What "Slave Trade"? (Toward an Afrocentric Rectification of Terms).
The way reality is perceived and acted upon depends crucially on how it is packaged, on the framework within which it is presented, and on the concepts and terminology used in representing it. And this is not an innocuous matter. For example, to teach a child that an adder is a rope is to program him for fatal risk; for, if asked to pick up a rope, he may well pick up an adder from the ground and get bitten to death. Likewise, there is danger for a people who live in a dangerous world which has been described innocuously or neutrally or euphemistically by their enemies. They would then live in a world with a false sense of security, with a false consciousness of reality that could be dangerous to their survival. They would be like a child in a den of snakes who has been taught that snakes are ropes.
Then take the case of the eagle, which has been taught that it is a chicken, or the sheep, which has been taught that it is a wolf. The eagle would leave its natural potential unrealized, while the sheep would be devoured by the genuine wolves should it confidently wander into their midst. Inappropriate descriptions are thus a great and practical danger, and should be rectified.
It has long been recognized, from as far back as the time of Confucius, that there is a general need for a periodic exercise in rectification of terms. That is because, words are tools for mentally grasping reality; and like all tools, they get worn out with use. When words cease to mean what they say, or become too vague, they are like ill-fitting clothes or worn spanners. It is then necessary to mend or replace them.
Furthermore, in cases where there is a conflict of viewpoint or of interest, the terminology devised by one side is not likely to reflect the viewpoint or the experience of the other side.
The Pan-African World's Situation:
In the particular case of the Pan-African World, a Black World which is trapped in a global structure of institutions, ideas and terminologies set up by its white enemies, the need for a rectification of terms is acute. And the rectification requires a redefinition or re-description of reality in our own terms, terms that convey our true experience and serve our interests. To illustrate the point, consider the following definition of racism.
"By racism we mean ethnocentric pride in one's own racial group and preference for the distinctive characteristics of that group; belief that these characteristics are fundamentally biological in nature and are thus transmitted to succeeding generations; strong negative feeling towards other groups who do not share these characteristics coupled with the thrust to discriminate against and exclude the out-group from full participation in the life of the community." (Quoted in Sebastian Charles, "Black Civilization and the Religious Dimension", in Okpaku et al., The Arts and Civilization of Black and African Peoples, Vol. 7, Lagos: CBAAC, 1986, p. 38).
By not touching on the historical role of racism as the system, theory and practice of white supremacist superstitions and on its imperialist history; by ignoring its role in programs of unprovoked political, economic and military aggression; by obscuring its malignant roots in a specific capitalist vocation of chattel slavery; by overlooking the psychotic violence of those possessed by its spirit; and by reducing it to ethnocentric social discrimination, this definition deftly equates racism with any ordinary in-group/out-group preference or ethnocentrism or xenophobia.
But there is much more to racism than in-group/out-group preference or xenophobia or ethnocentrism. Reducing racism to these is like calling murder molestation. It is like saying that the Nazis molested the Jews they exterminated at Auschwitz. On this definition, if a mutilated Black, a descendant of chattel-slaves, should emerge partially roasted from a Ku Klux Klan lynching, and should declare that he hates whites and would have nothing to do with any whites, and would forever stick to the company of blacks, and would work for the physical separation of black and white communities, he would be denounced as being a racist, indeed as being no less a racist than the Ku Klux Klan attackers who barbecued him alive!
Such a definition of racism is clearly obscurantist and mischievous; it seems calculated to make everyone, its inventors and practitioners as well as their victims, equally racist. Furthermore, it fails to capture the Black World experience and interest.
Why an Afrocentric Rectification of Terms?
In the case of the Pan-African World, which is in profound conflict with a Pan-European World that is addicted to oppressing and exploiting Africans, many of the terms employed by Europeans do not reflect the African experience of what they describe.
As we shall see, terms like "slave trade" and "colonialism" are not only Eurocentric; they are no more accurate in describing what happened than "molestation" would be in describing mass murder. In fact, they are insidiously hostile to our interests. What is at stake in retaining or rectifying such orthodox terminology is this: Which version of reality shall we work from, that imposed by our enemies or our own, that which serves the interests of our enemies or our own? Shall we be blinded by what, for us, would be false consciousness or act by the light of a correct consciousness?
If the African experience is to be correctly presented, particularly in works of historiography, there is a special need to rectify orthodox, Eurocentric terminology in ways that register the African experience or viewpoint . That is over and above whatever rectification of terms is made necessary by the usual wear and tear that usage inflicts on words.
An Afrocentric Rectification of Some Key Terms:
We need to be quite clear and precise on what has been going on between the Pan-African World and the Pan-European World during the last six centuries. Imprecision and euphemism can only add to our confusion, and confusion can only help to increase our already long line of disastrous defeats. With an eye to greater accuracy in terminology, we shall start by re-examining the three principal phases of the Black World's insertion into the Eurocentric Global System (EGS), those conventionally called slave trade, colonialism and neocolonialism . Do they describe phenomena from the Afrocentric perspective? If not, what terms should replace them? And as there is no collective term in conventional use for all three--even though some have taken to using "Holocaust" or "Black Holocaust" or "The Maafa"--what term would be appropriate? And is the term "racism" precise enough?
1. "Slave Trade"--What Slave Trade?
