The slave trade: An act of genocide


GENOCIDE is a crime against humanity.
It is a well planned and coordinated plan targeted at destroying a particular group of people.
Globally, when we look at the history of indigenous people, we find a master plan by the former Western colonialists to exterminate them.
Among those targeted in the past were the Aboriginals of Australia, Native Americans or First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.
From Australia to Canada, America and to Africa, there is a history of genocides which has not been fully examined.
In part one of this column, we begin by looking at the genocide that happened as a result of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Before using Africans as slaves, Europeans enslaved indigenous peoples in the Americas and on the islands of Cuba, Hispaniola and Jamaica.
They forced them to work in mines under harsh conditions.
Due to excessive work and disease, the indigenous people died and their population decreased.
The trade in African slaves began with the Portuguese and Spanish traders. The ‘Middle Passage’ was the triangular trade in which millions of people from Africa were forcibly shipped to the New World as part of the Atlantic slave trade. Ships left Europe destined for African markets with manufactured goods, which were then traded for captured or kidnapped Africans, who became slaves transported across the Atlantic.
Of the African slaves transported to the Americas, males outnumbered females by a ratio of 2:1.
This means most of those taken into slavery were African men between the ages of 15 and 35.
These years were the most productive in a man’s life.
The slave traders also took into slavery 15-20 percent of the males under 15 years of age and transported them to the Americas.
If those men had stayed in Africa, how many children would have been born?
By taking them away and causing the deaths of many across the oceans, the slave traders orchestrated a massive and brutal genocide.
It is estimated that between nine and 12 million Africans were taken into slavery and transported to America, although it is very difficult to know the exact number. Throughout the 18th century, at least a third of the slaves were taken on British ships.
Many of the people were smuggled in order for the slave captains to avoid taxes, duty and regulations.
During the journey, over a million Africans died on the way to the American colonies.
More than 40 percent were shipped to the Caribbean, USA and the Spanish speaking colonies.
Another 40 percent of Africans were taken to Brazil.
When the Africans arrived in the New World, life on the slave plantations was very harsh and brutal.
They worked on the rice, sugar and tobacco plantations and sometimes the work was in swamps.
They lived in wooden huts, cramped in unpleasant and cold conditions.
The average slave workday on the slave plantation was from dawn until dusk.
They sometimes worked longer periods during harvests.
They had no free day as they had to work in their own fields at weekends to survive.  Throughout their lives, slaves worked.
They were not treated as human beings and they had no rights at all.
In the American colonies, as Peter Thompson, has noted, “A slave was chattel – an article of property that could be bought, punished, sold, loaned, used as collateral, or willed to another at an owner’s whim. 
“Slaves could not legally marry, own property, vote, serve as witnesses, serve on juries, or make contracts. 
“The offspring of female slaves also belonged to their owners, regardless of whom their fathers were.”
As time went on, opposition to the slave trade grew.
Sometimes, slaves revolted on the voyage.
In Jamaica, runaway slaves, called ‘Maroons’, formed their own resistance communities.
In England, a group of black Britons called the ‘Sons of Africa’ started a letter-writing campaign against the slave trade.
Today, there is a deliberate amnesia about slavery in Britain and Portugal.
This is a history they do not want to be talked about.
However, the Netherlands has showed open remorse, unlike other former colonial countries.
More than 600 000 African people were shipped from Dutch fortresses in what is now Ghana.
In 2013, the Scheepvaart Museum in Amsterdam hosted an exhibition to remember the deaths of 664 African men, women and children on board a Dutch West India Company slave ship called the Leusden.
According to the Dutch historian Leo Balai, this tragic event, “was the largest murder in the history of the slave trade”.  
The University of Amsterdam’s Library also curated a collection of information with original photographs and compiled them in a catalogue.
This year, March 25 marked the ‘International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade’.
This was a public event to commemorate genocide and inhumanity caused during slavery.
The African slave trade went on for 300 years.
In order to fully understand the genocide committed to the African people by the Western countries during slavery, you only need to visit one recent exhibition at Liverpool’s Maritime Museum in the UK.
You will be left with no doubt that the British made money and built their country with proceeds from the slave trade.
Basically, they were buying and selling human beings.
That was an act of genocide because many died over those three centuries.
Up to this day, no reparations have been paid to Africa and the Africans for the genocide caused by the Trans- Atlantic slave trade.


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