Posts Tagged ‘Americas’

ENSLAVED, BUT SAVED?

May 12, 2015

Many who founded the English colony of America were forcefully brought there. It started with English adults or children given the status of “Indentured Servant“… they did not have much choice as at least a fifth of the English population lived in abject poverty and was homeless. Indentured servitude (of “whites”!) in Seventeenth Century America was probably worse than slavery (of “blacks”) in Nineteenth Century America (from what I have read). Indentured servitude was basically slavery for a number of years, accompanied with the threat of a robust execution for a number of crimes.

A standard punishment of the indentured servants was quartering alive for fraternizing with the Native Americans (which was viewed as high treason with the gravest military consequences). Hanging by the neck until dead, for hunting pigs without authorization, was a relatively more benign punishment. Starting in 1615, convicts facing judicial punishment (in practice often death) were sent to the colonies (officially more than 52,000 English convicts got to North America… while later, for comparison, only 388,000 African slaves got there). 

Naturally enough, within a decade, starting accidentally in 1619 CE, importing African slaves naturally came up as a solution to the problem of work.  Notice what happened: slaves were purchased, and imported. Those people, those slaves, were already enslaved. And enslaved by whom? At the time, the West Coast of Africa was mostly free of any European control, outside of a few trading counters: the African governments were independent of European control. African armies held the continent. They had steel arrows, plenty of them (bow, and arrow with a steel warhead is a frightening weapon: I saw a demonstration in Africa from a native hunter, when I was a child: huge penetrating power). Five centuries before, the Almoravids, who ruled over much of Senegal and Mali, among other things, in other words Africans, had even conquered not just Morocco, but more than half of the Iberian peninsula (and even parts of France). 

The short of the thesis in this essay is this: Regions of Africa in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries produced more human beings than they could ecologically afford (something reminiscent of what is happening today, nearly everywhere…) There was a traditional solution: the engineering of deliberate mass death by the authorities in power. However, slave traders made selling slaves more profitable than killing those unfortunates who constituted an unsustainable humanity… Selling those one used to kill relieved African nations from ecological overload, just the same, but more profitably… (And it was morally nicer…)

Humanitarianism is not about imposing a goodness which cannot be. Humanitarianism is about optimizing the goodness which can be. In this perspective, slavery was a lesser evil than the status quo ante. Nothing too shocking, for those who can think, I reckon… but quite enough to melt millions of minds as fragile as snowflakes, who know nothing but hating superior considerations.

***

An ex-African child brings to you a NEW, SHATTERING PERSPECTIVE ON THE TRANSATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE: it saved lives! (A friend who is a lawyer raised in Los Angeles inside an Indian family told me to remove this essay, it would endanger my reputation permanently, she insisted… But really new truths often hurt, so not endangering my reputation would reduce me to no creativity, so here is the truth, and let the haters hate…)

No philosophy is new, if all it does, is to tenderly stroke the minds of the past, their pet theories, and the errors of their deepest, most obscurantist emotions. Really new wisdom breaks old minds, and it hurts, yes: in spiritual matters, no pain, no real gain.

It is a given, among the self-glorifying Politically Correct, and the fashionably liberal, that the Transatlantic Slave Trade was a gigantic black eye for Western Civilization, an irremediable error we should all attune for the rest of times, and all times to come, even when our ancestors had nothing to do with it, or even when some of our own ancestors were slaves, and other ancestors, masters. (For example is Michelle Obama, a descendant of both master and slave, stained with mastery, or slavery? I say, neither, and this essay explains why…)

Does that received truth, that the Transatlantic Slave Trade was abominable, hold under global, thorough, hyper-critical relativistic, fully informed scrutiny? No. It’s not that simple. Granted that slavery was an atrocity, the US leadership was one with it, and this is having a huge, nefarious influence on the USA, to this day. However, just transporting Africans out of Africa was another matter: it saved lives. A few remarks:

1) It’s a subset of plutocrats who organized the slave trade, not “Western Civilization”. The average European knew nothing about slavery, and didn’t profit from it (although some towns did, indirectly). Indeed, slavery had been unlawful in (what the Franks called) “Europe” for a millennium, thanks to Queen Bathilde around 655 CE. Plutocrats organize a lot of lucrative horrors nowadays, far from prying eyes.

Bottom Line: Slavery Was Unlawful Inside Europe Since 660 CE

Bottom Line: Notice that the slave traders are themselves Africans. Slavery Was Unlawful In Europe Since 660 CE. In Africa, as in all distant history, slavery flourished, and, much worse, so did mass human sacrifices. Yes, confronted to that choice, people would prefer slavery to summary execution.

