Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade
Piecing together the past is always going to be a difficult task due to the nature of records available and their consequent embellishments by the authors to relay events in a neutral light. Nevertheless, efforts can be made to piece together histories of certain times, not least of all the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade because we know full well significant historical accounts to be true. It is, therefore, a matter of filling in the gaps to paint a picture that faithfully reproduces a timeline that is congruent with what is known.
Due to my passion in researching history, I am able to give a reasonable account of the past although I will freely admit it is tainted by a particular viewpoint that I am most passionate about and as you will read, I have a certain flavor that causes me to draw conclusions with a context of truth search.
I give you here, my account of events that bring us forward …
It is from Portugal that I begin this account since it is from this land that my patriarchal ancestors began and it is from here also that subsequent notorious events were indeed birthed. From the inequities of Portugal and the Roman Catholic Church in its vilifying of what came to be the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade to the colonization of significant swathes of land the world over, Portugal is by far a worthy contender for my attention.
Continuing on from the accounts of Nuno Alvares Pereira in the 15th century, it is apparent that what was to infect the Kingdom of Portugal was an insatiable hunger for dominion of land, trade, and people. This was indeed the ‘Golden Age’ in the eyes of many of its wealthy inhabitants and the desire was too great for their leaders to do anything but continue with their domination of the seas and an insatiable desire for conquest.
Being one of the very first European nations to begin building a colonial empire, it was not only a time of great exploration but also a time of taking great advantage of the power that the Papal Monarchy held over the rights and privileges of every human being on the planet. Privileges that would allow the colonialists a ‘free pass’ to kidnap, rape, torture, and murder, any indigenous population that was considered to be not of the Christian order.
It was during this century that Portuguese sailors would apparently ‘discover’ and colonize several Atlantic archipelagos including Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde, and the ‘African’ Coast. This led to the enslavement of the first Negroland (African) people and the start of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. In 1441, Portuguese captains Antão Gonçalves and Nuno Tristão captured 12 Negrolanders in Cabo Branco (modern Mauritania) and take them to Portugal as slaves.
The two Maps below boldly display what was to be the very last depiction of the then widely known area called The Kingdom of Judah (Whidah) from whence came the kidnapped slaves on the Slave Coast. Further into the interior of Negroland and to the west as far as Liberia, multiple millions of people were slaughtered, raped, tortured and sold into slavery, not only by the colonial slave traders themselves but the very African people who had become their neighbors for several centuries beforehand.
It was known always among African tribes that the Hebrews were a foreign people and these stories were passed down through the ages as new generations arrived. Still, to this very day, many of the African nations know full well that the so-called ‘African American’ was never an African in the first place. He was sold into slavery, to the colonialists, simply because the riches that they could provide, offered for their captives, was just too enticing to turn down.
It was unacceptable for the colonialists at the beginning of the slave trade to enter into the heartland of Africa, not least because they feared what might happen to them once they entered the interior. So it was predominantly coordinated by the African Kings that controlled the lands and due to the fact that the Hebrew Israelite’s were foreigners in the land, it was an easy task and fine pickings for the African rulers to claim them as trespassers and to sell them as slaves to the colonial traders.
Many more than this dozen slaves are brought into Portugal over the ensuing 3 years, which is serving a need for the traders to reap profits from the buyers of the labor and at the same time establishing themselves as businessmen with the African Traders in Negroland. In 1444, de Freitas lands 235 kidnapped and enslaved Africans in Lagos. It is the first large group of African slaves brought to Europe.
When the very first slave auction took place, the people in Portugal began to see the reality of what was happening and there was much talk between the common folk as they began to speak out, enraged at seeing what was happening with these stolen indigenous people. The separation of families no doubt struck at their hearts as the stolen families were separated by slave purchasers. However, it did very little to sway the Crown or the slave merchants who were engrossed in increasing their revenues. In fact, it had the opposite effect of only helping to solidify the practice bylaws that were established.
The slave merchants were able to justify slavery through precedents that allowed the use of slaves, captive acquisitions by war or trade. Using lawyers and Papal decrees that helped them to relegate the slaves to inferior positions of humanity, the path was cleared for the most horrendous holocaust that eclipses anything that has been inflicted on any one race in the history of the world, including the Jew-ish holocaust of the Nazi’s
To clear up an argument that justified the enslavement of captives, people historically have cited the laws that prevailed throughout Christian Europe previously. All prisoners of war could be justifiably enslaved, but by the 13th Century, there was a general consensus that Christians could only enslave non-Christians provided they were taken in a just war. The ‘just’ war that is cited is that of a crusading nature. It was within the power of the Holy Roman Church to authorize war on ‘infidels’ with the expectation that the conquered be converted to Christianity as soon as possible. Still, the Portuguese Kings believed they had sufficient authority to declare war on the ‘infidels’ of Western Africa regardless of Papal authorization and any doubts about the legitimacy of enslavement quickly disappeared when wars were recognized as ‘Crusades’ and therefore indisputably just.
In 1442, D. Henrique wished to elevate the raids on West Africa to the status of a crusade so that he could legitimize the human trafficking and also attract the required manpower with the promise of ‘spiritual indulgences. His wishes were granted in the Papal Bull ‘illius qui’.
