Slavery Myths and Facts

slavery and Africa

Slavery Fact Sheets

Geography
1. Enslaved Africans came primarily from a region stretching from the Senegal River in northern Africa to Angola in the South.
2. Europeans divided this stretch of land into five coasts:

  • Upper Guinea Coast: The area delineated by the Senegal and Gambia Rivers
  • Ivory (or Kwa Kwa or Windward) Coast:Central Liberia
  • Lower Guinea Coast: Divided into the Gold Coast on the west (Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana), the Slave Coast (Togo, Benin, and western Nigeria), and the Bight of Benin (Nigeria and Cameroon)
  • Gabon
  • Angola

3. The Angolan coast supplied nearly half the slaves sent to the Americas.

Organization

1. The notion of ethnic groups, combing a common language and customs with a political structure is mistaken. Atlantic Africa was divided into states (political units) and nations (cultural units). Slavery was a royal enterprise; the European kings sponsored slavery and issued assientos, royal slaving permits. These were sold to the elite merchants of the day and become items of value like stocks and shares today. Ovando, the Spanish governor of Hispaniola complained not to export anymore Africans as they were aggressive and reinforcing the ranks of resistance among the Native-Americans. These early imported Muslim Africans were proving hard to handle but as labor shortage got critical due to the waning of the indigenous population, Ovando reassessed the situation and demanded that Africans be sent. Royal decree targeted the Guinea coast in a mandate, which was to avoid the Islamic African influence. However, over the duration of the trade approximately 30% of those sent to the New World were Muslims

2. While some states were quite large, others were quite modest in size and many were tiny, consisting of a capital town of a few thousand people and a dozen villages under its control.
3. In the 17th century, 70 percent of the people lived in states with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.
4. Private wealth usually derived from control of dependents--clients, pawns, wives in polygynous households, and indentured servants.


African Slavery

1. African law recognized slavery but respected the culture and linage of those that were enslaved. Slaves were also part of the family and often the line between slave and non-slave was blurred.

2. A relatively low population density existed in Africa as compared to Europe and Asia. This low density had profound impact on Africa’s development potential after slavery became a economic mainstay of Europe.

3. Slavery had existed in the medieval empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai, and slave exports had supplemented the export of gold. Most of those enslaved where prisoners of war or debt criminals. Large prisons were not a concept and hence slavery was a system to deal with undesirables.

4. Although African slavery was generally domestic slavery akin to indentured servitude. In Africa the enslaved were used in a wider variety of ways than in the New World: they were employed as agricultural workers, soldiers, scribes, servants, and government officials.

5. The great majority of slaves sold to Europeans were not slaves in Africa; they were usually recent war captives or victims of banditry and judicial proceedings.

6. Chattel slavery, manumission and social ascension were very rare.

7. Multi-generational slavery was uncommon in Africa; in part this reflected the fact that most African slaves were women.

8. During the early years of enslavement, African slaves usually worked under supervision. Then many became "allotment slaves," who worked five or six days until about 2 p.m. on the master's lands, and in the evenings and on their days off, worked their own plots. In the third stage settled slaves spent most of their time working their land in exchange for a fixed obligation, usually what it took to feed an adult male for a year.


Slave Trade

1. During the era of the Atlantic slave trade, 90% of those enslaved, were sent to the Caribbean and the South America.

2. The Atlantic slave trade carried about two to three men for every woman.

3. The slave trade reduced the adult male population by about 20 percent, dramatically altering the ratio of working adults to dependents and of adult men to adult women.

4. One result of unbalanced sex ratios was to further encourage polygyny.

5. Another result was to reduce traditional male forms of work, such as hunting, fishing, livestock rearing, the clearing of fields, the chopping down of trees, and the digging up of roots. The result was a less protein rich diet and a reduction in agricultural productivity.

6. About 14 percent of slaves sent to the New World were children under 14; 56 percent were male adults; and 30 percent were female adults.


Myths and Misconceptions about Slavery

Myth: Slavery is a product of capitalism.
Fact: The transatlantic slave trade is in direct relationship with modern concepts of exploitative capitalism. Capitalism was the driver behind the transatlantic slave trade (see Eric Williams)

Myth: Slavery is a product of Western Civilization.
Fact: Slavery is virtually a universal institution. However the industrialized chattel slavery  the race base nature and the duration are peculiar to the transatlantic slave trade.

Myth: Slavery in the non-western world was a mild, benign, and non-economic institution.
Fact: Slaves were always subject to torture, sexual exploitation, and arbitrary death. However the scale of the brutality and the institutionalization of people as chattel was unique in type and proliferation in the Western slave models.

