Header: Arab slave-trade. One of the many forms of slave trade punishment.
Top row: 1) Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745 – 31 March 1797), known in his lifetime as Gustavus Vassa was a prominent African in London, a freed slave who supported the British movement to end the slave trade. His autobiography, published in 1789 and attracting wide attention, was considered highly influential in gaining passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807, which ended the African trade for Britain and its colonies. (2) Amistad in 1839, one of many slave revolts. (3) Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia, 1861 (4) Slave being publicly punished whilst other slaves are deliberately made to watch.
Bottom row: (1) Punishment in Stocks, Brazil, 1816-1831 (2) Slave-Shackle-with-Key (3) Entitled Virginian Luxuries, it's a scene that shows the various underhanded activities going on during this bleak period. (4) Hanging a Slave, South Carolina. Source: Richard Hildreth, Archy Moore, the white slave; or, Memoirs of a Fugitive (New York, 1857), p. 197.
“For the morality of “The Man Who Stole a Continent” and of his children and
grandchildren and agents can only be characterized as the Most Way-Out Evil this world has ever known. And Way-Out Evil is Satanic, and has only one possible end: to be cast out altogether and forever from the society known as humankind; to be cast into the burning fire which is its natural home to be remembered only (by the generations which follow its end) as the most devastating catastrophe that ever befell mankind.”
Professor John Weatherwax , The Man Who Stole a Continent
An estimated twelve million Africans, including women and children, were shipped by force across the Atlantic Ocean for the purpose of slave labour between the early sixteenth century and the late nineteenth. And between the seventh century and twentieth a further seven million were displaced through the Sahara desert and Indian Ocean, the former period became known as the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The one area of Black history that Eurocentric historians will readily accept and often overtly promote is the trans-Atlantic slave trade; that being said, although it’s much written about, some scholars would argue that because of political bias and propaganda little is actually truly known about this period. One glaring point that needs to be made early is that African history does not start with slavery and colonialism, as most, if not all of the mainstream history text books would have you believe. This is a crucial point because in order to ascertain a true reflection of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, you need to know the African before the slave trade.
Another important misconception in need of urgent readdressing is that the trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 1500s is the only system of slavery known to man. As the legendary historian John Henrik Clarke in his book Christopher Columbus and the African Holocaust: Slavery and the Rise of European Capitalism put it: “Slavery is an old institution and there are no people who have not at some time in history been a victim of it. The African slave trade can best be understood if we at least take a brief look at the historic roots of slavery as a world institution.”
Another common myth that will be dispelled is the one of inevitability and invincibility. In other words the “inevitability” of capture and enslavement and the “invincibility” of slave raiders and traders, to show that “resistance [by communities against the raiders/traders] was highly organised and...migration and regrouping and fortifying of settlements proved effective in many cases. While the strategy of relocation did not confront slave raiders and slave traders straight on, it hit at the very core of their activity by depriving them of people to capture and sell.”
Certainly written and oral records testify to the success and level (both directly and indirectly) of resistance to slavery. Although the resistance in its various, often seemingly contradictory forms, and its consequences, is an area that is certainly one of the least studied and understood. “A large part of the studies on the Atlantic slave trade have focused instead on its economics: volume, prices, supply, cargo, expenses, profitability, gains losses, competition, and partnerships. Because the records of shippers, merchants, bank and insurance companies provide the most extensive evidence, economic and statistical studies are disproportionately represented in slave trade studies. [It is due to this that] a great number, if not most, envision the Africans almost exclusively as trading partners on the one hand and cargo on the other.”
Another problem with this particular research model is the de-humanisation by use of terms such as “cargo”, “losses”, “gains”, “supply”, “volume”, “prices”, and last but not least “slave trade.”
Whipping a Slave, Surinam, 1770s.
Source:John Gabriel Stedman, Narrative, of a Five Years' Expedition, against the revolted Negroes of Surinam . . . from the year 1772 to 1777 (London, 1796) vol. 1, facing p. 326. (Copy in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University).
To what are we referring to when we say “cargo”, “losses” or “slave trade”, an event or more specifically “holocaust” that African people to this day are still victims of, both physically and psychologically, more than 500 years later. An era, of at times, extreme violence, pain and stress, a “protracted genocide against non-European people that continues with its many dimensions, in every place in the world where there is European influence over non-European people.”
This era gave birth to western racism for the very first time in known history, and laid the foundation for the colonisation of history. In order to justify the slave trade Europeans needed a rationale; and created a series of myths. They introduced a concept of Divine White Right and Manifest Destiny. An assumption that the European was God’s “chosen” people which automatically and naturally gave them the rights over other people. This absurd notion is highlighted by the author of the book Roots, Alex Haley, when he remarked: “One of the most perverse things that I have found in my long research was that the people, in what might be called the hierarchy of slavery, the owners, the agents, the captains of those ships, strove in every possible way to somehow manifest that they were functioning in a Christian context...If at all possible, a slave ship sailing should sail on the Sabbath [for] there was a popular saying that “God will bless the journey.”
Another author noted: “There was a practice they had, when a slave ship began loading slaves, if at all possible, the first two on board would be male or female who would be recorded in the log as “Adam and Eve” and the rest were numbered 3,4,5 on up to 200, if they [could hold] that many.” He continued: “Hand in hand with the enslavement of African people came the destruction of African civilisation and the loss of a culture, which the European would later say never existed.”
The author of the tremendous book Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies, Sylviane A. Diouf, provides a different perspective than most. This book primarily focuses on the slave trade from the African point-of-view and successfully challenges notions of passivity, helplessness and acceptance, she explains: “As they were faced with a multidimensional assault, Africans tested various approaches to protect themselves from deportation and enslavement and to attack the slave trade. They sought immediate answers in situations of emergency and, at the same time, they devised long-term solutions, developed innovative plans, pondered difficult alternatives, and made choices that twenty-first century hindsight may judge questionable. They succeeded and they failed, but all along they engaged in valiant and heroic acts to survive and stay free.”
Slavery is an old institution with its roots going as far back as ancient times. The much earlier slavery institutions in the African continent were vastly different than the trans-Atlantic slave trade. “The kind of slavery that the European was about to introduce into West Africa had no relationship to the African system of indentured servitude.” The slave in the African system was usually a war captive that lost in a local skirmish or battle. “He was not enslaved separate from his family and no slave was sent outside of Africa. [In fact] some slaves with talent rose to be kings in the very house in which they had been slaves. The word slave in West Africa had an entirely different meaning than it had when used by the Europeans.”
Within the African system of slavery, the African was not deliberately and systematically de-humanised. There were some corrupt chiefs and kings that were involved in the trade, who Europeans would sell firearms to, to either protect themselves or capture another group. However, this area of trade and co-operation needs to be viewed in the light of the times, because it is in this context that the more complex reality can be clearly seen. For example, in the biography of the African Ibrahima abd al-Rahman Barry, reference is made of people who used to burn down the slave ships that traded with Futa Jallon, a provider of captives to the Atlantic market.
Barry fought them, and interestingly, they beat his army with guns, most likely acquired from the Europeans in exchange for captives.” As Diouf points out: “This represents [an] example of the ambiguity of some strategies, of how resistance and participation in the trade could overlap, and thus of how the concept of strategies against the slave trade rather than resistance per-se gives a more accurate image of the African reality of the time.”
The trans-Atlantic slave trade would not have existed if there was not a demand for slaves. How and why did this demand come about? This question can be answered with two simple words “Western Capitalism”. The roots of this enterprise goes back to the days of the Crusades with two key figures that were to later emerge by the names of Prince Henry the Navigator and one Christopher Columbus. It is no surprise to those with even a rudimentary knowledge of pre-Columbian history that it would be individuals from Portugal and Spain that would be the forerunners of this tragic dim-witted drama. It was Portugal and Spain that led the torch out of European social, technological and intellectual darkness by virtue of the knowledge gifted to them by the Black Africans of North Africa called Moors. It is interesting to note here, the close proximity of the two nations to the primarily Black African continent.
The role that Prince Henry of Portugal played was the collation and dissemination of maps he obtained from the Jews and Moors. Columbus of Spain on the other hand, was by all reliable accounts, a vicious, cold and calculated opportunist and murderer.
He is much celebrated for the discovery of the Americas or the New World, in truth; however, he discovered nothing at all. In fact, in 1492 (the year of his alleged discovery) he was unsure where he was, as one author pointed out: “Christopher Columbus would go from one place to the other. He “thought” Cuba was Japan. He was sent to East Indies and would end up in the “West Indies.” He told his sailors to sign a document that they were in the East Indies and if they didn’t sign, he would cut their tongue out.” Bizarrely, to this day we still call Native Americans “Indians” and the Caribbean Islands the “West Indies” because of this buffoonery.
This is hardly the heroic story of adventure and discovery that we hear about in educational institutions and the media; more on Columbus and Prince Henry later. For now we will return to the early 1400s and look at the Africa and Europe of the time. Contrary to popular belief (due to deliberate propaganda) Black Africa prior to the trans-Atlantic slave trade enjoyed kingdoms and empires with “great armies that subdued entire nations, generals who advanced the technique of military science, scholars with wisdom and foresight, and priests who told of gods that were kind and strong. But with the bringing of the African to the New World, every effort was made to destroy his memory of having ever been part of a free and intelligent people.”
Before the introduction of the trans-Atlantic trade and the breaking up of the social structure of the West African states such as Ghana and Songhai, African societies prospered in an atmosphere were universities and scholarly pursuits were fairly common. At around this time “the University of Sankore at Timbuktu was flourishing, and its great chancellor, the last of the monumental scholars of West Africa, Ahmed Baba reigned over that university. A great African scholar, he wrote 47 books, each on a separate subject. He received all of his education within Africa; in fact, he did not leave the Western Sudan until he was exiled to Morocco during the invasion in 1594.” On this subject Clarke emphatically stated:
“There existed in Africa prior to the beginning of the slave trade a cultural way of life that in many ways was equal, if not superior, to many of the cultures then existing in Europe.”
