Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Identity (part 1) -Deconstructing common beliefs about the Slave Trade

Majority of people in society presently play the "Blame Game" due to their ignorance and identity view(s). This especially comes into play when it comes to immigration/ refugees, citizenship status, nationalism, and the job market. In each article of the identity newsletter, I will break down the general myths surrounding identity.  In this article, I will dissolve the ignorance surrounding the Slave Trade and Africans.  In fact, few realize that there were other slave trades and slave markets before the Atlantic Slave Trade began that brought Africans to the Caribbeans and the Americas.  The whole back and forth between "Blacks" and "Whites" presently is nothing more than a "divide and conquer" tactic used by activists and politicians. A "divide and conquer" tactic used to garner votes and ideology entrenchment between the political right and the political left.  In reality, the slave trade was not invented by "Whites" but in fact it was expedited by "Whites" during the Atlantic Slave Trade due to the need for plantation labor to boost their economies due to competition from other nation-states who were also looking to expand.  Without Africans/"Blacks" taking part in the Slave trade, the Slave Trade would not have existed in any form. Food for thought before you decide to take any side on the slavery argument.  Also remember, gaining your freedom from slavery has existed in every single form of slavery mentioned below.  Contracts existed, slaves became rulers, slaves owned property, slaves owned money, slaves married, slavery was abolished to return again(sometimes in the same form, sometimes in a different form).  Slavery in any form is and always will be tied into the labor forces at work.  Between the rulers and the ruled.  Rulers do not see color or religion or gender as being a barrier.  The moral argument short sights and limits the bigger economic issues at play which is: that the rulers and the elite exploit slaves/people for profit.  The society as a whole which uses slaves, profits from them.  It is how prices are kept low in the society that uses slaves or is dependent on slavery.  Poverty and slavery go hand-in-hand as does the poor and the rich and how the rich exploit the poor not only for their gain but for society's gain and the market forces at work that the "middle class" invest into. Moral and religious arguments hide the fact that we are all historically connected to slavery in one form or another and slavery in whatever form it appears is something we cannot hide from or turn away from.  We are all a part of it because we are all a part of the market forces at work in our day-to-day lives.  We are all a part of it because it has impacted our present identity and what we see ourselves as on a day-to-day basis.

