Christians Organized Slave-Trade
Sayyid Sa'eed Akhtar Rizvi
Now that we have seen the attitude of Islam towards slavery, let us have a look at Christianity and its followers, and see what they did in this respect.
It is surprising to see that Christians, who for the reasons of their own, now-a-days pose themselves as champions of human freedom, were the most outspoken advocates of the system of slavery. They invented philosophical and moral justifications for enslaving the "uncivilised" people. One of their arguments was they were saving them from their cannibal neighbours in this world, and from eternal disgrace in the life hereafter.
Islam and its followers never thought on these lines. The vast multitude of Islamic literature is empty from this kind of pathetic effort at moralisation. But the Christian writers always mention slave-trade as though they had nothing to do with it and that it was Islam which "encouraged and legalised slavery" while they, the Christians, had always tried to abolish this nefarious system!
It is interesting to note that when speaking about the West African totally Christian slave-trade, the Christian writers and historians call it "West African slave-trade" or "Atlantic slave-trade"; but when they turn to Eastern Africa, the term changes to "Arab slave-trade".
Christianity, by such false propaganda, has succeeded to a great extent in extending its influence among those Africans whom its propaganda machinery has kept blissfully unaware of the fact that all Christian churches were active participants in African slave-trade. The following chapters will present the true picture for the readers.
"When in 1492 Columbus, representing the Spanish monarchy, discovered the New World, he sent in train the long and bitter international rivalry over colonial possessions for which, after four and a half centuries, no solution has yet been found. Portugal, which had initiated the movement of international expansion, claimed the new territories on the ground that they fell within the scope of a papal bull of 1455 authorising her to reduce to servitude all infidel people. The two powers, to avoid controversy, sought arbitration and, as Catholics, turned to the Pope - a natural and logical step in an age when the universal claims of the Papacy were still unchallenged by individuals and governments. After carefully sifting the rival claims, the Pope issued in 1493, a series of papal bulls which established a line of demarcation between the colonial possessions of the two states: the East went to Portugal and the West to Spain. The partitions, however; failed to satisfy the Portuguese aspirations and in the subsequent year the contending parties reached a more satisfactory compromise in the Treaty of Tordesillas, which rectified the papal judgement to permit Portuguese ownership of Brazil."
But this arbitration could not bind other powers aspiring to grab as many countries as possible; England, France and even Holland began to claim their places in the sun. The Negro, too, "was to have his place, though he did not ask for it: it was the broiling sun of the sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations of the New World.
"According to Adam Smith, the prosperity of a new colony depends upon one simple economic factor - 'plenty of good land.' The British colonial possession up to 1776, however, can broadly be divided into two types. The first is the self-sufficient and diversified economy of small farmers... The second type is the colony which has facilities for the production of staple articles on a large scale for an export market. In the first category fell the Northern colonies of the American mainland; in the second, the tobacco colonies and sugar islands of the Caribbean. In colonies of the latter type, as Merivale pointed out land and capital were both useless unless labour could be commanded. Labour, that is, must be constant and must work, or be made to work, in co-operation.. Without this compulsion, the labourer would otherwise exercise his natural inclination to work his own land and toil on his own account. The story is frequently told of the great English capitalist, Mr. Pell, who took 50,000 pounds and three hundred labourers with him to the Swan River colony in Australia. His plan was that his labourers would work for him, as in the old country. Arrived in Australia, however, where land was plentiful - too plentiful - the labourers preferred to work for themselves as small proprietors, rather than under the capitalist for wages. Australia was not England, and the capitalist was left without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water."
Thus the ideal solution was slavery.
"'Odious resource', though it might be, as Merivalle called it, slavery was an economic institution of the first importance. It had been the basis of Greek economy and had built up the Roman Empire. In modem times it provided the sugar for the tea and the coffee cups of the Western world. It produced the cotton to serve as base for modern capitalism. It made the American South and the Caribbean islands."
"With the limited population of Europe in the sixteenth century, the free labourers necessary to cultivate the staple cops of sugar, tobacco and cotton in the New World could not have been supplied in quantities adequate to permit large-scale production. Slavery was necessary for this and to get slaves the Europeans turned first to the aborigines."