Early 1400s Europe in contrast, was a place of internal strife and exploitation. So much so it was on the verge of explosion. “The Catholic Church in its need for funds to build these massive cathedrals and to support parasitic priests had begun to fleece the people to the point where the faithful begun to have some questions about the role of the church.” This desire for further funds led to one of the biggest con-games to ever be inflicted on the mass-European population, called “Purgatory.”
The church would inform the population that when they died they did not go directly to heaven but to purgatory instead. However, if the priests were given money they would pray to get loved ones out of purgatory and into heaven.
The con-game worked to a certain extent but eventually only grew to further exacerbate public tension, frustration and anger. As fate would have it, rescue for the church would come in the form of a very unlikely source. It was from “an off-beat beatnik hermit named Peter...[who] came [from] across Europe saying that the infidel Arabs were barring Europeans from visiting the holy places, observing the Holy Grail and visiting the place of the crucifixion.”
This, fortunately for the church, brought about some semblance of unity amongst its people. Europe now had a common enemy outside of the continent and they were the “uncivilised infidel Arabs.” This eventually led to the Crusades, which was a European fight against Arabs and a dubious hunt for some Holy Grail. On the topic of the Holy Grail Clarke remarked: “Michael Bradley in his book, Holy Grail across the Atlantic, has proven that there was no Holy Grail in the first place and it wasn’t lost in the second place, and it wasn’t where they thought it was in the third place.”
It is clear then that this farce (The Crusades) had nothing to do with divinity or holiness. It was, in fact, about European power, a convenient scapegoat for its own pent up anger and frustration. It was, therefore, to do with European emotionalism, finally having an opportunity to vent itself on people outside of Europe. “Europe was trying to deflect the fact of its own enslavement of other Europeans. They would call it feudalism but it was an enslavement...it was European enslavement of other Europeans.”
One example of European enslavement and a good example of the ludicrous mentality of the time was the “privilege of first night.” If you lived on the lord’s land and you married, he had the privilege of spending the first night with your wife. While the senior lords were battling the “infidel” Arabs in the Crusades abroad, some of the young lords had given up this privilege. The abolition of this act would, at least, provide some semblance of human recognition for the serf (white slave) on the plantation, and also lead to further rights and demands.
Europe in the early 1400s had lost one-third of its population through famine and plagues. It was constantly engaged in tribal warfare and major conflicts. Europe had far less creature comforts than anything in Africa and Asia and as such turned its gaze to the new light in Europe, Spain. At that time Spain was dominated and controlled by Africans, Arabs and Jewish financial managers known as grandees. Spain, however, was mainly under the control and influence of Black Africans known as Moors.
The Moors were so powerful at this time that they also dominated and controlled parts of France and Italy. They lost power of Portugal in 1240 A.D. This new light in Spain would be a pivotal period for dismal and bleak Europe. In 1415 the Portuguese attacked “a small place on the coast of Northwest Africa (present day Morocco)...called Ceuta.” On the Battle of Ceuta, Clarke remarked: “As battles go, it wasn’t much of a battle, and as places go it wasn’t much of a place.”
Albeit a small war “the Battle of Ceuta was a turning point...Spain had been under the domination of Africans, Berbers, and Arabs. Europe had lived in fear of what they referred to as the “infidel” Arabs [Moors] in the Mediterranean. Europe being blocked from the trade in the Mediterranean cringed and it was the [Moors] that drove this European into the so-called Middle Ages by destroying the European market in the Mediterranean.” The combination of winning the Battle of Ceuta and the untimely detrimental arguments between the Arabs and Africans over puritanical approaches to women and the Muslim religion that weakened the African/Arab hold in Spain eventually opening the floodgates for European expansion and African demise. On the religious and cultural differences between the African and European, Clarke remarked:
“When the African joins a religion, he is a puritan within that religion. Other people join a religion and use it for their best interests. But when the African joins it, he takes it for its purest form. I have said before that we African people will out Pope the Pope and we out Mohamet Mohamet in matters pertaining to both religion and political ideology.”
With Ceuta secured and the floodgates open “Spain and Portugal would now approach the Pope and the Pope would say to them, “You two good Catholic nations stop fighting among yourselves. You are both authorized to reduce to servitude all infidel people.”
Things were shaping up nicely for Europe. Thanks to the Pope’s blessing and also the cache of maps that Prince Henry the Navigator obtained from Jewish gold dealers, who had been dealing in the Western Sudan and the coast of West Africa. For the European the world was becoming much clearer. Using these maps Prince Henry set-up a school for chart making and map making, and consequently Europe began to familiarise itself with other parts of the world.
Indeed, it was Prince Henry that was responsible for setting European maritime skills in motion by “using the maritime information the Africans and the Arabs had preserved at the University of Salamanca [Spain], Europe would now go back to sea, having previously forgotten longitude and latitude. In other words when [Europeans] put a ship out to sea, they wouldn’t know which way to turn it; they didn’t know east from west.” Typically, information regarding Prince Henry’s navigational prowess are legend but greatly exaggerated, for whilst he is referred to as the “Navigator” there is no actual evidence that he navigated anything. In fact, there is no evidence that he even went to sea.
What he did do, however, as previously mentioned, was introduce Europe to maritime information. “The European in turn used the maritime information coming out of China (then the leading maritime nation of the world) to go out to sea again, and to get rid of some of the old wives’ tales about the sea. Some of the tales were that if you go so far the sea drops off; the world was flat, not round.”
It is clear at this point that Europe is on the rise, European nationalism was reflected in the expansion of trade in both sales and manufactured goods. Spain and Portugal had received the Popes blessing to reduce to servitude all “infidels”, and the two countries were becoming powerful Mediterranean nations. The African power in Spain had dramatically declined, considerably after losing Ceuta to Portugal but especially due to the marriage of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand which helped unite Europe to drive the Moors out of the country. The once closed doors were now swung wide open for the hungry malnourished, frustrated and angry Europeans to take the world. They now have ships, maps, sufficient maritime skills, guns and the will to take it all. There is some evidence that one of the pupils of Prince Henry’s chart making school was a little-known sailor by the name of Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus). “There he learned the basis of maritime skills. We have no evidence that he had, or ever had, any command.”
Christopher Columbus the adult is just as mysterious as Columbus the child. On this man’s dubious credits and history, Clarke remarked: “Michael Bradley in a work called the Columbus Conspiracy found so much dirt under the name Columbus...He maintains that there were two Columbus’s. No one man could have been capable of that much dirt, according to Bradley. This included seven illegitimate children. When he is faced with the different children that were born and the women, he couldn’t have moved that fast from one to the other. If he sired one over here, he couldn’t have gotten to another place fast enough to bring another one into the world.”
In 1482 Portuguese ships land off the coast of current day Ghana (previously the Gold Coast). Their intention is to build permanent fortifications. This region was not new to the Portuguese they had been sailing along the coast since 1434, when a small fleet sailed down the coast of Africa and established some trading posts. In 1442 they took some of the tropical riches out of the continent and a few slaves out of the country that were prisoners of war captured in some local skirmish, however, the idea of large-scale enslavement did not cross their mind at the time. “The Europeans did not come to Africa initially to find slaves. For years they had been hearing stories about the great riches of Africa. At the battle of Ceuta against the Moslems in 1415, Prince Henry [The Navigator]...heard about the prosperity of Timbuktu and the wealth of the great states along the west coast of Africa. He also heard stories about a great African Christian King named Prester John.”
Nevertheless, due to the Portuguese arrival an ominous and foreboding future was on the horizon for Africa, as Clarke points out:
“The important thing about this trip when they forced their way into Ghana and an African king, king Ansa, differed with them and told them, “if we saw each other infrequently, maybe we could maintain our friendship.
Too much familiarity would erode our friendship.” He was beginning to see what could happen. Then in the beautiful last lines of his speech, he said, “the sea is forever pushing against the land and the land with equal abstinence is forever pushing against the sea.” He understood what could happen.”
The Portuguese were not deterred by the king’s speech and by superior military strength forced their way in and built the first of the great slave forts situated along the coast of Ghana named Elmina Castle. “This fort was started in 1482 by a Portuguese captain, Don Diego de Azambuia. Because of the large profits gained by the Portuguese in their trading in this country, they called it the Gold Coast.” Elmina Castle was the largest slave-holding fortress in all of West Africa. Clearly Ghana was the slave trades headquarters given that thirty-six out of the forty-two slave fortresses were situated in the country. There is evidence that Christopher Columbus may have been part of these initial expeditions. In his diary, he says, “As man and boy, I sailed up and down the Guinea Coast for twenty-three years.” Sailing up and down the coast of West Africa for twenty-three years since childhood would strongly suggest that he was in the early Portuguese slave trade.
The next crucial date is 1492, when two important events would shape and solidify European dominance to this present day.
In this year Spain finally prized itself away from African Moorish rule when the last African stronghold, Grenada fell to the Catholic army, under the brutal rule of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. They also expelled the Jews as well which suggests that they were non-white Sephardic Jews.
The conquistador also brought about the inquisition. This atmosphere of fear and dread led to numerous opportunist activities such as certain Spaniards telling people, particularly the Grandees (the money managers of Spain, mostly Sephardic Jews), “Give me your money or go to the gallows.” As a result “many Jews converted to Catholicism. They practised Catholicism by day and Judaism by night. They were called the Marranos or the “Silent Jews.”
