Slavewarrior History Notes






Slave Traders meet the Warrior Ike carrying Ada

Notes and History on Slavery (Another Reason The Film On Slavery)

Did the coming of western civilization, slave masters, traders, and raiders into the territories now known as Africa have any impact on the lives and ways of living of those inhabitants? Why would some Africans be party to a trade that took some of their fellows away to lands of no return, “across the seas?” These and more remain to be addressed regardless of how much some of us wish such questions never came up again.

Trans-Atlantic Slave-trade and the Holocaust: Many continue to ask – if films, studies, stories, and discussions about the holocaust continue to be of relevance today, wouldn’t it be fair for the same relevance to be accorded films, studies, stories, and discussions about trans-Atlantic slave trade which involved 12 million Africans? Would it be fair to dismiss slave trade and slavery as mere past history of a dark era that need not be revisited? Answers may vary depending on who is asked. Regardless, my understanding is that the revisiting of history is best handled by an approach that places the emphasis on learning from the mistakes of the past for the understanding of today and the improvement of tomorrow. That is the inspiration behind the making of the film – SLAVE WARRIOR. – Oliver O. Mbamara – Producer/Director, SLAVE WARRIOR.

Wikipedia Encyclopedia Notes on Atlantic Slave Trade

     The Atlantic slave trade was the capture and transport of black Africans into bondage and servitude in the New World. It is sometimes called Maafa by African-Americans. This term means holocaust or great disaster in kiswahili. The slaves were one element of a three-part economic cycle —the Triangular trade —which ultimately involved four continents, four centuries and the lives and fortunes of millions of people.

Records of the era were kept erratically, if at all, but contemporary historians estimate some 12 million individuals were taken from west Africa to North America, Central America, and South America and the Caribbean Islands by European colonial/imperialist powers.

The slave trade originated in a shortage of labour in the new world. The first slaves used were Native American people, but they were not numerous enough and were being decimated by European cruelty and diseases. It was also impossible to convince enough Europeans to migrate to the colonies, despite attempts at coercive tactics such as indentured servitude or even distribution of free land (mainly in the US). The massive amounts of labour were needed for mining, but especially for the plantations, in the labor-intensive growing, harvesting and (semi-)processing of sugar (also for rum), cotton and other prized tropical crops which could not be grown profitably in chilly Europe, but did well in the warmer areas of New World, rather then having to import them (from the Ottoman empire etcetera). Growing sugar was an extremely labour intensive process. To meet this demand for labour European traders thus turned to Western Africa especially Guinea as a source of slaves.

There Europeans tapped into the African slave trade that saw slaves transported to the coast of Guinea where they were sold at European trading forts in exchange for muskets, manufactured goods, and cloth. As a rule, they were not stolen by the Europeans but captured in tribal wars, in many cases even started with a view to the capture of fellow Africans- given the modest prices they asked, African labor was clearly considered abundant, not very valuable. There they were loaded into extremely cramped ships and given only minimal amounts of food and water. It is estimated that fifteen percent of slaves died in the voyage over the Atlantic.

The first slavers were Portuguese The Portuguese Republic who desired workers for their mines and sugar plantations in Brazil When the Dutch seized much of Brazil and became the dominant trading power in seventeenth century they became the leading slavers selling slaves to both their own colonies and to British and Spanish ones. As Britain rose in naval power and controlled more of the Americas they became the leading slave traders, mostly operating out of Liverpool and Bristol. By the late 17th century, one out of every four ships that left Liverpool harbour was a slaver. They were highly profitable ventures and played very important economic roles in those two cities.

The slave trade was part of the triangular Atlantic trade, which was probably the most important and profitable trading route in the world. Ships from Europe would carry a cargo of manufactured trade goods to Africa. They would exchange the trade goods for slaves which they would transport to the Americas. In the Americas, they would sell the slaves and pick up a cargo of agricultural products, often produced with slave labour, for Europe. The value of this trade route was that a ship could make a substantial profit on each leg of the voyage. The route was also designed to take full advantage of prevailing winds and currents. For example, the trip from the West Indies or the southern US to Europe would be assisted by the Gulf Stream. The outward bound trip from Europe to Africa would not be impeded by the same current.

The immorality of slavery (clearly contrary to the prevailing Christian teaching) was excused by economics. Slavery was involved in some of the most immensely profitable industries of the time. 70% of the slaves brought to the new world were used to produce sugar, the most labour intensive crop. The rest were employed harvesting coffee, cotton, and tobacco, and in some cases in mining. The West Indian colonies of the European powers were some of their most important possessions and they went to extremes to protect and retain them. For example, in 1763, France agreed to lose the entire vast colony of New France in exchange for keeping the minute Antillian island of Guadeloupe (still a French overseas département).

