A term usually restricted to medieval Europe in which a tenant farmer was bound to a section of land and was thus under the control of a landlord.
The serf achieved subsistence through the cultivation of their lord's land and was liable to provide other services, such as working on other sections of land or joining a war-band.
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It was unusual for a bonded laborer to escape their debt, since further costs would accrue during the period of bondage (food, clothing, shelter), and it was not unknown for the debt to be inherited across several generations.
In the Americas, peonage was extended to include criminal peonage, where prisoners sentenced to hard labor were 'farmed out' to private or governmental groups.
Laborers contracted for a specific period would find themselves unable to escape enforced servitude.
This was used to an overwhelming extent in King Leopold's Congo Free State and on Portuguese plantations of Cape Verde and San Tome.
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