At this time in West Africa and fortuitously for Europe, “the emperor of the Songhai Empire, Sonni Ali, was killed in the western Sudan coming from a minor war in the south. He drowned when his horse became entangled in underbrush crossing a minor stream. Now the great independent states in Africa are beginning to fall. These states are not coastal states; these are inner West African states. These states could have rescued West African states and saved them from the slave trade.” Nevertheless, these states would still go on to great grandeur in the midst and in spite of the slave trade.
The second notable event to occur in 1492 was Christopher Columbus’ expedition to the Americas. Clarke raised some intriguing questions regarding this much canonised and mysterious man, when he said:
“Christopher Columbus in 1492 set out for the New World. Let’s ask some questions. This man has had no command position; he has not even been a petty officer. How then did this obscure sailor become admiral of the ocean seas for the Spanish Navy? Who is behind this? Why is it that Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain the same week the Spanish expelled the Jews? Who exactly was Christopher Columbus? Was he sailing out ahead of the expulsion?”
Interestingly, it has been discovered by Michael Bradley and others that it was the Jews that financed the ships. They were also the chief translators on the boat.
“He [Columbus] was to go to Asia. Why didn’t he go to Asia? Sailing up and down the Guinea Coast (West Africa), he had discovered - from African sailors who had already gone to the New World - there was a possibility of gold in another direction. I suspect that Columbus turned his ships in another direction. He also “discovered” that there was a current in the sea. If you pick it up at certain time of year, it will push you almost straight into the Caribbean Islands. That current took him there. This is why ships were lost coming back, because if you come back too soon the current reverses itself once every six months. That is why he ended up in Portugal on his way back.”
Returning to Clarke’s earlier comment, it would be absurd if Columbus didn’t utilise the knowledge and skills, of the abundant of experienced Africans that had frequently made the journey across the Atlantic, and even take some on board.
When Columbus had brought so-called “Indians” back to Spain after his voyage in Espanola (present day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) the Indians gave proof that they had traded with Africans.
They said that there had come to Espanola a Black people who have the tops of their spears made of a metal which they call Guanin. The Portuguese king Don Juan, who Columbus had also been in frequent contact with, had previously heard rumours and reports that Africans had travelled to that world. It could be found just below the equinoctial line, roughly on the same parallel as the latitudes of his domain in Guinea, Africa. In fact, he said, “boats had been found which started out from Guinea and navigated to the west with merchandise.”
The rumours of the riches that the “New World” possessed was the very thing which instigated the Tordesillas line.The Portuguese king proposed to Columbus a line drawn across the map of the world from north to south, from pole to pole. “This line, he said, should be drawn 370 leagues west of the westernmost islands of the Cape Verde. Let it be the divider between the two Catholic kingdoms. Anything found west of the line goes to you and Spain. Anything found east of the line falls to me and Portugal.” This line was finally settled by Spain and Portugal at the Treaty of Tordesillas on June 7, 1494, more than a year later.
This hypothesis is further supported by the letters of geographer Jaime Ferrer.
Effects of Punishment by Burning, Richmond, Virginia, 1866
Source: Harper's Weekly (July 28, 1866), p.477. (Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library).
Ferrer “a jeweller and trader in precious stones,” also a distinguished geographer who had done extensive travelling in Africa, had been called in by the Spanish sovereigns (King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella) to head the commission fixing the Tordesillas line. He wrote letters to Isabella, who commanded him to get in touch with Columbus and tell him all he had heard about this new continent. Ferrer said he had obtained knowledge from Africans and Arabs, and had many conversations in the Levant, in Alcaine and Domas. From these conversations he had gathered that “within the equinoctial regions there are great and precious things, such as fine stones and gold and spices and drugs...the inhabitants are Black and tawny...when your Lordship [Columbus] finds such a people an abundance of the said things shall not be lacking.” Ferrer’s letter ends with a curious rider that implies that he knew some of this information had already been conveyed to Columbus, “of all this matter, your Lordship knows more when sleeping than I do waking.”
Columbus’ intention upon reaching the New World was clear. His diary gets thoroughly scrutinised by the author Eric Williams in his book Documents of West Indian History. When Columbus saw the indigenous Americans (mistakenly called Indians), he remarked in his monologue “I wonder why they’re brining such small amounts of gold? I wonder where the mines are.
They’ll be easier to conquer than I thought they would be.” Furthermore, in a letter to Queen Isabella, he remarked: “From this area I can send you as many slaves as you can accommodate.” From these conceited remarks we can easily deduce that he had no thoughts of partnership with the indigenous people he met, and enslavement was his sole intention from the very beginning.
In the following extracts taken from the Journal of the first Voyage of Christopher Columbus, 1492-1493 from Williams’ book, further clarification can be had with regards to his nonchalant attitude towards the indigenous people, and it also indicates that he could have been a participant in the early Portuguese slave trade:
“No. 50 - THE ENSLAVEMENT OF THE ABORIGINAL INDIANS? (“Journal of the First Voyage of Christopher Columbus, 1492-1493”) Friday, 12th October...They should be good servants and intelligent, for I observe that they quickly took in what was said to them...Sunday, 14th of October...These people are very simple as regards the use of arms, as your highnesses will see from the seven that I caused to be taken to bring home and learn our language and return; unless your highness should order them all to be brought to Castile, or to be kept as captives on the same island; for with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them...
Monday, 12th of November...Yesterday a canoe came alongside the ship, with six youths in it. Five came on board, and I ordered them to be detained. They are now here. I afterwards sent to house on the western side of the river, and seized seven women, old and young, and three children. I did this because the men would behave better in Spain if they had women of their own land, than without them.”
Further evidence of his malignant attitude is documented by the work of Father Bartolomeo de las Casas, known as the first historian of the New World. In his report Devastation of the Indies, Casas notes that Christopher Columbus went to him after his third voyage by which time he had killed off most of his own labour supply by causing the rapid disappearance of the native population. The result was devastating amounting to genocide. Columbus went to Father de las Casas for an “increase in the African slave trade allegedly to save the soul of the Indians. [Furthermore], when the pope would send commissions to various islands sometimes not one Indian would be alive...”
Which brings us to the question, how did the African survive this brutal onslaught when the Indian perished? According to Clarke this had nothing to do with one race being braver than the other, but rather the inherent social structural differences.
“The Indians had a monolithic society and the African came out of a pluralistic society, many societies functioning side by side. The Indian came out of a monolithic society which was tightly woven. While they existed side by side with the other societies, they did not give the other societies the same integration or recognition. Sometimes they waged relentless war against the neighbouring society.” According to Father de las Casas around twelve to twenty-five million people were killed in the Caribbean Islands alone. This figure does not include South America, although he does allude to Mexico and South America as well.
It becomes apparent that the combination of Europe’s new found maritime abilities, the greed for gold and other precious resources, the lack of regard for the native “Indian” population which led to genocide and consequently the increase in African slaves to fill the void, all collectively created slavery as an international capitalistic entity. Slavery had existed since ancient times, but this was different. In ancient times it was indentured servitude and local, now it had become dehumanised and international. It was really the birth of capitalism as we know it today, and it can mainly be attributed to the vicious, callous and dim-witted exploits of Christopher Columbus.
The British was to later follow the Portuguese and Spanish in the slave trade.
For a while though the British had problems with the Catholic Church which prevented earlier expeditions. This problem was due to king Henry VIII and his overt sexual desires. The Catholic Church would not grant him permission to divorce one wife and marry another. As Clarke put it: “He wanted a church that would back him up in all his skulduggery, including his thievery, his raid on the church treasury. So he created the kind of church that would give him what he wanted: The Church of England. Throughout his career he defended the church as so sacred; it was sacred to him because it let him do what he wanted to do.”
It was one of his wives, who he later executed by beheading, that granted him a child by the name of Elizabeth I. She reluctantly entered the slave trade, after initially refusing, when she was shown a ledger of what money could be made in the business. She used one of her personal ships called The Good Ship Jesus which was captained by John Hawkins. In his own unique formidable style Clarke very briefly explains the significant role that Britain played in the trade: “Britain came into the slave trade and made it a business, a dirty business, but a business. They are well organised gangsters with territory.”
“The British sailed up the Gambia River and took ten miles on each side. That’s the little facsimile nation that is called Gambia, right now; it was never a viable nation in the true sense. They would spread their slaveholding further west. They would push the Portuguese out of the West African slave trade.”
The effects of the Atlantic slave trade still reverberate today and it is due to this trade in human cargo that western racism was born. It changed general perception on races by not only colonising history but also deliberately distorting it. “Europeans had to create a rationale and a series of myths to justify their position and what they intended to extract from non-European people.” As Clarke pointed out: “There weren’t enough soldiers in Europe to take over the continent of Africa, India, the Caribbean Islands and both South and North America. The greatest achievement of the Europeans was the conquest of the “mind” of their victims through a series of myths.”
Whilst this is no doubt true, it is only partly so, and it gives these moronic aggressors way too much credit. After all, you need to be foolish, malignant and cowardly in the first place to slaughter and subdue an innocent unsuspecting native population to begin with. And it would be no stretch of the imagination to realise that after the initial physical aggression you would then need to apply mental manipulation as well. Nevertheless, the points made are valid; to recite a few of the myths:
1) The myth of a people waiting in darkness for another people to bring them the light. In most countries where the Europeans invaded or influenced they put out the light of local civilisations and culture and destroyed civilisations, civilisations that were old before Europeans were born.
2) The myth of a people without a legitimate God. Europeans made no serious attempt to understand the religious cultures of non-European people wherever they went in the world. If their God concept was not in agreement with the Europeans, then the Europeans assured them that they had no God worthy of worship.
3) The myth of the invader and conqueror as civiliser. Generally speaking no people ever spread any civilisation anywhere or at anytime in human history through invasion and conquest. The invader and conqueror spreads his way of life at the expense of his victims. They generally destroy civilisation in the name of civilisation.
