This film is held by the BFI (ID: 13063).


The cultivation and export of bananas in Jamaica.

Opening in January as local ploughmen plough a large field in readiness for planting, the film then shows local women weeding and hoeing the land. Shots of a dam outline the importance of irrigation, while the locals cut down the branches once they are ready to harvest. Bullock carts carry the bananas to the rail-head, and they pass through a 'checker' and a 'snipper' who cuts off the ends of the stems. At the railway, they are loaded into a huge boxcar, before the 'ceaseless procession' of labourers carry the fruit to the ships at the docks. The fruit is loaded for its journey to 'England and the world'.



Jamaican Harvest was produced as an educational film, intended for non-theatrical distribution, and as with many of the Gaumont-British Instructional films, additional teaching notes – the ‘G.B.I. Film Handbook’ – were provided in support of the film.

The Handbook, which catered for Jamaican Harvest and another Frank Bundy West Indian picture, Grape-Fruit, noted that this ‘is one of a series designed to show representative activities and products of the British West Indies’ (G.B.I. Film Handbook, 1938, 4). Bundy and two other cameramen had undertaken a six month tour ‘with the blessing of the West India committee’ in 1936, which was initially intended to produce 14 separate films (Daily Gleaner, 15 August 1936, 23). These initial lofty ambitions, which included producing two versions of each film for theatrical use and for schools, do not appear to have been realised. The Journal of Education in 1939 listed Jamaican Harvest alongside Tropical Lumbering, Pleasure Trove in Trinidad and Petroleum in Trinidad as one of four educational films relating to the West Indies, but it was also one of the earliest films, as its opening title notes, to be ‘approved by the Royal Empire Society’ (Journal of Education Vol. 71, 107).

In a letter to The Times in June 1938, Archibald Weigall, the Chairman of Council for the Royal Empire Society, explained that the society ‘has recently formed a committee, in consultation with the well-known producers of educational films, the Gaumont-British Instructional Limited’. When the Geography Committee at Monthly Film Bulletin reviewed Jamaican Harvest, it considered the film as a teaching aid for geography, yet Weigall had grander aspirations and viewed the role of the Committee in political terms. He argued that ‘Democracy is in peril because its ideals are hard to formulate and difficult to realise’, and a knowledge of the Empire – ‘our past, our present, our hopes for the future’ – seems ‘essential if the British Empire is to survive in the world of to-day’ (The Times, 9 June 1938, 10).

‘The urgent need’, wrote Weigall, ‘is to present the story of the Empire as a whole in the most vivid and comprehensive manner to boys and girls … in order that as they grow older they have a reasoned foundation for their political faith’. Weigall suggested that ‘for this purpose, the obvious medium is film’, in particular ‘a series of short teaching films, embodying the technique of the moving diagram and the moving map combined with moving pictures’.

The Film Handbook outlined the likely exhibition sites and pedagogical role of Jamaican Harvest, suggesting that it could be used either as a ‘classroom film in Senior, Central and the middle forms of Secondary schools’ or as ‘a background film for general educational purposes in Adult Evening Institutes, Continuation Schools, Public Libraries and Museums and at meetings of clubs and other organisations’ (G.B.I. Film Handbook, 1938, 2). Monthly Film Bulletin explained that there was a sound and mute version for hire and suggested that the film would be suitable ‘for children of ten and over’ (MFB, 1940, 100).

The Film Handbook listed a series of questions – ‘describe the growth of the tree and draw pictures to illustrate important stages of the growth’ – that students could address after viewing the film. The handbook also provided information about Jamaica, noting that less than 2 per cent of the population was white, that bananas account for ‘over half the total value of exports’ and that the crop is ‘often uncertain owing to the danger of hurricanes’ (G.B.I. Film Handbook, 1938, 4-5).

