “curry” they often think of a spicy, flavorful dish that is made with a combination of spices and served with rice or bread.

Some common ingredients in Western-style curries include onions, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and chili peppers, although the exact spices used can vary depending on the recipe and the region.

In many western countries, “curry” is also associated with a particular type of restaurant or takeaway, where customers can order a variety of different curries to go.

British Rule and it’s cuisine

When the East India Company first arrived in India in the 17th century, they were introduced to a new world of spices and flavors that they had never experienced before.

Indian cuisine was already well-developed, and the British were amazed at the variety of ingredients and the complexity of the cooking techniques.

The British diet was primarily composed of meat, potatoes, and vegetables, and they did not use many spices or herbs, if at all.

The British were not particularly known for their cuisine at the time, and their food was often considered bland and uninteresting. Some say, it did not progress much since then, other than a wider availability of different cuisines.

At least now, they have some flavor in their food – as over time, the British did begin to incorporate some Indian flavors into their cuisine.

Want to curry favor?

The phrase “curry favor” likely evolved from the idea of someone adding spice to their food to make it more palatable, much like how one might try to sweeten their words or actions to win favor with someone.

Dark Stories

The dark side of sweet sugar

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This post tries to provide a glimpse of the sugar industry’s dark history and the exploitation of enslaved and indentured laborers by European governments – specifically the British, French, Portuguese and the Dutch. It raises important questions about the responsibilities of european corporations and governments’ legacies of historical injustices.

The post describes how the sugar industry relied on slave labor, particularly in the Caribbean and the Americas, and how the lives of enslaved people were brutalized and dehumanized by the demands of sugar production.

The post also discusses how indentured laborers were brought in from India and other parts of Asia by the British to work on sugar plantations, and how they too were subjected to harsh conditions and exploitation and how they benefited from the profits of this exploitative system – along with the other European powers.

A brief look at the origins of sugar

Sugar has been a part of human diets for thousands of years. The first recorded use of sugar dates back to 500 BC in the Indian subcontinent, where sugarcane was used to produce a sweetener called “gur” or “jaggery.”

Gur, Gud or Jaggery
Gur, Gud or Jaggery

Gud or Gur or Jaggery – a course sugar made from sugarcane juice

From India, the use of sugarcane spread to the Middle East and then to the Mediterranean region. In the 8th century, the Moors introduced sugar to Spain, and from there it spread to other parts of Europe.

During the Age of Exploration in the 15th century, European colonizers established sugarcane plantations in the New World, particularly in Brazil and the Caribbean. The expansion of sugar production was driven by the high demand for sugar in Europe and the availability of cheap labor in the colonies.

The widespread use of sugar as a sweetener and preservative in food and drink continued to grow throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. With the rise of industrialization and technological advancements, sugar production became more efficient and cheaper. This led to increased consumption of sugar in processed foods and beverages, and a rise in health concerns related to excessive sugar intake.

Sugarcane field
Sugarcane Field in Asia

Today, sugar is a major commodity crop and is produced in large quantities in countries such as Brazil, India, China, and Thailand. Its use and production continue to have significant economic and social impacts worldwide.

When the demand for sugar was growing faster than it’s availability – it presented a huge opportunity for anyone who could produce it in bulk.

Labor and land was needed to meet the growing demand around the world.

The production of sugar for worldwide usage was a huge undertaking and very profitable for a lot of colonial powers which captured the majority of the supply of sugar which still has a never ending demand.

But there is more to the supply of sugar…

How did sugar production increase?

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to establish sugarcane plantations in the Atlantic islands and later in Brazil. In the 16th century, sugar became a major industry in Brazil, with the Portuguese importing African slaves to work the plantations.

What is the historical impact of the popularity of sugar?

The cultivation of sugarcane and the production of sugar had a profound impact on the economies of many countries, including Brazil, Cuba, and other parts of the Caribbean. The plantation system that developed to cultivate sugarcane was based on the exploitation of slaves and led to the widespread use of slave labor in the New World.

Before Indian indentured servants were brought to the Caribbean, there were already established sugar plantations in the region, primarily operated by African slaves who were forcibly brought over during the transatlantic slave trade. These plantations were owned by European colonial powers such as Britain, France, Spain, and the Netherlands.

The production of rum from molasses began in the Caribbean in the 17th century and quickly became a profitable industry for the colonial powers

The sugar produced in these plantations was in the form of raw, unrefined sugar. Molasses, a byproduct of sugar production, was often discarded or used as animal feed. The production of rum from molasses began in the Caribbean in the 17th century and quickly became a profitable industry.

The life expectancy of a slave working in the sugar fields was often less than 10 years due to the grueling nature of the work and poor living conditions.

The labor conditions for African slaves in these plantations were brutal, with long hours, harsh punishments, and widespread abuse. The life expectancy of a slave working in the sugar fields was often less than 10 years due to the grueling nature of the work and poor living conditions.

After the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, colonial powers turned to indentured laborers from India, China, and other parts of the world to continue sugar production. These laborers faced similarly harsh conditions, with long hours and low pay. Many were also subjected to discriminatory laws and social hierarchies that favored Europeans over other ethnic groups.

The slave trade and the exploitation of workers on sugarcane plantations had far-reaching social and economic consequences, including the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, and the impoverishment of many.

In modern times, sugar is produced in many countries around the world, including Brazil, India, China, Thailand, and the United States. The modern form of crystalline white sugar was developed in the 18th century in Europe, and the refinement process has been improved over time to produce highly refined and processed sugar.

