Effects of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (a Different View)
The history of the 15th-century transatlantic slave trade has differing effects on each of us, especially those of us that have interests in topics relating to man’s inhumanity to fellow men.
It didn’t begin with the Americans as many are prone to believe, but with the Portuguese who, while exploring the coastal regions of West Africa, captured some natives and took them back to Europe as slaves.
Each time the sailors returned, they captured more and more, selling them off until their ills expanded into further untapped lands.
Thus began the process of exploitation of innocent people in their own homelands.
Other European nations soon joined in the expedition to these new frontiers and by the 1650s, the full-scale trading in slaves began.
How Complicit Were the Native Africans?
In as much as we can all blame the Americans and the Europeans for the transatlantic trade, pointing fingers in only one direction, we must not lose sight of the fact that Africans were complicit in the trade too.
Africans also sold off their own natives as slaves and the trade in slaves flourished, the more they intensified their efforts in supplying their fellow natives to the willing buyers from America.
It was simply a case of demand and supply. The slave traders got their supplies with much ease and without any hindrance from their suppliers, the Africans.
Did the natives care that before their kinsmen were shipped out, they were kept in dungeons, chained and cramped in dark chambers for days without food or water? Probably not.
Did they care about what may befall them in the hands of the white traders once they arrive in unknown lands chained together like animals? Many of us doubt this.
The booming business of the transatlantic slave trade soon grew to be known as the triangular trade. Its name is derived from the way the trade connected the economies of three continents, Africa, Europe, and America.
Ships set sail from Western Europe, laden with goods for Africa, goods meant for the elite natives and traders in exchange for the captured who comprised men, women, and children.
How the Transatlantic Slave Trade Began
When the Portuguese first arrived the coastal areas of West Africa, they never ventured too far in, uncertain of the inhabitants who were at the time referred to as savages.
The vegetation was also quite intimidating; there were snakes, bugs, wild animals and deadly mosquitoes whose bites usually turned fatal.
At first, the numbers of native Africans that were caught, kidnapped, and shipped off to Europe was small but soon after America joined the trade.
They required slaves to work on their newly developed plantations located in the Caribbean Islands and mainland America.
Soon, hundreds, thousands, then millions of Africans were torn from their families and homelands, shipped off to America, and sold as off as plantation slaves.
Slavery - A Different Perspective
While some are of the opinion that the effect of that horrible trade has been damaging to millions of slave descendants, even till this day, others beg to differ.
And while some insist that nothing short of an unreserved apology to Africa and African Americans that were affected by the slave trade in one way or another is acceptable, some school of thought finds no need for that since the atrocities were not committed by their own generation.
To them, it’s the past and is best left there.
For those who feel apologies for the transatlantic slave trade is in order, where does the admission of guilt start from? Is it from the:
- Portuguese who started the capturing and kidnapping?
- Jews that owned the boats used to shipload slaves and financed some of the trading operations?
- The European and American businessmen cum slave traders who saw in slave trading a booming business?
- African natives, who offered their own sons and daughters in exchange for goods, materials, mirrors, and spirits?
- The African kings and leaders who sent out scouts to hunt for slaves and gather them together for onward sale to the slave traders?
- The plantation owners who regarded the slaves as next to animals and therefore treated them wickedly, forgetting that they are human, just a different colour.
Perhaps the natives would not have been sold into slavery if Africa weren’t greedy enough to sell themselves off. Maybe if they saw the white man as an enemy and attempted to fight gallantly against them with everything they had, the transatlantic slave trading would have fizzled out and died.
If indeed there were man-eating savages as claimed by history, surely they could have lured their captors into the deep thick jungle, ambush them and have a few for dinner.
But no, they never fought against them. Rather, because Africa became the global trade centre, every nation wanted a piece of the pie, the natives inclusive.
Today the African continent is still enormously rich in both human and natural resources and still holds the hope of the world. But the powers that be are hell bent on destroying their countries and its people. Its “raid the ship and then sink it”.
They are not only openly corrupt, greedy, crooked, and they are still desirous of the finer things of life and will rob their nations blind to get them.
Aren’t they of a similar mindset with that of their ancestors of over 400years ago? Not giving any thought to the plight of their citizens and countries. Still looting, still ‘raping’ and still exposing their men, women, and children to trafficking and modern-day slavery?
