UNESCO Triangular Slave Trade Project"
|Who was responsible?||Elikia M'Bokolo|
|Slave Route archives||Howard Dodson|
|Latin America and the Caribbean||Luz-María Martínez-Montiel|
|Slave trade and identity||Hugo Tolentino Dipp|
|Slave trade and development||Claude Meillassoux|
|Ideology, philosophy, thought||Louis Sala-Molins|
The burning issues of today's world-development, human rights, cultural pluralism - are strongly influenced by a "black hole" in the history of humanity: the slave trade. The ultimate symbol of violence, this three-way trade has long been passed over in silence or furtively described in the history books as just another episode in European-African relations. The historical and moral significance of this attempt to obscure historical fact is underscored by the words of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel: "The executioner always kills twice - the second time with his silence". Wrapped in an all-pervading silence, conducted with extreme violence, casting a disturbing light on the values of the societies in which it arose, and engendering powerful interactions, the Atlantic slave trade is indeed comparable to that invisible matter which astrophysicists claim fills the greater part of the universe, and whose presence accounts for the movement of all celestial bodies.
It is precisely in order to make the slave trade visible that the General Conference of UNESCO has decided to launch an international project on the "Slave Route", and thereby to create an international framework for multi-disciplinary reflection in order to shed light on the underlying causes, mechanisms and consequences of the slave trade. It will thus be the deliberate task of UNESCO and the international community to go back over a page of history which the French historian Jean-Michel Devieau, in his book entitled La France au temps des négriers, has called "the greatest tragedy in human history in terms of both duration and magnitude". The level of development in Africa today cannot be explained without reference to the severe destructuring of African societies and the systematic and persistent human, intellectual and cultural haemorrhaging to which Africa was subjected over centuries of trans-Saharan and transatlantic slave trade. It cannot be denied that this haemorrhaging is in part responsible for the balance of economic and political forces among the partners in the triangular pattern of trade.
The desire to achieve lasting peace, a fundamental objective of the United Nations system, has prompted UNESCO's Member States to highlight the question of the slave trade. Indeed, the principle proclaimed in the Organization's Constitution, "that since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed" suggests that the very fact of ignoring or deliberately obscuring major historical events can in itself constitute an obstacle to peace.
The Atlantic slave trade, a fateful encounter of millions of Africans, Amerindians and Europeans, set off a shock wave which transformed the geocultural zone of the Americas and the Caribbean into a living stage, on which the drama of cultural pluralism is being played out. The multi-cultural process set in motion by the slave trade continues to this day.
To spread awareness and more detailed knowledge of the various aspects of the slave trade, to enable the peoples directly involved, as well as the public at large, to come to terms with this shared memory, and thus to breathe new life into co-operation among them - such are the goals of the "Slave Route", which follows on naturally from the United Nations Year for Tolerance.
Director-General of UNESCO
The transatlantic slave trade occupies a special place in the universal history of slavery on three counts: its duration. - some four centuries; the specific nature of its Victims -the Black African child, woman and man; and its intellectual legitimization - the cultural disparagement of Africa and Black people and the consequent construction of the ideology of anti-Black racism and its codification in the Code Noir.
This tragedy is, however, strangely missing from history books, and therefore from the memory of humanity. By applying a rigorously scientific approach in its Slave Route project UNESCO hopes to make a unique tragedy a universal issue, and enable it to assume its rightful place in the world's history books. It will be a reinstatement of historical truth, of course, but above all, a recognition of the fact the fight for democracy and human rights is first and foremost a fight for memory, since any tragedy which is covered up and disavowed may recur and , in the words of Bertolt Brecht, feed 'the fertile womb that bore the vile beast' , It also means giving the historicity of the Africa continent its due since, beyond the Afro-pessimism born of short-term memory, none of the major problems currently facing Africa is wholly unconnected with the brutal blood-letting and untold violence of the transatlantic trade in African slaves: not economic underdevelopment, nor a certain culture of violence, nor the disintegration of society and family in this part of the world.
Paradoxically, the shock wave set off by the slave trade among millions of Africans, Amerindians and Europeans in the Americas and the Caribbean generated intercultural dialogue and hence gave rise, albeit in extreme pain and violence, to new forms of culture. The tragedy thus engendered different ways of living. The slaver, concerned solely with the slaves' work capacity and hence their bodily strength, was unable to reach their inner life force - that is, their gods, their myths and their values, which were in their minds and gave them the inward strength to survive, to resist and to find self-renewal in a hostile environment.
This process, set in motion from the very first day of the slave trade, has made the Americas and the Caribbean an exceptional theatre of multiculturalization. The implications of the process are of considerable importance for the future, for therein, perhaps, fie the responses to the racial antagonism that has outlived the strictly material dimension of the slave trade and the potential for intercultural dialogue open to the future.
Director of the Division for Intercultural Projects, UNESCO
Who was responsible ?
by Elikia M'Bokolo
First and foremost the European slavers, supported by African rulers, with the African peoples ever the victims
To judge from the number of countries taking part in it, the slave trade must have been for Europeans both a profitable business and, considering the number of years it lasted, a familiar fact of life. Even so, in some of the ports involved in the trade, like Nantes, the slave-traders themselves were reluctant to call it by its name and instead spoke of it in more veiled terms as the "matter". What about the Africans? Were they merely its victims or were they conscious and consenting partners in a business arrangement with whose terms they were perfectly familiar?