Myth: Slavery was an economically backward and inefficient institution.
Fact: Many of the most progressive societies in the world had slaves. Forms of slavery allowed the building of many of the world’s empires. Today the low wage lower classes and machines fill the roles slaves traditionally did in society. So still the wealthy today exist because of some form of exploitation of the majority.

Myth: Slavery was always based on race.
Fact: Not until the 15th century was slavery associated primarily with people of African descent. Race became a factor which justified enslavement once it became the mainstay of Western economies. (see Black Codes)

Enslavement and the Slave Trade

Myth: New World slaves came exclusively from West Africa.
Fact: Half of all New World slaves came from central Africa.

Myth: Europeans physically enslaved Africans or hired mercenaries who captured people for export or that African rulers were "Holocaust abettors" who were themselves to blame for the slave trade.
Fact: Europeans did engage in some slave raiding; the majority of people who were transported to the Americas were enslaved by Africans in Africa. Europeans politically created anarchy in Africa feeding greed and putting others in a dilemma “sell or be sold.” With the destruction of the economy and the absences of the most virile in African societies slavery became a mono-economy feeding the cycle of destruction. Europeans created mechanisms which ensured conflict and the push-pull demand for slaves.

Myth: Many slaves were captured with nets.
Fact: There is no evidence that slaves were captured with nets; war was the most important source of enslavement.

Myth: Kidnapping was the usual means of enslavement.
Fact: War was the most important source of enslavement; it would be incorrect to reduce all of these wars to slave raids.

Myth: The Middle Passage stripped enslaved Africans of their cultural heritage and transformed them into docile, passive figures wholly receptive to the cultural inputs of their masters.
Fact: Slaves engaged in at least 250 documented shipboard rebellions. The destruction of African culture happen not on the slave ships but via the plantation system where Christianity and terror were used to mentally enslave African people. Evidence shows that in areas where new African slaves were constantly being introduced (such as Jamaica) had more incidences of rebellion due to the resistance of the new arrivals.


Slavery in the Americas

Myth: Most slaves were imported into what is now the United States
Fact: Well over 90 percent of slaves from Africa were imported into the Caribbean and South America.

Myth: Slavery played a marginal role in the history of the Americas
Fact: African slaves were the only remedy for the labor shortages that plagued Europe's New World dominions. Fact: Slave labor made it profitable to mine for precious metal and to harvest sugar, indigo, and tobacco; slaves taught whites how to raise such crops as rice and indigo.

Myth: Europeans arrived in the New World in far larger numbers than did Africans.

Fact: Before 1820, the number of Africans outstripped the combined total of European immigrants by a ratio of 3, 4, or 5 to 1.

Myth: The first slaves arrived in what is now the U.S. in 1619
Fact: Slaves arrived in Spanish Florida at least a century before 1619 and a recently uncovered census shows that blacks were present in Virginia before 1619.


Slave Culture

Myth: The slave trade permanently broke slaves' bonds with Africa.
Fact: Slaves were able to draw upon their African cultural background and experiences and use them as a basis for life in the New World. The drum and the Griot tradition are still alive in the music of the Diaspora. The food and elements of the language, the social structure, the “cool” still are defining characteristics of the African Diaspora. The greatest disconnection with Africa may have actually happened post-emancipation where being American or being more integrated allowed cultural drift into a more Eurocentric identity.

Myth: Plantation life with its harsh labor, unstable families, and high mortality, made it difficult for Africans to construct social ties
Fact: African nations persisted in America well into the 18th century and even the early 19th century despite the overt destruction of the family the denouncement of religious and marital values.

Myth: Masters assigned names to slaves or slaves imitated masters' systems of naming.
Fact: In fact, slaves were rarely named for owners. Naming patterns appear to have reflected African practices, such as the custom of giving children "day names" (after the day they were born) and "name-saking," such as naming children after grandparents.

Myth: Slaveholders sought to deculturate slaves by forbidding African names and languages and obliterating African culture.
Fact: While deculturation was part of the "project" of slavery, in fact African music, dance, decoration, design, cuisine, and religion exerted a profound, ongoing influence on American culture.
Fact: Slaves adapted religious rites and perpetuated a rich tradition of folklore.

Economics of Slavery
Myth: Slavesholders lost money and were more interested in status than moneymaking; slaves did little productive work
Fact: Slaves worked longer days, more days, and more of their life. The life expectancy of enslaved Africans in places like Barbados was a few decades due to the strain of labor.

Myth: Slavery was incompatible with urban life and factory technology
Fact: Sugar mills were the first true factories in the world; slaves were widely used in cities and in various kinds of manufacturing and crafts.
Myth: Slaves engaged almost exclusively in unskilled brutish field labor.
Fact: Much of the labor performed by slaves required high skill levels and careful, painstaking effort.
Fact: Masters relied on slaves for skilled craftsmanship.