"But Indian slavery never was extensive in the British dominions... In the case of the Indian ... slavery was viewed as of an occasional nature, a preventive penalty and not as normal and permanent condition. In the New England colonies Indian slavery was unprofitable, for slavery of any kind was unprofitable because it was unsuited to the diversified agriculture of these colonies. In addition the Indian slave was inefficient. The Spaniards discovered that one Negro was worth four Indians. A prominent official in Hispanolia insisted in 1581 that 'permission be given to bring Negroes, a race robust for labour instead of natives so weak that they can only be employed in tasks requiring little endurance such as taking care of maize fields or farms.... The future staples of the New World, sugar and cotton, required strength which the Indians lacked, and demanded the robust 'cotton nigger' as sugar's need of strong mules produced in Louisiana the epithet 'sugar mules.' According to Lauber, 'when compared with sums paid for Negroes at the same time and place the prices of Indian slaves are found to have been considerably lower.'
"The Indian reservoir, too, was limited, the African inexhaustible. Negroes therefore were stolen in Africa to work the lands stolen from the Indians in America. The voyages of Prince Henry the Navigator complemented those of Columbus, West African history became the complement of West Indians."
. Williams, Dr. Eric, Capitalism and Slavery (London, 1964) p. 4.
. Ibid, pp. 4-5.
. Ibid, p. 5.
. Ibid, p. 6.
. Ibid, pp. 8-9.
Slaves were taken from Africa even during the Roman Empire, but the real "slave-trade" started in 16th century with the advent of the Christian European countries.
Edward A. Alpers of the University College of Dar-es-salaam, writes that "as we draw a distinction between the incidental trade in slaves which trickled across the Sahara from West to North Africa as long as the days of the Roman Empire, on the one hand, and the phenomenon which we call the West African slave-trade, on the other hand, so we must draw a similar distinction for East Africa."
Walter Rodney also of University College, Dar-es-salaam, begins his booklet West Africa and the Atlantic Slave-Trade with the following words: "It must always be remembered that the Atlantic slave-trade was an event in world history, involving three continents - Europe, Africa and America. The people who set out to seek slaves were Europeans coming from every country between Sweden in the north and Portugal in the south. The Portuguese arrived in West Africa shortly before the middle of the fifteenth century. Immediately, they started seizing the Africans and taking them to work as slaves in Europe, particularly in Portugal and Spain. But the most important developments took place in the sixteenth century, when Europeans capitalists realised that they could make enormous profits by using the labour of Africans to exploit the wealth of the Americas. As a result, Africans were taken to North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean to provide slave-labour in gold and silver mines and on agricultural plantations growing crops of sugar, cotton and tobacco. This notorious commerce in human beings lasted altogether for more than four hundred years, since the Atlantic slave-trade did not come to end until the late 1870's.
"Much can be said about the way that the Atlantic slave-trade was organised in Europe, and about the vast profits made by countries such as England and France. A lot can also be said about the terrible journey from Africa to America across the Atlantic ocean. Africans were packed like sardines on the slave-ships, and consequently died in great numbers."
And what a sardine! For details of these packing, read the following: One of the most chilling of all the appalling documents is 'The Plan of the Brookes', a notorious eighteenth-century scheme for stacking slaves into the slave-ship 'Brookes'...By a precise mathematical calculation, the technology of horror is laid out - feet and inches, standing room and breathing space assigned with lethal concern for maximum profit. A Mr. Jones recommends that 'five females be reckoned as four males, and three boys or girls as equal to two grown persons. ..every man slave is to he allowed six feet by one foot four inches for room, every woman five feet ten by one foot four...', and so it continues until every scrap of flesh is accommodated - 451 in number. But an Act of Parliament allows for 454. So the document concludes that, 'if three more could be wedged among the number represented in the plan, this plan would contain precisely the number which the act directs.'