A controversial question
There has always been heated debate over the part played by Africans in the slave trade. For a long time, the slave-traders took refuge behind what they saw as the irrefutable argument that the Africans made a regular practice of selling their fellow Africans, and that if the Europeans refused to buy slaves from them, other people - eaning the Arabs, who also used black slaves, among others - would hasten to do so. Nowadays, African intellectuals and statesmen contend that these exchanges were always unequal (in that human beings were bought with baubles) and that the Europeans always resorted to violence to get the Africans to co-operate against their will. For historians the story is not quite as simple as that, in the first place because our criteria are not the same as those of 500 or even 150 years ago. We believe that if only one slave had been shipped across the Atlantic, it would have been one too many. But did Africans think like this in the past? Secondly, the slave trade, which went on for almost four centuries, was a very complex process involving a wide variety of power relationships and participants whose interests and responses were bound to have changed with the course of time. This has prompted the British historian Basil Davidson to say that the "notion that Europe altogether imposed the slave trade on Africa is without any foundation in history... [it] is as baseless as the European notion that institutions of bondage were in some way peculiar to Africa".
From slave-raiding to slave-trading
The first method by which the Europeans acquired African slaves was through straightforward abduction. Striking examples of this can be found in the celebrated Cr6nica dos Feitos da Guini (Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea), written by the Portuguese Gomes Eanes.de Zurara in the mid
fifteenth century. When the Europeans landed on the coasts of Africa, they stopped at random at places they thought might be suitable for their purpose and set out on man-hunts. This was not without its risks, however, as evidenced by the massacre in 1446 of almost all the members of the expedition led by Nuno Tristäo near the Cape Verde peninsula in present-day Senegal. This was not the only such massacre, but it certainly shows that the Africans were determined to fight against enslavement.
The drawbacks of slave-raiding were that its outcome was uncertain and it was incapable of catering for the constantly growing demand, when the plantations and mines of the Americas had to be supplied with slave labour. The Portuguese were the first to switch from merely seizing captives to actually trading in slaves, following a suggestion made by Prince Henry the Navigator in 1444 and subsequently followed by Portuguese sovereigns until the end of the fifteenth century. However, even after this trade had become a routine matter, raiding continued to provide slave-traders with an additional source of supply. The so-called "roving" trade - in which slaving ships sailed along the coast and captured slaves at various places until they had a full consignment - often took the form of armed incursions against villages situated near to the coast. When countries engaged in the slave trade, they often began by organizing raiding expeditions, as did the first vessels hailing from the "twelve colonies", (the future United States of America) in the first half of the seventeenth century. By that time, however, the leading European nations had imposed a code of ethics of a kind on the slave trade. The English, Portuguese and French agreed to make a joint declaration to the effect that the slave trade was justified only when it involved slaves duly sold by Africans. Forts were built along the coastline in order to organize the trade and at the same time to instil a healthy sense of fear among the Africans. The message they conveyed was perfectly clear: "Sell us slaves - and we shall leave it to you to choose them as you see fit - or else we shall take the slaves we need at random"
The slave trade was therefore a one-sided relationship, founded and maintained on the threat of force. We once again have. to agree with Basil Davidson when he says, "Africa and Europe were jointly involved... Europe dominated the connection, shaped and promoted the slave trade, and continually turned it to European advantage and to African loss".
Affairs of state and lineage societies
At its height, the slave trade was regarded by Africans as a kind of diabolical plot in which they had to be accomplices or perish. Hence almost all the lineage or state societies of the African seaboard were compelled to become involved in. it. They did this in ways and under conditions which differed significantly from one region to another and from one period to another.
The social history of pre-colonial Africa shows that slavery was a widespread institution in states where, in some instances, a domestic trade in slaves already existed for military or economic reasons. However, a distinction has to be made between those states which maintained relations with the outside world and those which did not. The former were quicker and more ready to join in the slave trade cycle. This was true of the states bordering the Sahel, which were already in the practice of selling slaves, among other goods, to their Arab and Berber partners, who actually went on to sell some of them to the Europeans. The chronicler Alvise de Ca'da Mosto, who took part in a Portuguese expedition to Senegambia in 1455-1456, reported that the local sovereigns were skilled at taking advantage of the new competition that was growing up between the trans-Saharan trade and the transatlantic trade by selling slaves to the Arabs and Berbers in exchange for horses, and other slaves to the Portuguese in exchange for European goods.
The situation was by no means the same in those states which had no trading links with the outside world. The part these played in the slave trade is a pointer to the ambiguous and contradictory attitudes they displayed and the difficulties they faced when they came to take decisions, often under duress. The kingdom of Kongo, one of the most powerful in Africa at the time of its encounter with the Portuguese at the end of the fifteenth century, is a typical example. In the view of contemporary historians, its economic, political and social standing was on a par with that of Portugal. From the time of the very first contacts, the Kongo nobility became converts to Christianity and the king saw fit to address the Portuguese sovereign as "my brother". Yet the fact was that the slave trade had already started, in violation of the agreements, both tacit and formal, concluded between the two states. A number of letters, in which the king of Kongo protested against the seizure of slaves, including members of noble families, have survived to the present day. There is still some controversy as o what was really the motive behind these protestations. Some historians regard them as being an outburst of nationalist sentiment, but others look upon them more as a sign of the concern of the country's aristocracy not to allow so lucrative a business to slip through their hands. In any event, the kingdom did not survive the impact of the slave trade for very long. The same drama was to; be played out to varying degrees elsewhere in Africa.
The kingdom of Dahomey was also exposed to the bitter experience of the slave trade. In the mid-eighteenth century, it took over the port of Ouidah, one of the main centres of the trade in the Gulf of Guinea. The king of Dahomey regarded the port - where there was a growing build up of firearms - as posing a threat to the security of his possessions, since the slave trade gave it a tactical advantage over its neighbours. Once they took control of Ouidah, the rulers of Dahomey were caught in a vicious circle: in order to maintain a strong state, they needed rifles and gunpowder, but to obtain these they had to sell slaves to the Europeans. The answer was really very straightforward : since the sale of the kingdom's own subjects was strictly forbidden, powerful armies were raised to raid neighbouring peoples and make war on them for the purpose of taking slaves.