We need to take a systems and holistic view of this phenomenon if we are to adequately understand it. When the era of the so-called Slave Trade is examined comprehensively, what do we find? Its three main features were interminable wars, forced labour and terrorism ; and the targets of all three were the Black/African Race; and the entire thing was organized by Whites of European stock, and they were its prime beneficiaries. It was a system of war and violence on four continents and on their interconnecting seas . This war system operated in three zones:
(1) There was Africa, the war front, the zone of daily battles, skirmishes, raids, kidnappings and ambushes, which yielded war prisoners for carrying off into captivity.
(2) There was the Diaspora zone, the rear area of the Europeans, made up of the transit waters (the Atlantic Ocean), together with the territories of the Americas. For the Black war captives, this was the zone of permanent martial law and terrorism (especially on the plantations, mines and slave-holding towns); the zone of forced labour (the Gulags and Siberias of their time); the zone of daily resistance by the captives, and of their periodic escapes, mutinies and revolts, and of the brutal suppression thereof (there were some 250 recorded revolts in the USA alone, an average of one a year for the era before Emancipation); the zone of guerrilla wars between the Maroon (escaped slaves) communities (hundreds of which existed at any one time all over the Americas) and the slave-owner communities around them which sought to re-enslave them; and the zone of full-scale wars between the slave-owner states and the liberation movements, as between France and its slaves in Haiti.
(3) There was Europe, the headquarters from where the entire far-flung system of daily warfare was masterminded, stimulated, coordinated, armed and financed, and to which the bulk of the resulting riches was taken.
It needs to be pointed out that, in its search for cheap labour, Europe took war to the Black Race; that Europeans went to Africa as deliberate war provocateurs, and craftily fomented wars, and committed and suborned warlike acts, in order to stimulate a harvest of war prisoners . This was how it all began:
"The captains of two of Prince Henry's exploring caravels brought back with them to Lisbon in 1442 a dozen Africans, whom they had captured on the West Coast in the course of a wholly unprovoked attack upon an African village. Further exploits of a similar kind followed." (E. D. Morel, The Black Man's Burden, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969, p. 15). After Columbus "discovered" America, and sturdy labor was needed for plantations there, the raiding of Africa for slaves became the official business of rival European states. By the early 18th century, it "brought war, war of the most atrocious and desolating character, and on a scale until then unimagined, to Africa, and 'made of England the great slave trader of the world.' ... The trade had grown so large that mere kidnapping raids conducted by white men in the immediate neighbourhood of the coast-line were insufficient to meet its requirements. Regions inaccessible to the European had to be tapped by the organization of civil wars ... Tribe was bribed to fight tribe, community to raid community ... Tribal feuds and individual hatreds were alike intensified, and while wide stretches of countryside were systematically ravaged by organized bands of raiders armed with muskets, 'hunting down victims for the English trader whose blasting influence, like some malignant providence, extended over mighty regions where the face of a white man was never seen,' the trade put within the reach of the individual the means of satisfying a personal grudge and of ministering to a private vengeance." (Morel pp. 18, 20)
This was inter-Black warfare which Europeans stimulated and orchestrated . (To appreciate how it was orchestrated from afar, just consider how the resource wars are today being orchestrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] by multinational companies based outside Africa.) It yielded a steady harvest of war prisoners . The Europeans then carried this harvest into captivity across the waters, and converted them into chattel-slaves .
It should be emphasized that, while being carted out of Africa, the captives were not yet actually slaves. They were turned into slaves only after they were landed in the Americas where the slave plantations received them and broke them in through torture and terror, and put them to toil under a system of state and private terrorism. For example: "For a hundred years slaves in Barbados were mutilated, tortured, gibbeted alive and left to starve to death, burnt alive, flung into coppers of boiling sugar, whipped to death." (Morel p. 22)
Following is a telling description of slave life in colonial Haiti by C.L.R. James:
"The stranger in San Domingo was awakened by the cracks of the whip, the stifled cries, and the heavy groans of the Negroes who saw the sun rise only to curse it for its renewal of their labours and their pains. Their work began at day-break: at eight they stopped for a short breakfast and worked again till midday. They began again at two o'clock and worked until evening, sometimes till ten of eleven. A Swiss traveller has left a famous description of a gang of slaves at work. 'They were about a hundred men and women of different ages, all occupied in digging ditches in a cane-field, the majority of them naked or covered with rags. The sun shone down with full force on their heads. Sweat rolled from all parts of their bodies. Their limbs, weighed down by the heat, fatigued with the weight of their picks and by the resistance of the clayey soil baked hard enough to break their implements, strained themselves to overcome every obstacle. A mournful silence reigned. Exhaustion was stamped on every face, but the hour of rest had not yet come. 'The pitiless eye of the Manager patrolled the gang and several foremen armed with long whips moved periodically between them, giving stinging blows to all who, worn out by fatigue, were compelled to take a rest--men or women, young or old.'
