The word slavery brings tears to our eyes, pains to our hearts, and hunger to several bellies. Slavery ended centuries ago and yet still people harbor the pains that their ancestors went through. The African Holocaust, begun around the mid-15th century (Trans-Atlantic slave trade) based on the fact that the New World demanded a large workforce for expansion. In this case, Africa seemed to be the only solution! Innocent natives of Africa were abducted either by outright kidnapping by local traders or as a prize of war and transported via cargo ships to a land of uncertainty. Once captured and transported, a slave begun his/her life of servitude to a presumed master and awaited the fate of brutality, pains, hunger and in some cases death.
There have been debates as to whether the West or the Africans were to blame for the African Holocaust since Africans were already practicing slavery before the Europeans started. Truth be told, Africans already had slaves before the Europeans came along, and this trade had been going on for over 600 years, especially in the Islamic empire. As a matter of fact, Africans consented to sell their fellow Africans to the Europeans during the slave trade. However, these slaves under the Law of the Islamic empire, required owners to treat slaves well and provide medical treatment. Slaves, could marry with the permission of their owners, and were considered to be chattel. In some cases, some slaves were highly educated and some worked in the military and could eventually be free. Other slaves were seen by their African masters as “dependents” with a clear intention of being integrated into the families of their owners.
Now, let’s fast forward to the European version of the slave trade. The Europeans did not consider Black people as human beings yet alone treat them in a humane way. Many slaves were packed like “sardines” in a ship, forced to sail to another man’s country and suffered from sicknesses and malnutrition on the way there. They basically used Africans as machines that built their country and treated them brutally. They had no rights, no freedoms, no human respect, no medical treatment, and were not treated well. The end product of their sweat was brutality, death, pain, constant wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Let’s take a close look at this critically, who is to blame for these innocent lives that were sacrificed on the “cross” of European industrialization; European traders or African traders? An argument stemming up from the European point of view is that Africans started slavery prior to their arrival. To them, no African’s hand was forced to trade in slaves, in that some African leaders and traders willingly accepted the offer given them by the Europeans to sell their captured slaves because it was a lucrative venture. Continually, another argument states that European slave traders supposedly rarely ventured beyond Africa’s coastal regions based on the fact that some interior parts of Africa precisely the West, was riddled with disease (Malaria) which constantly caused their demise. As a result, they stayed in their coastal habitats and have the natives bring the slaves to them. However, after a while, the Europeans forcefully took people out of Africa even without the African slave traders.
To every cause there is an effect, and to every argument there is a stance. By carefully analyzing the roles played by both parties, we believe Africa started slavery, even though their form of slavery was completely different from the European concept. Most importantly, Africans sold other Africans for goods or money even when they knew that their fellow Africans were being maltreated. By willingly choosing to extend our trading relations with the European counterpart by abducting Africans for them, we sold to them, the “right” to also engage in such an act. Had we said no to their thirst for cheap labor, slaves captured through warfare as well as through other means wouldn’t have been delivered to the Europeans to be subjected to the harsh treatment given to them by their European owners. Notwithstanding this, it is obvious that the selfish nature of some African leaders for which we are still suffering today, contributed immensely to the escalation of slavery outside the African domain. For example, when the West decided to abolish slave trade, some African leaders were upset because they knew their source of income was being reduced. This clearly shows that some African leaders had no remorse over their contributions to such a deadly event. As a result, we strongly stick to the stance that Africans were the main perpetrators for this trade.
By: Andrews Osei Bonsu, Abena Gyekye, Henrietta Gzisi
Note: gods in the main header means the Europeans