Once the Africans landed on the other side of the Atlantic, they were really in a "New World", full of oppression and brutality. The following revelations may be helpful in understanding the situation prevailing at that time. Rodney writes: "From the time of the arrival of the [Christian] Europeans until 1600, about one million Africans were carried away in slave-ships. During that period, the Portuguese were the chief slave-traders in West Africa. They either took Africans to Brazil, which they owned, or else they sold them to the Spanish settlers in Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean Islands. In the seventeenth century, some seven to eight million West Africans found their way across the Atlantic. The Dutch joined the Portuguese as the leading slave-traders in the seventeenth century, and in the following century the British were the biggest slave-traders. By the time that the Atlantic slave-trade was at its height in the eighteenth century, British ships were carrying more than half of the total of slaves, leaving the rest to be divided up between the Dutch, the French, the Portuguese and the Danes.
"By the nineteenth century, there was another change of the people who took the leading role in exploiting Africa. The European countries themselves were not as active in the slave-trade, but instead Europeans who had settled in Brazil, Cuba and North America were the ones who organised a large part of the trade. The Americans had recently gained their independence from Britain, and it was the new nation of the United States of America which played the biggest part in the last fifty years of the Atlantic slave-trade, taking away slaves at a greater rate than ever before.
"When the Atlantic slave-trade began on the West African coast, it took the form of directed attacks by Europeans on Africans living near the shore. When the first Portuguese sailors reached the coast of what is Mauritania, they left their ships and hunted the Moors who lived in that region. In reality, this was not trade at all - it was violent aggression. However, after being surprised on a few occasions, the Africans on the coast naturally kept watch for their European attackers and defended themselves vigorously. Within a very short while, the Portuguese came to realise that raiding was a very unsafe manner of trying to obtain slaves. Besides, they also wanted gold and other African commodities, which they could acquire only by trading peacefully. So instead of raiding, the Portuguese considered offering the manufactured goods in order to encourage the Africans to exchange local products and to bring African captive to the European ships. Not only the Portuguese, but all other Europeans found that from their point of view this was the best way to obtain goods in Africa; and it was in this way that they laid their hands on so many million Africans."
Commenting on this aspect of the slave-trade the writer says that, "One of the most important things is to recognise the very painful and unpleasant fact that there were Africans who aided and partnered the Europeans in enslaving other Africans. It means that we cannot take the simple attitude that the whites were the villains and blacks were the victims. A useful parallel which would help in the understanding of what took place in West Africa during the centuries of slave-trading can be found in Africa today, where many leaders join with the European and American imperialists to exploit the great majority of the African people.
"In the long run, West Africans were reduced to the state of 'sell or be sold'. Here the question of firearms was particularly important. To be strong, a state needed firearms, but to get firearms from the Europeans, the Africans had to offer slaves. African rulers found themselves selling slaves to get guns to catch slaves to buy more guns. This can be described as a 'vicious circle'. It does not entirely excuse the African rulers who helped the Europeans, but it explains how in the end they were not so much the partners of the Europeans but rather their servants or lackeys."
And what was the church doing all that time? Hear the same author commenting: "Because there was so much profit to be made by taking slaves from Africa, Europeans refused to listen to their consciences. They knew about the suffering that was inflicted upon people in Africa, on the slave-ships and on the slave-plantations of the Americas, and they were aware that to sell their fellow human beings could not be morally justified. Yet the Christian church came forward with excuses for the slave-trade. Many priests themselves carried on slave-trading, especially in Angola, and many others owned slaves in the Americas. The only reason the Catholic Church could give for its actions was that it was trying to save African souls by baptising the slaves. The Protestants were worse, for they did not even make it clear that they accepted that the Africans had a soul. Instead, they supported the view that African slave was a piece of property like furniture or a domestic animal. There is no part of the history of the Christian church which was more disgraceful than its support of the Atlantic slave-trade. "
According to the Lloyd's List, slaves were most decidedly considered to be a cargo, and very precious. Policies taken out at Lloyd's insured slaves for as much as 45 pounds each - a considerable sum in early 18th century England.
To prevent them escaping, or to punish them, extraordinary devices such as shown here were used both in West Africa and the West Indies.
There were always a few individuals who protested against the Atlantic slave-trade right from the beginning; but governments and traders paid no attention to them during the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was not until the late eighteenth century that serious attempts were made to put a stop to this trade.