This was no isolated picture. "The sugar plantations demanded an exacting and ceaseless labour. The tropical earth is baked hard by the sun. Round every 'carry' of land intended for cane it was necessary to dig a large ditch to ensure circulation of air. Young canes required attention for the first three or four months and grew to maturity in 14 or 18 months. Cane could be planted and would grow at any time of the year, and the reaping of one crop was the signal for the immediate digging of ditches and the planting of another. Once cut they had to be rushed to the mill lest the juice became acid by fermentation. The extraction of the juice and manufacture of the raw sugar went on for three weeks a month, 16 or 18 hours a day, for seven or eight months in the year. "Worked like animals, the slaves were housed like animals, in huts built around a square planted with provisions and fruits. These huts were about 20 to 25 feet long, 12 feet wide and about 15 feet in height, divided by partitions into two or three rooms. They were windowless and light entered only by the door. The floor was beaten earth; the bed was of straw, hides or a rude contrivance of cords tied on posts. On these slept indiscriminately mother, father and children. "Defenceless against their masters, they struggled with overwork and its usual complement--underfeeding. The Negro Code, Louis XIV's attempt [in 1685] to ensure them humane treatment, ordered that they should be given, every week, two pots and a half of manioc, three cassavas, two pounds of salt beef or three pounds of salted fish--about food enough to last a healthy man for three days. Instead their masters gave them half-a-dozen pints of coarse flour, rice, or pease, and half-a-dozen herrings. Worn out by their labours all through the day and far into the night, many neglected to cook and ate the food raw. The ration was so small and given to them so irregularly that often the last half of the week found them with nothing. "Even the two hours they were given in the middle of the day, and the holidays on Sundays and feast-days, were not for rest, but in order that they might cultivate a small piece of land to supplement their regular rations. Hardworking slaves cultivated vegetables and raised chickens to sell in the towns to make a little in order to buy rum and tobacco; and here and there a Napoleon of finance, by luck and industry, could make enough to purchase his freedom. Their masters encouraged them in this practice of cultivation, for in years of scarcity the Negroes died in thousands, epidemics broke out, the slaves fled into the woods and plantations were ruined. The difficulty was that though one could trap them like animals, transport them in pens, work them alongside an ass or a horse and beat both with the same stick, stable them and starve them, they remained, despite their black skins and curly hair, quite invincibly human beings; with the intelligence and resentments of human beings. To cow them into the necessary docility and acceptance necessitated a regime of calculated brutality and terrorism, and it is this that explains the unusual spectacle of property-owners apparently careless of preserving their property: they had first to ensure their own safety. For the least fault the slaves received the harshest punishment. In 1685 the Negro Code authorised whipping, and in 1702 one colonist, a Marquis, thought any punishment which demanded more than 100 blows of the whip was serious enough to be handed over to the authorities. Later the number was fixed at 39, then raised to 50. But the colonists paid no attention to these regulations and slaves were not unfrequently whipped to death.
The whip was nor always an ordinary cane or woven cord, as the Code demanded. Sometimes it was replaced by the rigoise or thick thong of cow-hide, or by the lianes--local growths of reeds, supple and pliant like whalebone. The slaves received the whip with more certainty and regularity than they received their food. It was the incentive to work and the guardian of discipline. "But there was no ingenuity that fear or a depraved imagination could devise which was not employed to break their spirit and satisfy the lusts and resentment of their owners and guardians--irons on the hands and feet, blocks of wood that the slaves had to drag behind them wherever they went, the tin-plate mask designed to prevent the slaves eating the sugar-cane, the iron collar. "Whipping was interrupted in order to pass a piece of hot wood on the buttocks of the victim: salt, pepper, citron, cinders, aloes, and hot ashes were poured on the bleeding wounds. Mutilations were common, limbs, ears, and sometimes the private parts, to deprive them of the pleasures which they could indulge in without expense. Their masters poured burning wax on their arms and hands and shoulders, emptied the boiling cane sugar over their heads, burned them alive, roasted them on slow fires, filled them with gunpowder and blew them up with a match: buried them up to the neck and smeared their heads with sugar that the flies might devour them; fastened them near to nests of ants or wasps; made them eat their excrement, drink their urine, and lick the saliva of other slaves....
Were these tortures, so well authenticated, habitual or were they merely isolated incidents, the extravagances oft few half-crazed colonists? Impossible as it is to substantiate hundreds of cases, yet all the evidence shows that these bestial practices were normal features of slave life . The torture of the whip, for instance, had 'a thousand refinements,' but there were regular varieties that had special names, so common were they. "When the hands and arms were tied to four posts on the ground, the slave was said to undergo 'the four post.' If the slave was tied to a ladder it was 'the torture of the Ladder'; if he was suspended by four limbs it was 'the hammock,' etc. "The pregnant woman was not spared her Tour-post.' A hole was dug in the earth to accommodate the unborn child. The torture of the collar was specially reserved for women who were suspected of abortion, and the collar never left their necks until they had produced a child. The blowing up of a slave had its own name--to burn a little powder in the arse of a nigger': obviously this was no freak but a recognised practice.... [Reporting on his visit in 1790 to San Domingo,] de Wimpffen states that not one article of the Negro Code was obeyed. He himself had sat at table with a woman, beautiful, rich and very much admired, who had had a careless cook thrown into the oven." (from The Black Jacobins, by C.L.R. James, New York: Vintage Books, 1989, pp. 9-13, 56.)
Given their existence under such torture and terrorism, it is not surprising that, in Haiti, "the average life span after being sold into slavery was about seven years." (Jacob Carruthers, The Irritated Genie, Chicago: The Kemetic Institute, 1985, p. 24.)