“Every effort was made to wipe from their memory how they ruled a state and how they related to their spirituality before the coming of the Europeans. Most of the people of the world were forced to forget that over half of human history was over before anyone knew that a European was in the world. Non-Europeans, especially in Nile Valley civilisations, had laid the basis for the spirituality that would later be converted into the major religions of the world.
They had also developed the thought pattern that would later be developed into the philosophical thought of the world. All of this had happened outside of Europe before Europeans had names, durable shoes or houses with windows.”
For thousands of years inner West Africa (Western Sudan) enjoyed flourishing independent state formations and state management prior to the slave trade. One of these independent states was said to be a country rich in gold, called Ghana. Ghana reached its pinnacle under the reign of Tenkamenin, one of Ghana’s greatest kings. He ruled from 1062 A.C.E. and lived in a palace of stone and wood built to be defended in times of war. “The empire was well organised. The political progress and social well being of its people could be favourably compared to the best kingdoms and empires that prevailed in Europe at this time. The country had a military force of 200,000 men.”
The Empire of Ghana met its end after a number of holy wars or jihads. In 1076 A.D. Ghana was invaded by the Almoravids under the leadership of Abu Bekr of the Sosso Empire, this attack brought Ghana’s era of prosperity to a close. However, its demise did not happen overnight, nearly a hundred years later “the arab writer El Idrisi wrote of it as being “the greatest kingdom of the Blacks.” He also remarked: “Ghana is the most commercial of the Black countries. It is visited by rich merchants from all the surrounding countries and from the extremities of the west.”
Although Ghana regained its independence in 1087 it did not regain its strength and grandeur. It was the mere ruins of the Empire that became the kingdoms of Diara and Sosso. The Ghanaian provinces became a part of the Mali Empire that later absorbed into the Songhai Empire. The Queen city of the western Sudan was the intellectual nucleus of the Songhai Empire called Timbuktu. The greatest days of Timbuktu came about in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. At this time African scholars were enjoying a renaissance that was known and respected throughout most of Africa and in parts of Europe. The University of Sankore in Timbuktu was the educational capital of the western Sudan. Author Felix Dubois in his book Timbuktu the Mysterious remarked:
“The scholars of Timbuktoo yielded in nothing to the saints and their sojourns in the foreign universities of Fez, Tunis and Cairo. They astounded the most learned men in Islam by their erudition. That these Negroes were on a level with the Arabian savants is proved by the fact that they were installed as professors in Morocco and Egypt. In contrast to this, we find that the Arabs were not always equal to the requirements of Sankore.”
In addition, the famous emperor of Mali Mansa Mussa returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca returned home with an “architect who designed imposing buildings in Timbuktu and other parts of his realm.”
Outside of Africa the great emperor of Mali Mansa Mussa was a symbol of the wealth and mystery of the continent; during the late medieval period he figured on every map by name. For nearly two centuries after his death in the fourteenth century Mussa was still held in high regard as the most colourful and charismatic of all the kings of the African continent. After his death, however, the Mali Empire declined in importance.
In 1493, one year after Columbus first landed in the Americas, the Mali Empire was replaced by the Songhai Empire under the leadership of king Askia the Great (Mohammed Toure). “He consolidated the territory conquered by the previous ruler Sonni Ali and built Songhai into the most powerful state in the western Sudan. His realm, it is said, was larger than all Europe.”
In his famous work Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa (1857), the German writer Henry Barth called Askia the Great “one of the most brilliant and enlightened administrators of all times.” Askia is also credited with reorganising the army of Songhai, and making the city-states of Gao Walata, Timbuktu, and Jenne into intellectual centres. “Timbuktu during his reign was a city of more than 100,000 people, a city “filled to the top,” says a chronicler of that time, “with gold and dazzling women.”
When Askia died in 1528 it was the beginning of the end for the Songhai Empire. As a result of his death the Empire lost control over its vast territory, and Timbuktu and Gao collapsed after they were captured by the Moroccans in 1591. The whole of the western Sudan was devastated by these invaders. “The prosperous city of Timbuktu was plundered by the army of freebooters. A state of anarchy prevailed. The University of Sankore, which had stood for over five hundred years, was destroyed and the faculty exiled to Morocco.” The final blows were delivered by the Arabs, Berbers and Tuaregs from the north, between 1591 and 1593. They showed no mercy and the total devastation put an end to the West African Golden Age. “Now, West Africa entered a sad period of decline. During the Moorish occupation, wreck and ruin became the order of the day. When the Europeans arrived in this part of Africa and saw these conditions they assumed that nothing of order and value had existed in these countries. The past Golden Ages are part of the history that the exploiters of Africa want the world to ignore.”
It was in this atmosphere of turmoil, decline and change that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was born. Europe was a young, immature and novice “civilisation” that created a need for slaves, the consequence of which has had a profound and devastating effect of such magnitude it still strongly felt to this very day.
In 1434, when the Portuguese first entered West Africa, they were greeted well by the unsuspecting Africans. By the time Africans did become suspicious of these foreigner’s intentions it was too late. They were not prepared mentally or militarily for the onslaught to come. One of those suspicious Africans was the king of Ghana himself Nana Kwamena Ansa. He attempted to discourage the Portuguese from settling in his country but it was in vain and was met with military force.
In his famous eloquent but foreboding speech to the Portuguese commander Diego de Azambuia, king Ansa makes it quite clear that he was aware that their intentions were not good, he said:
“I am not insensible to the high honour which your great master the Chief of Portugal has this day conferred upon me. His friendship I have always endeavoured to merit by the strictness of my dealings with the Portuguese and by my constant exertions to procure an immediate lading for the vessels. But never until this day did I observe such a difference in the appearance of his subjects; they have hitherto been meanly attired; were easily contented with the commodity they received; and so far from wishing to continue in this country, were never happy until they could complete their lading and return. Now I remark a strange difference.
A great number, richly dressed, are anxious to be allowed to build houses, and to continue among us. Men of such eminence, conducted by a commander who from his own account seems to have descended from the God who made day and night, can never bring themselves to endure the hardships of this climate nor would they here be able to procure any of the luxuries that abound in their own country. The passions that are common to us all men will therefore inevitably bring on disputes and it is far preferable that both our nations should continue on the same footing as they hitherto have done, allowing your ships to come and go as usual; the desire of seeing each other occasionally will preserve peace between us. The sea and the land being always neighbours are continually at variance and contending who shall give way; the sea with great violence attempting to subdue the land, and the land with equal obstinacy resolving to oppose the sea.”
The speech, however, did not deter the Portuguese, who had obviously already made-up their minds.
In 1482 they forced their way into the country and built the first permanent slave trading settlement in West Africa. Writer K. Budu-Acquah, in his book Ghana, the Morning After describes the dreadful effect of this event:
“This was the beginning of European colonisation, the beginning of the hunting-ground for procuring slave labour, the disruption of our religion, our social systems, the loss of respect for our forefathers; all these things being taken away without anything of value being put in their place.”
It is clear that king Ansa could see the writing on the wall but was helpless and unable to prevent what would be Africa’s greatest tragedy. This was the end of an era for Africa the continent, the end of global domination that had existed for tens-of-thousands of years, way before the birth of Europe, as it is taught in standard history books. On this tragic end, Clarke said: “It is evident then that European colonisation was instrumental in bringing about the decline of the third of Africa’s Golden Ages. Therefore, this history of exploitation and responsibility for the present condition of the societies of the third Golden Age are understandably attributed to the greed and imperialistic goals of European nations.”
In the article The coming of the Europeans (c.1440 - 1700), Ghanian writer A. Adu Boahen remarked:
“Africa south of the Sahara has been known to Europeans since Greco-Roman times, but it was not until the fourth decade of the fifteenth century that they began to arrive in numbers on its shores. The first to come were the Portuguese. They were followed in the 1450's by the Spaniards, who soon after abandoned Africa to explore the Americas, toward the end of the century some English and French adventurers and traders arrived. However, their governments were not to give official backing to such enterprises until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The Dutch were the next to appear on the African scene, and during the last decade of the sixteenth century they effectively challenged the lead enjoyed by the Portuguese. The Danes dropped anchor in 1642, the Swedes in 1647, and the Brandenburgers in 1682. The reasons for this sudden surge of interest were partly political, partly economic, partly technological. In the first place, no overseas activities could succeed without the patronage and direction of a strong nation-state enjoying stable and peaceful conditions at home, and no such nation-states emerged in Europe until after the end of the fourteenth century and these continued to be wracked by foreign and civil wars for another hundred years or more.”
These nation-states of Europe “stabilized themselves and developed their economy mainly at the expense of African people.” Europe also developed a strong sense of unity at Africa’s expense, which helped facilitate stabilisation and commerce between the nations.
Professor Boahen added:
“On balance then, politically, economically, and socially, the European presence and activities in Africa during the second period were virtually an unmitigated disaster for the Africans. By 1700 all the great hopes that had been conjured up during the earlier phase of exploration had turned sour. To borrow Basil Davidson's terms, Africa had by then turned into the “Black Mother,” producing slaves solely in the interest of the growing capitalist system in Europe and the New World and it was to do this for another hundred and fifty years.
At the beginning of their contact, sub-Saharan Africa was politically, culturally, and artistically comparable to Europe. By 1700 Europe had leaped forward technologically and socially, but Africa and its Black peoples had become paralyzed and impoverished, a tragedy from which they still have not recovered.”
The slave trade was literally a Europeans collective assault on the west coast of Africa, which eventually became a three-continent industry. “Thus began the “triangular trade” from Europe to Africa to America and back again, which established the first major transnational economy since the fall of Rome. In fact, the buying, shipping and employment of...slaves...constituted a major part of all international economic transactions in the period 1451 to 1870.”