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How does sugar impact our health?
Source – Also learn more about classifications and types of sugar

The consumption of sugar has been linked to various health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. In recent years, there has been growing concern over the health effects of consuming too much sugar, leading to increased interest in alternative sweeteners such as stevia and monk fruit extract.

Learn more here

How did the spread of sugar impact India?

During the colonial period, India was one of the world’s largest producers of sugar, but the production was almost entirely controlled by British planters.

They established large sugarcane plantations and mills in areas like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, and relied heavily on indentured labor to work on these plantations.

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What are indentured laborers?

Indentured laborers were typically recruited from impoverished villages in India and promised better wages and living conditions on the plantations.
Learn more about the Indian Indenture System – Wikipedia

However, once they arrived, they were often subjected to harsh working conditions and had little freedom or mobility. The indentured labor system was abolished in India in the early 20th century, but many plantations continued to rely on coerced labor and other exploitative practices.

After India gained independence, the government sought to nationalize the sugar industry and reduce the control of foreign planters. However, this process was slow and met with resistance from powerful plantation owners.

The exploitation of Indian labor and resources in the sugar industry is not unique to India, as similar patterns of exploitation have occurred in other sugar-producing regions of the world, such as the Caribbean and Brazil.

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Where were these indentured Indians taken to?

Learn more about the Indo-Caribbeans – Wikipedia

Indians were taken to the Caribbean in the 19th century to work on sugar plantations as indentured laborers. They were brought over by the British to replace African slaves who had been emancipated.

They were promised free passage to different countries, a place to live, and a return passage to India after five years.

However, these promises were rarely fulfilled, and laborers were subjected to long hours of work, low wages, and poor living conditions.

They faced discrimination and racism from the white plantation owners, were subject to physical abuse and were not allowed to practice their religion or speak their native languages. Many laborers died from diseases, and life expectancy was low.

The majority of Indian laborers went to Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, and Jamaica. The descendants of these laborers, known as Indo-Caribbeans, make up a significant portion of the population in these countries.

Indian indentured laborers were brought to work on sugar plantations by the British in:

Mauritius: starting in 1834.

Guyana: starting in 1838.

Trinidad and Tobago: starting in 1845.

Suriname: starting in 1873.

Fiji: starting in 1879.

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How did this indentured laborer system come by?

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the British East India Company was involved in the trade of Indian slaves to various parts of the world, including to British colonies in the Americas and the Caribbean.

These slaves were often labeled as “coolies” and were subject to brutal working conditions on plantations, mines, and other labor-intensive industries.

While the Indian slave trade was not as extensive as the transatlantic slave trade, it nonetheless affected hundreds of thousands of Indians and had a significant impact on Indian society.
Learn more about Indian diaspora in Southeast Africa – Wikipedia

Moreover, after slavery was officially abolished in the British Empire in the mid-19th century, Indian laborers were still brought to various British colonies under different guises, such as indentured labor or contract labor.
Learn more about the Indo-Seychellois – Wikipedia

In addition to these forms of indentured labor, there were also cases of Indian people being labeled as “African” slaves and sold in the transatlantic slave trade. For example, in the late 18th century, a British slave trader named John Newton purchased Indian slaves in West Africa and brought them to the Americas, where they were sold into slavery.

These laborers were often subject to exploitative working conditions and were sometimes treated as virtual slaves. In fact, many historians argue that the indentured labor system that replaced slavery in the British Empire was not substantially different from slavery itself.

The British Empire’s involvement in the Indian slave trade and the subsequent indentured labor system had long-lasting effects till the modern day, both in India and in the countries where Indian indentured laborers were brought.

It is important to note that the experiences of Indian people as “African” slaves were not identical to those of African slaves, and the historical and social contexts of these forms of exploitation were different.

However, the fact that Indian people were subjected to forced labor and exploitation by the British Empire is a part of the complex and often troubling history of colonialism and imperialism.

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What were the conditions in other countries where sugar was produced?

The sugar industry relied heavily on the use of enslaved Africans, who were brought over to work on the sugarcane plantations.

Conditions for enslaved workers were brutal, and mortality rates were high.

Brazil became a major producer of sugar in the early 16th century, after the Portuguese colonized the country.

Many enslaved Africans rebelled against their conditions, leading to uprisings and revolts throughout Brazil’s history.

Brazil’s sugar industry later transitioned to the production of ethanol, a biofuel made from sugarcane, which is still an important industry in the country today.

Haiti was a major producer of sugar during the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was a French colony known as Saint-Domingue.

The Haitian Revolution, a slave rebellion that began in 1791, ultimately led to Haiti’s independence in 1804.

Haiti was also forced to pay reparations to France in order to secure diplomatic recognition, which placed a significant burden on the country’s finances and contributed to its economic difficulties.

The sugar industry in Haiti declined after independence, due to a combination of factors including political instability, soil depletion, and competition from other sugar-producing countries.

Jamaica was a major producer of sugar during the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was a British colony.

The British abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and slavery in 1833 had a significant impact on the sugar industry, as labor became more expensive and difficult to secure.

The British did not skip a beat and started getting indentured laborers to work the fields.

Jamaica’s sugar industry declined in the 20th century due to a combination of factors, including competition from other sugar-producing countries and the transition to other agricultural crops.

Other nearby sugarcane plantations:
Other countries in the Caribbean and Central and South America, such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago, also had significant sugar industries that relied on enslaved labor in the past.

These industries declined after the abolition of slavery and indentured labor, but sugarcane production remains an important industry in many of these countries today.