Jamaican Harvest, intended as a pedagogical tool endorsing the continuation of the Empire to British audiences, was filmed and released at a time of enormous worker unrest in the Caribbean. The unrest in Jamaica reached its apex in May and June 1938, as strikes by dock labourers escalated to violent protests across plantations and towns. The Times explained these strikes in economic terms, stating that ‘where 100 labourers are required, close upon 2,000 are there clamouring for employment’. ‘Many of that class who are given work for three weeks are compelled to remain idle for six months or more’ the paper added, ‘This is the main cause of discontent in the island, and upon discontent agitators feed. Conditions are equally bad among the middle class’ (The Times, 21 May 1938). The strikes and protests were also however a clear attack on the Empire and on British colonialism, and out of this civil strife grew organised labour movements and, in particular, West Indian nationalism.  



Monthly Film Bulletin, in its review of Jamaican Harvest, regretted that ‘one misses some of the most characteristic features of the geography of Jamaica’ because there is ‘too great [an] insistence on close views of processes’ (MFB, 1940, 100). The film certainly differs from many British Instructional films in seemingly prioritising the industrial process rather than ethnographic shots of the local workers.

The film does offer a romanticised account of farming and of the land. For example, the voiceover observes that ‘it is common to see a native ploughman with his picturesque team of oxen, ploughing these great fields … the soil is rich and deep’. Yet a great deal of emphasis is on the land itself rather than the workers. The film offers factual information on the bananas – ‘Bananas incidentally grow with their points to the sky’ – and provides close-ups of the plants: ‘Here, a new shoot known as a sucker can be seen growing next to a four-year-old tree’.

There are inevitably a number of shots of workers, from the ‘labourers, mostly women’ hoeing the land to the locals cutting down trees, yet a striking feature of the film is the almost complete lack of white personnel. There is no evidence of white supervision. The ‘checkers’ – dressed in shirt and hat and writing down the quality of the bananas in their book – are locals, as are those at the railways and at the docks. This may offer a seemingly empowering depiction of black West Indians, but the British influence is certainly apparent in the capitalist demands placed on the industry; the loading occurs at a terrific speed as ‘time is money and the ship must leave in the shortest possible time’.

Furthermore, the uniformity of the industrial process removes a lot of the individual identity from the ‘westernised’ West Indians. Despite the initial shots of the land, of bullock carts and head transport, this is depicted as a highly ordered process. ‘The scene at the docks is one of continual movement as the ceaseless procession of native labourers carry the fruit from sheds to ship’, the commentary states, while ‘To the casual eye everything seems confusion but beneath this seeming chaos lies a plan of order almost military in its precision’. 

While the film does show some skilled work, in chronologically charting the industrial process, it illustrates a dependency on a system, rather than on individual workers. It does not show any worker unrest – unsurprisingly as it was made in conjunction with the Royal Empire Society – yet, in suggesting that workers perform clearly delineated functions within an ordered process, it does show an industry in which alienated labour may be exploited.

Tom Rice (March 2008)


Works Cited

‘Filming the Caribbean for the Classroom’, Daily Gleaner, 15 August 1936, 23.

Gaumont British Instructional Film Handbook, ‘Regional Geography. The West Indies: Jamaican Harvest and Grape-Fruit’ (1938).

Lloyd, B.W., ‘The African at School’, Journal of Education Vol.71, (1939), 89-120.

‘Jamaican Harvest’, Monthly Film Bulletin, 7:73/84 (1940), 100

‘Dock Labourer Strike in Jamaica’, The Times, 21 May 1938.

‘Renewed Strikes in Jamaica’, The Times, 1 June 1938, 14.

‘West Indies’, The Times, 8 February 1938, 39.

Weigall, Archibald, ‘To the Editor of The Times’, The Times, 9 June 1938, 10.




Technical Data

Running Time:
8 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
803 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
BUNDY, A. Frank
Royal Empire Society
Production Company
Gaumont-British Instructional
Supervising Editor







Production Organisations