This great death rate did not perturb the slave-masters. The slaves could readily be replaced by fresh imports: 'The Ivory Coast is a good mother' was a colonial proverb. "Slaves could always be bought, and profits were always high." (--C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins, p.22).
Did the Nazis in their concentration camps, or the Stalinists in their forced-labor Gulags, go this far in barbarism and bestial atrocity?
Thus, the Americas were, for four centuries, from Columbus' arrival in 1492 till the last act of emancipation there in Brazil, in 1888, a vast forced-labor cam for the transported Black captives and prisoners of war, a forced-labor camp vaster than Siberia with all its Gulags! In the eyes of the operators of this war system, these captives were chattel things excluded from humanity and from the polity, the legal equal, of cattle and pigs and pots and pans. In the eyes of these Europeans, and of their most Christian law every Black was chattel, either chattel-in-stock already or chattel-in-the-wild awaiting capture; all Blacks were livestock, beasts of burden to be hunted, corralled, marched to market, bought and sold, broken and terrorized into labor and submission, tamed and stripped of human culture, and then worked to death and replaced by another breathing Black tool.
Seen in its totality, this was a vast war on the Black/African Race that was most cunning in its grand strategy. In Africa, the first zone, Europeans made war on Blacks by inducing Blacks to make war on one another. It was "divide and conquer" at its devilish worst, applied to an entire Black race on the vast African continent, by a well-disguised white hand manipulating from afar.
For the kidnap victims and the war prisoners who were carried off into captivity in the Diaspora, there was a second zone, a zone of total war--military, cultural, economic, psychological, ideological; a total war waged against them by whites, clearly and visibly by whites, and designed to break each of them into an obedient workhorse for the rest of life.
When seen as a whole, this was the most devious and satanic of war systems ever contrived: Europe was the headquarters, Africa was the war front, the Americas were the prisoners-of-war camp, chattel-slavery was the kind of forced labour to which the prisoners-of-war were subjected in that camp, the produce and profits which went to Europe were the peculiar booty from this most peculiar of wars.
As for the Blacks caught up in it, all were victims of different kinds and degrees: the war captives shipped abroad, the war dead and the war survivors left in Africa, all those who resisted the pressure to collaborate, and even those among the Black procurers, far from the coast, who never made contact with the Whites but unwittingly served the interest of the European war fomenters. All were caught in the toils of a devilish system whose totality they were in no position to see or guess; all were driven by overpowering forces beamed and controlled from outside their societies, forces which crushed all resistance, even those put up by African kings and queens, such as Affonso of the BaKongo and Nzinga of the N'gola. They were, one and all, victims of a satanic European bourgeoisie, which devised the entire thing and kept it going for four centuries for its own profit .
Within that war-making system, the chattel-slave was simply an intermediate producer-good, highly desired, and with an indispensable economic function in the overall satanic scheme; similarly, slave trading was only a middle-segment economic activity; in contrast, race war and captivity-with-forced-labour were the heart and soul of it all .
Contrary to the conventional portrayal, this was not a system of slavery and slave trading accompanied by violence; it was, rather, a system of grand violence to produce Black chattel-slaves who would produce other commodities for the profit of Europeans. It was a great war-making system for profit; it operated on far-flung theatres; it killed or carried off into captivity well over 100 million Blacks; and though the yield from the farms, factories, forests and mines of the system were enormous, and though the profits from these were the ultimate interest of its masterminds, its principal products were actually death and wholesale destruction . It cannot, therefore, be correctly described by anodyne terms like "The Slave Trade".
In this it is much like World War II. Despite the enormous economic output which sustained that war, the killing and destruction was the main feature of the phenomenon; to name it by one or other of its economic aspects would be a euphemistic misnaming of a whole by the name of one of its parts. It would be as if a blind man, who got hold of only the elephant's ear, were to call the elephant by the name "Ear".
And now, and most importantly for us of the Black World, what name should this entire part of our past bear so as to correctly reflect our experience of it? It can only be named the Black Chattelization War , or the Anti-Black Race War , for that is the dominant character of the entire phenomenon when seen from the standpoint of the Blacks.
Consider a Black African who was captured in any of its battles or skirmishes, and then carried across the ocean into captivity to toil for the rest of his life; or from the perspective of the kidnapped African who, as Lerone Bennett put it, "stepped out of his hut for a breath of fresh air and ended up, ten months later, in Georgia with bruises on his back and a brand on his chest": (Carl Anthony, "The Big House and the Slave Quarter: Prelude to New World Architecture" in Joseph Okpaku et al. eds, The Arts and Civilization of Black and African Peoples, Vol. 8, Lagos:CBAAC 1986, p.111).
The actual buying and selling would be but a tiny part of the African war captive's total experience; his life as a chattel-slave would be a much bigger part indeed; but if he considered the overall quality of his experiences, he would see it as one of war, first at the battle front in Africa and then at the prisoner-of-war camp in America where he was forced by terrorism to toil for the rest of his days.
If he could further see the entire system, and see the prime movers who contrived to have Blacks kidnap other Blacks and to bring Blacks to fight Blacks on the battlefield where he was captured, he would accept that, superficial appearances notwithstanding, it was indeed a Race War to chattelize Blacks , an imported hurricane of war that ravaged Africa.
