Project Description

Lima, Peru: Coolies


From 1849-1874, around 100,000 Chinese laborers, also known as coolies, were auctioned in Peru. Most of them were from Guangdong or Fujian.

coolieFrom slave trade to coolie trade
European nations had started to outlaw the sale of slaves from western and central Africa. However, as the mines, railways, sugar cane and cotton plantations in the European colonies still needed cheap labor, the slave trade was in many ways simply replaced with the ‘coolie trade’.

Coolies were often treated the same way as the ‘traditional’ slaves from Africa. Some had signed contracts based on misleading promises, some were kidnapped. Some were former Taiping rebels or victims of clan violence who were sold to coolie brokers, others sold themselves to pay off gambling debts.

Going global
The second half of the 19th century saw hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers shipped off to places under European control in the Americas (Peru, Cuba, the British Caribbean), Africa (South Africa, Mauritius, and the Seychelles), and Asia/Pacific (Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Pacific islands).

Going independent
In 1874, international outcry stopped the human trafficking to Peru. Typically, coolies were sold for a contracted period of five to eight years and did not return to China after their contracts were up. Instead, they married local women and set up small businesses, starting families that are mostly still in Peru today.

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