'E Pluribus Unum' is very well known to the citizens of the United States of America. The motto emphasizes the desire for unity and consentrates the fact that very different people from all over the world went to the U.S., where they were supposed to transform, or melt into one people.
'From Many' is a historical fact, but what about the 'Unum'? Many Americans today rather speak about their nation as a 'salad bowl' than a 'melting pot'.
Especially in Europe lack of knowledge has bewildered people into believing that the people brought from Africa as slaves had a lot in common just by being 'Africans'. They were African, and supposedly shared the same African language, religion, social and political system, beliefs, habits, etc. etc.
This section is an effort to indicate the huge differences which existed between the different groups of Africans brought to America. A further question may be if the enormous differences between the many ethnic groups brought to America gave as a result an Afro-American 'melting pot', or a 'salad bowl'
We hope other schools, organizations and individuals will find it possible to contribute to this.
The following is an extract from "Canes and Chains" by Elizabeth M. Halcrow (Heinemann):
The slaves who made West Indian plantations profitable came from many states and ethnic groups or tribes. It is easy to overlook this as it is convenient to refer to all negro slaves as Africans. Yet they themselves did not claim to be Africans. Indeed, they were highly conscious that they came from many different races which, in turn, were divided into many branches. These branches were often sub-divided into clans. States from which slaves came had developed a wide variety of political, economic and social systems.
There was no African language which all slaves could understand. Each group had its own vernacular or native language. When talking to foreigners, whether Africans or Europeans, they used a form of the language of whichever European power or metropolitan country controlled the colony into which they had been imported. This rudimentary or debased form of English, French or Spanish is called a patois.
Differences between African peoples were at least as great as differences between European nations. Akan from Gold Coast and Angolans from the Congo basin spoke languages which were no more alike than English and Portuguese. Africans from different ethnic groups did not regard each other as brothers any more than a Spanish official would look upon a French pirate or an English buccaneer as a kinsman.
Differences and divisions among African peoples were inevitable given the size of Africa. The world's second largest continent, it measures 5,000 miles from north to south and it is 2,000 miles wide at its narrowest point. (A map will show) that the sub-continent of India is similar in size to some of the larger African states such as the Sudan. Many African states are larger than the British Isles. Can you find any African state as small as Jamaica which measures 141 miles from east to west and 51 miles from north to south? (and Jamaica is a big island in the Caribbean)
Slaves, of course, came chiefly from West and West Central Africa rather than from the entire continent. The area with which slavers had dealings nevertheless involved 5,000 miles of coastline starting at the River Senegal and stretching south to Cape Negro. Very few people who lived along this coast refused to take part in the slave trade. The exceptions were Ivory Coast where traders exchanged ivory for European goods and the Kru coast where boatmen provided a service. They manned the canoes which carried
slaves out to European ships lying at anchor off shore. Calabar and the Cameroons never became deeply involved in the slave trade because they could not compete successfully with nearby Bonny, one of the main centres of supply.
Some West African chiefs and traders acted as middlemen, supplying slavers with slaves purchased from inland tribes or from dealers who traded in the great slave markets of Central Africa. Some inland states fought to cut out the middleman role. For instance, the Asante (the modern Ghanaian spelling of Ashanti) defeated first the Denkyera and then the Fante in order to have direct trade with the European slavers at the coast. Some inland states lay so far from the sea that they accepted dependence on middlemen. Thus Aro traders organized three main trade routes, all converging on a central market in Bende. From Bende the slaves were marched to markets on the Imo River controlled by Bonny. Traders who marched slaves over long distances chained or yoked them by the neck so that they could not run away. These groups of yoked slaves were known as coffles. One of the most famous descriptions of this practice was written by the Scottish explorer, Mungo Park, who travelled about 500 miles with a coffle from Kamalia in the Mandingo kingdom to Lindey on the lower Gambia River in 1797.
Slaving was sufficiently profitable to make it worthwhile for traders to operate along routes which ran 500 or even 1,000 miles inland. Francis Moore, who acted as an English factor or local agent in Gambia between 1730 and 1735, went 300 miles upstream to collect slaves. Alexander Falconbridge, who served as a surgeon on slave ships in the late eighteenth cehtury, noted the importance of tapping the interior in order to obtain the number of slaves required to supply the New World market. John Newton, a slaver of the same period, remarked: 'Though a considerable number of them may have been born near the sea, I believe the bulk of them are brought from afar. I have reason to think that some travel more than a thousand miles before they reach the coast." He was probably exaggerating. Nevertheless, the activities of slave dealers certainly extended at least 500 miles inland. In the case of dealers who supplied the slaves which the Portuguese exported from Angola, many of them would handle captives born 1,000 miles or more from the coast. Cargoes which sailed from the Angolan port of Luanda sometimes included slaves bought in the great markets of the Lunda-Luba empires of Central Africa.
Most of the human cargoes, however, came from two areas. The first, stretching from the Bight of Benin to the Niger delta, included the notorious Slave Coast. Yoruba and Edo people on the coast as well as the inland states of Dahomey, Benin and the Oyo empire were all heavily involved in slaving. The second area lay further south. It was centred on the Portuguese colony of Angola from which large numbers of Bantu-speaking people of the Congo basin and Central East Africa were exported. In the eighteenth century roughly 59 per cent of the Atlantic slave trade centred on West Africa as compared with 41 per cent based on Angola and the Congo basin. Exports from the Angolan ports grew more rapidly, however, than those from West Africa. Between 1700 and 1740 they grew at an annual rate of 3.9 per cent each year as compared with an average rate of only 0.9 per cent each year in the case of West Africa.
Planters tried as far as possible to avoid buying slaves from only one or two ethnic groups. In the interests of security white men, who were heavily outnumbered in all sugar colonies, kept the slaves divided and disunited. Also, special skills and personality traits were associated with each group. Nevertheless, whenever the demand for slaves exceeded the supply, planters were obliged to buy whatever cargoes were available.
Creole communities in the West Indies today can trace their ancestry back to many different races of West Africa and its hinterland and Europeans of several nationalities, notably the Spanish, English, French and Dutch. Creoles existed from the early days of the slave trade. The term was originally used to distinguish a slave or free coloured born in the West Indies from a newly imported African slave. However, the percentage of creoles to Africans was always very low in the days while the slave trade was legal. For in the early days and golden age of the sugar industry slaves already settled in the plantation colonies could not produce enough children to expand the labour force or even to keep it stable. Since planters of all nationalities were agreed that 'it is cheaper to buy than to breed', the ratio of male to female slaves was much too high to allow for producing a replacement population. In addition, the mortality rate for both infants and adults was exceptionally high even on the best managed plantations. As a result, there was no rapid development or change in creole communities until both the slave trade and slavery had been ended. Only then could the plantation societies of the previous centuries become the Caribbean nations of today."