Dividing America: The African Slave Trade

Slave Gang in Zanzibar | By W.A. Churchill - London News, 1889, Public Domain

A standard tactic of Progressives (or Cultural Marxists, if you like) is to foster animosity between a designated “victim” subgroup and a target “victimizer”—an individual, institution or cultural norm whose existence impedes the establishment of the humanist utopia that is the hope of followers of the Religion of Progress.

Whether employing the pretense of justice for the proletariat or, in our own time, for the gay population, or for women, or Muslims, Progressives magnify or invent grievances in order to sow discord, then they proceed to extinguish the conflagration by crushing the victimizer in the name of “justice” or “equality”. By this process, more and more areas of life are forcibly conformed to the Progressive creed.

Race baiting is one means Progressives use to wage war on our free society. A pool of angry African-Americans is not only useful as a voting block but also to provide fodder in the battle to undermine our democracy—to discredit our justice system and hobble law enforcement, to defeat our ability to protect our borders, to convert our educational institutions into anti-American reprobate factories, even to invalidate our elections (“the President is a racist”).

The African Atlantic slave trade narrative is one weapon the Progressive employs in order to foment racial unrest.

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It relates how the evil white man stole an innocent population out of its bucolic homeland and transported it across the sea to toil in sugar cane plantations and cotton fields, under inhumane conditions, all for economic gain. The failures and hardships of the contemporary black American are the persistent effects of this activity, we are told, and so, in the cause of justice, those of the white skin must be compelled to acknowledge their guilt, humble themselves, and make restitution for their race’s crimes. Questions of personal culpability can be waived in this crusade because racism is inherent in a person’s white skin, it is said. Enraged blacks and resentful whites are the intended product of this narrative, an ideal bedrock on which to construct the Progressive revolution.

The slave narrative is all the more effective as a propaganda cudgel because its historical suppositions are largely valid: millions of black Africans were kidnapped, brutalized and worked to death in horrendous environments to service the greed of whites. But, as with all Progressive narratives, designed as they are to induce societal instability rather than to beget enlightenment, the story is slyly selective of details.

To uncover the depth of human iniquity at work in the Atlantic slave trade, we have to journey back to the fifteenth century when a small European country began to explore the western coast of Africa.

When that first Portuguese barca rounded Cape Bojador in 1434 and steered south into strange waters, where treacherous shoals lay hidden and sea monsters lurked, the adventurers were not hunting for slaves at all; they were after the gold of Guinea, the gold that Muslim trade terminals like Cueta, opposite Gibraltar, had been exporting from the African interior for centuries.

The quest for this golden land drove the explorers further on down the west coast of Africa, year by year: Arguin, Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Elmina, Benin, Calabar, Sao Tome, Loango, Luanda… By the end of the century, they had rounded the horn and reached Madagascar in East Africa where the Muslims and Hindus had a thriving trade.

Over those years, they found some gold, and also ivory, gum, beeswax, pepper and other valuable trading commodities. And they discovered a myriad of peoples, many having sophisticated political systems and industry. There were textiles—woven cotton and linen—that rivaled the Dutch and dyes superior to the European; copper, iron and steel industries that supplied axes, hoes and utensils; glass-makers whose technical virtuosity could compete with the Venetian; pottery and palm wine.

The Portuguese also discovered the practice of slavery to be ubiquitous in Africa.

Slavery had been a staple of African societies, indeed of all societies, from the beginning. Slaves built the pyramids and the Hammurabi laws included those governing slavery; Aristotle held the slave-master relationship to be natural and laudable; in Roman times, there were millions of slaves in Italy. When the Europeans discovered the New World, they would find slavery common among the indigenous communities there, too.

But while slavery had died out in Northern Europe around the twelfth century, it lingered in the Mediterranean world, fed by Islamic invasions and the slave pipelines from Northwestern Africa and Egypt. The Sahara trade route, established by the Muslims after their conquest of North Africa, brought gold and slaves from the interior up through Timbuktu to the markets in Morocco, and from there into Italy, Greece and the Muslim lands. The re-introduction of classical thought into Europe during the Renaissance added a sanctioning philosophy for the practice of slavery.
So the Portuguese landing on those wind-swept shores of Northwestern Africa in 1434 did not initiate a new slaving enterprise, but rather tapped into an existing commerce that had operated from time immemorial, and created an alternative route to Mediterranean markets.

How did the Africans acquire the slaves they traded? The most common way was through warfare. Conflict was widespread as tribe strove to subjugate tribe. Also, the introduction of Islam generated great numbers of slaves because of that religion’s mandate to war upon non-Muslim neighbors. Captives were invariably enslaved or killed (sometimes eaten).

Within many African nations, the people were little more than slaves themselves, subject to the whims of a tyrant who could kill or sell them as desired. Some slaves were expended through human sacrifice; upon the death of the great Ashanti king in 1824, at least one thousand were ritually murdered.

The justice system was another source of slaves. African courts tended to be harsh; death and enslavement were the standard penalties, even for trivial offenses. In 1576 Frei Garcia Simoes wrote of Angola that, “With the exception of leaders, almost all the natives here either are born in slavery or are reduced to that condition.”

Kidnapping members of neighboring tribes, and even of neighbors, was common also. Many sold members of their own families. The protestations that “all men are created equal, in the image of God” that trickled weakly from churchmen in the West were incomprehensible to peoples whose belief systems saw slavery as a natural condition of life and in no way immoral.

At first the Atlantic trade dealt in gold, ivory, gum, pepper and timber. But with the success of labor-intensive farming ventures like sugar cane in Madeira and cotton in the Cape Verdes, European merchants were spurred to join in the slave trade. With the establishment of sugar plantations in Cuba and in the French and British Indies the trade really took off. The demand for laborers for her sugar and coffee plantations and for her gold mines saw Brazilian tobacco and cane brandy flooding into Angola and Guinea and slaves going the other way. Later, U.S. tobacco and cotton production competed for workers.

Initially, white indentured workers or Indians provided the labor for these enterprises but the former were expensive and in short supply, while neither could match the black African for physical strength and endurance.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

James Tennant is a committed urbanite living in the Great White North, computer technologist, writer, artist, culture warrior, author of two books, 225 and Necropolis.

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