Author John Weatherwax explains this unprecedented rise, using a single figure as a metaphor for European states in his pamphlet, The Man Who Stole A Continenet, he wrote:
“There was a man who stole a continent. Being cruel as well as greedy, and possessing power, he enslaved twenty million of its people, sending them over the ocean-ten million to the Eastern Hemisphere and ten million to the Western Hemisphere.
In the process of capturing the twenty million people whom he sold, eighty million other people died-some during slave raids (for when a village was raided, often the very young and very old and the sick were killed), some from exposure, disease and grief during shipment abroad, and some by suicide at the water's edge or in transit. The sale of twenty million human beings as slaves gave the man hundreds of millions of treasure. But this was only the start of his enrichment.
He and his children and grandchildren and those to whom they sold slaves received much, much more (many billions more) through the unpaid labor of whole generations of slaves. But this, too, was not at all the end of their enrichment."
"For the morality of The Man Who Stole a Continent and of his children and grandchildren and agents can only be characterized as the Most Way-Out Evil this world has ever known. And Way-Out Evil is Satanic, and has only one possible end: to be cast out altogether and forever from the society known as humankind; to be cast into the burning fire which is its natural home to be remembered only (by the generations which follow its end) as the most devastating catastrophe that ever befell mankind.”
Slavery as an institution has been in existence since ancient times, and thus way before the more popular and studied trans-Atlantic slave trade that occurred in the 1500s. “Slavery in ancient societies was appreciably different from the type of slavery that was introduced into Africa by the Europeans in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In most ancient societies the slave was held in servitude for a limited time, for specific reasons, and, in most cases, the slaves were captured in local wars.” Clarke explains:
“Skin colour was not a factor as to whether a person did or did not become a slave and, in most cases, the slave had some rights that the master had to respect. In ancient Egypt, Kush, Greece, and early Rome there were clearly defined codes of conduct governing the relationship between the slaves and their masters. Some of the earliest of these codes are recorded in the laws of Moses.”
A book entitled The History of the Slave Trade by W.O. Blake (1858) does well to highlight the ancient roots of slavery and its more humane form over its much latter inhumane European counterpart:
“The Mosaic institutions were rather predicated upon the previous existence of slavery in the surrounding nations, than designed to establish it for the first time and the provisions of the Jewish law upon this subject, effected changes and modifications which must have improved the condition of slaves among that particular people.
There were various modes by which the Hebrews might be reduced to servitude. A poor man might sell himself; a father might sell his children; debtors might be delivered as slaves to their creditors; thieves who were unable to make restitution for the property stolen were sold for the benefit of the sufferers. Prisoners of war were subjected to servitude and if a Hebrew captive was redeemed by another Hebrew from a Gentile, he might be sold to another Israelite. At the return of the year of jubilee, all Jewish captives were set free. However, by some writers it is stated that this did not apply to foreign slaves held in bondage as, over those the master had entire control. The law of Moses provides that ‘if a man smite his servant or his maid with a rod, and he die under his hand he shall be surely punished.’ This restriction is said, by some, to have applied only to Hebrew slaves, and not to foreign captives who were owned by Jews. Mosaic laws declared the terms upon which a Hebrew, who had been sold, could redeem himself or be redeemed by his friends and his right to take with him his wife and children, when discharged from bondage.”
Setting aside the dubious double standards with regards to foreign slaves; from this we can easily deduce that slaves in ancient times were treated with some level of humanity. “In fact, in Africa, in both ancient and modern times, slaves have been known to rise above their servitude and become kings in the very houses in which they had been slaves.” The existence of slavery in West Africa prior to contact with Europeans is often used as an excuse for the European slave trade. However, evidence reveals clear and notable differences, Clarke explains:
“The two systems had few similarities. The tragic and distinguishing feature of the slave trade that was introduced by the European was that it totally dehumanised the slave. The dehumanisation continued in many ways throughout the slavery period and well into the colonial era. This crucial act was supported by a rationale that was created in part by the Christian church and later extended by the writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The myth of a people with no history and culture comes out of this period. All myths are contagious and one can create many others.”
A little known fact is that in the United States White enslavement started before Black enslavement. Substantial efforts were made to secure European labourers to help open-up the vast regions of the New World.
This crucial aspect of history is deliberately omitted from the historical record in order to enforce the “White master and Black slave” ideology. Forced labor was widely used in England and this system was naturally transferred to the colonies, even though enslavement of Europeans was actually a contradiction of English law. “The colonies were founded with the understanding that neither chattel slavery nor villeinage would be recognised.” Further information on this system can be found in the book Slavery and Abolition, (1831-1841) by Albert Bushnell first published in 1906. “It was decreed that the apprentice must serve his seven years, and take floggings as his master saw fit; the hired servant must carry out his contract for his term of service. Convicts of the state, often including political offenders, were slaves of the state and were sometimes sold to private owners overseas.
The colonists claimed those rights over some of their White fellow countrymen. There was a large class of “redemptioners” who had agreed that their service should be sold for a brief term of years to pay their passage-money, and of “indentured” or “indented” servants, brought by their masters under legal obligation, who served even longer terms, subject to the same penalties of branding, whipping, and mutilation as African slaves. These forms of servitude were supposed to be limited in duration and transmitted no claim to the servant’s children. In spite of this servitude, the presumption, in law, was that a White man was born free.”
Little time was wasted before the English settlers enslaved their Indian neighbours, justifying their actions in the name of God and the fight against all pagan infidels. Large numbers of Indians fled, were killed in battle, or died in captivity, which left few Indians in bondage, “this led to a fierce search for White labour that subsequently led to a search for Black labour.”According to the African-American historian, Lerone Bennett Jr. “It has been estimated that at least two out of every three White colonists worked for a term of years in the fields or kitchens as semi-slaves...White servitude was the historic foundation upon which the system of Black slavery was contructed.”
Black labour played a major role in laying the foundation for European settlement in the New World. Indeed, it was the African labour and the raw material from the continent which was the pivotal factor in the development of the European Industrial Revolution. Armed with the gun and other embryonic technology (the basis of the Industrial Revolution), a fleet of ships loaded with rabble soldiers and sailors, with little respect or sentiment for non-European people, they went about brutally subjugating and destroying civilisations. Most of which existed long before any in Europe.”
Clarke explains the African’s initial meeting with Europeans and the inherent differences between the races:
“The main problem with the African, in dealing with the European during this early period, was the Africans tragic naiveté. He had never dealt extensively with this kind of people. He came out of a society where nature was kind; nature furnished him enough food, enough land, enough of the basic things he needed to live a pretty good life. These old African societies were governed by honour and obligation. Land could neither be brought or sold; there were no fights over ownership of land, the land belonged to everyone.
The European, coming from a society where nature was rather stingy and where he had to compete with his brother for his breakfast, his land, and his woman, had acquired a competitive nature that the African could not deal with. In order to justify the destruction of these African societies, a monster that still haunts our lives was created. This monster was racism. The slave trade and colonial system that followed are the parents of this catastrophe.”
The trans-Atlantic slave trade was by far the most tragic story of forced migration and labour known to man. Africans were totally dehumanised; unlike ancient slavery were the slaves humanity was at least recognised to some degree. In the European slave trade the Africans were treated little better than cattle, they were mere human commodity, goods or products to be exchanged and bargained with as saw fit. These “products” were involved in an international trade system that laid the very foundation for modern western capitalism. The dire conditions of the transfer of these humans across the Atlantic to various ports of embarkation where they were to be sold as slaves (known as the middle passage), and the malignant and idiotic way that the Africans were treated in general bares testimony to Clarke’s analysis of the European’s competitive, selfish and harsh nature, which was reflected by their brutish and moronic behaviour.
As previously mentioned, Europe’s initial involvement in the slave trade was one of opportunism, taking advantage of local West African tribal wars and conflicts to purchase some of the captives or prisoners of war as slaves. However, this foundation set the agenda for some of the later expeditions as well. Some Eurocentric historians are quick to point out the African involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. There were, of course, some corrupt and confused African kings or Chiefs that went into the trade. “The Europeans sold firearms to one African group to either protect themselves or capture another group. The European gunpowder, rum and cheap bric-a-brac coming from the embryo of what will eventually become the European Industrial Revolution, was traded for slaves.”
Henry Christophe, King of Haiti, 1818. Full-length portrait of Christophe, one of the national heroes of Haiti; he served as a general under Toussaint Louverture, and in 1806 succeeded Dessaline as the president of the newly independent state of Haiti. In 1811, he styled himself as king of the country (for more details, see Honour, Image of the Black, pp. 109-110).
Images above: (1) Whip with Wooden Grip (2) An African burial ground during slavery. (3) Illustration of Arab slavery. (4) Slave Revolt, Jamaica, 1759.
There was what was known as a “Door of No Return” in every slave fort in West Africa. These doors would lead out to the beach and then onto the boats to take the slave away forever, never to return again. The condition of these boats was dire. They have been described by one historian as worse than a concentration camp. Another historian, Professor Colin Palmer vividly describes the condition of the boats and of the slave holding forts:
“To facilitate trade, forts were established along the West African coast. The Gold Coast (contemporary Ghana) saw construction of more than 50 such posts along 300 miles of coastline. The larger forts were called castles. Among the best known, Elmina Castle in Ghana was built by the Portuguese in 1482 but fell to the Dutch in 1637. Cape Coast Castle, begun by the Swedes in 1653, was later held by the dey, or ruler, of the Fetu people, it was acquired by the Dutch in 1664 and by the English in 1665. This castle could accommodate more than a thousand slaves.”