Slavery in Africa
Systems of servitude and slavery were common in parts of the continent, as they were in much of the ancient world. In most African societies where slavery was prevalent, the enslaved people were not treated as chattel slaves and were given certain rights in a system similar to indentured servitude elsewhere in the world. When the Arab slave trade and the Atlantic slave trade began, many of the local slave systems changed and began supplying captives for slave markets outside of Africa.  Slavery in historical Africa was practiced in many different forms: debt slavery, enslavement of war captives, military slavery, and criminal slavery were all practiced in various parts of Africa.  Although there had been some trans-Saharan trade from the interior of Sub-Saharan Africa to other regions, slavery was a small part of the economic life of many societies in Africa until the introduction of transcontinental slave trades (Arab and Atlantic).  Slavery existed in parts of Africa (like the rest of the world) and was a part of the economic structure of some societies for many centuries, although the extent varied. In sub-Saharan Africa, the slave relationships were often complex with rights and freedoms given to individuals held in slavery and restrictions on sale and treatment by their masters. Many communities had hierarchies between different types of slaves: for example, differentiating between those who had been born into slavery and those who had been captured through war. In those societies which practiced human sacrifice , slaves became the most prominent victims.  In many African societies, there was very little difference between the free peasants and the feudal vassal peasants. Enslaved people of the Songhay Empire were used primarily in agriculture; they paid tribute to their masters in crop and service but they were slightly restricted in custom and convenience. These non-free people were more an occupational caste.  Slavery in African cultures was generally more like indentured servitude, although in certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa, slaves were used for human sacrifices in annual rituals, such as those rituals practiced by the denizens of Dahomey. Slaves were often not the chattel of other men, not enslaved for life.  The forms of slavery in Africa were closely related to kinship structures. In many African communities, where land could not be owned, enslavement of individuals was used as a means to increase the influence a person had and expand connections. This made slaves a permanent part of a master's lineage and the children of slaves could become closely connected with the larger family ties.  Children of slaves born into families could be integrated into the master's kinship group and rise to prominent positions within society, even to the level of chief in some instances. However, stigma often remained attached and there could be strict separations between slave members of a kinship group and those related to the master.  Like most other regions of the world, slavery and forced labor existed in many kingdoms and societies of Africa for thousands of years.  The best evidence of slave practices in Africa come from the major kingdoms, particularly along the coast, and there is little evidence of widespread slavery practices in stateless societies. Slave trading was mostly secondary to other trade relationships; however, there is evidence of a trans-Saharan slave trade route from Roman times which persisted in the area after the fall of the Roman empire.  However, kinship structures and rights provided to slaves (except those captured in war) appears to have limited the scope of slave trading before the start of the Arab slave trade and the Atlantic slave trade.  Several nations such as the Ashanti of present-day Ghana and the Yoruba of present-day Nigeria were involved in slave-trading. Groups such as the Imbangala of Angola and the Nyamwezi of Tanzania would serve as intermediaries or roving bands, waging war on African states to capture people for export as slaves. Historians estimate that 90% of those shipped to the New World were enslaved by Africans and then sold to European traders.  "Without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred".  "In regards to the indigenous slave trade, the viewpoint that 'Africans' enslaved 'Africans' is obfuscating if not troubling. The deployment of 'African' in African history tends to coalesce into obscurantist constructions of identities that allow scholars, for instance, to subtly call into question the humanity of 'all' Africans. Whenever Asante rulers sold non-Asantes into slavery, they did not construct it in terms of Africans selling fellow Africans. They saw the victims for what they were, for instance, as Akuapems, without categorizing them as fellow Africans. Equally, when Christian Scandinavians and Russians sold war captives to the Islamic people of the Abbasid Empire, they didn’t think that they were placing fellow Europeans into slavery. This lazy categorizing homogenizes Africans and has become a part of the methodology of African history; not surprisingly, the Western media’s cottage industry on Africa has tapped into it to frame Africans in inchoate generalities allowing the media to describe local crisis in one African state as 'African' problem".

Slavery in the Ancient world:
 In Mediterranean cultures, slavery comprised a mixture of debt slavery, slavery as a punishment for crime, and the enslavement of prisoners.  The institution of slavery condemned a majority of slaves to agricultural and industrial labor where they lived hard and often very difficult lives. In some of the city-states of Greece and in the Roman Empire, slaves formed a very large part of the economy, and the Roman Empire built a large part of its wealth on slaves acquired through conquest.  