Unlike states, lineage societies did not have any means of obtaining slaves by force. In such cases, servitude was based on complex practices in which various categories of social outcasts, such as criminals, misfits, sorcerers and victims of natural or economic disasters, were relegated to being slaves. Even so, this would not have been sufficient to turn the slave trade into the vast and lasting business it became. Other means were therefore found of meeting the Europeans' demands. For example, in the city of Arochukwu ("the voice of Chukwu", the supreme deity), in the Niger delta, a celebrated oracle whose authority was respected by all the population was called on to designate those who, for whatever reason, were condemned to be sold into slavery. This practice continued until the beginning of the nineteenth century.
In other regions, especially in central Africa, trading networks were gradually established, extending from the coast deep into the interior. All the goods exported or imported via these networks , - predominantly slaves - transited through the heads of the lineages. In Gabon and Loango in particular, the coastal societies forming the key links in these trading networks had a highly developed ranking social order based on the extent to which their members were involved in the slave trade. Kinship relations, which are fundamental in lineage societies, gradually gave way to relations based on fortunes made in the trade, which came to dictate people's standing in society.
Africans and the abolition of the slave trade
On the African side, however, the basis of the slave trade was very precariously balanced. The part played by Africans in the trade cannot be discussed without reference to the part they played in its abolition. In a one-sided view of history, the role of Europeans - philosophers, thinkers, men of religion and businessmen is too often stressed, while that played by the Africans is left in the shade. Some even gone so far as to tax the Africans with being the main impediment to the phasing-out of the trade in the nineteenth century. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Outside Africa, the resistance of the victims of the slave trade - which took a variety of forms, including the "Back to Africa" movement, the founding of "Maroon" communities and even armed insurrection, like that in Santo Domingo in 1791 - was primarily instrumental in calling the whole institution of slavery into question. Those who had managed to escape its clutches took a very active but often unacknowledged part in the campaign for abolition. They included people like Ottobah Cuguano, who had been born in Fantiland, in present-day Ghana, had been a slave in the West Indies, and published his Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of Slavery in London in 1787. In 1789, another African, Olaudah Equiano, alias Gustavus Vassa, a native of lboland, in Nigeria, published, again in London, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African, written by himself. These books played a significant role in the movement of opinion which led to the abolition of the slave trade.
In Africa itself, all through the "years of trial" of the slave trade, along with slaves, blacks continued to sell the produce of their soil and subsoil, such as timber, ivory, spices, gold, vegetable oils, and others besides. Changing European demand was sufficient for the Africans to turn to a more "legal" form of commerce.
Congolese historian, is director of studies at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris. He is the author of many works on African history, cultures and development problems, including L´Afrique au XXe siècle, le continent convoité (Seuil, 1985) and Afrique noir, Histoire et civilisations, XIXe-XXe siècles (Hatier - AUPELF, 1992).
Slave Route Archives
by Howard Dodson
Primary source materials that are essential for documenting the economic, political, cultural and social dimensions and consequences of the transatlantic slave trade exist in great abundance, but are not readily accessible to scholars or the interested public. They are neither located on any one continent nor found in any single library, archive, museum or other repository. Rather, most of the records of the trade that have survived are scattered throughout secular and religious repositories on the five continents that were involved in the trade - Europe, Africa, North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Millions of documents, ship logs, reports, artifacts and other sources of evidence have been long since lost. Others are currently stored under climatic, environmental and other conditions that threaten their future. The Slave Route Project is dedicated to identifying, preserving and providing access to the documentary heritage of the slave trade as a means of promoting intercultural understanding of the far-reaching impact of the slave trade on the peoples and cultures of Europe, Africa and the Americas.
Hundreds of millions of documents on this four hundred year, transcontinental phenomenon still exist which contain within them the evidentiary base that is needed to rethink and rewrite the historical and cultural development of the peoples, languages, cultures, institutions, societies and nations that were involved in this forced migration of millions of African peoples and the consequences of this massive dislocation of human beings. Unfortunately, despite the fact that such records are known to exist, problems of preservation and access prevent those scholars, educators and others who seek to unravel the mysteries of the trade from using them. Among the highest priorities of the Slave Route Project is to foster the preservation of documentary records on the slave trade, especially in Africa and the Americas where they are at greatest risk, and to promote and support initiatives which assist in identifying and providing access to primary research resources on the trade.
The national and religious archives of the major European powers involved in the slave trade are the principle repositories of written records on the organization and management of the trade, as well as the behaviour and activities of the enslaved African captives. The slave trade, a major European economic enterprise, underwritten by governmental -and private financiers, required that its practitioners and managers keep meticulous records of all business transactions. European religious bodies, especially the Catholic Church, supported proselytizing and missionary activities in Africa and the Americas during the era of the slave trade. Missionaries were required to report the results of their work, but their reports often detailed descriptions of the peoples and societies as well as the economic, political and cultural events and phenomena they observed. As a consequence, the most abundant available written source materials for the study of the transatlantic slave trade and the African Diaspora it produced are currently housed in the national and religious archives and other repositories of the major European slave trade powers, i.e. Britain, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. German, Danish, Italian and Norwegian repositories also house important materials as do the Vatican Archives in Rome.
While a representative sampling of these materials has been made available for research and study through print and microfilm source publication projects, the selections included in these projects have seldom been singularly focused on the slave trade or the economic, political and cultural dynamics of the making of African diaspora peoples, cultures and societies. Editors of these documentary collections have traditionally been more concerned with the general process of European colonization. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the peoples involved in the slave trade and the colonization of the Americas were African (5.5 Africans to 1 European between 1492 and 1776), the vast majority of sources available for distribution in these formats are still overwhelmingly European and Eurocentric.