By far the most successful West Indian colonies in 1800 belonged to the United Kingdom. After entering the sugar colony business late, British naval supremacy and control over key islands such as Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados gave it an important edge over all competitors; wile many lost their shirt, some made enormous fortunes, even by uper class standards. This advantage was reinforced when France lost its most important colony, St. Dominigue, to a slave revolt in 1791. The British islands produced the most sugar, and the British people quickly became the largest consumers of sugar. West Indian sugar became ubiquitous as an additive to Chinese tea. Products of American slave labour soon permeated every level of British society with tobacco, coffee, and especially sugar all becoming indispensable elements of daily life for all classes.

Abolition of the Atlantic slave trade.

In Britain, and in other parts of Europe, opposition developed against the slave trade. Led by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and establishment Evangelicals such as William Wilberforce the movement was joined by many and began to protest the trade. They were opposed by the owners of the colonial holdings; despite this Britain banned the slave trade in 1807, imposing stiff fines for any slave found aboard a British ship. That same year the United States banned the importation of slaves. Denmark, who had been very active in the slave trade, was the first country to ban the trade through legislation (1792) to take effect from 1803. The Royal Navy, which then controlled the world’s seas, moved to stop other nations from filling Britain’s place in the slave trade and declared that slaving was equal to piracy and could be punished by death.

For the British to end the slave trade, significant obstacles had to be overcome. In the 18th century, the slave trade was an integral part of the Atlantic economy. The economies of the European colonies in the Caribbean, the American colonies, and Brazil required vast amounts of man power to harvest the bountiful agricultural goods. In 1790 the British West Indies, islands such as Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad had a slave population of 524 000, while the French had 643 000 in their West Indian possessions. Other powers such as Spain, the Netherlands, and Denmark had large numbers of slaves as well. Despite these high populations more slaves were always required. Harsh conditions and demographic imbalances left the slave population with well below replacement fertility levels. Between 1600 and 1800 the English imported around 1.7 million slaves to their West Indian possessions. The fact that there were well over a million fewer slaves in the British colonies than had been imported to them illustrates the conditions in which they lived.

How did the abolition of the slave trade occur if it was so economically important and successful? The historiography of answers to this question is a long and interesting one. Before the Second World War the study of the abolition movement was performed primarily by British scholars who believed that the anti-slavery movement was probably among the three or four perfectly virtuous pages in the history of nations.

This opinion was controverted in 1944 by the West Indian historian, Eric Williams, who argued that the end of the slave trade was a result of economic transitions totally unconnected to any morality. Williams’ thesis was soon brought into question as well, however. Williams based his argument upon the idea that the West Indian colonies were in decline at the early point of 19th century and were losing their political and economic importance to Britain. This decline turned the slave system into an economic burden that the British were only too willing to do away with.

The main difficulty with this argument is that the decline only began to manifest itself after slave trading was banned in 1807. Before then slavery was flourishing economically. The decline in the West Indies is more likely to be an effect of the suppression of the slave trade than the cause. Falling prices for the commodities produced by slave labour such as sugar and coffee can be easily discounted as evidence shows that a fall in price leads to great increases in demand and actually increases total profits for the importers. Profits for the slave trade remained at around ten percent of investment and showed no evidence of being on the decline. Land prices in the West Indies, an important tool for analyzing the economy of the area did not begin to decrease until after the slave trade was discontinued. The sugar colonies were not in decline at all, in fact they were at the peak of their economic influence in 1807.

Williams also had reason to be biased. He was heavily involved in the movements for independence of the Caribbean colonies and had a motive to try to extinguish the idea of such a munificent action by the colonial overlord. A third generation of scholars lead by the likes of Seymour Drescher and Roger Anstey have discounted most of Williams’ arguments, but still acknowledge that morality had to be combined with the forces of politics and economic theory to bring about the end of the slave trade.

The movements that played the greatest role in actually convincing Westminster to outlaw the slave trade were religious. Evangelical Protestant groups arose who agreed with the Quakers in viewing slavery as a blight upon humanity. These people were certainly a minority, but they were a fervent one with many dedicated individuals. These groups also had a strong parliamentary presence, controlling 35-40 seats at their height. Their numbers were magnified by the precarious position of the government. Known as the “saints” this group was led by William Wilberforce, the most important of the anti-slave campaigners. These parliamentarians were extremely dedicated and often saw their personal battle against slavery as a divinely ordained crusade.