Arab slave trade
The practice of slavery
 in the Arab world existed mainly in Western Asia, North Africa, Southeast Africa, the Horn of Africa, and certain parts of Europe (such as Iberia and Sicily) during their period of domination by Arab leaders. The trade was focused on the slave markets of the Middle East, North Africa, and the  Horn of Africa. People traded were not limited to a certain race, ethnicity, or religion.  During the 8th and 9th centuries of the Fatimid Caliphate, most of the slaves were Europeans (called Saqaliba) captured along European coasts and during wars. However, slaves were drawn from a wide variety of regions and included Mediterranean peoples, Persians, peoples from the Caucasus mountain regions (such as Georgia, Armenia, and Circassia) and parts of Central Asia and Scandinavia, English, Dutch, and Irish. Toward the 18th and 19th centuries, the flow of Zanj (Bantu) slaves from Southeast Africa increased with the rise of the Oman sultanate, which was based in Zanzibar in Tanzania. They came into direct trade conflict and competition with Portuguese and other Europeans along the Swahili coast. The North African Barbary states carried on piracy against European shipping and enslaved thousands of European Christians. They earned revenues from the ransoms charged; in many cases in Britain, village churches and communities would raise money for such ransoms. Historians estimate that between 650 and 1900, 10 to 18 million peoples were enslaved by Arab slave traders and taken from Africa across the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Sahara desert. The term Arab when used in historical documents often represented an ethnic term, as many of the "Arab" slave traders, such as Tippu Tip and others, were physically indistinguishable from the "Africans" whom they enslaved and sold. Due to the nature of the Arab slave trade, it is impossible to be precise about actual numbers.  To a smaller degree, Arabs also enslaved Europeans. Between 1 million and 1.25 million Europeans were captured between the 16th and 19th centuries by Barbary corsairs, who were vassals of the Ottoman Empire, and sold as slaves. These slaves were captured mainly from seaside villages from Italy, Spain, Portugal and also from more distant places like France or England, the Netherlands, Ireland and even Iceland. They were also taken from ships stopped by the pirates.The effects of these attacks were devastating: France, England, and Spain each lost thousands of ships. Long stretches of the Spanish and Italian coasts were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants, because of frequent pirate attacks.  Pirate raids discouraged settlement along the coast until the 19th century.

Atlantic slave trade or Trans-Atlantic slave trade
Took place across the Atlantic Ocean
 from the 16th through to the 19th centuries. The vast majority of slaves transported to the New World were Africans from the central and western parts of the continent, sold by Africans to European slave traders who then transported them to North and South America. The numbers were so great that Africans who came by way of the slave trade became the most numerous Old-World immigrants in both North and South America before the late 18th century.  The South Atlantic economic system centered on making goods and clothing to sell in Europe and increasing the numbers of African slaves brought to the New World. This was crucial to those European countries which, in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were vying with each other to create overseas empires.  The Portuguese were the first to engage in the New World slave trade, and others soon followed. Slaves were considered cargo by the ship owners, to be transported to the Americas as quickly and cheaply as possible, there to be sold to labor in coffee, tobacco, cocoa, cotton and sugar plantations, gold and silver mines, rice fields, construction industry, cutting timber for ships, and as house servants. The first Africans imported to the English colonies were also called "indentured servants" or "apprentices for life". By the middle of the 17th century, they and their offspring were legally the property of their owners. As property, they were merchandise or units of labor, and were sold at markets with other goods and services.  The Atlantic slave traders, ordered by trade volume were: the Portuguese, the British, the French, the Spanish, the Dutch, and the Americans. They had established outposts on the African coast where they purchased slaves from local African tribal leaders.  Current estimates are that about 12 million were shipped across the Atlantic, although the actual number purchased by the traders is considerably higher.

"In ancient India, slavery as forced appropriation of labor, skill, or sexual gratification appears to have existed in various forms from the pre-500 BCE period, though never as a legitimate and generally acceptable widespread practice. Historical consensus points to an intensification of slavery under India's Islamic period".

"The Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu includes laws relating to slaves. written circa 2100 BCE - 2050 BCE, it is the oldest known tablet containing a law code surviving today. The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, dating to ca. 1700 BCE, also makes distinctions between the freeborn, freed, and slave".  

"Hittite texts from Anatolia also include laws regulating the institution of slavery. Of particular interest is a law stipulating that reward for the capture of an escaped slave would be higher if the slave had already succeeded in crossing the Halys River and getting farther away from the center of Hittite civilization - from which it can be concluded that at least some of the slaves kept by the Hittites possessed a realistic chance of escaping and regaining their freedom, possibly by finding refuge with other kingdoms or ethnic groups
.  Private ownership of slaves, captured in war and given by the king to their captor, certainly occurred at the beginning of the 18th Dynasty (1550 - 1295 BCE). Sales of slaves occurred in the 25th Dynasty (732 - 656 BCE), and contracts of servitude survive from the 26th Dynasty (ca 672 - 525 BCE) and from the reign of Darius: apparently such a contract then required the consent of the slave". 

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