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Essay/Term paper: Term african slave trade

Essay, term paper, research paper:  History

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When you think of the African slave trade, do you realize that over 10 million people were removed from that continent in less than 500 years? Some scholars believe it may be as large a number as 20 million.1 I would like to pose a few questions and attempt to answer them in this collection of writings and opinions. The evidence and historical documents will show some of the economic and social impacts the Slave Trade had on the African continent.

The first thing that needs to be established is just how many slaves were brought to the Americas. This has proven to be quite difficult at best. There have been many scholars debate just this subject alone. As you will see, many well known scholars have problems justifying their own estimations or guesses.

A quick study of Philip D. Curtin"s work: From Guesses to Calculations: Shows his writings are a compilation of bits-n-pieces of information from previously thought of unimportant publishing"s. His sole purpose was to try to determine a more accurate account of the number of people brought over from what parts of Africa and to what final location. He goes on to make it clear his findings should not be construed as being accurate or to be relied upon with any degree of certainty: but rather an accuracy range of about 20% approximations.

"It should also be understood that some estimates would not even reach that standard of accuracy. They are given as the most probable figures at the present state of knowledge. These considerations have made it convenient to round out most quantities to the nearest one hundred, including data taken from other authors..."

By the following chart you can see clearly the late eighteenth century was the apex of the slave trade, as described by Philip Curtin. You can clearly see that over 60% of all slaves delivered to the New World were brought over between 1721-1820. Eighty per cent of the total were landed during a century and a half, 1701-1850. 2 I suppose one could find a similar spike in the sugar trade of the Americas, as well as the Rum exports from the colonies and the firearm exports from Europe.

A variety of Opinions

One conclusion that might be drawn is that, in reducing the estimated total export of slaves from about twenty million to about ten million, the harm to African societies is also reduced by half. This is obvious nonsense.

Phillip D. Curtin

No global estimate of the slave trade, or of any "underdevelopment" or "underpopulation" it may have caused [is] possible to believe or advocate any particular set or range of figures becomes and act of faith rather than an epistemologically sound decision.

David Henige

Many specialists believe that Curtin"s original estimate has to be revised upward…. It seems probable that the ultimate figure is unlikely to be less than 12 million or more than 20 million.

Joseph E. Inikori and Stanley L. Engerman

How do most people think the slaves were obtained? Was it by large groups of European Soldiers that herded up the blacks from the coastal areas? Or could it have been done by other means? The accounts of Willem Bosman in his book Trading on the Slave Coast, 1700 give a different opinion. The Slave Trade was not motivated by race or origin, but by business. The trade was thought of just as any other business at the time. The same way you would look at the trade of Rum, Sugar or Spices. This is shown by the way a tradesman had to deal with the area King.3 While we continue to follow Bosman, we can see clearly that the local people here are involved as traders and businessmen, and not as innocent bystanders. You may ask your self what where they doing to assist? Were they simply rounding up their enemies? Were they giving up their family? They would have a small war like raiding to take prisoners. They in turn were changing from a political model of trade to an economic model of enslavement. This was caused by the ever, increasing prices they could charge for their booty. It is basically impossible to measure this shift, but the increase in incentives and profits imply the change to have been significant. Not only was the actual enslavement of people an atrocity but also the societies that remained in West Africa were severely underpopulated.4 Most scholars of the subject would agree there was no mention of slaves coming from the interior of the continent until 1669 by Francisco de Lemos Doelho.

"The first business of one of our factors [agents] when he comes to Fida [Whydah] is to satisfy the customs of the king and the great men, which amounts to about a hundred pounds in Guinea value, as the goods must yield there. After which is published throughout the whole land by the crier."

"But yet before we can deal with any person, we are obligated to buy the king"s whole stock of slaves, at a set price…For you ought to be informed, that markets of men are kept in the same manner as those of beast with us."

"Not a few in our country fondly imagine that parents here sell their children, men their wives, and one brother the other. But those who think so, do deceive themselves; for this never happens on any other account but are offered to us, are prisoners of war, which are sold by the victors as their booty."

Now that we have taken a look at the number of people brought to the Americas, and how it was being accomplished, we can now take a look at what were some of the consequences. How could the removal of several million people from a continent have an economic effect? Why would a people sell his or her own people? What were there reasons? Walter Rodney gives his explanation in The Unequal Partnership Between Africans and Europeans.

"Many things remain uncertain about the slave trade and its consequences for Africa, but the general picture of destructiveness is clear, and that destructiveness can be shown to be the logical consequence of the manner of recruitment of captives in Africa…In order to whitewash the European slave trade, they find it convenient to start by minimizing the numbers concerned. The truth is that any figure of Africans imported into the Americas which is narrowly based on the surviving records is bound to be low, because there were so many people at the time who had a vested interest in smuggling slaves (and withholding data)…The Atlantic crossing, or "Middle Passage," as it was called by European slavers, was notorious for the number of deaths incurred, averaging in the vicinity of 15 to 20 per cent. There were also numerous deaths in Africa between time of capture and time of embarkation, especially in cases where captives had to travel hundreds of miles to the coast."

Slavery was an organized industry and basic to the political, economical, social activities of the day. We later learn they are not selling their own people. They are selling the captured war prisoners of their enemies. They may not even be of the same race. Obviously they are not of they same village, unless they are the infirm or sick. The Portuguese found there way into the Congo and their appetite for slavery destroyed the political structure of the area, which led to disorder and warfare. Similar things happened in Angola the people were decimated and caused them to scatter which intern caused their economy to collapse. Mr. Rodney goes on to explain that if a population is reduced to a certain level all people are forced to abandon because of the Tsetse fly. The Tsetse fly would become such a nuisance and disease spreader they had to relocate. The enslavement was in fact reducing their ability to "tame and harness nature". You must understand if there are not enough people to raise the crops or to gather the needed foods for the other peoples, than you must move to an area of greater population to share in the work and foods.

"So long as the population density was low, then human beings viewed as units of labor were far more important than other factors of production such as land. From one end of the continent to the other, it is easy to find examples showing that African people were conscious that population was in their circumstances the most important factor of production...Among the Shambala of Tanzania, the same feeling was expressed in the saying "A king is people." Among the Balanta of Guinea-Bissau, the family"s strength is represented be the number of hands there are to cultivate the land… Certainly, many African rulers acquiesced in the European slave trade for what they considered to be reason of self-interest, but on no scale of rationality could the outflow of population be measured as being anything but disastrous for African societies."

The price of the transatlantic slave trade on Africa was absolutely devastating. Not only was there a massive shortage of young women and men especially, but also the future potential of the continent was essentially gone. Many of the young men and women would die before reaching the New World. Thus not being given the chance to hand down their own culture to their children. Their culture was rarely a written culture, but an oral culture. A major factor that must be understood is what is called by some as the "brain drain" Which is considered a by-product of the Triangle Trade of the time. Craftsman, Warriors, politicians, Artist, Princes, Healers, Farmers, and Musician were all sent to be slaves by their enemies, both personal and political or even coincidental. All to serve the white masters on their sugar, cotton, and tobacco plantations on the other side of the world.5

Slavery does still persist. The reports of the United Nations International Labor Organizations, the British Anti-Slavery Society, and the U.S. Department of State show there still is large margin of slavery going on in the Northwestern (Mauritania) and in the Sudan region. The past isn"t dead: it"s not even past. 6


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