The original European source materials on the other hand include extraordinarily rich resources on the slave trade and the development of African diasporan peoples and communities in the Americas. The Slave Route Project proposes to support initiatives to identify and make accessible through print, microform or electronic publishing media, finding aids and full text documents on these subjects drawn from European archives. A primary concern of the project is to facilitate access to the se records, among continental and New World African scholars and researchers.
Written sources of indigenous African origin, though less abundant than their European counterparts, are nevertheless enormously significant in trying to reconstruct the history of the transatlantic slave trade and its consequences. African slave traders, like their European counterparts, kept written records, including correspondence related to, and occasionally, diaries of their activities. Narratives of enslaved Africans involved in the slave trade form part of this body of written materials of African provenance. Again, representative samples of these materials have been published in print or microform formats. But the overwhelming majority of indigenous African materials have not been identified, preserved and made accessible for research and study. The Slave Route Project is committed to supporting initiatives to identify, preserve and improve access to these fugitive materials. Some of these indispensable documents remain in private hands, inaccessible to the research community as well as the general public. But significant bodies of records are contained in African national and regional archives, research institutes and university libraries. Unfortunately, they are frequently as much at risk and inaccessible in these repositories as they are in non-institutional settings.
Most African national, regional and provincial archives and related institutions are not equipped to provide adequate preservation of the original historical records they have in their custody. Environmental hazards which threaten the future of the original documents range from radical fluctuation in heat and humidity, to water damage and insect infestation. In addition most of these repositories are inadequately staffed. As a consequence, records held by these institutions have not been adequately inventoried, processed and catalogued and made available for research. A high priority of the Slave Route Project is to assist indigenous African national and regional archives and other repositories (as well as those in the Caribbean and the Americas) in upgrading their facilities and services in order to ensure the preservation of their documentary heritage, especially as it relates to the slave trade and slavery. Staff training and support for processing documents related to the slave trade in order to improve access to them is another high project priority. Finally, the project is committed to supporting initiatives that rescue and preserve as well as support the continuing development of collections of oral sources related to the slave trade and its consequences.
An abundance of documents relating to slavery and the slave trade have been preserved in national, regional and provincial archives throughout the Americas. Latin American and Caribbean repositories share many of the problems of access and preservation of their African counterparts. In many instances, the preservation environments maintained in these institutions do not measure up to accepted international environmental standards. The same threats to the future of original documents in African repositories are prevalent in governmental, secular and religious archives and repositories throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Security of the documents has frequently been lax, leading to the theft and dispersal of valuable materials. Many important collections of primary source materials are in private hands, neither properly preserved nor accessible to scholars and the general interested public. Access to those collections that are in public, religious or private repositories is also hampered by the fact that there are no adequate inventories, catalogues or finding aids. Inadequate and undertrained staff account for some of these access problems. Where adequate staff exists, there has frequently not been sufficient interest in or demand for documents on slavery or the slave trade to warrant their prioritization.
The Slave Route Project is committed to fostering such interest and encouraging repositories to prioritize the preservation of and access to original records on the slave trade and slavery. It is equally committed to assisting such repositories in upgrading their preservation capabilities and identifying, processing, and creating finding aids and catalogues for slave trade-related material in their collections. It is also committed to assisting them in acquiring microfilm, electronic or photocopies of complimentary records held by other repositories.
Studies of slavery and the slave trade emerged as major areas of research interest in the United States during the 1950s. They have remained a high priority in academic and scholarly circles down to the present day. This extended scholarly interest, coupled with the broad public interest in the subject that was generated by the highly successful "Roots" - television series in 1976, challenged American (U.S.) repositories at the national, state and local levels to identify and provide broader public access to their records on slavery and the slave trade. As a consequence, extensive collections of documents on the subject have been published in print and microform editions. They suffer some of the same problems as published collections from European collections ; their principles of selectivity, their Eurocentric basis and their inadequate treatment of themes related to the processes of African transformation and change. Nevertheless, indispensable resources documenting the slave trade and slavery are included in these collections. They still only represent a small percentage of the original resources available in the repositories of the United States.
The Slave Route Project is committed to supporting initiatives that identify and provide access to materials that support its evolving research agendas. Materials that document African and African American self-initiated activities and African-derived individual and group behaviours are a high priority. The project is also committed to fostering the preservation of significant documentary resources through upgrading the preservation conditions in repositories that house such original materials. Finally, the Project supports efforts to provide electronic access to bibliographic records and finding aids which describe and provide access to slave trade-related materials in these repositories as well as full-text documents where feasible and desirable.
American historian; Chief of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, one of the main centres for Africa in the United States of America;
member of the International Scientific Committee for the "Slave Route - Project".
Latin America and the Caribbean
by Luz-María Martínez-Montiel
Africans in economic life
Iberian expansion in Latin America can be explained by the accumulation of capital in the form of precious metals from the mining industry and the spoils of conquest. Until the closing decades of the eighteenth century the economy of the Spanish empire was based on the working of metal mines whose importance was to decline over the years. Gold-mining in Brazil expanded rapidly as a result of imported slave labour, enabling the metal-producing provinces to achieve high output levels. The gold-washing plants disappeared in the second half of the sixteenth century and gave way to a new source of wealth, silver mines, the chief of which were those of Zaratecos and San Luis in Mexico, and Potosi in Bolivia. In the aggregate, while this new environment was indeed more extensive, its labour productivity was lower.