Effects of the Slave Trade on Africa and the New World
So, what are the effects of the slave trade both in the past and today?
Not only was the trade in slaves detrimental to the African society, but it also had (and perhaps still does) negative impacts on the continent’s subsequent development, most especially in West Africa. But then there are also positive effects of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, basically in America and Europe, but certainly not much in Africa.
- By the mid-1800s, the African population was only half of what it would have been had the trades not occurred. This had damaging consequences on the continent and its people, like social and ethnic division, political instability, economic underdevelopment, and a weakening of states.
- The slave trade involved stealing of humans, bribery, and exercise of brute force, and may thus be a source of pre-colonial origins for modern-day corruption.
- The trade had an impact on the young male population because male slaves were the most sought after. It is thought that about two-thirds of the slaves taken to the New World were young men and teenage boys, while the rest comprised of one-third females. This added to the negative effects - less able-bodied men and more women which resulted in many wives, concubines, and a vast number of children per household.
- Historians believe that the Atlantic trade seriously retarded Africa's economic development. This is not far from the truth. Particularly between the 16th and 19th centuries, there was an economic stagnation in Africa which continued to fall further behind the economic progress of the developed countries. The case is still the same till this day.
- One very positive factor that has evolved from those dreadful conditions is the creativity with which the black communities of the Americas developed new identities over the centuries. Though derived from the combination of their African roots and tradition, their encounters with the American and European culture, coupled with their experiences in the New World, has proved to be a great enrichment of cultural life and has contributed immensely to the global culture of modern times.
- Other positives? People are more aware of the fact and reality that the transatlantic slave trade was a brutally violent act on native Africans. This realisation has created a major focus on the issue, with some demanding there must be reparations (compensations) for the evil act, while others feel it is best left buried in the past. The important thing is that it is now a hotly debated topic.
- Empathy for what happened to fellow humans those hundreds of years ago has resulted in an awareness of those injustices meted out to the black community. Today, racists are mostly considered societal nuisances.
- There is a new movement on the resistance of racism and we must admit that there is now a vast difference between the racial problems of the 21st century and those of the 18th to the 20th centuries.
- Robert Patterson, a Georgetown associate professor who chairs Georgetown's African American Studies department says students in his “Race and Racism class this past fall are eager to know what they can do to combat racism”. This should keep us hopeful about the next generation.
What Lesson Have We Learned?
In as much as the West is to blame for the beginnings of the slave trade business in the 15th century, something that subsequently caused a massive human and economic loss for Africa (and gain for the Western World), Africans must bear some of the responsibilities of slave trading as well.
Slavery was rife in some regions of the African continent even before the transatlantic slave trade fully commenced. Most African societies had long before had their own slaves, and not all slave owners treated them with dignity.
Like it was in the West, there were wonderful masters that treated their slaves and servants well, and there were the wicked ones who treated them badly with an indifference towards their concern.
Though slavery has been abolished since January 1808, injustice to humankind still continues in other forms, some deadlier than slavery itself.
Massacres and genocide have become endemic, so is terrorism and inflaming ethnic cleansing. Some African governments can mow down their own people and go to bed sleeping soundly as if nothing happened.
So, what lessons have been learned about slavery? Not much on the African continent because Africa still doesn’t have much control over its own resources. This is through no sole fault of the West alone because the Africans leaders and the West connive with themselves.
Also today, divisions between and within African countries continue to weaken the continent. This could not have been achieved if the governments get their acts together, and think not only about what’s in it for them.
The slaves were all forcefully snatched away from their nations and unwillingly made to live a life of servitude. They lost their language, heritage, dignity, and culture. Denied all these, they formed new ones and made the best of what they had created. Their descendants are much better off today - lifestyle wise, economically, and culturally (by way of literature, music, and sports), and live a better, freer, and healthier lives than their cousins in Africa.
There are many other monumental achievements recorded by the black race that is leaving indelible marks on global culture.
Moving on, the world needs to learn from its past, but while it can and should mourn the past, it is time to let go of the pain and sorrow of slavery. This is the time to join hands with the world to continue to forge on into the future.
Source: The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas
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