Atlantic Slave Trade

Nothing in the human history can be compared to the Atlantic slave trade in its magnitude, cruelty and sustained brutality. The Atlantic slave trade lasted from the 1441 to 1840. West Africa refers to the westernmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the UN includes the following modern countries in its definition of West Africa: Burkina Faso, Benin, Cape Verde, Cote d’ Ivore, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Sierra Leone and Togo. The focus of this paper is on the phases of the dislocation process of slaves from West Africa. The paper will also discuss how the traders used the five phases to rob West Africa of her human resources.

      The main challenge researchers face when collecting the historical information from Africa is that there are hardly any written articles of the events that took place at the pre-colonial periods. Therefore, information is not clear since they rely on oral stories and archeology. In the 15th century, Crusades were alive in the Western Mediterranean. The prime objective of these crusades was to eliminate the Muslim presence in Spain. Gradually, the social and political disintegration surrounded the Maghrib, and, as a result, the Iberian Christian powers spread. In the first stage, significant towns in Morocco were occupied and trade monopolized. The second stage saw the Maghrib bypass along the Atlantic coast; slave trade began, and Europe and West Africa established direct trade relations between them. In the third stage, America was discovered; Granada conquered, and Africa circumnavigated. In the final stage, slavery reaches its peak and robs Africa millions of women, men and children.

      It is believed that the Moors were the first target of slavery in West Africa. Moors is the name the Spanish, and the Portuguese used to refer to all Muslims, with no regard to their racial differences. In 1441, a young Portuguese captain by the name Captain Golcalves sailed along the southern coasts of Mauritania and Morocco gathering sea lion oil, animal hide and ivory for sale in Lisbon. He met with a Muslim couple in his encounter and the same year, with captain Tristao they netted more than ten Muslims and enslaved them. Pope Eugene IV gave a decree that the capture of the Moors as slaves would be a part of the crusade and anybody who sailed further south in pursuit of this would be cleansed of his sins. This decree marked the beginning of the slave trade in Africa, which was to begin with the Portuguese piracy on the coast of Morocco in 1441.

The process became systematized in 1441 when under the patronage of Prince Henry, the Lagos, a Portuguese company was chartered. At first, it did not cause a stir in Lisbon, since only a few slaves were captured. There, already, were many muslim slaves in Spain and Portugal, just as the Christian slaves in North Africa that were captured in the previous frequent wars between Muslims and Christians. The slaves from both sides were used as domestic servants, according to the norms of their respective cultures. As the rich merchants of Lisbon realized the much benefits of owning slaves, and with the Pope sanctifying the trade, investment in the slave venture increased.

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The Atlantic slave trade can be broken down into five phases as discussed below. The first period began with the Portuguese capture of slaves in the southern Morocco in 1441 and ended with discovery of America in 1492.

      The second phase lasted until 1541, a period when the Moroccan Sultan Muhammed al Mahdi recaptured the fort of Santa Cruz and drove all the Portuguese from the Atlantic coast of his country. This brought the growth of Portuguese power to a decline though did not entirely eliminate it. The number of exported slavesfrom West Africa had reached 10 000.

      The third phase lasted upto 1640 when the Moroccans brought down the Portuguese at a battle and ended their ambitions in North Africa. This was known as the ‘middle phase’ where 788,000 were transported. The period also saw the ascendancy of the Dutch in the Indian and Atlantic oceans. It was characterized by increased, armed conflicts and social dislocation. Some slaves were shipped directly from Guinea coast to Brazil and West Indies.

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      The fourth phase lasted from 1640 to 1713 when there was a serious struggle between the French, British and the Dutch for control of the trade routes which resulted to the ascendancy of the British. The last period was from 1713 to 1818 and witnessed the Atlantic slave trade at its peak and the transfer of millions of Africans to America.

            The capture of slaves was accompanied by resistance. Africans, at some instances would attack the Portuguese. There were numerous cases of Muslim slaves organizing to resist slavery in United States, Brazil and West Indies. Once captured, the hapless women, men and children, chained. They were marked with red-hot iron just like cattle to be sold in bazaars in New Orleans and Charleston. They were stuffed in ships, each person having a space of 5ft by 6ft and many of them died on the way from suffocation. Slave and master conflicts were prevalent in this environment; perceptions corrupted, images distorted, and attitudes hardened.

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      Before 1600, the African migration to the Americas was small in magnitude, though it may have exceeded European migration. At this time, the Indian population was gradually declining, though still large. The Africans in America, usually in the slave status were persons of a relatively high value, serving in artisanal tasks and in the military. Africans laborers that were concentrated in the skilled occupations would gradually displace the vanishing Indians at all work levels. In the 17th century, with the scarcity of Indian laborers, Africans appeared, by comparison, more plentiful.

      By the 18th century, the main population groups-Indians, Europeans, Africans and the Mullato – were growing. However, in this period the population of West Africa declined from region to the region and almost totally in the western African coast as a whole. This is due to the large-scale removal of Africans from this region to become slaves in America. In the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, the African populations in Europe and America grew at a high rate. This is attributed to the certain social changes as well as improvement in healthcare conditions. In the 19th century, the rapidly growing Africans in America population turned into millions of migrants. Contrary, the population was either stagnant or on the decline in Africa, and forcible labor migration prevailed within the continent, thus, interfering with the population growth.

      In America, the slaves maintained their African heritage and created distinct patterns of the African community in America. The other immigrants arrived as free persons, and so had the opportunity to establish communities of their own in which people of similar cultural and linguistic background maintained strong contact and were able to keep contact with their homeland. However, the Europeans largely prevented the African communities in America from recreating with their home societies in that way. The Africans did not have the freedom of movement, and the slave owners mixed people from varying ethnic groups for the sole purpose of reducing solidarity. Consequently, the inhabitants of the African-American settlements tend to refer to Africa in a general term rather than to the particular African regions. They took America as their current home since they were wholly cut off from Africa. This, therefore, explains how Africans were transformed into enslaved negros.

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