From the foregoing, we can see that the Eurocentric term "The Slave Trade", when applied to the Trans-Atlantic system of black chattel slavery, hides and distorts the African experience of that phenomenon. From the African viewpoint, it was a system which instigated wars in Africa, harvested the prisoners of those wars, sold them on the African coast, trans-shipped and resold them on the American coast, and then worked them to death as chattel slaves on the plantations and mines of the Americas.
Slave trading, the actual buying and selling of slaves, was a minuscule part of an African experience which was dominated by warfare, insecurity; captivity, forced labor, torture, harrowing brutality, terrorism and other abominations.
However, slave trading was the dominant experience of the Europeans who organized and financed the system, or who sailed between the ports of Europe, Africa and America carrying the human and non-human cargoes. Whereas "the Slave Trade" is an appropriate name for the European experience, it is not appropriate at all for the African experience; nor is it even appropriate for the American planter's experience which consisted mostly of managing plantations, putting the chattel-slaves to toil, selling produce, watching out for runaway slaves and putting down slave rebellions. The buying and selling of chattel-slaves was neither his main preoccupation nor the dominant part of his experience.
Of course, "Slave Trade" is the European world's euphemism for its four centuries of premeditated, unprovoked, relentless, cunningly orchestrated and devilish war on the Black Race . It focuses on the phenomenon from the chief interest of its European instigators. It allows them the irresponsible illusion that it was just trade, that Europe came like a shopper to Africa, and placed its order for slaves, and paid, and was simply handed some Black slaves that the Black shop owner already had on the shelves. That illusion has no foundation in the facts, and must be done away with. And it is our duty to our race to evoke the accurate picture by adopting an accurate name.
Those who would put the blame/moral onus on Africans for the "slave trade" should be reminded of how the Europeans procured "coolies" from China in the 19th century, right after they had, with deafening moral self-congratulation, given up the African "slave trade". And they should also take a look at how human trafficking is being organized today from various parts of the world to Europe and the USA. Who organizes the demand? Who recruits the local gangsters to organize the supply? Who organizes the transportation to Europe and the USA? The European Bourgeois leopard has not changed his spots. If you want to truly see how he did it before in Africa, look at how he does it now elsewhere, and at how he did it in China in the 19th century. These same European criminals attempted to inflict on China what they would have ended up calling "the coolie trade", had Chinese resistance not stopped them. Let us take a brief look at this coolie business as described by the Chinese:
"The Coolie Trade"?
With foreign capitalism undermining Chinas social economy, the contradiction between the forces of aggression and the Chinese people deepened. The five trading ports became the bases for capitalist aggression against China. Foreign war vessels frequently sailed in and out of these ports, or anchored at them. Foreign gangsters and adventurers gathered in these places where robbery, murder and other crimes were common occurrences. Worst of all was the traffic in indentured labour. In Shanghai, Amoy, Swatow, Nanao (Nam-oa, of eastern Kwangtung), Canton and Macao, British, U.S., French, Spanish and Portuguese gangsters used deception or intimidation to seize or kidnap Chinese labouring people (the so-called "coolies") and ship them to North and South America, the West Indies, Africa and other places to do heavy labour. "The traffickers also recruited local gangsters throughout the country to be their agents and get hold of more and more Chinese labourers to sell. Thus the British consul, Sir Rutherford Alcock, said in a report that in Canton 'when no man could leave his own house, even in public thoroughfares and open day, without a danger of being hustled, under false pretences of debt or delinquency, and carried off a prisoner in the hands of crimps, to be sold to the purveyors of coolies at so much a head, and carried off to sea, never again to be heard of, the whole population of the city and adjoining districts were aroused to a sense of common peril.' In Shanghai, even some working people who came into the foreign concessions to sell farm produce were seized by British traffickers, q-he vessels which shipped the kidnapped Chinese labourers out of China, 'floating hells' as people called them, were fully armed. The labourers were closely confined in poorly ventilated steerages. This and other forms of inhuman treatment led to a death rate at sea as high as 45 per cent. Many more died from their suffering after arrival at their destinations. The survivors did forced labour and were subjected to ruthless enslavement and exploitation (From The Opium War, by the Compilation Group for the "History of Modern China" Series, Peking: FOREIGN LANGUAGES PRESS, 1976, pp.115-116).
In concluding, I should point out that the description of the "Slave Trade" as war is not new. It was so described, even in its heyday, by no less a person than Thomas Jefferson who called it a "cruel war", a "piratical warfare":
Thomas Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration of Independence contained the following accusation against George III: 'He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating them and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain.' ... At the request of delegates from South Carolina and Georgia, and some slave-trading New England states, the accusation was deleted. (From The Chronological History of the Negro in America, ed. Peter M. Bergman, New York: Mentor Books, t969, pp.52-53).
From the foregoing, the Eurocentrically named "Slave Trade" was indeed the Trans-Atlantic system of black chattel-slavery and should rightly and Afrocentrically be called The Black Chattelization War , 1842-1888. We should, if we wish to be accurate, desist from calling it the "Slave Trade". This new description has implications for issues like reparations, and the distribution of moral responsibility for the terrible system.
Who Benefited from this Black Chatellization War?