The steady influx of African slaves into the Americas to serve as labourers was determined by many factors. Their importation was bound up with the expansion of new crops and industries, among which the sugar industry stood on its own. The cultivation of sugar cane developed in the Caribbean islands, on coasts and in the tropical zones of valleys, where European colonization had led to the extermination of the indigenous population and the working-out of mines. Those Blacks who had acquired certain skills managed to find employment as labour in businesses, auxiliary workers (capataces), or servants. As a combination of economic factors forced the colonizers to create a substitute source of wealth, they turned to the production of particular commodities very much in demand in Europe. The Europeans therefore introduced a new production system, particularly in regions where the indigenous population was so diminished as to be on the verge of extinction, while in places where it survived in great numbers, such as Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, part of Central America, and Mexico, few Blacks were introduced. While in addition to cocoa and cotton, tobacco, dyes and coca were grown, all being important items for the colonial economy, sugar was without doubt the most typical product of the plantation economy. As early as the sixteenth century, the European countries sought to diversify the economies in the colonies by introducing craft activities connected with agriculture. Attempts were thus made to increase the production of cochineal and wax, in particular. The tobacco plantations, which employed Black slaves, supplied Holland and Portugal with products for trade, and contraband. Tropical monoculture may therefore be regarded as having been dependent on slave labour from the sixteenth century until the second half of the nineteenth. This implies that the Americas and Europe owe a material debt to Africa.
Africans in Latin American and Caribbean society
In all the slave-owning societies of America, economic, religious and cultural factors greatly affected social conditions prior to the integration and acceptance of freed slaves in society. Racism was the most persistent of these factors, working as it did against the incorporation of Blacks and mulattos as free citizens. It has to be noted, however, that the reactions of acceptance and rejection differed in each of the areas dominated by the various European powers. Those Blacks who managed to become absorbed into the European expansion process from the outset, or to escape, had better opportunities for social integration than the slaves on the plantations and in the mines. In order to handle the legal situations resulting from slavery in the New World, royal officials relied on measures of the Spanish Crown that were several centuries old.
They governed the purchase and sale of slaves and regulated life in captivity, the exploitation of slaves and the exercise by masters of their right of ownership over them. These laws also concerned the various forms of enfranchisement and the penalties to- be imposed for escape and other offences. Some legal provisions influenced American codification: the Code noir, for example, signed by the King of France in 1685, laid down the penalties incurred by fugitive slaves. The Siete Partidas, signed by Alfonso X in the thirteenth century and the Roman laws of the Fuero Juzgo were the sources of the Leyes de Indias which in turn incorporated French provisions in the legislation applied in America.
From the early seventeenth century, society in the Spanish colonies was divided into castes, which were a response to the need to justify Spanish domination of Indians and Blacks. The definition of the castes resulting from unions between three -races,, - Spanish, indigenous, and African - was couched in the most contemptuous terms. Under this legal system the Blacks and the castes deriving from them had no rights, and free access to paid employment was closed to them. Moreover, they were forbidden to bear arms or use ornaments, clothing and other accessories exclusively reserved for Whites; they could not move freely in cities, market towns or villages and were prohibited from marrying anyone of another "race", which proved no curb on intensive interbreeding of the population. This represents the African genetic heritage of Latin America. The constant slave revolts which ranged from individual flight to collective action in the palenques, massieles and quilombos (names used to refer to communities of fugitive slaves), were then transformed into organized struggles culminating in the slave revolution in Santo Domingo, and the conquest of the first free territory in America. Later, during the wars of independence, the insurgent armies welcomed the negros, pardos and mulatos who defended the most precious inheritance America received from Africa, namely the concept of freedom.
African contributions to the cultures of Latin America and the Caribbean
The process of transculturationn in Latin America between Indians, Europeans and Africans brought about considerable changes in the three cultures of origin and the emergence of a new cultural reality. In its diversity and complexity, this culture could not be described as the random sum of the characteristics of one culture or another, nor as an indistinct combination of customs, languages and other cultural features, but as an ongoing process comprising various interwoven strands drawn from its own cultural roots. It was therefore a culture expressed through new modes of knowing and feeling (collective representations) in which culture, conceived as an entirety encompassing economic matters, social organization and knowledge, gave meaning to a new civilization.
Inter-ethnic relations were conducted in the various regions of Iberian America within a variety of moral, religious and legal systems. How Black people and slaves were perceived and what the options were regarding manumission, recourse to the courts, marriage, and so forth, varied according to periods and the particular way of life of each colony. This meant big differences in the extent to which slaves became integrated once they had won their freedom, and in how they later fared once they were able to prove themselves. All this was to determine what is called the deculturation and acculturation of the Black populations, in addition to the various forms of cultural survival and the most varied kinds of syncretism. The vitality of the African personality, however, withstood all attempts at complete assimilation.
Afro-American cultures have three levels recognizable by their particular characteristics. The first level has preserved the religious survivals present throughout the continent.
The main ones have become full-blown religions practised both by Africans and their descendants and by other population groups. Rather than being confined to traditional ritual practices, religion has included modes of conduct and daily practices that constitute a moral code regulating the lives of adepts, providing them with a system of values and a mystical solution in times of crisis, and serving to strengthen resistance to oppressive forces, but it has above all provided a link and underpinned their identity.
The second level of Afro-American cultures is what Roger Bastide calls, "Creole folklore", which arose in America. Here, the form remains African but the content takes account of the new realities of slaves' lives: the plantation, submission to an authority, suffering and break-up. Rebellions by runaway slaves, which are particularly reflected in dance and folktales, are part of this. It is spontaneous, and as it is the result of the experience of Blacks in America, it is present in all American countries and forms a significant part of the American cultural heritage.
The third level of Afro-American cultures was born in non-African societies which, through a process of "whitening", made selections from the music, dance and aesthetic values of the Blacks, together with oral forms of expression, festivals, and the like, using them as the basis of a certain form of "négritude", institutionalizing them and associating them with several forms of "consumerism". This applies to the Rio Carnival and other events which, while borrowing from traditions of African origin, are nevertheless an emanation however profane or even sometimes denatured - of Latin American Africanism.
