Thursday, March 12, 2015

Slave Facts

The trans-Atlantic slave trade was the largest long-distance coerced movement of people in history, and prior to the mid-19th century, formed the major demographic well-spring for the re-peopling of the Americas following the collapse of the Amerindian population. Between 1492 and 1550 the Amerindian population of the West Indies had been reduced by 90% due to massacres, importation of diseases such as smallpox, and destruction of local agriculture by the incomers. The problem was that they did not have the labour, and the available supply of free European migrants, indentured servants and prisoners did not half meet the deficit, informing the need for coerced labour. Africa, with the weakest concept of social identity, was the obvious target. The colonists then sought shipments of enslaves Africans to replace the locals and work in the New World plantations and colonies. As late as 1820, nearly four Africans had crossed the Atlantic for every European. About four out of every five females that traversed the Atlantic were from Africa. About 12.5 million slaves are estimated to have been embarked on ships. Many died, with only 10.7 million arriving in the Americas, and one in four slaving vessels failed to return to their homeport, victims of sea risks, rebellion and capture.  No less than 26% on board were classified as children (under 13 years and less than four feet four inches). Over the 350-year history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, captains purchased more adults (80%) than children (20%). Men were also prime, while African societies tended to retain females.

Gorée Island in Senegal is the best known slave port, with high profile visitors such as US president Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela having visited and peered through the famous “Door of No Return”. But it is not among the top three embarkation points, which are, in order: Luanda in southern Africa, with 1.3 million slaves dispatched, Bonny in the Bight of Biafra, and Whydah on the Slave Coast. The three ports together accounted for some 2.2 million slave departures. Between 12 and 13% of those embarked did not survive the voyage.

A side-effect was to lead to an elementary pan-Africanism especially among the victims, as non-elite Africans, who had existed without a concept of Africanness, begun to think of themselves first as part of a African group, say the Yoruba, and then, more widely as blacks.

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