Among the main enterprises that carried out the buying, transportation and selling of the African captives were the British Royal African Company, the Dutch East India Company, the Dutch West India Company, the Danish Guinea Company, the Swedish Africa Company, the French Senegal Company, etc. These companies were organized or chartered by European governments. There were also private companies, licensed by governments, such as the London-based Company of Adventurers to Guinea and Benin. They all invested their earnings in their respective countries and made immense gain. Not one of them had any African shareholders.
For centuries, the profits made from the triangular trade in slaves and their produce--sugar, cotton, tobacco, rum, rice, gold, silver, etc.--provided substantial quantities of venture capital for the industrial revolution and the development of the western European economy.
For example, as C.L.R. James points out,
Nearly all the industries which developed in France during the eighteenth century had their origin in goods or commodities destined either for the coast of Guinea or for America. The capital from the slave-trade fertilized them; though the bourgeoisie traded in other things than slaves, upon the success or failure of the traffic everything else depended.... Long before 1789 the French bourgeoisie was the most powerful economic force in France, and the slave-trade and the colonies were the basis of its wealth and power. [We need to note that] the slavetrade and slavery were the economic basis of the French Revolution. 'Sad irony of human history,' comments Jaures. 'The fortunes created at Bordeaux, at Nantes, by the slave-trade, gave to the bourgeoisie that pride which needed liberty and contributed to human emancipation.' [James :47, 48]
Western Europe was immeasurably enriched by the produce from four centuries of forced labor in the Americas by millions of Africans. This wealth from African unpaid labor was the engine that powered the industrialization of Western Europe. What did Africa get out of those four centuries of the Black Chatellization War? It is a calamity for a people if their land is made a battlefidd even for a week. Africa was turned into a battlefield for four whole centuries. Africa was impoverished, socially devastated, and culturally ruined.
What the Black Chatellization War did to Africa:
Following is an excerpt from my account of the matter in my book The West and the Rest of Us (1975):
As missionaries of Christ, as pirates and buyers of gold and slaves, the Portuguese brought ruin wherever they came.... Starting from the coast, the wave of slaving raids advanced inland, spreading insecurity, disrupting and ruining settlements, seizing and channeling to the coast long lines of able-bodied Africans for export overseas. The procurement of the millions sold on the coast over two and a half centuries of intense slaving cost the continent many millions more, compounding the human loss....
But this human hemorrhage, though great, was by itself perhaps not the greatest price Africa paid. In the countryside of the spreading slaving belt, slaving wars and expeditions disrupted settled life for over two centuries. They forced a ceaseless and damaging migration of peoples, settling here today, harried tomorrow, moving on the next day in a vain search for safety and security that were nowhere to be found. The spread of ruin that accompanied this chronic disorder as settlements were burned and abandoned to rain and termites, plunged Africa into the terrible backwardness that bedevils her even today. Without people to tend them, farms and settlements were reclaimed by tropical forests and deserts. With neither peace nor prosperity there was little energy left over for creative enterprises. Agricultural production dropped; the economic arrangements that had supported towns and cities, that had fed them with the products of the countryside, broke down and vanished. Famines came and stayed. With that the towns thinned out and declined. Everywhere the level of culture declined in a maelstrom of social disorders. Everywhere traditional humane values, the security of life and person, the established relations of decent community, were endangered and undermined. Under the excuses of necessity, moral decay spread. As slaving touched community, after community with its pressures, there was a debasement of legality. Customs lost their hold on men, and arbitrary laws and practices were instituted for the advantage of slaving elites. Sale into slavery became punishment for more and more offenses, down to the trivial. Hallowed institutions, religious as well as secular, were subverted.... With spreading insecurity, for individuals as well as communities, peace and tranquillity vanished and learning declined as men's minds concentrated on elementary security,'. ... As learning declined, ignorance and fear became entrenched. For the coming centuries farm and handicraft techniques stagnated at best, and more often declined from the levels of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The great courts declined as kingdoms and imperial states crumbled. And with the courts vanished the centers of higher learning. The universities of Jenne and Timbuktu had attained renown long before the fifteenth century; at the end of the sixteenth, ruin fell upon them; their scholars dispersed never to gather again after the collapse of Songhay. Between them and the new African universities of today there would come a wasted gap of three and a half centuries during which knowledge degenerated into esoteric mysteries, magic reigned and there flourished a rank trust in the potency, of ritual.
The social pulverization brought about by slaving resulted in the minute fragmentation of African polities. The slow unification of diverse peoples which the imperial states of classical Africa had fostered had been stopped. As the sixteenth-century kingdoms and imperial states disintegrated, they fragmented further and further under the impact of slaving.... [and] were pulverized into a jigsaw puzzle of small, mutually hostile peoples.... With all this fragmentation the arteries of cultural transmission were broken off or blocked. As the imperial institutions that had accumulated cultural inheritances broke down, vital cultural legacies were lost. Everywhere, instead of growth continuing on old established foundations after a period of stagnation, new beginnings had to be made. Where Rome had absorbed her barbarian invaders from northern Europe and had bequeathed her achievements to them, it would not be so with Songhay. When Songhay disintegrated, her parts were sucked, like jetsam and flotsam, into the funnel of ruin which an expansionist Europe had plugged into the coast of Africa.... The fact that it was external forces--the economic opportunities of slaving for overseas export--that called Africa's slaving states into existence played as much a part in cutting them off from the legacies of their pre-slaving predecessors as the fact of the ruin and disintegration of those sixteenth-century states. For instance, Benin's primary relations were with its Igbo and Yoruba neighbors in the lower Niger basin. When it turned to slaving, its external relations began to be primarily determined by demands made for slaves at its Atlantic port. This became not only its primary external focus; this demand for slaves decided its primary interest in its neighbors--their ability to provide slaves.