Religion

Myth: West and Central Africans received their first exposure to Christianity in the New World.
Fact: Most Africans learned about Christianity as they learned about the European trade in enslaved Africans. A few Catholic missionary activities began in the central African kingdom of Kongo half a century before Columbus's voyages of discovery and Kongo converted to Catholicism in 1491.

Myth: The Catholic Church did not tolerate the mixture of Catholicism with traditional African religions.
Fact: In Kongo and in Latin America, the Church did tolerate the mixture of Catholicism with African religions, allowing Africans to retain their old cosmology, understanding of the universe, and the place of gods and other divine beings in the universe.

Myth: Before the Civil War, the Southern churches were highly segregated.
Fact: In 1860, slave constituted about 26 percent of the Southern Baptist church membership.

Myth: Slave Christianity was essentially a "religion of docility."
Fact: Christianity was dual edged and marked by millennialist possibilities; whites could not prevent black preachers from turning Christianity into a source of self-respect and faith in deliverance.


Resistance

Myth: Slaves were brainwashed and stunned into submission and rarely resisted slavery.
Fact: Resistance took a variety of forms ranging from day-to-day resistance, economic bargaining, running away and maroonage, and outright rebellions


Slavery and World History

1. The most ancient civilizations--ancient Mesopotamia, Old Kingdom Egypt, and the budding civilization that formed in the Indus and Yangtze river valleys--all had some form of slavery present in their earliest years.
2. In none of these cultures did slaves constitute a large proportion of the population.
3. It was in classical Greece and Rome that the first true slave societies came into existence. From the 5th to the 3rd centuries b.c., perhaps a third to a half of Athens's population consisted of slaves. Slaves constituted as much as 30 percent of Rome's population.
4. England's Domesday book of 1086 indicated that 10 percent of the population was enslaved.
5. Although slavery is often stigmatized as archaic and backward, slavery has been found in many of the most progressive societies.
6. Contrary to what many think, slavery never disappeared from medieval Europe. Domestic slavery persisted in Sicily, southern Italy, Russia, southern France, Spain, and elsewhere.


Curse of Ham

The claim that Noah, the biblical father of all subsequent humanity, cursed his son Ham with both blackness and the condition of slavery for looking at him drunk and naked and exposing him to his other sons, Shem and Japheth. In fact Ham was not cursed and his association with black slavery does not appear in the Nebrew Bible.
Noah cursed Canaan--the ancestor of the Semitic Canaanites, who occupied Israel before the Hebrews--to be the "servant of servants." Why Noah was upset with Canaan we are never told according to some sources it was for a homosexual act “looking on his nakedness”. Ham's African sons were Cush (Ethiopia), Put (Libya), and Misraim (Egypt)--and they were not cursed.


Maroons

Task System
One of two plantation labor systems. Under the task system, slaves were assigned several specific tasks within a day. When those tasks were finished, slaves could have time to themselves to spend however they wished. Slaves who worked in rice and long staple cotton plantations, in the naval stores industry, or in skilled labor positions worked under the task system. The benefits of this system for slaves included less supervision, more autonomy and more free time.

Gang System
Wherever tobacco, sugar or short stable cotton grew, slaves worked in large groups or gangs under the strict supervision of white overseers or black drivers from dawn to dusk. Close supervision meant less autonomy and less free time.

Trash Gangs
Many boys and girls performed light agricultural labor, sweeping yards, clearing dried cornstalks from fields, chopping cotton, carrying water to field hands, weeding, picking cotton at a slower pace, feeding work animals, and driving cows to pasture.


Major Rebellions

New York City, 1712
Like many later revolts, this one occurred during a period of social dissension among whites following Leisler's Rebellion. The rebels espoused traditional African religion.

Stono Rebellion, 1739
The Spanish empire enticed slaves of English colonies to escape to Spanish territory. In 1733 Spain issued an edict to free all runaway slaves from British territory who made their way into Spanish possessions. On September 9, 1739, about 20 slaves, mostly from Angola, gathered under the leadership of a slave called Jemmy near the Stono River, 20 miles from Charleson. 44 blacks and 21 whites lost their lives. South Carolina responded by placing import duties on slaves from abroad, strengthening patrol duties and militia training, and recommending more benign treatment of slaves.

Gabriel's Rebellion, 1800
This attempted insurrection near Richmond was organized during the Haitian Revolution and the undeclared naval war between the U.S. and France.

Denmark Vesey's Conspiracy, 1822
This failed insurrection was organized soon after the contentious debate over the admission of Missouri as a slave state. Like Gabriel, Vesey consciously looked to Haiti for inspiration and support.

Nat Turner, 1832
This insurrection took place at a time when slaves in Jamaica had staged one of the largest revolts in history, when radical abolition had arisen in the North, and Britain was debating slave emancipation.

Source: africanholocaust.net

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