After the British ended their own slave trade, they were forced by economics to press other nations into placing themselves in the same economic straitjacket, or else the British colonies would become uncompetitive with those of other nations. The British campaign against the slave trade by other nations was an unprecedented foreign policy effort. Denmark, a small player in the international slave trade, and the United States banned the trade during the same period as Great Britain. Other small trading nations that did not have a great deal to give up such as Sweden quickly followed suit, as did the Dutch, who were also by then a minor player.

Four nations objected strongly to surrendering their rights to trade slaves: Spain, Portugal, Brazil (after its independence), and France. Britain used every tool at its disposal to try to induce these nations to follow its lead. Portugal and Spain, which were indebted to Britain after the Napoleonic Wars, slowly agreed to accept large cash payments to first reduce and then eliminate the slave trade. By 1853 the British government had paid Portugal over three million pounds, and Spain over one million in order to end the slave trade. Brazil, however, did not agree to stop trading in slaves until Britain took military action against its coastal areas and threatened a permanent blockade of the nation’s ports in 1852.

For France, the British first tried to impose a solution during the negotiations at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, but Russia and Austria did not agree. The French people and government had deep misgivings about conceding to Britain’s demands. Not only did Britain demand that other nations ban the slave trade, but also demanded the right to police the ban. The Royal Navy had to be granted permission to search any suspicious ships and seize any found to be carrying slaves, or equipped for doing so. It is especially these conditions that kept France involved in the slave trade for so long. While France formally agreed to ban the trading of slaves in 1815, they did not allow Britain to police the ban, nor did they do much to enforce it themselves. Thus a large black market in slaves continued for many years. While the French people had originally been as opposed to the slave trade as the British, it became a matter of national pride that they not allow their policies to be dictated to them by Britain. Also such a reformist movement was viewed as tainted by the conservative backlash after the revolution. The French slave trade thus did not come to a complete halt until 1848.

Credits & Appreciation:– curled from The free Dictionary Website

Slavery In Africa: The Relevance of The True Story  By Oliver O. Mbamara

     One of the few honest admissions about the fact that Western scholars lacked the proper historical records to actually discuss or authoritatively write on “Slavery” or the lack of it in Africa can be found in an article on “Slavery In Africa” as published in Wikipedia Encyclopedia. The article began with the following rare admission:

Slavery in Africa, as with other continents, has a long history, with internal slavery being common to many societies. However, due to lack of historical records we can only discuss the early history of the African slave trade through its external manifestation, whereby slaves were supplied across the Sahara and the red Sea.”

The ability of the above sentence to limit its discussion of Slavery in Africa based on external manifestation is appreciated. One would wish other Western literature outlets were that candid. However, the admission entails that there is still some type of vacuum or scarcity in today’s literature and historical libraries as to the operations of slave trade or the lack of it in the typical African society before the coming of Atlantic slave trade. It therefore behooves on African scholars to take up the mantle and tell these stories and express the histories that were passed on to them by their fore-fathers regarding slave trade and the coming of the West. The late Professor Chinua Achebe took a perspective and did a good work on the impact of the coming of the West on a typical African society through his classic book – “Things Fall Apart.” No wonder the book has remained a classic that has been translated into several languages around the world.

In various ways from the physical to the spiritual, from one generation to another, from one continent or society to another,  from one family to another, and/or from this life to the next, the impact of slavery continues to be a factor many generations after it was supposedly abolished and many still fight to free themselves from its direct or indirect bondage. My understanding is that the emphasis should be on learning from the lessons of the experiences and effects of these memorable times in history so as find the relevance of our present lives towards the improvement of our future.  In the cycle of life the enslaved/victim/oppressed sometimes becomes the enslaver/victmizer/oppressor, and vice versa.  In the end it is all about love and forgiveness for in forgiving and loving others, we may actually be forgiving and loving ourselves.

In line with that reasoning, it would be important and perhaps quite necessary that we give audience to the people who were the subjects (or at least direct descendants of the subjects) of slavery so we could hear their own side of the experience. Truth has a unique way of setting things free so that freedom might reign. The inhibition of the truth is the inhibition of freedom but that is only for a while, cause the truth always prevails – someday, sometime, somehow.