“The Atlantic passage tested bodies and souls to their limits. The human cargoes were arranged on wooden platforms like books on a shelf on various levels in the cramped hold. Rarely was there space for an adult to stand erect. Some had barely enough room to lie down. One ship’s surgeon observed that the traders wedged them in so that they had not so much room as a man in his coffin either in length or breadth.
It was impossible for them to turn or shift with any degree of ease. Some traders, of course, realized that such crowding increased the incidence of disease and death. One agent of the Royal African Company complained in 1704 of inadequate space on the ship ‘Postillion’: ‘The slaves are so large, [and] it being the general opinion that the slaves could not be healthy in the space of three foot, they broke up one of the platforms which was the reason she couldn’t carry more than 100 slaves.’ Eight years later the company advised its agents at Cape Coast Castle: ‘Pray lade no more than are necessary to prevent Mortality which has often happened by crowding the ship with too many Negroes.’ Not until the 18th century did European countries engaged in the trade set standards for the allocation of space to the slaves; it may be doubted whether the rules were obeyed. Fearing rebellion, ships’ crews generally chained the slaves securely in the hold, usually in pairs, the right ankle of one connected to the left ankle of the other. James Penny, who commanded trading vessels for more than 20 years, recounted that when no danger is apprehended, their fetters are by degrees taken off. With so many bodies closely packed together, the heat below-decks became unbearable. The air reeked of excrement and infected sores.
By the 18th century, ships customarily had portholes to aid ventilation, windsails to throw down a current of air and gratings on the decks. But to the human cargo, the hold remained a fetid hell.”
A cruel and insensitive argument among traders developed as a consequence of this overloading, and would go on for another hundred years. This was over the concept of “tight pack” or “loose pack”. More slaves would die if they were tightly packed on the ship. However, more could be loaded. If they were loosely packed, more would survive the journey and be in healthier condition when they arrived at the port of debarkation.
So how did the traders justify this malignant behaviour? Clarke explains: “There is a small library of literature on the Middle Passage, some written by captains of slave ships. The rationale and the pretence in England was that the slave was primitive, un-Christian, and that slavery brought them under the tutelage of Christianity. Other slave trading nations took the same attitude. The best literature illustrating this rational came from the Catholic and the Protestant church.”
What most history text books will not tell you is that Africans were not new to the so-called “New World” when they were shipped over as slaves. Africans had been migrating to and resident of the New World for thousands of years before Columbus. Evidence of this fact can be seen with the seventeen colossal stone heads, known as the Olmecs, which are obviously African. The first one was discovered in 1858 by the scholar Jose Meglar in the village of Tres Zapotes, Mexico. These stone heads are said to date back to at least 1160 B.C.E. However, this date is extremely conservative, some historians are convinced that these Africans were present in the Americas thousands of years before. In addition, there are the numerous clay and terracotta sculptures of Negroids discovered throughout the Americas, one dating back to at least 900 C.E.
Then there is the legendary journey by sea by the emperor of Mali in Africa, Abubakari the Second in 1310, who set out on the Atlantic with an expeditionary fleet of two hundred well equipped ships, never to return to his homeland again. Based on the evidence, it is strongly thought that he and his crew successfully crossed the Atlantic and settled somewhere in the Americas.
The great work of legendary scholar Ivan Van Sertima in his classic book They Came before Columbus, and more recent work by other notable scholars, provides such compelling evidence that there is now no shadow of doubt about the African pre-Columbian presence in the Americas. This fact is also supported by the likes of Professor Leo Weiner, Africa and the discovery of America and the work of Harold G. Lawrence, African Explorers to the New World.
Even as late as the 16th century Africans were coming to the Americas as free men. “Africans participated in some of the early expeditions, mainly with Spanish explorers. The best-known of these African explorers was Estevanico, sometimes known as Little Steven, who accompanied the de Vaca expedition during six years of wandering from Florida to Mexico.” Estevanico, by all accounts, was a remarkable African. He was a linguist, herbalist and explorer that came to America in 1527. It is said that he learnt how to speak the language of the local Indians in a matter of weeks, and they were so impressed by his knowledge of herbs that some Indian tribes deified him.
Furthermore, in 1539 he was responsible for opening up what is now known as New Mexico and Arizona, after his expedition party, which included Fray Marcos de Niza, set out in search of the fabulous Seven Cities of Cibola. Estevanico ended up journeying alone when most of the expedition including Fray Marcos became ill.
It is even suggested by a number of historians that Pedro Nino, one of the pilots of the command ship of Christopher Columbus, was an African. “In the discovery of the Pacific in 1513, Balboa carried thirty Africans, who helped to clear the road across the Isthmus between the two oceans. In the conquest of Mexico, Cortez was accompanied by a number of Africans. Incidentally, one was a pioneer of wheat farming in the New World. In the exploration of Guatemala, Chile, Peru and Venezuela, Africans arrived nearly a hundred years before they reappeared as slaves in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. Thus, Africans were major contributors to the making of the New World, and they did not come culturally empty-handed. Many of the Africans brought to the New World such skills as iron working, leather working and carpentry.”
The physical and psychological effect that enslavement and displacement had on Africans in this vast New World was tremendous but varied, often but not exclusively due to regional differences. In the regions where Africans represented the majority of the population and the societies were more homogeneous, such as the West Indies, Haiti, Cuba and certain areas of Brazil the slave had some cultural mobility. The slaves of these regions were permitted a form of cultural continuity because the slave master did not outlaw the African drum, African ornamentations, their religion or other things he/she enjoyed in their former way of life. This was, unfortunately, not the case for the slave in the United States. Another advantage was the terrain; the Caribbean Islands possessed hills, mountains, forests and waters to aid in the liberation struggle. This was not the case in America where the slave was largely confined and contained on all sides, and consequently monitored more extensively. Clarke explains the consequences of these regional differences:
“In the Portuguese area, in the West Indies, and often in South America, the plantation owner would buy a shipload or half a shipload of slaves. These slaves usually came from the same areas in Africa, and they naturally spoke the same language and had the same basic culture. Families, in the main, were kept together.
If a slave on an island was sold to a plantation owner at the other end of the island, he could still walk to see his relatives. This made for a form of cultural continuity among the slaves in South America, Cuba, and Haiti that later made their revolts more successful than revolts in the United States.”
“In the United States, in the fight to destroy every element of culture of the slaves, the system was cruel. No other system did so much to demean the personality of the slave, to deny his personality, or to ruthlessly sell family members away from each other. The American slave system operated almost like the American brokerage system. If a person bought twenty slaves at the beginning of the week, and found himself short of cash at the end of the week, he might, if the price was right, sell ten. These men might be resold within a few days. The family, the most meaningful entity in African life, was systematically and deliberately destroyed. But in South America, the slave managed to stay in his group and therefore preserved some of his cultural continuity. In spite of these drastic drawbacks, the Africans in the Americas, including the United States, made a meaningful contribution to the preservation of the countries in which he was a slave.”
According to Clarke another much ignored but important aspect of the African in the New World was the role of the African women. “Comparatively few White women were brought to the New World during the first hundred years. Many families of the New World originated from cohabitation between the White slave master and the African woman. Later, this same slave master, especially in the United States, made and supported laws forbidding his own child to have an education or sit beside him on public transportation. In Haiti, the African woman sometimes had a kind of semi-legal status. In South America, especially in Brazil, sometimes the White slave master married the African woman and she became a free person. These free African women in South America began to manoeuvre their husbands in an attempt to lessen the harshness of the slave system. In the United States, however, there could be no such manoeuvre.”
Another advantageous position for Haiti and Cuba is that these nations were politically dominated by their mother countries, which made it easier for slaves in those countries to make the most of political instability. “Wars were started within these countries to liberate them from their European masters. Africans made a meaningful contribution toward the early liberation of Cuba, Haiti and other areas of South America; they fought with Simon Bolivar for the freedom of South America, and fought valiantly to free Haiti from the domination of French.
In the United States, especially in the American Revolution, the African slave often took the place of a White person, who decided that he did not want to fight, and fought with the promise that he would get freedom afterward. Thousands of Africans fought in the American Revolution with this promise. And, a little-known incident in our history is that thousands of Africans fought with the British when the British made the same promise and the African believed them. Apparently it depended on who got to him first.”
It was the African and slave labour that the New World economy largely rested upon. For a long time one-third of the trade of the New World was with the small island of Santo Domingo, which later became Haiti. The European economy also rested on the labour of the African slaves in the Caribbean islands. “Slavery and the slave trade was the first international investment capital. It was the first large-scale investment that was intercontinental. Many Europeans invested in ships and in the goods and services taken from these African countries and became independently wealthy. By the end of the seventeenth century, the picture of slavery began to change drastically. Economic necessity, not racial prejudice, originally directed the African slave trade to the New World.”
Despite the African slave’s disadvantages in the United States revolts were numerous. A revolt in 1663 involved African slaves and a group of White indentured servants.
In 1800 the slave Gabriel Prosser led a revolt of 40,000 slaves in Virginia. A carpenter Denmark Vesey planned and led one of the most extensive slave revolts on record in Charleston, South Carolina. The revolt sadly came to an abrupt end when he was betrayed and put to death along with many of his followers. Virginia, again, was the location for yet another one of the greatest slave revolts in history, led by Nat Turner in 1831. “The slaves never accepted their condition passively. In his book, American Negro Slave Revolts, Dr. Herbert Aptheker records 250 slave revolts. The African slave in the Americas, in addition to assisting in the freedom and economy of these countries, made a major contribution to his freedom.”
However, the revolts did not solely occur at the slave’s eventual destination. Diouf writes about a number of revolts and resistant methods in West Africa either in the hinterlands or on the ships. For example, there are written records of attacks of sixty-one ships by land-based Africans, between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. “Several conspiracies and actual revolts by captives erupted on Goree Island and resulted in the death of the governor and several soldiers. In addition, the crews of several slave ships were “cut off” (killed) in the Gambia River.” The captive’s quarters of the infamous trader John Ormond were sacked in Sierra Leone.