Mexican anthropologist and researcher; State doctorate, Université Réné, Descartes, Paris; research diploma, Centre for African Studies, Paris; agrégée in Afro-American anthropology, Mexican National Autonomous University; co-ordinator of the interdisciplinary, interregional programme "Our Third Root", National Council for Mexican Culture and Arts; author of books and articles on African and AfroAmerican cultures;
member of the International Scientific Committee for the Slave Route Project.
Slave Trade and Identity
by Hugo Tolentino Dipp
Barely nine years after the discovery of America, in the first year of the sixteenth century and by royal letters patent issued to the third governor of Hispaniola, Nicolàs de Ovando, the use of black slaves in America was authorized for the first time.
Four years later, in 1505, Bartolomè de Las Casas wrote of African slaves working on the fortifications of the city of Santo Domingo on the Spanish island of that name. By the end of the second decade of the sixteenth century there were more than 10,000 of them working on sugar plantations and other work sites.
In time slaves became a common sight over vast expanses of the land masses of South and North America, and over half a million were working on the plantations of the Spanish, French, British and Dutch Antilles. The world was entering into a process of transculturation in which Europeans and Africans were to create new and original cultures.
Such was the demand for slaves and the encouragement given to the reproduction of this labour force that by the nineteenth century the Africans and their descendants accounted for over a third of the inhabitants of the Americas.
The degree of development of the different mother countries was a major factor in shaping the relationship between owner and slave and determining the various colonial identities. As a general rule, without forgetting exceptional situations, it was in societies where capitalism was most highly developed that the most violent forms of slavery were found. The different home countries' approaches to economic development and their different religion-based ideologies meant that the part the slaves were allowed to play in creating the cultural patterns that were being produced by the new societies varied from one territory to another.
However much owner and slave sought to recreate in the colonial environment the cultures of the societies from which they came, the colonial situation was dominant and made them pioneer a new historic reality. Although some of the values of their respective societies of origin remained firm, relations between owner and slave led to laws, institutions, rules of social conduct and beliefs that were specific to slave-owning colonial societies. And throughout the whole contradictory process enacted by owner and slave a cultural sediment was accumulating, forming the basis for the identity of those societies, in which there was subjugation but also an element of defiance and striving for freedom.
In resisting oppression, in the struggle against the hostility of the owner's culture to equality and freedom, in slave revolts and mass escapes, constantly seeking to express their own personality within a society that sought to dehumanize them completely, slaves found their identity and from then on their cultural activity played a decisive part in moving colonial societies towards independent societies.
Whatever efforts were made in some slaveholding and post-slaveholding communities to create ghettos physically separating the slaves from the colonizers or the slaves and their descendants from the colonizers and their descendants, there was to be no restraining the shaping of new cultures.
Neither prejudice nor law nor custom could prevent the blending that took place, as relations were dictated by the economic model chosen and the impossibility of keeping its key elements in watertight compartments.
So it is not true that in societies that have known slavery an isolationist culture develops, with a separate identity, in some kind of cultural breakaway process. Some cultural characteristics and expressions may be peculiar to one group, but they do not determine the profile of society as a whole. Although xenophobic attitudes vis-a-vis others undeniably linger on in some groups the broad movement of history affects the whole of society, obliging all its members to play their part in forging a national identity for the former slaveholding colony.
At work, in church, in collective festivities, in art, in music, and in cooking, as in other areas of human activity, syncretism or cultural synthesis has been the hallmark of these societies. Seeking to establish absolute differences between the various societies that have experienced slavery may be dangerous, in that it might weaken the effort to integrate the descendants of slaves more closely into society and ensure that they play a more dynamic role in a world in which certain not always liberal aspects of capitalism are tending to spread worldwide. Everyone knows that the various colonized peoples were split up in the interests of colonialism. Without denying the existence of specifically national features, the positive approach is to understand that most peoples which still suffer from the effects of slavery have common characteristics and very similar social grievances.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Slave Route Project will give us a better understanding of the problems of slavery, its origins, the slave system, the role of the descendants of slaves in neo-colonial and independent countries and, above all, the importance of historical awareness as an integral part of national identity in societies that experienced a system of social relations based on slavery in their formative years.
This is important because with the odd exception, these relations have placed virtually all those peoples, particularly the social sectors descended from African slaves, in a position of underdevelopment and disadvantage. Poverty, neglect, sickness, lack of education, lack of social security and the absence of any really inclusive feeling of national solidarity as far as they are concerned makes it essential to devise practical ways of reinstating these broad social strata and ensuring that they can exercise and enjoy their human rights in a tangible way.
Hugo Tolentino Dipp
Dominican Republic. Doctorate in public law; graduate of the Institut des hautes études internationales, Paris; author of numerous books and articles, including Les origines du préjugé racial en Amérique latine (Robert Laffont, Paris, 1984); and L´influence de la Révolution française en République dominicaine (Paris, 1989);
member of the International Scientific Committee for the Slave Route Project.
The slave trade and development
by Claude Meillassoux
When Captain Binger navigated the Niger Bend in the years 1887-1889, he saw ruined villages that had been abandoned and fortifications that spoke of debilitating conflicts. He noted that the depopulation of the area might jeopardize the colonial exploitation of the country. But the situation was different in other parts of the region, with prosperous towns engaged in trade, military organizations on parade, and sovereigns taxing their peasantry. The destitution of the countryside was interspersed by opulent courts and caravanserais. The effect of the slave trade and slavery on the African continent was, in other words, uneven.
