Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Transatlantic Slave Trade

The Ghanaian Times article "Less-Known Participating Nations In The Slave Trade,"from 26 February, 2011, by Godwin Yirenkyi, discusses the history of the transatlantic slave trade:

Recently I asked a Chilean journalist after a tour of the Cape Coast Castle whether there are black people, that is, descendants of the many African slaves taken there during the period as is the case in other South American countries. She answered no, apart from occasional visitors, adding that Chile never took part in that abominable trade. I showed her references to the contrary that slaves were taken there and she was surprised.

This short introduction is one reason behind the multi-national initiative led by UNESCO for more research and education to break a long silence surrounding the sordid story of to pave way for total healing, reconciliation and peace.

For even though you will not find forts and castles (infamous for their use as stations for the trafficking of African captives for use as slaves in the Americas between the 15th-19th ) belonging to nations like France, Spain and the United States on the Ghanaian coast where most of these relics are found in Africa, historical records show that these nations, and others shown in this article were, nevertheless, active participants in the slave trade.

Though contemporary history say that the Portuguese were the first to discovering Ghana (the then Gold Coast in 1471, the French historians claim their travelers were the first to have arrived in 1383, having founded two short-lived settlements named Petit Paris and Petit Dieppe somewhere along the western coastline as well as built a lodge at Takoradi. They say that the French trade had ended by the time the Portuguese arrived but until 1872 when Britain formally colonized the Gold Coast, the French navy never stopped foraging frequently along the coast.

The bastion de France

Fort William at Anomabu, for example, started was originally a French trading post built by them in 1751 but was captured two years later by the British. In retaliation, according to Reindorf, the French bombarded Cape Coast Castle and seized it from the British, thus enabling them to gain access to the gold and slave trade. In 1779 they captured Fort Orange, Sekondi, from the British but left soon afterwards. The French are also believed to have established a small fort at Amoku, 10 kilometers east of Anomabu on land purchased for 450 ounces of gold. They stayed at Christiansborg for some years and probably built a trading station at Ada that lasted for some time. France became the fourth largest slave trading nation and Nantes, in the Bay of Biscay became the slave trade capital just as Liverpool won disrepute as England's slave trade capital.

Ghanaian sailors have a legend that the frequent storms in the bay are the result of the many slave corpses dumped in the place by the slave ships.

Slave Trade maps show that the French sent many slaves from East Africa to the Seycheles, Mauritius and Madagascar.
Bunce Island, Serra Leone

Until the late 1700s the Spaniards, who started the trans-Atlantic slave trade with the Portuguese and later became the main buyers of slaves in the Americas, obtained their supplies from other Europeans without coming to the West African mainland. By the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, signed between Spain and Portugal, the African coast was awarded to Portugal by the Pope. Hence the Spaniards who got the New World did not feature prominently in direct trading activities in West Africa except for their enclaves of Equatorial Guinea and Sao Thome. Early records, however, indicate that they traded for sometime at Arguin in modern Mauritania in the 15th century.
The nearest that Spain ever came to settling in the former Gold Coast was in 1756 when the Danes sent an agent, Prof. Moldenhauer, to Madrid to negotiate, unsuccessfully, the exchange of their fort at Ada on the Volta River for the Spanish Crab Island, also known as Bisque, in the West Indies. By 1830, the Spaniards were visiting the country during the governorship of Captain George Maclean, and one of the charges brought against the governor by his opponents during investigations into his activities was that he allowed Spanish slavers to buy provisions on the coast. In 1848, the British warship Kingfisher and an American cruiser Yorktown attacked the last slave trading station run by the Spaniards at Cess River, in Liberia, and freed 3,000 captives.
Elmina Castle

The activities of the Portuguese, after they were driven away from Elmina Castle by the Dutch in 1637 is also not well known since it was generally assumed that they were driven away completely from the country after they ceded the rest of their possessions to the Dutch in a treaty in 1641. The treaty stipulated that they should not trade here and that if they wanted to trade on the Lower Coast, that is at Fida (Ouidah) and Porto Novo, they should first drop anchor first at the Dutch fort and pay a large tariff. Records, however, show that the Danes bought Christiansborg from them in 1660 and built another small fort called Fort Xavier in 1679 in the area from where they were driven off in 1683. Around this period they were also said to have put up another less-known trading lodge along the Accra coast which they named Ft. Vicente. Between 1811 and 1816, Portuguese vessels frequented Accra looking for captives to buy. During the abolition period, a notorious Portuguese slave trader by name Don Jose Mora continued buying slaves in the Keta area till he finally moved to Little Popo and Grand Popo in modern Benin after the Danes tried to arrest him.

Ft. Groot Fredericksburg at Princess Town, Ghana

The Portuguese stayed on in Guinea Bissau, Principe and Sao Thome where they had established large sugar plantations since the late 15th and 16th centuries. Sao Thome also served as an entreport for the slave trade to Europe and the Americas. Further down they held the monopoly in Angola where millions of captives were sent to Brazil from Fort San Miguel, and also along the East African coast where they operated from Mozambique, Zanzibar and Lamu Islands as well as Mombasa in Kenya. Their main legacy in Ghana today is the Elmina Castle, near Cape Coast. Linguists claim they also left a few words that have become part of the local Ghanaian vocabulary such as dash (gift), paano (bread), palava (meeting), fetish (idol) and sabola (onion). The word used for slave catching, panyarring was also believed to have come from the Portuguse word panyar, meaning catch.

