The Atlantic Slave Trade

Slaves were brought into the New World (from West Africa, but never really from Sierra Leone) and North Africa also had a slave trade that was snowballing, but what does slavery really mean today for Africa?

Slavery is a concept that has existed since prehistoric times and was practised by the British Empire. Hunter-gatherers, the Ottoman Empire and even the Atlantic culture all have slavery enshrined in their historic records. No matter where you go, from Ancient Greece to the Caliphate, there is widespread historical evidence that human beings, a portion of them, were in the past treated as human property. Africa, as a continent, is a place that slavery forms a part of the historical fabrics. It is where slaves were found working as household slaves or on land.

When Europe began to expand it’s trading power in the 1500s, slaves from Africa began to frequently contribute to it’s might: slaves were often shipped to the Americas from Africa, but soon this trade link disappeared because Great Britain, a huge colonial power in Africa, abolished the slave trade in the 1800s; this was then followed through in the United States of America and it was, I believe, a monumental change in perspectives towards Africa. Almost half of the population in Sierra Leone and Madagascar in the 1800s, had roots in slavery, unlike it’s African neighbours Ghana, Mali and such.

Imagine the impact that white colonial rule had in the consciousness of African states, which felt the impact of slavery in their history. European buyers of slaves would often sell them for rum, cloth or spices, but how does a person fall prey to the slave trade? It was almost always so that slaves were turned into so during moments of conquering, because they had debts that could not be repaid, for kings and chieftains pardoning criminals by making them slaves so that they give up a life of crime, sometimes kidnapping was the reason, or through raids when they were collaborating with Europeans at work in those developing economies during wars, and even because they were born into families that were slaves to tribal chiefs.

497px-group_of_men_and_women_being_taken_to_a_slave_market_wellcome_v0050647
At The Slave Market…

Africans (and Arabs) often practised this trade before a ballooning demand in the Atlantic slave trade started to dent local business. Eventually, the slave trade was pushed through into countries’ infrastructures and it began to service economies and the rural labour diaspora. Sometimes this legacy is clouded in mystery over how it relates to post-independence from the British Empire: the Dutch colonial empire introduced apartheid (racial segregation between blacks and whites) when it came to South Africa, and it’s horrible legacy still resonates within the country. The Dutch East India Company, was at first, interested in looting the land: it wanted fresh local food, before heading to Indonesia, that was famed for crops and spices. The Dutch could not locate back home in Europe any of these produce, so they decided to carry on with the looting – the Company, plainly-speaking, never did any good in any of these states.

The Dutch East India Company turned the entire Indonesian population into slaves (a trade practice it practically invented) and ruled by force, making them farm those “much desired” crops. Although, diplomacy was tested in South Africa at first to take back to Europe, cattle and also obtain labour forces, when that failed slavery was swiftly revealed as their main method to rule South Africa. Slaves at the time, had to suffer through very difficult living circumstances, were almost always isolated for the colour of their skin and if orders were not followed through then harsh penalties were handed out, such as not being allowed to eat food or even more tough work.

Apartheid has never been the British Empire’s legacy in South Africa, even though the state is a former British colony and now a member of the Commonwealth. True, South Africa now has it’s borders well-defined, like all former British colonies, and no longer has local administering power over countries that also exhibited the slave trade in the past, but it is not right to point those dirty fingers at Great Britain’s colonial legacy over apartheid because the blacks in South Africa were only enslaved through racial segregation, fourteen years after South Africa became independent from the British Empire.

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Author: Osmi Anannya

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