The Mediterranean and then the Atlantic slave trade led to the formation of permanent raiding parties, predatory states and towns that made their living from the trade. These military and mercantile structures established to organize the supply of slaves and their exportation to far-off lands and continents helped to introduce slavery in Africa itself, causing great disparities in wealth. While the slave trade devastated the peasantry who saw their children, and especially their daughters, taken away by brigands or armed bands to be sold to dealers, it enriched the cabéssaires (appointed by local kings to negotiate with traders) and the agents and traders in the towns as well as the nobility, the battle-hardened soldiers and the sycophants attached to the royal courts. By a perversion of memory, the sumptuousness of the plundering kings and their cabéssaires has left its mark on the area in its remembrance of the flourishing slave trade and the glories of the past, while the memory of their peasant victims has been effaced by their poverty.
The captives had two destinations, the majority of them - especially the men, who were in greater demand across the Atlantic - being sold to European dealers. The other captives, increasingly numerous, were used on the spot. These included young women who were assigned in large numbers to domestic work while the boys were trained to form more raiding parties.
Locally, slavery had the initial effect of lowering food crop production overall, and this effect was cumulative. Peasant communities lost to the raiders numbers of their young adults whose productive work in the places to which they were assigned liberated the slavers from agricultural tasks. The transfer of individuals from domestic communities to slave-owning societies in the region thus resulted in an overall drop in the workforce assigned to food crop production, hence to human reproduction. If they had not been totally destroyed and if no further raids intervened, the mutilated communities still needed more than one generation to restore their workforce to strength. Furthermore, the disappearance of the young women caused a drop in birth rates. But the children of the women who were left were not always able to survive because food production fell owing to the abduction of adult producers, and the total numbers of the following generation were correspondingly reduced
The masses of slaves exploited in Africa itself left no trace. Most of them died without issue, which was considered a precondition for their optimum exploitation. Captured in adolescence in night attacks, raids or full-scale military operations, when they were exhausted and at the end of their physical maturity, they were replaced by other young people captured in the villages that had reared and trained them. All their vital energy was taken away from their families to be absorbed and controlled by foreign masters.
In most slave-owning societies a small minority of slaves known as venacles (people born in slavery) were authorized to mate and live together, on however precarious a basis. They did not have the right to save money except to obtain their manumission from their owner. Their children, if there were any, belonged to the mother's owner. They were not considered "persons", they had no kinship ties and no social or political standing. They,were therefore more trusted than close relatives who could be rivals, and in some cases rose to positions of considerable influence.
The slave-traders were able to increase and diversify their productive and trading activities, to become part of the international trading system, to open up routes and create markets where not only slaves were sold. The effects of the slave trade cannot be measured by the same yardstick throughout the continent. The slave-trading economy, which was based on the theft of human beings, was not demographically speaking autonomous. While demographic reproduction normally relies on women of child-bearing age and on the community's ability to feed a new generation of children until it reaches maturity, the reproduction of slaves depended on the military prowess of the looters, on the economic conditions they set and on the purchasers' ability to give them the strictly material payment that they required. Once slaves became a part of the economy their rate of replacement or reproduction matched the production rate of the goods against which they were exchanged. They could thus produce their own value in a few years. The demand for slaves was again increased by the fact that whoever could make merchandise against which slaves were exchanged, or have it made, was able to own a life without having created it and increase their human livestock independently of demographic laws. Any community that can replace slaves by purchase is totally different, socially and sexually, from a community that breeds them. Slaves are born of the production of commodities and themselves become commodities. As soon as the production of slaves found a market outlet, demand for them increased. Slaveraiding became an ongoing activity, ranging over areas which took several months to reach and cover, while the predatory states were - permanently at war.
Despite the wealth of the local slave-trading profiteers, the process of accumulation hardly went beyond the stage of hoarding. These warlords reinvested admittedly in arms and horses but also indulged in purchases of fine clothes and alcohol on a large scale. Traders and the nobility dressed in sumptuous imported textiles: platilles (Silesian linen), acrocs and anabas (striped blue and white fabrics manufactured for sale in Guinea) bretagnes (cloth made in Brittany and exchanged for slaves on the Guinean coast), siamoises (calico made in Rouen and exchanged for slaves), sucretonss (cotton cloth) and guiniées (cloth sold in Guinea, manufactured in India and later in Europe). Certain cloths came from India : caladary, bajutapeaux, birampot, zingua, nèganepaux and salapoury (cloth from India sold to the Moors). The signares, court fav6urites and wives of rich merchants, adorned themselves with tacou (gold beads), envignot; olivettes (imitation pearls), verrot (coloured glass beads), bevises (pearls of Venice), conte carbé (glass pearls on strings), galets (glass jewellery), margriette (yellow glass jewellery made in Rouen) and pesans (glass jewellery). Evaluated in cowries, marginelles, simbos and pataques (silver money), measured in "barres de coutume", these commodities were an ostentatious but short-lived reflection of wealth in an economy that remained mainly mercantile in nature, and were not of a kind to be invested in the economy to expand production. Only the use of slaves for work on plantations was in any way reminiscent of the slave-system organized for profit in the Americas, and that itself, as we know, was to be superseded by capitalist employment for wages.
Neither in regard to demography, with the reduction of the peasantry, nor in regard to the economy, with the unproductive enrichment of a class of local entrepreneurs, can the slave trade be said to have contributed to the development of Africa. It decimated the people who worked on the land and focused the local economy on mercantile more than productive activities. Even worse, as the mercantile economy was developed by the violent abduction of the young adults who formed the continent's primary wealth and by their deportation overseas in their millions, the invaluable workforce formed by those men and women was employed to give a cheap start to a capitalist economy whose imperialistic character, here in the form of colonialism, also crushed their descendants. The slave trade not only sustained the expansion and the dominance of the Euro-American economy by selling the children of Africa, at the same time it exposed the economy of Africa to its further depredations.
