Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Atlantic Slave Trade

The Atlantic Slave Trade

Goree Island Slave Monument
You might wonder why a site devoted to tourism would bring up a painful subject like slavery. One of the reasons that African Americans travel to Africa is to find their heritage. Many chose South or East Africa, but to really trace their roots they must travel to West Africa (just like Alex Haley author of Roots

 Millions of people were dispatched in chains from West African ports running from Senegal to Angola, bound for Brazil, Caribbean and the United States.  South Africa did enslave the native population but didn't export them. In fact South Africa did import slaves from Asia.

What where the forces that drove slavery to the America's? The main one was Europeans craving for labor intensive crops like sugar, tea, coffee,tobacco and cotton. Except for cotton these crops where luxuries and some might be called drugs.  They needed a huge source of cheap labor.

So where was this labor going to come from. It's not surprising that the Europeans turned to slavery as a labor solution. Slavery including chattel slavery , the most extreme form, in which people are legally defined as property- had a long history in the Old World. At that time most slaves were not Africa but European.  The word slavery comes from the world slav referring to the Slavic people of northern Europe who were enslaved in southern Europe. Using European slaves did not work because they could not survive the tropical conditions and diseases in the Americas and Islands.The European colonist first tried to enslave the native population. This failed because 95% of the native population died from Old World diseases like small poxs and measles. Also being on their home territory many were able to escape. It is said that in the century after Columbus sailed to the New World  the population of natives lost 90 million.

Atlantic Slave Trade
Africans were acclimated to tropical climates and had some protection from Old World disease due to prior to exposure to Europeans. Since most slaves where needed in the the tropical areas of the Americas.... so Africans became the choice. It is estimated that around 50% of the slaves went to the Caribbeans, 40% to South  and Central America with only 5% to the United States.

There has been a lot of debate about how many West Africans where shipped to the New World as slaves. A 1999 study by Harvard puts the number at around 11 million. Remember this does not include those who didn't survive capture and the horror of the middle passage.

Slave Ship
Many white Europeans and Americans seem to take some satisfaction from the fact that most African slaves where sold into slavery by other Africans. Using this "logic" to shift the blame from Europeans to Africans. There is plenty of blame to go around. Remember that Africans did not sell their own people. The word African was more of a European state of mind.  Populations in Africa thought of themselves as Igbo, Asante, Kongo, Yourba..etc.  These tribes did keep and sell slaves from other tribes ..not thought of as their own people.  The biggest factor was the demand that drove the West African slave came from the Europeans wanting cheap labor for their plantations in the the New World.

When American descendant of these slaves return to West Africa here are a few points of interest:

  • Elmina Castle, Ghana - One of several former slave forts along Ghana's Atlantic coast, is a hugely popular destination and place of pilgrimage for African-American tourists

  • Albreda Island, Gambia - French Slave port now has a slave musuem

  • Jufureh, Gambia is the home village of Kunta Kinte

  • The Route des Esclaves , Benin - a 2.5 mile road lined with fetishes and statues where the slaves would take their final walk down to beach and to the slave-ships. Important memorials have been set up in the last village on this road, which was the "point of no return".

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