African Slavery existed from 3500 years Before Christ (BCE), long before the Afro-Bajan slave trade. Slavery was common in many ancient civilizations, from the Roman empire to Egypt. Ancient Egyptian had several types of servitude, including chattel slavery, bonded labor, and forced labor. Both Christians and Muslims fought and enslaved their captives. Even today, prisoners in many civilized countries are forced into free labor.
Image source: https://www.historyextra.com/period/general-history/slavery-british-empire-legacy/
Ancient Africa Slavery
In Africa, war prisoners often worked alongside those punished for crimes. Ancient African slavery includes both indigenous slavery and export slavery. African slavery took many forms: Debt slavery, slaves of war captives, military slavery, slavery for prostitution, and slave labour of criminals.
From accounts by formerly enslaved persons, like Olaudah Equiano, slavery in Africa was respectful. Olaudah was familiar with slavery from an early age. His father had a large family with several slaves. He recalls that growing up in Africa, he and his siblings were always looking-out for roaming rogues who kidnaped children to sell as slaves. Once when his parents were away, he spotted one rogue and warned the neighbors, who overpowered the kidnapper and tied him up. Unfortunately, rogue kidnappers captured him and his sister and took them on a long journey by water and land to places far away. Enslaved with an African chieftain with two wives, many children, and serial slaves, he recalls that they treated him kindly and felt like one of the family. But this was just the beginning of a fateful journey.
Over seven months, he traveled with his African captors who traded and sold their captives to others along the way. Finally, he arrived at the fort, where a slave ship at anchor waited for him. He was just 11 years old when they shipped him to Barbados and to America. His detailed description of conditions on the slave ship is horrifying, and nothing like he could have imagined given his experience in Africa. He was treated with grace and kindness in all his exchanges as a slave for African chiefs and others. But things were different with the white men on the ships.
The British Slave Trade
Olaudahs’ story of the brutality on the ships is chilling. Even among themselves, they were brutes. He saw one white man tied and beaten until he died. He feared for his life at every turn. He had never seen such brutal cruelty as these white men perpetrated on fellow Africans and their own people. They were true savages, he thought. At one point, when he was ill and could not eat what they gave him, they flogged him unmercifully. Bound by hand and feet, two men held him over a windlass while another flogged him severely. He says, “I had never experienced anything of this kind before.”
Shipping Slaves to Barbados
Once at sea, the conditions deteriorated rapidly. At anchor, some relief came with the occasional visit to the deck for fresh air. At sea, all lived in the hold where the stench, heat, sweat, vomit, sewerage, and tears “became absolute pestilence. With no space to turn, suffocating in an air of preparation and filth, many slaves fell ill, and died: The dead, thrown overboard without a thought. The specially built British ships carried hundreds of slaves without provisions for comfort or health. Some terminally ill allowed on the deck for fresh air immediately jumped overboard and drowned, preferring death over the misery of the hold.
These British slave ships carried the maximum human cargo in the most appalling conditions
– see more at https://roguesinparadise.com/barbados-history-the-black-experience/#slaveships
The Bridgetown Slave Market
The traders met their arrival in Barbados with great joy, but for the slaves, it was one of fear and apprehension. Potential buyers came on board for a pre-inspection of the human cargo. The following day, all slaves marched to the Bridgetown yard and paraded as merchandise for sale. At the beat of a drum, buyers rushed in to inspect the product, make their choice, and buy the slaves they wanted. Without scruple or thought for the people and families they separated, they carried men, women, and children off to work in fields and factories and toil for the riches of the empire.
The book, Rogues in Paradise, illustrates some of the brutality and injustices of enslaved Africans. Not all planters were brutes, but too many were. Some showed some compassion, such as Lawrence Cumberbatch, who lived as a married couple with the slave girl he freed. In his will, he left money and property to their children and granted freedom to others. There were moments of caring highlighted in the chapter on the black experience, but that can’t take away from the awful fact of slavery and the mobster’s attitude toward the African people they purchased.