Ft. Groot Fredericksburg at Princess Town, Ghana

Due to the name change, people often forget that the Brandenburgs, who in 1683 built Ft. Groot Fredericksburg at Princess Town, and two other lodges at Akwida (1685) and Takrama (1687), were Germans. Brandenburg was the name of East Germany before it was united with neighboring provinces to become Germany. In the 17th cenury they took over a Spanish station at Arguin in Senegal and were also present at Whydah, Benin, for sometime. However, the full extent of German involvement in the slave trade in West Africa and the Americas is not known. At one time they tried to acquire a part of the Virgin Islands, but Togo and Cameroon were the main centers of their activities in West Africa.
Ft. Groot Fredericksburg at Princess Town, Ghana

Virtually unknown among the European slave traders of West Africa were the Courlanders, a small Germanic nation (population 200,000) situated in the present Republic of Latvia in the Baltics. The Courlabders built a small fort on St. Andrews Island (James Island) in the Gambia in 1652 and colonized Tobago in the 17th century and established sugar, cotton and rum plantations wiith about 7,000 slaves. The British seized James Island in 1661.

Ft. Groot Fredericksburg at Princess Town, Ghana

It is not known how far Brazil which received the largest number of slaves participated in slave buying since most documents of the slave trade were purposely burnt in that country. But one Brazillian slave trader called Cossar Corquila Lima was known to have established a large trading post at Vodza, near Keta. After his death in 1862, his domestic slave and agent who inherited him renamed himself Geraldo Lima, married his wives and continued with the trade, causing much trouble with the Adas and their Danish allies.

Ft. Groot Fredericksburg at Princess Town, Ghana

West Africa was not the only place that suffered from the ravages of the slave trade. The huge Congo, for example, was owned by King Leopold II of tiny Belgium, who had no colonies in the New World yet sold thousands of slaves to the Americas and enslaved the natives at home in a manner far worse than what Arab slave traders were doing before the Belgians arrived.

According to the National Geographic (Sept. 1992) the greatest number of slaves taken to the Americas came from the Congo-Angola region while another report (March 1973) indicated that the Congo endured more than three centuries of slaving, losing hundreds of thousands of people to the labour-hungry New World. From Boma, 90km inland, the Flemish traders assembled the captives then moved them to Banana Island at the mouth of the Congo River their main slave port for shipment.

Simultaneously, the native population at home was brutally forced to collect ivory and rubber in what became known as the rubber atrocities, rigorously implemented by state agents long after the abolition of slavery. Belgium's Royal Museum of Central Africa has on display symbols of the shameful trade including shackles and collar rings that once bonded Congolese slaves. In the same museum can be seen life-size mannequins depicting Congolese slaves and Arab slave buyers.

Records indicate that American slavers in the 1700s took part directly in the buying of captives from Africa, which they called the Circuit trade as distinct from Triangular Slave Trade. The first American slavers dispatched by Boston merchants in 1644 included the Rainbow which took a number of captives to Barbados. Later they became more active and started using what became known as rum boats, which were smaller and faster than the European ones, to cross the Atlantic with cargoes of rum to intoxicate potential African slave traders, and then return to America via the West Indies to offload their captives and stock up with molasses to take home and make it into more rum. One hundred and fifteen gallons of rum bought a male captive and ninety-five for a female. Records indicate that about twenty rum boats were in service by 1758.
The Swedes played an active role in the slave trade within the brief 17 years that they spent in the Gold Coast. By 1638 they had founded a colony called New Sweden on the Christina River around present Wilmington in the Delaware River valley of the United States which they held till 1655 when it was abandoned owing to pressure by the Dutch who were staging a comeback after losing it previously to local Indians. In 1640 they constructed Fort Witsen at Takoradi then began another one at Anomabo. Ten years later the Swedish African Company led by Heinrich Caerlof constructed a short-lived lodge at Butre. In 1657 they made Carolusburg Castle, Cape Coast, their headquarters, before they lost it together with Christiansborg, Osu, to the Danes. They were not heard of again after they were driven off by the Danes shortly afterwards. In the West Indies they had one island, St. Barthelemy, for themselves from 1784-1877.
Sweden's eastern neighbour, Norway also took part in the slave trade jointly with Denmark of which it was then a part. That explains why a slave ship called the Fredensborg, named after an erstwhile fort at old-Ningo, near Tema, which was returning to its home port after discharging a cargo of slaves at St. Croix in the Caribbean sunk near the town of Arundel, Norway, in 1768. Dr. Paul Isert, a Danish surgeon who wrote extensively about the period stated how, for some inexplicable reason the climate seemed unsuitable for the Norwegians. When they arrive in this land, the surgeon wrote, even though they have never before in their lives been ill, they behave like a fresh-water fish that has been placed in salt water. They become misanthropic, fretful, and do not know why. First they complain of a headache, usually accompanied by vomiting; after 24 hours often follow convulsions, and the patient dies a man who had been perfectly healthy 48 hours earlier.
Another less-known aspect of the trans-Atlantic slave is the fact that besides the United States, Central America, the West Indies and Brazil which are often mentioned, several thousands slaves were also taken to Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Paraguay and Uruguay. Lima became a major redistribution center from where slaves, some brought directly from Africa around Cape Horn were sent into the interior of the continent never to be heard of again.

The atrocities of slavery were not limited to the black people of Africa. At the time of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the British, French and Australians were tricking and kidnapping thousands of Melanesian captives to work in the sugarcane fields of Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia and other Pacific colonies. Among the kidnappers, also known as the black birders was one Ross Lewin who often disguised himself as an Anglican bishop to trick islanders to come to his ship, while another called James Murray enticed villagers to paddle their canoes to his schooner with promises of trade in beads, pipes and tobacco and then took them by force and sold them.

(source: Ghanaian Times)

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