In areas such as Guinea Bissau “the level of distrust and hostility was so high that as soon as people approached the boats: “The crew is ordered to take-up-arms, the cannons are aimed, and the fuses are lighted...one must, without any hesitation, shoot at them and not spare them. The loss of the vessel and the life of the crew are at stake.” Violence was particularly evident at the height of the slave trade in the eighteenth century. There were a number of aggressive revolts that broke out in Senegambia. “Fort Saint Joseph, on the Senegal River, was attacked and all commerce was interrupted for six years.”
However, successful resistance was not always by violent methods, Diouf remarked:
“The acts - or fear - of armed struggle may have seemed the most dreadful to the Europeans, but the Africans’ struggle encompassed more than a physical fight. It was based on strategies in which not only men who could bear arms, but women, children, the elderly, entire families, and communities had a role...To protect and defend themselves and their communities and to cripple the international slave trade that threatened their lives, people devised long-term mechanisms, such as resettling to hard-to-find places, building fortresses, evolving new-often more rigid-styles of leadership, and transforming the habitat and the manner in which they occupied the land. As a more immediate response, secret societies, women's organizations, and young men’s militia redirected their activities toward the protection and defence of their communities. Children turned into sentinels, venomous plants and insects were transformed into allies, and those who possessed the knowledge created spiritual protections for individuals and communities. In the short term, resources were pooled to redeem those who had been captured and were held in factories along the coast. At the same time, in a vicious circle, raiding and kidnapping became more prevalent as some communities, individuals, and states traded people to access guns and iron to forge better weapons to protect themselves, or in order to obtain in exchange the freedom of their loved ones. As an immediate as well as a long-term strategy, some free people attacked slave ships and burned down factories. And when everything else had failed, a number of men and women revolted in the barracoons and aboard the ships that transported them to the Americas, while others jumped overboard or let themselves starve to death.”
“People adopted the defensive, protective, and offensive strategies that worked for them, depending on a variety of factors and the knowledge they possessed. Although a culture of “virile violence” tends to place armed struggle at the top of the pyramid, it is rather futile to rate those strategies. They worked or not, depending on the circumstances, not on intrinsic merit, and they each responded to specific needs. Some people may have elected to attack the slave ships first and then resettle in hard-to-find places as circumstances changed. Others may have relocated as a first option. And, naturally, because the conditions could not have existed at the time, Africans did not use other mechanisms that contemporary hindsight believes would have been more efficient.”
A common myth that persists in popular culture is the idea of a continental armed struggle against the slave trade. This improbable and idealistic view has led to some degree of hostility between Africans and the Africans throughout the diaspora, who accuse the African ancestors of collective passivity. However, as Diouf points outs:
“The fact that Africans did not constitute one population but many whose interests and needs could be vastly divergent has not reached the general public...
Although it seems acceptable that the French and the English, or the English and the Irish, fought one another for dozens of generations and did not see themselves as being part of the same people-not even the same race-such a notion is still difficult to grasp for many when it comes to peoples in Africa. Their conflicts based on land, religion, politics, influence, dynastic quarrels, expansion, economy, territorial consolidation-which they considered as serious as the French and English did theirs when they launched, and doggedly pursued, their Hundred Years’ War-appear trivial to many in the face of the onslaught of the slave trade and the rise of racism.”
Contemporary notions of the “Black brother and sister,” in the mosaic context of slavery, is an anachronistic romantic ideology that bears no resemblance to the reality of the times. The Africans “autobiographies and interviews clearly evidence that they did not think they had been sold by “Black brothers and sisters.” Omar ibn Said writes that he was captured in war by “infidels,” Ibrahima abd Al-Rahman Barry was made a prisoner by “Heboes” and sold to “Mandingoes”; Job ben Solomon was kidnapped by “Mandingoes”; Ali Eisami Gazirmabe by “Fulbe”; Muhammad Ali ben Said by “Kindills”; Olaudah Equiano was abducted by “two men and a woman”; Abu Bakr al-Siddiq was captured by “Adinkra's army”; Joseph Wright was made a prisoner by “the enemies”;
Samuel Ajayi Crowther by an army of “Oyo Mahomedans, Foulahs and foreign slaves”; William Thomas was sold by “people belonging to Pedro Blanco’s slave barracoon”; Ottobah Cugoano-the only one who at one point refers to betrayal by “some of my own complexion”-was abducted by “great ruffians”; and Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua was made a prisoner by “enemies.”
Nowhere in the African’s testimonies is there any indication that they felt betrayed by people “the color of their own skin.” Their perspective was based on their worldview that recognized ethnic, political, and religious differences but not the modern concepts of a Black race or Africanness.”
The historical reality of African’s enslaving Africans has been referred to as “the African betrayal model”; because this area has created somewhat fuss and confusion, some parallels need to be repeated and emphasised. “According to the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report for 2002, traffickers throughout the world buy, sell, and transport between seven hundred thousand and four million individuals (mostly young women and children) every year for prostitution and slave labour.”
Regarding these statistics, Diouf remarked: “It would be surprising if Africans from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries had been more politically, “racially”, socially and morally enlightened than any other people in the past, the present, and (probably) the future.”
“The destruction brought by the Atlantic slave trade was unprecedented, its impact on three continents has been enormous, and its consequences on African peoples have been devastating: it was unique. But its uniqueness should not hide the fact that some people's reactions to it (their participation in particular) were not exclusive to the continent; and that the Africans' various acts against deportation and enslavement were not frequently seen on other shores, even on a smaller scale commensurate with the lesser assaults other peoples faced. England's-and to a lesser extent France's-deportation and sale into indentured servitude of her own abducted indigent children, prisoners of war, prostitutes, and convicts is a case in point. Moreover, the idea that the British poor should be enslaved was passionately defended by distinguished intellectuals up to the mid-1700s. Aware of these parallels, a king in Dahomey remarked to a British governor, “Are we to blame if we send our criminals to foreign lands? I was told you do the same.”
“The English and French deportation policies did not elicit protest. There were no recorded attempts at freeing the convicts marching to the vessels bound for America and Australia, no assaults on ships to liberate the abducted, no moral outrage expressed at the evil of sending away other “whites” or brethren, no political attack on the institution of forced-quite distinct from voluntary-indenture itself, and virtually no rebellions on the ships.
But...many of these actions were recorded in Africa. They were part of the reality not, evidently, all of it. Reality, over such an extended period of time and the breadth and length of a continent, was convoluted. As in other areas of the world, it was made of greed, tyranny, exploitation, abuse, and self-interest on the part of some; and of organized struggle, rebelliousness, selfishness, altruism, willing collaboration, fear, heroism, apathy, forced participation, panic-induced reactions, cowardice, and defiance on the part of others.”
The various strategies employed against the trade were largely very successful. Although they did not directly stop the trade, they greatly lessened its impact. There were more casualties among the raiders, it took the traders extra time en-route to the coast, and along the route there was greater risk of escape, injury, and death; slave traders and raiders had to go further inland to find captives. This was made all the more difficult because potential slaves put in place defensive and protective mechanisms which greatly aided in more danger, effort and time spent to locate them. The resistance was successful in holding down the trade by raising the costs of carrying on the business; there was a progressive increase in the cost of measures to ensure control over the barracoons and the ships. Thus, the resistance strategies were slowly making the trade in humans an expensive one. On the increasing cost and the outcome of resistance, Diouf remarked: “There is little doubt that millions were spared, although in some cases, it meant that slave dealers turned their attention to more vulnerable peoples and areas.”
The scholar E.J. Alagoa shows how the environment was manipulated to aid in the resistance. For example “diverting of rivers as well as the setting up of villages far from them in order to avoid the river traffic.
Author Joseph E. Inikori contends that it was political fragmentation that facilitated the slave trade, due to small decentralised societies having difficulty protecting their communities from capture and deportation. “He notes that the European traders intervened in the political process to prevent the rise of the African centralised states that would have hampered their operations.”
Another interesting point is made by Ayuba Suleiman Diallo who refers to the Islamic enclave scheme that provided protection from enslavement for Muslims. For those that were not Muslims or did not succumb to forced conversion, other methods of resistance were employed. Researcher Thierno Bah investigated defensive strategies devised by populations who were under the threat by the Islamic Sokoto Caliphate (Nigeria) and the Islamic Ottoman Empire, both of which were vigorously involved in the slave trade. “A landscape of mountains, caves, underground tunnels, and marshes was cleverly used for protection and reinforced with the building of ramparts, fortresses, and other architectural devices, and the planting of poisonous and thorny trees and bushes. These refuge sites enabled people to maintain their existence, their cultures, and their religions.”
It is clear that Islam or Muhammedanism, as it was then called, played a major role in “snow-balling” the trans-Atlantic slave trade. According to researcher Ismail Rashid, African Islamic states would launch jihads in order to convert or enslave. He stated:
“Three interrelated historical developments shaped the political and social context of enslavement and resistance to enslavement in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The first was the rise of relatively powerful polities like Futa Jallon and Moriah. Moriah was one of several small Mande states whose ruling lineages tried to expand their territorial, economic, and religious reach. Futa Jallon was the most successful polity in this direction, mainly because its Fula elite decided to launch a jihad in the 1720s after the lead of Futa Toro and Futa Bundu in Senegal. Even though it was successful in converting many people to Islam, the jihad also became a justification for the enslavement of the non-Islamic peoples in the area. Within the African landscape, Islam provided a coherent and clearly enunciated discourse for enslavement.”