A few African writers may have slightly touched the topic just as the film SLAVE WARRIOR attempted to do in 115-minutes. The fact is that we need more than a few writers and we definitely need more than a 115-minutes film (even the second and third parts of the SLAVE WARRIOR TRILOGY will not be enough) if we really want the world to actually appreciate what obtained in the era of slave trade. Africans have to rise and tell their own stories or else the world will continue to read what the Western scholars have made available on the topic. Regardless of how objective Western scholars try to be on this topic the value of an African telling such a story through the eyes of an African will never be overemphasized. There is still tremendous doubt, uncertainty, cloud, and speculation surrounding the information we have out there today as to what obtained in Africa in the era before or during the coming of the Colonial Imperialist powers to Africa. Below is another quote from the Wikipedia Encyclopedia article on Slavery in Africa.

“While no one disputes the horrific harm done to the slaves themselves, the effects of the trade on African societies are much debated. In the 19th century, abolitionists saw slavery as an unmitigated evil. This view continued with scholars into the 1960s and 70s such as Basil Davidson, who conceded it may have had some benefits while still acknowledging its largely negative impact on Africa. Today, however, many scholars believe slavery had a neutral, or even somewhat positive effect on those left behind in Africa.”

Without dwelling on the speculation of the above sentence, it is worthy of note that the sentence attempts to make a conclusion based on the submission of an English historian born in England in 1914 when slavery was still operational in some parts of Africa such as Sudan and Ethiopia. The point is not to belittle any of the works of Western or European historians but to insist on the fact that a submission on slavery in Africa will have more authenticity if it was based on the submissions of even some old man or woman in some remote African village who perhaps may never have gone to a western school and therefore not entitled to be called “historians” as the English academia means it. The above sentence also attempts to decide the effect of slavery on those who were left behind in Africa. Of course like everything in life, there were pros and cons, benefits and losses in slavery, but shouldn’t the Africans themselves be the ones in a better position to state whether they benefited from slavery or not?

The submission here is not to disbelieve the theories and submissions of non-Africans when it comes to African history because there are non-Africans who these later days, have given genuine and considerable time, inquiry, and research to the history of Africans so as to tell the true story about Africa and Africans given the state of life and things today. The submission here is indeed to maintain the relevance of the African story being told by an African born into an African family and raised with the inculcation of African history, tradition, and culture well from childhood and before the age of emancipation. Such a person would have obtained direct transmission of oral history of his or her ancestors directly from the preceding generation bound by culture to transmit history, tradition, and culture from their predecessors (the ancestors who witnessed the occurrences of the era in question). Such an African would have little reason to write from the perspective of giving “slavery” a human face as many Western and European writers have been argued to do especially in those 18th century times when some powerful and influential members of these imperialist territories desperately sought to prove to their homeland governments that slavery was justified and ought to continue.

A good number of influential men invested in trade across the Atlantic and slavery was a major means of sustaining the business that brought the returns on such investments. Accordingly, there was the business and material need to perpetuate the untruth about slavery for the benefit and survival of the businesses and the status quo favored by the slave trade. That was the fact, and unfortunately, that seemed logical. The same unfortunate logic leads us to expect that such powerful men had the influence of dictating what got written and what got published so as to sway public opinion to support slavery. That would lead us to expect that the so-called slaves were presented as lesser human beings to justify a trade in them as chattels. That would also lead us to expect that many are yet to recover from the negative aspersions cast on the races that served as slaves in the era of slavery. That would lead us to expect that Is it not logical that some have not been able to shed such bias even after a couple of generations after slavery was abolished. Unfortunately, these are just not expectations but equally they are the facts.

This piece strongly maintains that the bitterness of the past need not be revisited especially when generations of culprits and victims have come and gone and perhaps reincarnated in alternated positions. Nevertheless, the lessons can always be learned, and it would help significantly if those with the closest ties to the subjects and actors of the era in question deliver the narratives. We may not be able to change the past but we can use the understanding of the past to properly identify who we are today and therefore properly educate ourselves for the improvement of the future. Africans were in the heart of it. They experienced it and they can do a better job in telling their own stories.

In some cases, Western/European scholars would have the closest experience to write and tell what happened across the Atlantic and in the imperialist kingdoms during the slave trade era. In the same vein, Africans are the best to tell what obtained before the coming of the imperialist/colonial masters to Africa beginning with slave trade. Perhaps we can begin to appreciate why after the abolition of slavery in the nineteenth century, there are still remnants of alleged “slavery” in parts of Africa today.

The film – SLAVE WARRIOR takes us back to what obtained in the days of the coming of the imperialist powers using the experience of some clans in the hinterlands of Africa in the eighteenth century.

Oliver O. Mbamara © 2005 (Updated Nov. 2013)

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