James Boswell, trying to refute the arguments of abolitionists, writes in his Life of Johnson that, "The wild and dangerous attempt which has for some time been persisted in order to obtain an act of our legislature, to abolish so very important and necessary branch of commercial interest, must have been crused at once, had not the insignificance of the zealots who vainly took the lead in it, made the vast body of Planters, Merchants, and others, whose immense properties are involved in that trade, reasonably enough suppose that there could be no danger. The encouragement which the attempt has received excites my wonder and indignation; and though some men of superior abilities have supported it, whether from a love of temporary popularity, when prosperous; or a love of general mischief, when desperate, my opinion is unshaken. To abolish a status which in all ages GOD has sanctioned, and man has continued, would not only be robbery to an innumerable class of our fellow-subjects; but it would be extreme cruelty to the African Savages, a portion of whom it saves from massacre, or intolerable bondage in their own country, and introduces into a much happier state of life; especially now when their passage to the West Indies and their treatment there is humanely regulated. To abolish that trade would be to shut the gates of mercy on mankind." The humanely regulated treatment and mercy shows itself in the details and diagrams given above!
. Alpers, Edward A., East African Slave-Trade (Dar-es-salaam: The Historical Association of Tanzania, 1967), p. (?)
. Rodney, Walter., West African and the Atlantic Slave-Trade (Dar-es-salaam: The Historical Association of Tanzania, 1967) p. (?)
. Newsweek (March 15, 1965) p. 106.
. Rodney, op. cit., pp. 4-5.
. Ibid, p. 7f.
. Ibid, p. 22.
. Lloyd's List, 250th Anniversary Special (1734-1984), April 17, 1984, London, p.149.
. Boswell, J., Life of Johnson (N.Y.: Modern Library Edition, 1965) p. 365.
East African Slave-Trade
Like West Africa, the slave-trade in East Africa became prominent and was firmly established with the advance and endeavour of the Christian Europe.
Mr. E.A. Alpers writes in African Slave-Trade: "Further evidence that the slave trade was by no means prominent in East Africa before the eighteenth century comes from the Portuguese. Surely the Portuguese, as the pioneers of the Atlantic slave-trade, would have tried to exploit the slave-trade in East Africa had they found it to be already flourishing. But the early Portuguese chroniclers only mention the slave-trade in passing. Much more important were the gold and ivory traders to Arabia and India. It is to these products that the Portuguese invaders turned their attention throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, not only along the coast of Kenya and Tanzania, but also Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Even wax and ambergris seem to have been more important than slaves during most of this period. For unlike the colonialist in the Americas, the Portuguese never developed any sort of plantation economy in India. The Portuguese slave-trade from Mozambique to India rarely reached as many as one thousand individuals in any one year, and was usually less than half that number. That to Brazil was illegal until 1645 and was never seriously pursued until the beginning of the nineteenth century. As late as 1753, when the foundations of the new slave-trade in East Africa were being laid, there was grand total of only 4,399 African slaves in the whole of Portuguese India.
"What were these foundations? Despite the long Arab contact with East Africa, and their [page 123 in original publication missing]
could to encourage the slave-trade with the French. According to official figures, more than 1,000 slaves were being exported each year. French, smuggling to avoid the taxes which were levied at Mozambique, probably raised the annual figure to at least 1,500. A similar figure was probably taken away from Ibo during this decade. Henceforth the Portuguese at Mozambique and Ibo (and later at Quelimane, near the mouth of the Zambezi River) were committed to a policy of slaving from which there was no turning back until abolition.
"The trade became much brisker in the eighties, especially after the conclusion of the American war of independence. During the seventies a few adventurous French slavers had taken cargoes from Mozambique to the West Indies, because they were finding it increasingly unprofitable to seek their chattels along the Guinea coast. Now, in peacetime, with greater competition for slaves in West Africa, the way was opened for a massive expansion of the American slave trade from East Africa. At the same time Portuguese vessels also began to take an active, though still secondary, part in the trade to the Mascarene Island. Official figures from Mozambique alone show that from 1781 through 1794 a total of 46,461 slaves were embarked on Portuguese and foreign ships, nearly all of which were French. Allowing for a minimum amount of smuggling, at least 4,000 slaves annually must have been leaving the Mozambique area during this period."