2) It is better to (let) drown Africans by the thousands as they try to reach Europe, as is practiced nowadays? (Some days, hundreds drown in the Mediterranean, because conditions are so bad in Africa, and so good in Europe, they prefer to risk death than to continue with horror in today’s Africa…)

Is it worse to be put in chains, laying on one’s back like sardines, exercised one hour a day, as during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, rather than drowning in the Med, as endured by at least 50,000 in the last few years? And on this latter point, drowning in the Mediterranean because Africa has become such a terrible place, one can’t live there, we can’t say we never heard about it (whereas most of the European population had never heard of slavery during the colonization of the Americas, as slavery was unlawful in Europe: slaves were immediately liberated… except for those of (future) US president Jefferson (who, protected by diplomatic immunity, moreover lied to his slaves and French Ancient Regime authorities).

3) At least, indeed, differently from today across the Mediterranean, slave traders were keen not to drown their expensively purchased slaves (as they wanted to sell them, and in the best conditions).

4) Coach passengers in today’s airlines are in worse cardiovascular stress positions than slaves were (the latter could lay flat). Right, that should be unlawful (and many passengers die).

Let’s dig in the slave logic.

The claim is generally made that 11 million Africans were transported in slave ships, from Africa to the Americas. Once arrived there, they were used as living robots. They were moreover generally submitted to racism, the idea that they were not quite human. Accordingly they were treated inhumanly.

Between 650 CE and 1920 CE, 18 million Africans were transported to Muslim countries. Many were castrated, and suffered high death rates, so the slave population did not increase much. Islamist jurisprudence frowned upon enslaving born Muslims (and initially Jews and Christians, except if captured in war; however, that was rescinded soon).

The transatlantic slave trade was organized by pretty satanic individuals, right.

However, differently from slaves in Muslim countries, American slaves were not castrated, and however inhumanly treated, not only suffered much lower death rates than in Muslim countries, but grew and multiplied.

African slaves in the Americas were never treated so badly that they engaged in as a large scale rebellion such as the Zanj (= East African Great Lakes Bantus). 500,000 African slaves captured the large port of Basra in Iraq, and fought for 15 years. (The largest North American slave rebellion involved barely more than one plantation, and killed a few dozen people… Who all knew each other.)

The slave population in the Americas augmented rapidly… From doing what comes naturally, namely copulation, when conditions are not so bad.

But let’s reconsider the basic point. How did Euro-American plutocrats get their slaves? By buying them. (Europeans hunting Africans down was tried a bit by the Portuguese early on, but proved way too expensive and dangerous, past the first element of surprise.)

African states and empires were well armed (with native steel arrowheads). Starting in 1300 CE, in the empire of Senegambia and Mali, one third of the population was enslaved. Slavery does not have to do with riches: the emperor of Mali went to Mecca and blinded all the Arabs with his incredible wealth (Mali was full of gold and slaves to extract it). He was probably the Earth’s richest person.

In Madagascar, half of the population was enslaved. In Zanzibar, 90%. Slavery was all over Africa, and it had nothing to do with evil white men.

And the natural question is this: had these slaves not been sold, would they have lived?

Africa was crisscrossed by wars. Ever since the Carthaginians, white men had been unable to conquer it, because Africans were expert at war, and mastered steel technology. It’s only after 1850 CE that Europeans achieved military technology so advanced that they made local, African soldiers into conquering armies (or, at least, that’s the way the French did it; the British used their own soldiers and suffered two tremendous defeats, one in West Africa, the other at the hands of the Zulus).

So would have these prisoners of war and other criminals live, but for the slave trade?

The observation is the perennial one, the great enforcer of the Dark Side in the human species: the first thing humanity always had to kill, was overpopulation.

Bartolome’ de las Casas stopped all by himself the Conquista of the Americas by Spain (he did not like the genocide and persuaded Charles V). He also condemned the African slave trade, pointing out that it “incited Africans to sell their own children”.

A fine, very humanitarian, cute and cuddly argument, but is it really true? Could one cut and paste European ethical logic onto Black Africa?

In truth we know that mass human sacrifices as happened during the Grand Customs” in Dahomey were stopped, because the captives got sold as slaves instead of being chopped into bits. Instead of killing up to 10,000 captives, it was found smarter to sell them to white slave traders (Dahomey provided up to 20% of the transatlantic slave trade). The fact is, there were too many Africans to go around, considering the state of farming then.

