History of the Atlantic Slave Book Review

  • Length: 12 pages
  • Sources: 8
  • Subject: Literature - African
  • Type: Book Review
  • Paper: #86148004

Excerpt from Book Review :

A "linguist" would bring the slave broker on board the ship that had traveled upriver, and at that point there were negotiations and the broker (owner of the slaves that he had kidnapped) wanted to know of course what merchandise was being offered, what the commission the captain of the vessel was to receive, and he wanted to know what other offers might be out there on the coast from the other slavers. At the end of the day, if the broker liked the deal, and if the trader liked the slaves that the broker brought to the river (or the coast), the company "surgeon" was called in to check the health of the prisoners, and if that passed muster, a deal was struck. The male slaves were put in irons on the main deck; the children and women (not ironed) were placed on the quarterdeck; and the boys were not ironed and placed on the main deck (Dow, 6).

Saidiya Hartman writes that some of the Africans that were kidnapped and brought to the coast had trekked "hundreds of miles, passed through the hands of African and European traders" (Hartman, 2008, pp. 7-8). Hartman, an African-American writer who visited Africa on a research trip, said the Africans that were "torn from kin and community" were "exiled from one's country, dishonored and violated" -- the "perpetual outcast, the coerced migrant, the foreigner, the shamefaced child in the lineage" (p. 5). Hartman disagrees with Dow's assessment that men sold their own children. "Contrary to popular belief, Africans did not sell their brothers and sister into slavery," she insists. "They sold strangers: those outside the web of kin and clan relationships," she writes on page 5 of her book, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. The slaves that Africans sold to Europeans were "nonmembers of the polity," Hartman explains; they were "barbarians at the outskirts of their country, and lawbreakers expelled from society." In order to betray your race, "you had first to imagine yourself as one," she continued (5).

Hartman mentions the origin of "slave" -- it was first coined in Europe (from the word "Slav") because the Eastern Europeans were the "slaves of the medieval world," Hartman points out on page 5. As slavery expanded in Africa, it declined in Europe, although Harman asserts that into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries "it was still possible to purchase 'white' slaves -- English, Spanish, and Portuguese captives in the Mediterranean ports of North Africa" (5). While Dow lists the number of European "forts" in Ghana Hartman writes that by the end of the eighteenth century, there were "sixty slave markets" there, and the town of Elmina was the "gateway between the African hinterland, the entrepots of Western Europe, and the plantations of the New World" (Hartman, 52).

When the Elmina castle was built in 1674, the "slave pens" were designed to "deter rebellion" and hence they were dug out under the castle. The slave housing consisted of "large vaulted cellars, divided into several apartments, which can easily hold a thousand slaves," Hartman explains, quoting from the notes of French trader Jean Barbot in 1681 (Hartman, 111). Keeping slaves underground wasn't like a "dungeon," according to the British; they called it "a factory," which, Hartman concludes, was the "indissoluble link between England's industrial revolution and the birth of human commodities" (111).

Why didn't the Europeans that colonized the Americas tap into the labor force that was already on the North American continent -- the Native Americans, the Indians? Herbert S. Klein writes that "Indians could be exploited systematically but they could not be moved from their lands on a permanent basis" (Klein, 2010, p. 20). The Indians were the "dominant cultural group" but they were also "relatively impervious to Spanish and European norms of behavior," Klein explains. The Africans, on the other hand, "came from multiple linguistic groups" and they had only "the European languages in common"; therefore, they were "forced to adapt themselves to the European norms," Klein continues (20). The slaves brought from Africa were perfect substitutes to the pool of European laborers that were put into servitude in Europe earlier, Klein explains. And thus the African slaves added "important strength to the small European urban society that dominated the American Indian peasant masses" (Klein, 20). Moreover, the Indians were more susceptible to European diseases, and Indians were "less adaptable to systematic agricultural labor…"

Why did Africans so willingly supply slaves for sale to the European interlopers? Author Patrick Manning writes that certainly there were Africans that "could not resist profiting from the sale of slaves" (Manning, 1990, p. 86). But that is not a sufficient enough explanation, the author goes on. How could this have gone on for "over two centuries," Manning asks, given that the total population of Africa declined and people were separated from their families. Many Africans did see the consequences of slavery, and some, Manning writes, and "some fought bravely against its continuation and expansion" (86). That said, enough Africans participated in the "capture, commerce, and exploitation of slaves" to keep this evil enterprise going "into the twentieth century," Manning points out.

More specifically, the author points to four reasons why Africans helped to secure the oppression and bondage of their fellow countrymen: a) most Africans that participated in the slave trade were "unaware of the damage the slave trade was doing to the continent"; b) there were powerful "social pressures" to participate, and those pressures were so powerful that they could not turn down the opportunities; c) besides social pressure, the Africans that helped the Europeans steal millions of people "were unable to escape the economic pressures to participate in the slave trade"; in other words, the money and the other rewards were just too good to turn down, even it if put your own countrymen in bondage thousands of miles away; and d) they "did not think enough about the consequences of their actions" (Manning, 86).

Manning delves deeper into the reasons why there were social pressures to participate in slavery; on page 88 he explains that many people in Africa were simply born into slavery in the first place. In Angola, many Africans were "suddenly" shackled and "exported when their lord's debts were called in by merchants" and others were "shifted subtly into slavery," Manning writes. There were several ways in which slaves were captured: a) many Africans became prisoners of war after a regional battle; b) some were seized during raids that were specifically targeted for the capture of slaves or for "booty"; c) some Africans were kidnapped by men out looking for ways to make money; d) there were "court proceedings in which persons were enslaved for violating the rules of society"; e) there were accusations of "witchcraft" in which those accused (sometimes falsely) were "enslaved for carrying on illicit supernatural activities" f) there were "exactions of tribute, in which tributaries were required to render up some of their own to a higher authority"; and g) in the event of a famine or an epidemic, some Africans placed themselves in a condition of slavery, or sold their own kin to attempt to beat the disease or famine (Manning, 88-89).

Of all those situations in which Africans could become slaves, the most "prominent means for the capture of slaves" was warfare, Manning asserts. Hideous those it sounds today, there have been wars reported involving armies of "several thousand on a side, with a baggage train enclosed within each army consisting mainly of women." On each side, the women were from a "pre-selected population, ready for export," Manning writes. It seems that slave merchants were waiting nearby to see who won the war, and for the losers they would be purchased from the winners and that's how the slave traders and merchants made their living (Manning, 89).

On another level, judicial enslavement was another well-known way to put people into slavery. The Aro oracle of the Bight of Biafra was a situation in which the oracle "rendered decisions in great disputations brought before it," and the defeated party was "marched to the coast for export" as slaves (Manning, 89).

There is a story that Manning admits is "true and untrue" about Cowrie shells; cowrie shells served as currency along the West coast of Africa and in other areas. The story goes that slaves were deliberately drowned in the sea so that cowrie shells would grow on their disintegrating bodies. After awhile the body would be dredged up and the cowries (currency) would be collected. Manning says the story is not true in that there are no recorded instances of slaves being deliberately drowned, and moreover cowrie shells grow in the Indian Ocean, not in the Atlantic. But the story is "a stark example of the ideology justifying slavery in Africa" in that Africans threw away a very precious resource (young men and women) for money. The irony…

Cite This Book Review:

"History Of The Atlantic Slave" (2011, March 24) Retrieved January 21, 2017, from

"History Of The Atlantic Slave" 24 March 2011. Web.21 January. 2017. <

"History Of The Atlantic Slave", 24 March 2011, Accessed.21 January. 2017,