It was this juncture that Arabs extended a helping hand to these Christian Slave-traders. The same author says, "After the Omani Arabs had responded to the call of some of the Swahili rulers of the coastal towns and with their help had in 1698 evicted the Portuguese from Mombassa and other outposts, they were themselves too weak to do more than disturb and rob the very people who had sought their aid. ..But after the Busaid family overthrew the Yorubi and established their rule in Oman in about 1744, they were able to begin effective economic exploitation of the people of East Africa. Like all previous merchants on the coast they were primarily interested in ivory, but from this point we can also detect a steady increase in the slave-trade.
"There are not, however, any accurate statistics on the volume of the Arab slave trade in the eighteenth century. The first indication which exists come from a French slaver named Jean-Vincent Morice, who traded at both Zanzibar and Kilwa, which was the most important slave port on the coast, in the 1770's. On the 14th September, 1776, Morice made a treaty with Sultan of Kilwa for the annual purchase of at the least 1,000 slaves. In three trips to Zanzibar and Kilwa before signing this treaty, he had bought 2,325 slaves for export. Morice does not tell us how many slaves the Arabs were taking away from the coast each year, but he clearly considered it to be a big business by French standards. It seems reasonable to suggest that at least 2,000 slaves a year were involved in the Arab trade at this time. So although the French did not dominate the slave-trade here as they did at Mozambique, they acted as an important stimulus to the demand of slaves at a period when the Arab trade was still out-growing its infancy. French efforts continued through the 1780's, but by the end of the century these probably had become much less important than the Arab trade.
"Several new factors gave rise to the increased demand for slaves from East Africa during the nineteenth century. In the Portuguese coastal sphere of influence there was a sharp upswing in the slave-trade to Brazil. This was caused by the removal of the Portuguese royal family from Lisbon to Brazil during the Napoleonic Wars. Special concessions were granted to the Brazilians and soon a flourishing trade in slaves was being carried on around the Cape of Good Hope at Mozambique."
"It is now an accepted fact among serious historians of East Africa that long distance trade routes between the interior and the coast were established exclusively through African initiative. In other words trade routes were forged by Africans from the interior going to the coast, not by the Arabs, or the Swahili, setting off from the coast into the unknown, hostile interior. Swahili traders only began to forsake the security of the coast in the second half of the eighteenth century, and travelled along well-established routes which had been developed decades before. Only after the nineteenth century was underway did Arab traders dare follow this lead."'
"The Yao who were to become the most dedicated African slave-traders in East Africa, thus had a long tradition of carrying ivory and other legitimate goods to the coast decades before the combined French and Arab demand for slaves began to come into play."
"In West Africa these routes were driven inland from the coast by Africans who were primarily seeking slaves. Slaves dominated the West African trade from the first. In East Africa neither of these conditions was matched. The slave-trade must be seen in the context of earlier, well-established, and profitable long distance trade which was based overwhelmingly on ivory. This is particularly important to remember for the southern region which was always the main reservoir for the East African slave-trade."
Mr. Alpers concludes, "It should be clear by now that the old stereotyped idea that most slaves were seized by marauding bands of Arabs and Swahili traders is just another one of the myths which have grown up around the East African slave-trade. But we must not make a mistake by underestimating the role which these individuals played in this business."
Once again, I should emphasise that my aim is not to ridicule the efforts of a handful of moralists who were engaged in the propaganda against slavery. What I want to show is that their efforts did not (and could not) succeed until the economic pressure forced Britain first to restrict slave-trade and then abolish slavery.
Of course, when Britain set out to abolish slavery it could not proclaim from the roof-tops that it was abolishing it to compete against French industrialists. It had to turn it into a moral and ethical issue before it could hope to pressure other governments to follow suit. And so it did. We know how Britain waged wars not to protect its economic and political empire, but "to protect the Freedom of People." The same was the case with its war against slavery. Morality and ethics was an issue for a handful of impotent moralists only. The real issue, so far as the governments and the settlers and colonialists were concerned, was economy.
. Alpers, op. cit., pp. 5-6.
. Ibid, pp. 7-8.
. Ibid, p. 13.
. Ibid, p. 14.
. Ibid, p. 15.
. Ibid, p. 24.