Such also were the orientations of all the slaving states that rose after the sixteenth century. Whether they were coastal trading states taking advantage of the new trade, or a new grouping by menaced peoples of the hinterland for protection and profit from slaving, the states born in such circumstances had neither the peace nor the opportunity to inherit much of constructive value from their pre-slaving predecessors or neighbors. Had it not been a time of danger and confusion, had it not been a time when the dominant economic opportunities led to the coast and to the service of Europe, they would have, as before, concentrated on building on what their predecessors had done and turned their major energies to serving their African interests without finding it essential to depopulate and ruin their neighbors. But that was not to be. A fatal page of history had been turned.
The new slaving states were not only cut off from the gifts of their African pre-slaving predecessors; worse still, they were created on a historical stage on which the play of African initiative was severely limited to meeting the demands of Europe. They were called into being and existed exclusively to supply slave labor for European economic development. in this matter of the extent and quality of their initiative they were a sorry contrast to a Benin or Bornu or Songhay or Mall or Mwanamutapa or Ethiopia or Ghana which had each come into being for internal African reasons, not because they were conjured up to serve a Europe that was battering down Africa's doors, demanding slaves. With the rise of its slaving states, Africa lost its historical initiative, its economic autonomy, and became a satellite of the West long before outright conquest and colonization would strip all disguises from that satellization. Because of the confusing times in which these slaving states were created, because they were palsied by the ruin-spreading trade on which they were based, these carrion-states produced little of note, save state machines that dispensed ruin and peddled instability. While the carrion-states grew rank with savagery the remnants of the older states whose eminence pre-dated the slave trade lived on, plagued with stagnation at best and with decay more often than not. Without vitality to generate new thoughts and culture-enhancing action, cut off from the currents of new ideas that were transforming seventeenth- and eighteenth-century. Europe, by the decline of trans-Sahara trade and of communications to the north, and by the barrier of coastal slaving states to the south, these older states of the African hinterland drifted into military, commercial and technological inferiority with respect to Europe and its diaspora. When in the nineteenth century European travelers visited them, even those of them that had best survived decay were specimens frozen for three centuries--fossils out of the sixteenth century, left behind in feudal isolation by an industrializing world. Not only had they declined from their sixteenth-century past, they had by the nineteenth century been thoroughly outstripped in power and prosperity by a Europe that had profited immensely from the very disasters that had crippled Africa.
--Chinweizu, The West and the Rest of Us, New Edition, Lagos: Pero Press, 1987, pp. 198-20.
Thus, whereas Europe gained immeasurably from its unprovoked Black Chatellization War on Africa, Africa was ruined. Black Africa was deliberately destroyed to make white Europe rich and powerful.
Reparations and the Issue of African Collaborators:
In his recent New York Times op-ed piece, "Ending the Slavery Blame-Game" (printed on April 23, 2010, on page Az7 of the New York edition), Prof. Henry "Skip" Gates argued:
While we are all familiar with the role played by the United States and the European colonial powers like Britain, France, Holland, Portugal and Spain, there is very little discussion of the role Africans themselves played. And that role, it turns out, was a considerable one, especially for the slave-trading kingdoms of western and central Africa. These included the Akan of the kingdom of Asante in what is now Ghana, the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin), the Mbundu of Ndongo in modern Angola and the Kongo of today's Congo, among several others.... The sad truth is that 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 .... Advocates of reparations for the descendants of those slaves generally ignore this untidy problem of the significant role that Africans played in the trade, choosing to believe the romanticized version that our ancestors were all kidnapped unawares by evil white men, like Kunta Kinte was in "Roots." The truth, however, is much more complex: slavery was a business, highly organized and lucrative for European buyers and African sellers alike .... the culpability of American plantation owners neither erases nor supplants that of the African slavers.
How valid is this argument?
When it is seen that what was going on was not "trade" but war, it becomes possible to correctly judge the culpability of those who collaborated with the enemy aggressors.
An invader will always find collaborators, some voluntary, some coerced, among the invaded. But that does not diminish, even by one jot or tittle, the total responsibility/culpability of the invader for the invasion and its consequences. Just like Vichy France, Quisling's Norway, Denmark's Government (1940-1943) and others in Nazi-overrun Europe were puppet regimes and client states of Nazi Germany, the African states and enterprises that procured captives for the Europeans on the coast were puppet regimes, client states, agent enterprises, all collaborationist, serving the European sponsors and masters of the Black Chatellization War.
Collaborationist outfits like the French Police, the Estonian Auxiliary Police, the Latvian Auxiliary Police, the Greek Security Battalion assisted the Gestapo but were not put on trial at Nuremberg. Only the Nazi leaders were. And rightly so.