The Islamic influence is further highlighted by Rashid when he notes a letter by the Imam (Islamic leader) of Futa Jallon to the governor of Sierra Leone in 1810, it said:
“They are the Kafirs, and they are like ass [sic] or like cattle; they know not the rights of God, and still less the rights of men. And in our parts you are not sold any man who knows the God of truth...The people whom men used to sell into your hands do not acknowledge the religion of Moses (peace be upon him) nor the religion of Mohammed nor is one of the prophets (May god send blessing on him and peace).”
What is interesting to note here is that the supposed “ungodly” are having violence inflicted on them and not the other way around. The jihads and slave raids were wholly aggressive and blood thirsty events, that was in total contradiction to what would be considered by any sane individual as “godly” behaviour. Due to the polities of central Sudan, which was situated at the crossroads of crucial trade routes across the Sahara, between the sixteenth and the close of the nineteenth century, Lake Chad’s outskirts were characterised by violent conquests and slave raids. This long-standing violence was particularly the case of the Bornu Empire, the kingdom of Bagirmi, and the Fulani Emirate of Adamawa.
The reign of Bornu leader Mai Ali Gaji (1470-1503) opened up a new era of prosperity and stability, after a long economic crisis and internal conflicts. “The new era was characterised by the building of a new capital, Birni Ngazargamu, protected by strong fortifications. Yet it was under Idris Alaoma that Bornu turned itself into a [real] political, economic, and military power. His first twelve years were characterized by the intensification of the slave trade in connection with the numerous military campaigns he led near the outskirts of Lake Chad and beyond, to Mount Mandara. Bornu’s military supremacy was essentially based on the use of cavalry and firearms supplied by the Ottoman Empire, in exchange for cohorts of slaves driven through the Sahara.”
What becomes apparent is that religious conversion was tangential; their main goal was political and economic power, which was substantially increased not through converting the captured to the faith but trading in slaves for weapons. Consequentially, none of the villages attacked by these Islamic raiders stood a chance against their superior military strength. The state that had always had and shown political autonomous ambitions from its two powerful neighbours, Bornu and Ouadday, was Bagirmi. Bagirmi was particularly preoccupied with the quest for the supply of slaves, often in the guise of jihads. Bah explains the Jihad phenomenon:
“As soon as news of the jihad launched by Usman dan Fodio reached the Fulani emirate of Adamawa, several leaders left for Sokoto. There, dan Fodio appointed Modibbo Adama lieutenant. He was invested with full authority in 1809 and received the banner of the jihad with orders to spread Islam all over Fombinaland. Adama established a strong army and drew his inspiration from the tactics, strategy, and armaments of Bornu. Instructors came from the Maghreb and the Ottoman Empire to drill some units. The spearhead was undoubtedly the cavalry, with cuirassed horses and coats of mail.”
Military campaigns intensified, led by Modibro Adama and his successors. The Fulani eventually dominated and subdued a large geographical area from the mid-nineteenth century. This area stretched from the outskirts of Lake Chad to the edge of the equatorial forest. The region became an emirate and was given the name Adamawa. “Throughout the nineteenth century, it was characterized by the intensification of the slave raids. Man hunts were led within the framework of great expeditions that benefited from rapid intervention made possible by the horse. Adamawa became the largest supplier of slaves to Sokoto. For four centuries the Bornu, Bagirmi, and Adamawa states, equipped with a strong military arsenal (horses, cuirasses, and muskets) fostered violence on the outskirts of Lake Chad and organized raids to acquire captives drawn from the decentralized populations handicapped by their division.”
These violent raids had a profound impact on both the environment and the human inhabitants, which understandably became obsessed with defence. “The quest for security was the decisive factor in the choice of settlement. Habitats themselves were made more secure by a defence-oriented architecture.”
Bah describes how the inhabitants successfully used the environment to defend themselves from these aggressive raids:
“Mountains were ideal places for the populations to resist the Islamic states of the Sudan, whose main weapon was the horse; and similar groups are found all along the mountainous diagonal, behind the forest zone, from the heights of northern Togo to the Nuba Mountains in the Sudan through central Nigeria and northern Cameroon. In northern Cameroon the ruins of several villages show the dramatic impact of the invasions and the significant modification in the occupation of space through the change in village sites: vertically, when inhabitants perched themselves on mountain heights; horizontally, when they fell back on a crest.
This topographical discrimination is a reflection of the hostility that characterized the border separating two antagonistic entities: on the one hand, Kanem, Bornu, Mandara, and Adamawa, which had a firm policy of expansionism, and on the other, the paleonigritic populations, also called Kirdi, which formerly lived in the plains and now settled in successive waves in mountainous areas that were an impassable barrier to the dreaded cavalry.”
Bah makes it all too clear that Islamic states were violently imposing their imperialistic ambitions on traditional African societies, which had probably co-existed relatively peacefully for thousands of years prior to the introduction of Islam or Muhammedanism. On this subject he continued:
“Several heterogeneous populations, anxious to preserve their cultural identity and to shelter their tutelary gods, congregated in this mountainous zone, characterized by the narrowness of its spaces. Thus, peoples from the east sought refuge along the routes that make up the present Matakamland. They settled on steep mountains, where they used caves as their last refuge; from there it was easy to watch over the lowlands and incoming paths and ward off any warlike manoeuvre.”
Metal Face Mask, Brazil, 1846
Source: Thomas Ewbank, Life in Brazil (New York, 1856), p. 437. (Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library).
Hanging a Slave, South Carolina, 1850s.
Treadmill, Jamaica, 1837. Source: see notes.
The slave trade reached its summit in the mid-eighteenth century, in terms of organisation, and the prices paid for and number of enslaved Africans transported. However, by the 1790s, the prices and demand for slaves had plummeted dramatically. The number of Africans transported went from 108,100 in the 1760s to 47,200 in the 1780s. “Flooding of the slave marts, the disruption in the trade occasioned by the American and French Revolutions, an embargo by Futa Jallon rulers to force up prices, and intermittent regional conflicts all contributed to the decline in the trade.”
Another contributing factor to the demise of the slave trade was the abolition movements. However, these movements came about very late, during a time when the slave trade’s commercial success was already waning considerably and was no longer a viable business due to continuous revolts and disruptions. Thus, the decision to abolish the trade was more about opportunism and political manoeuvring as opposed to sentimental misgivings, an acknowledgement that “the writing was on the wall” coupled with an air of desperation. The revolts were hugely successful and threatening to put an end to slavery proper, by setting up these “smokescreen” abolitionist movements it gave the slave owners and traders an opportunity to continue with colonialism, and the socio-political and economic advantages gained, whilst, of course, appearing benevolent in the process.
This hypothesis is further supported by the dramatic drop in the trade which was anterior to the birth of the abolitionist movements. The antislavery activities helped to put an end to the terrifying and triumphant revolts, as well as other equally important but less noticeable resistance methods, by neutralising the slave’s drive to continue the fight which allowed for discourse and negotiations. The benefit of hindsight tells us that these negotiations would be devastating for the African, and ultimately give Europeans the opportunity to replace slavery with colonialism, which was merely slavery in another guise.
Along with the much belated abolitionist movements was the founding of the Freetown settlement in 1787. “In spite of its inauspicious beginnings, the colony grew to become a symbol of antislavery; some of its more committed and scrupulous residents took the task of antislavery seriously and worked to wean the surrounding African chiefs and peoples from their slaving ways.”
One of the greatest ironies of this period was the involvement of Britain in the antislavery movement.
For centuries Britain was one of the most notorious culprits in the slave trade. It was the very country that helped facilitate the expansion of slavery in the eighteenth century. What was the reason for this sudden about turn?
“After the British Crown took over [Freetown] in 1808, they provided the military and institutional muscle - The Naval Squadron and Mixed Commissions - necessary to stem the flow of slavery in the region.” Freetown provided refuge for some slave escapees, but the states enforcement capacity was greater on the high seas than on land. “However, between the diplomatic expeditions of Watts in 1794 and that of Blyden in 1872 to Timbo, the capital of Futa Jallon, the capacity of the colonial power to intervene in regional affairs expanded considerably.”
The 1500s gave birth to one of the most vilest and dim-witted periods in the entire history of mankind. The intercontinental trading of human beings, forced out of their homes against their will, changed the global social, political and economic face forever. Although slavery had existed prior to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, this senseless three-hundred year affair and its extension - colonialism was considerably more inhumane. It was a malignant and greedy business designed for pure selfish reasons that disregarded a major portion of the human race, and has led to a form of racism never previously known and strongly felt to this very day. The fact that Africans have successfully survived such a vicious, ferocious and deliberately manipulative onslaught is testimony to the intelligence, strength, self-esteem and endurance of the people.
Sylviane A. Diouf, Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies, Ohio University Press, Athens, James Currey Ltd, Oxford , 2003.
John Henrik Clarke, Christopher Columbus and the African Holocaust: Slavery and the Rise of European Capitalism, EWORLD INC., USA, 1998.
Anthony T. Browder, Nile Valley Contributions to Civilisation: Exploding the Myths Vol.1, The Institute of Karmic Guidance, February 2009.
Ivan Van Sertima, They Came Before Columbus, Random House, New York, USA, 2003.
Horace Butler, When Rocks Cry Out, Stone River Publishing, Fort Worth, Texas, USA, 2009.
Treadmill, Jamaica, 1837. - For more details on the illustration and its background, see Diana Paton, ed., A Narrative of Events, since the First of August 1834, by James Williams, an Apprenticed Labourer in Jamaica (Duke University Press, 2001), esp. pp. xxxvii-xxxviii, 44. A version of this engraving, clearly a copy of the original, was published in James M. Phillippo, Jamaica, its past and present (London, 1843), facing p.172.
Hanging a Slave, South Carolina. - Source: Richard Hildreth, Archy Moore, the white slave; or, Memoirs of a Fugitive (New York, 1857), p.197.
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