How The Slave Trade Ravaged Africa
The indenture system existed before the European Slave Trade, but European slavery changed everything. When the European trade started in earnest, captives became valuable merchandise. As the demand for slaves grew, raids and wars increased, forcing the Kingdoms to arm themselves, trading people for guns. It decimated African society, robbing it of its young and able men and women with nothing to fall back on when the slave trade ended.
The Curse of Slavery in Barbados
Barbados’ slavery tore people away from their families and homes and subjected them to generations of the cruelest treatment. Subjugating an entire people to subordinated and inferior positions and forced labour is a stain that hangs over Britton to this day.
A society capitalizing on free labor with unwarranted superiority has forever changed the lives of both the oppressor and the oppressed. The incredibly resilient Bajan people will not forget 300 years of slavery and systemic discrimination.
Glasgow University is to launch a “reparative justice programme” after discovering it benefited by tens of millions of pounds from racial slavery.
A study by the university found many donations came from slave trade profits. The current value of money received is estimated at £16.7m and £198m. The university is taking steps to right this wrong.
A Caribbean Lament
Dear King Charles,
I wish you God’s best in your new responsibility as King of the United Kingdom and 14 other Commonwealth nations.
I am 59 years old, was born in the Caribbean, and have lived most of my life there. I am of African descent.
Now that the official period of mourning for your beloved mother is over, I write to you hoping that you will address the world about your perspective on the role that the United Kingdom played in the slave trade, its impact on all involved, and the world at large, its abolition, and what the United Kingdom should do in seeking to right its wrongs.
I believe that the consequences of slavery are well known and have chosen not to seek to identify them in this communication to you. I know that the United Kingdom’s economic position is not as “strong” as it previously was. However, its very foundations were built on the backs of slaves and the horrific system designed and sustained by slave masters, British institutions, and others.
Seeking to right the wrongs of this system, for both those considered inferior and those considered superior, is long overdue.
I ask that addressing the world on the slave trade, what you will do and propose to be done, be one of the priorities in your new role as King. I recognize that this is one of the more complex and sensitive issues of your reign and that what you communicate can have significant consequences for the Monarchy, the United Kingdom, and all who have been impacted by the trade.
However, doing what is right should never be held ransom by complexity.
I hope and pray that God will grant you wisdom, strength, and courage and that you will seek and be able to access these as you speak to the world on your view on slavery, its impact, and what you will do and believe should be done by others.
We, descendants of slaves, look forward to hearing from you.
Thanks for your time and consideration.
May God bless you!-
A Caribbean Resident Of African Descent
And Slavery Still Exists
Illegal slavery persists to this day. Children are kidnaped all over the world and forced into slavery. Developed democratic countries, including Europe and the United States of America, still sanction involuntary prison labour. In the USA slavery is enshrined in the constitution, allowing some states to put prisoners to work on construction projects and commercial works.
Modern American Penal Slavery
The United States 13th Amendment stipulates that slavery and involuntary servitude may be permitted as a punishment for crime. It stands intact in 2022, although petitions are underway to abolish it. Penal slavery is a popular alternative to outsourcing work to low-wage countries. From the 1990s and 2000s, companies such as Whole Foods, McDonald’s, Target, IBM, Texas Instruments, Boeing, Nordstrom, Intel, Wal-Mart, Victoria’s Secret, Aramark, AT&T, BP, Starbucks, Microsoft, Nike, Honda, Macy’s and Sprint and others actively participated in prison in-sourcing.
Some 60% of US prisoners work while incarcerated. It is thought that USA penal labor helps mitigate risk by providing inmates with training and work experience. Research shows that prisoners who participate are less likely to be re-imprisoned up to 12 years after release. Most prisoners want to work. However, some prison labor is involuntary, with noncompliance punished by solitary confinement.
Learn More With – Rogues in Paradise
The history of the Barbados people, from street vendors to legends: The sung and unsung everyday heroes who have made Barbados what it is. The book tells the struggles and successes of the people who endured slavery in the first British slave society and celebrates the character that is uniquely Bajan.
Rogues In Paradise Book:
-Table of Content for Barbados People