If you defeat the invader, you execute his collaborators, as happened to Norway's Quisling. But Africa did not win the Chatellization War. The Europeans did, and their African collaborators became the entrenched African rulers by the 19th century. [See "Collaboration with the Axis Powers during World War II"--From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]
And to make plainer this matter of collaborators and their responsibility, there is probably no better example than the case of Jewish collaborators with their Nazi exterminators. According to McLellan-Letter 7: Feb 20/98 (Jewish war crimes), "the Jews also had their kapos (Jewish Nazi police), their Judenrat (Council of Elders administering Nazi policies)" who helped in rounding up fellow Jews for the Nazis.
"The Judische Ordnungsdienst, as the Jewish police in the ghettos were called, furnished thousands of men for seizure operations. In the Warsaw ghetto alone the Jewish police numbered approximately 2500; in Lodz they were about 1200 men strong; the Lvov ghetto had an Ordnungsdienst of 500 men; and so on."
--(Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, Quadrangle Books, Chicago, 1961, p. 310)
"The Satanic plan of the Nazis assured that the personal fate of each Jew--whether for life or death--be exclusively left up to the decisions of the 'councils of elders' [Judenrat]. The Nazis, from time to time, decided upon a general quota for the work of the camps and for extermination, but the individual selection was left up to the 'council of elders', with the enforcement of kidnappings and arrests also placed in the hands of the Jewish police (kapos). By this shrewd method, the Nazis were highly successful in accomplishing mass murder and poisoning the atmosphere of the ghetto through moral degeneration and corruption."
--(Reb Moshe Shonfeld, The Holocaust Victims Accuse: Documents and Testimony on Jewish War Criminals, Neturei Karta of U.S.A., Brooklyn, 1977, pp. 119-120, emphasis added)
"In the Warsaw ghetto, even during the period of the first massive extermination (June to October 1943), one saw almost no German soldiers. Nearly all the work of administration, and later the work of transporting hundreds of thousands of Jews to their deaths, was carried out by Jewish collaborators .... The majority of the population of the Ghetto hated the collaborators far more than the German Nazis. Every Jewish child was taught, and this saved the lives of some of them, 'if you enter a square from which there are three exits, one guarded by a German SS man, one by an Ukrainian and one by a Jewish policeman, then you should first try to pass the German, and then maybe the Ukrainian, but never the Jew'".
--(Letter to the editor by Prof. Israel Shahak, published on 19 May 1989 in Kol Ha'ir, Jerusalem. Available online at: http://www.kaiwan.com/codoh/newsdesk/890519.HTML)
Here is the story of one Jewish collaborator.
'Moldetsky, a leader of the Zionist Workers Party (Poalei Zion), who was appointed head of the council of alders in Bedzin, and who, over the course of years, chose thousands of Jews for forced labor and extermination, succeeded in remaining alive.
For the mass deportations, Moldetsky published a decree which was completely fraudulent and deceiving, in which he said: 'Jews, dress up in your holiday clothes and march joyfully to the gathering places mentioned above. No one is to remain at home....' The Jews, in their innocence, obeyed him. The result was that people with large families--as well as the elderly--a total of 8,000, were sent to Auschwitz."
--(Reb Moshe Shonfeld, The Holocaust Victims Accuse: Documents and Testimony on Jewish War Criminals, Neturei Karta of U.S.A., Brooklyn, 1977, pp. 122-123).
(John Sack, whose book An Eye For An Eye is relied on extensively in the section on Jewish Crimes Following WW II, has a web site at http://www.johnsack.com/ which can be consulted for additional information on this subject.)
In assessing the culpability of Africans for collaborating in the Black Chatellization War, we must not overlook the devil's choice the Europeans presented to any two neighboring African chiefdoms that were feuding or at war over land, cattle or whatever: Here are these guns and you know they will decide the battle. Take them and go get your enemy neighbor for us. Do that--or else we will give the guns to your enemy neighbor, and they will come get you instead. In other words: "It's your enemy or You! The choice is yours!"
I wonder what Skip Gates would do if faced with that devil's choice? Dear reader, what would you do? What would a suicidal saint do? What would the average human being, of whatever race or country, do in that situation? Some African rulers, such as Queen Nzinga of the N'gola in the early 17th century, are on record as having tried to evade that devil's choice by going to war against the powerful Europeans who forced the choice on them. Nzinga fought the Portuguese and their African collaborator allies until her death after 40 years of a war of resistance. But her successors were not successful at resisting the chatellization system.
Such was the basic situation that the Europeans, with their demand for captives and their offer of superior and decisive weapons, imposed on the Africans. This situation produced the African collaborators and the choice was imposed each and every time for the four centuries duration of the Black Chatellization War. For as long as Europeans demanded captives, any African collaborator who sought to stop would be quickly made to appreciate the consequences. There was no way to get around it. Your enemy, or even your neighbor and rival--or yourself, which shall it be? Which shall be made captive? That was the gun which the Europeans held to the heads of their African collaborators to keep them in line.
The fact that thousands of Jews, probably tens of thousands, including community leaders who formed the Judenrats, like Moldetsky, collaborated with the Nazi extermination machine, has not led to claims that the Nazis did not have total culpability for the horrors they set in motion and profited from, and that therefore Germany should be excused the payment of reparations to Israel. Why then should the fact that Black Africans collaborated in supplying black captives to European and American enslavers become grounds for diminishing or even abolishing the responsibility of the European governments, European slave merchants and American planters for the Trans-Atlantic enslavement of Africans?
So much for Henry "Skip-the-truth" Gates and his blame shifting.
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|Publication:||Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2010|
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