Hence the wars, slavery, mayhems, to control the population in many African countries (and not just African): One can’t have a population without an ecology, but one can’t have an ecology with too much of a population. That old quandary of the genus Homo evolved all of us into all too many bits and pieces of Doctor Jekyll, and Mr. Hyde.

Dahomey was not bad intrinsically: it was just organized, considering its capabilities. After the French (and Senegalese) conquered it, more advanced farming was introduced, while slavery and human sacrifices were outlawed.

It is no accident that, shortly before its civil war, Rwanda was the most densely populated country in Africa. 20% of the population was killed. In three months. (And the story is more complicated, and troubling, than usually told, as some observe that a majority of the people killed were Hutu, not Tutsi, as supported by the evidence that the “genocide” happened during the invasion of Rwanda by the Tutsi “Rwanda Patriotic Front”.)

Morocco closed its last slave market in 1920. It helped that Morocco was then under French supervision. Saudi Arabia made slavery unlawful in the 1960s. (Islam, by giving a precise legal framework to slavery, allowed it to fester forever.) Mauritania, a country of ineffable charm, which I have resided in, criminalized slavery in 2007. 600,000 people, 20% of the population, are currently enslaved there (the French had abolished slavery in Mauritania in 1920, but the country became independent in the 1960s, allowing to re-establish slavery).

A well-known reason brandished to justify the invasion and occupation of Africa by European powers was the presence of slavery in Africa (the source of the Transatlantic Slave Trade). That argument failed in Christian Ethiopia, which, although attacked by Italy, was never conquered… But also was never part of the slave trade.

Amusingly, as “passengers” are packed like cattle in planes nowadays, getting strokes by the thousands, as a result, nobody points out that slaves at least enjoyed flat beds. (I had still another friend who died, yesterday, from a stroke within days of flying; not a subject airlines and their sponsors are keen to examine.)

Once transported to the Americas, slaves were branded, and treated worse than 3,500 years prior in Mesopotamia. Well, that was a problem with the inhuman character of the laws in the Americas. And yes, it is unforgivable.

However, as far as the slaves were concerned, enslaving them may have saved their lives. I am not saying that this is sure, obvious, and proven.

Just, that it seems very likely. Reality is harder than fiction.

Think, but verify.

Nowadays, slaves can be discreetly purchased in several African countries for a few hundred dollars. Meanwhile, please consider the possibility that the situation with thousands drowning in the Mediterranean, as they try to flee to Europe, is actually worse than the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Many view colonialism as responsible for almost all of Africa’s current evils. In truth, with few exceptions (the Congo), the first thing colonial regimes did, was to outlaw slavery… and they used their outlawing of slavery to justify their existence ethically speaking.  In practice African societies were forced to instantaneously transform in non-slave societies, something that took centuries in Europe. Anybody who thinks an instant realizes that it is difficult to imagine any other way: after all Senegal was already trading with Carthage (dried fish, among other things). The East Coast of Africa had been in contact with (more civilized) Arabs for centuries (and Nubia with Romans). Why Africa was left behind has lots to do with physical and biological geography (long story). For centuries, European slave masters and African trade masters traded. They could have traded more than human chattel, for example scientific knowledge, and they did: some on the Gold Coast learned to make guns, and serve the British some of their own medicine.

For most people, in most circumstances, it is better to be chained than to be dead. The atrocious, uncivilized slavery organized in the Americas by European immigrants and their descendants may, paradoxically, have saved lives. And it surely enabled Africa to partly colonized the Americas in much greater numbers than it would have done otherwise, and thus contribute to civilization in more ways than simply music.

Patrice Ayme’

P/S 2021: I am fundamentally an African (and several other things besides as a full Earth citizen). My first memories and most of my childhood, are from Africa. We Africans know more in an important way, 3,000 years of civilizations before our eyes: Africa is where many civilizations collided. Thus we Africans think very differently, especially about race and skin color… Including very differently from African-Americans, who are, like European-American or Asian-Americans, Americans first, having all gone to American school while swimming in an ocean of Americana. Adding an ocean of Post Modernism/French Theory/Critical Race Theory has made the situation even more… American. Africa is of course in a sense responsible of the Slave Trade… Most Africans, like most Europeans, had nothing to do with it… Being rather on the receiving side of violence. As usual what is culprit and needs to be changed is the institutional side, especially some cultural institutions: the exploitative chief system in Africa, a plutocratic institution, which was symbiotic with slavery, is what one needs to graduate from. All the more as that system, also present in Europe in the last few millennia, did not arise by surprise or accident, but rather necessity…


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