1452, Pope Nicholas V issued the Papal Bull ‘Dum Diversis’ authorizing the Portuguese to reduce any non-Christians to the status of slaves and enemies of Christ in West Africa. The Portuguese ‘sugar-slave complex’ is also started and sugar is first planted in the Portuguese island of Madeira. For the first time, African slaves are put to work on sugar plantations.
Officially, however, most of the trade between the Portuguese and West Africa was limited to friendly trade. The new mode of acquiring slaves seemed to need justification considering they were trading with ‘infidels’ that was currently prohibited since they were enemies of Christendom. The Portuguese make short work of the required authority and in 1455 Pope Nicholas V issued the Papal Bull ‘Romanus Pontifex’ giving them exclusive rights to conquer and enslave the West African People legally. The following one hundred years of enslavement, conquest, and war is perpetuated by an underlying biblical reference to the plight of the Negro slaves. To justify the horrors, people would site the acceptance of slavery because of the sinful race of Ham, whose son Canaan’s descendants had been cursed by his father Noah.
By the 1460s, Portuguese settlers begin to habitat the Cape Verde islands because of it’s lush, tropical landscape, valleys and close proximity to the West African coastline, it is a prime territory on the sea routes for traders between Europe, West Africa, and the Americas. They set up plantations on the settlers’ estates by using some of the captured slaves that are bound for Madiera, Portugal, and Spain.
Despite Papal opposition, Spanish merchants begin to trade in large numbers of slaves in the 1470s. Carlos de Valera of Castille in Spain brings back 400 slaves from Africa and the slave trade is beginning to spread like a disease. Nearly a decade later João Afonso Aveiro makes contact with the kingdom and of Benin. The Portuguese settled the West African island of São Tomé. This uninhabited West African island is planted with sugar and populated by African slaves by the Portuguese. The settlement thus extended and developed the sugar-slave complex that had been initiated in Madeira
Around this time, a trading agreement is established with the Kingdom of Dahomey. Though the leaders of Dahomey appeared initially to resist the slave trade, it flourished in the region of Dahomey for almost three hundred years, beginning in 1472 with a trade agreement with Portuguese merchants, leading to the area’s being named “the Slave Coast”. By about 1750, the King of Dahomey was earning an estimated £250,000 per year by selling so-called ‘Africans’ to the European slave-traders in the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade Enterprise.
The Dahomey Kingdom’s name eventually changed to Benin. The capital’s name Porto-Novo is of Portuguese origin, meaning “New Port”. It was originally developed as a port for the slave trade. The most haunting of all memorabilia for me personally is the ‘Door of No Return, (port du non retour) in Ouidah (Whidah | Kingdom of Judah), a former slave trade post in Benin which still stands today as a testament to the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. As the very last thing that many of the slaves saw as they were shipped out to the waiting ships and prepared for the long terrible voyage, I am too perplexed and ill-equipped to understand the significance of what my eyes perceive as I glance upon this most repulsive doorway as it stands in full color, a reality of betrayal.
By 1497, all free Jews and Muslims have been expelled from Portugal or converted to Christianity and by the mid-16th Century the Crown had stepped up its efforts to baptize the Negro slave to Christendom in the Royal Trading Posts in Africa. Some freethinkers began to have serious doubts about the legitimacy of the slave trade, questioning whether the slaves had been justly acquired and whether the method of propagating the Christian belief was effective. They were mostly Spaniards under the influence of Las Casas and Victoria, who had drawn attention to the plight of the American Indians. Since Spanish America was one of the principal destinations of the slaves from western Africa, it was not surprising they would concern themselves with the justice of the means used to acquire the African Slaves who often replaced the dwindling American Indian workforce.
The labor of the slaves in the Cape Verde Islands primed a profitable trade with the African region which becomes known as Portuguese Guinea or the Slave Coast. The slaves work in the Cape Verde plantations, growing cotton, and indigo in the fertile valleys. They are also employed in weaving and dying factories, where these commodities are transformed into cloth. The cloth is exchanged in Guinea for slaves. And the slaves are sold for cash to the slaving ships which pay regular visits to the Cape Verde Islands.
This African trade, together with the prosperity of the Cape Verde Islands, expands greatly with the development of labor-intensive plantations growing sugar, cotton, and tobacco in the Caribbean and America. The Portuguese enforce a monopoly of the transport of African slaves to their own colony of Brazil. But other nations with transatlantic interests soon become the main visitors to the Slave Coast.
By the 18th century, the majority of the ships carrying out this appalling commerce are British. They waste no part of their journey, having evolved the procedure known as the triangular trade, they turn the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade into a monumental enterprise of biblical proportions.
Within the former space in time was one Joao de Barros, educated in the household of the Portuguese heir-apparent and became a good classical scholar. His chivalrous romance Crónica do Imperador Clarimundo (1520) induced King Manuel I of Portugal to encourage Barros in his idea of writing an epic history of the Portuguese in Asia. But first he wrote several moral, pedagogical, and grammatical works, including Rópica pnefma (1532; “Spiritual Merchandise”), the most important philosophical dialogue of the time in Portugal, and an elementary Portuguese primer-catechism (1539) that became the prototype of all such works.