Director of Research at CNRS. Read law; graduate of the Institut d´études politiques de Paris; MA in Economy, University of Michigan; Ph.D. in Sociology, Sorbonne. Field research in Côte d´Ivoire, Mali, Senegal. Main works include Anthropologie économique des Gouro de Côte d´Ivoire, Mouton, Paris, 1964; Urbanization of an African Community : Voluntary Associations in Bamako, American Ethnological Society, University M Washington Press, Seattle, 1968; L´évolution du commerce africain depuis Ie XIXe siècle en Afrique de I'Ouest (The Development of Indigenous Trade M.- - Markets in West Africa), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1971; Femmes, greniers et capitaux, Paris, Maspero, 1975 ; Terrains et Théories, Anthropos, Paris, 1977; Anthropologie de l'esclavage, le ventre de fer et d´argent, Paris, PUF, 1986; Economie de la vie : la démographie du travail, Cahiers libres, Lausanne, 1997.
Ideology, philosophy, thought
by Louis Sala-Molins
Christian Europe lived under a feudal regime for centuries. During this time the Roman slave was definitively redeemed and the servitude of the serf
was established. This meant his promotion from animal to legal, social and political status as a member of humankind. Then, suddenly, America loomed up on the Western horizon. As if by magic, Christian Europe - at first Spain, then Portugal, then France and other countries -rediscovered the Graeco-Roman institution of slavery and its niche in the ideological framework of the day. Europe remembered the Africans living with the sun directly overhead, much further south than the country of the Moors, and, leapfrogging back across the long centuries of feudalism and serfdom, re-established contact with slavery. Europe went hunting in Africa, and sent to the Americas innumerable shipments of sub-humans, he beasts of burden that it needed - the Amerindian populations having been wiped out - to work the soil and the subsoil of the new continent that is, broadly speaking, how the story is told by those wishing to keep strictly to the essential facts. But it's not true.
Throughout the feudal era, Christian Europe operated a residual, but quantitatively significant, form of slavery simultaneously With massive serfdom. Let us consider Spain. It did not have to go back centuries in history to find a way of organizing the African slave trade in its colonies in the West: all it needed to do was to transfer to its colonies methods applied on Spanish soil well into the sixteenth century, to the Moors and the Blacks who had been enslaved in Spain. When the transition was made from the Christian form of slavery practised in the Iberian peninsula (and in general throughout the Mediterranean) to the American slave system, the quantities involved changed, but not the qualitative nature of the process or the ideology supporting it.
The transition was from "cottage industry" to a fully-fledged system of industrial exploitation. The slave was a chattel in the feudal world, where his status was quite distinct from that of the serf, and chattel he would remain in the Americas. The slave's social and legal status was that of an animal; that did not change. The Church claimed to wish to redeem slaves' souls by securing their willingness to embrace the Christian faith, but it would not scruple to deliver their bodies to their owners, to whom it granted, in so many words, "the right to use and to misuse their slaves who have no will of their own", (make of that what one will !). All in all, if we focus, as we are entitled to do, on the Church's official statements, it seems clear that the hunters operating in the period following the discovery of the Americas would feet free to hunt, shackle and ship their cargoes across the ocean in complete peace of mind because what the bartering and transporting was so mudo cattle. And cattle are beyond the reach of theology, morality and philosophy.
When more civilized nations began to join in the situations did not improve - quite the contrary, it was open season, over ever vaster expanses of Africa. Organized brigandage on a scale unique in modern history changed the face of Africa for ever and some Africans were willing, of course, to co-operate in it. Christian teachings raised few or no objections. Philosophy would have the extreme temerity to look elsewhere, or the great courage to plead with everyone in general and no-one in particular for less harshness, for slightly less torture, for fewer needless deaths, without in any way challenging the legality of slavery as an institution.
"Ebony" because just one of the many commodities traded by sea, and more profitable than most. The Christian nations would promote companies whose only purpose was slave trading. Spain and Portugal produced repellent syntheses of theology and law which enabled them to keep the Blacks they had torne from Africa in slavery, with perfectly clear consciences. Under Louis XIV and Colbert France perpetrated the Code Noir or Black Code, without a shadow of doubt the most monstrous legal instrument of modern times. Spurred by envy of the social anc economic benefits of this comprehensive legal instrument, Spain put its chaotic edicts into order and produced a whole series of "black codes" based on the monstrous French model, in order to improve sugar cane production. England would indulge in the luxury of scruples only after it had carved out an empire for itself in India.
And all the time the theologians were rattling off their prayers. Philosophy, for its part, half-raised an eyelid, and intalled the Black African on the lowest rung of the anthropological ladder, on whose topmost rung the White European, raised on the Bible's milk, was lording it over the rest of creation. Very belatedly, it begged all and sundry to put a stop to the trade on the grounds that it was not profitable (the Physiocrats actually whispered this idea in its ear), and prescribed interminable moratoria which would lead to a phasing out of slavery. Its conscience clear, it fell asleep again.
Then Santo Domingo rose up in revolt and cast off its chains. Various nations abolished slavery - following in the footsteps of France. Napoleon reintroduced it. His generals invented "nègromachie" feeding their dogs on the flesh of Africans. The slave trade continued. Africa and its peoples continued to be plundered, to trade and barter, to be slaughtered, and to collaborate. The internal African networks supplying the slave traders and slave ships on the Atlantic coasts and those of the Indian Ocean criss-crossedd the continent, leaving deep furrows. Then came the awakening: the ideologues began to hold forth, while the clergy continued to say their prayers. What did they have to say, in that last third of the nineteenth century? That it was senseless to strip Africa to supply America! And so, in the name of the Enlightenment, of progress, of civilization and of Christianity, Europeans began to settle in Africa en masse and enslave Africans on their own soil. The slave trade and the "codes noirs" were things of the past. The day of African colonialism and codes to govern the natives had dawned. The "slave" was no more; instead, there was the "native". European law pegged the native to the soil and shackled his will, just as it had tossed the slave into the belly of the slave ship and torn away his soul.
Who remembers? And should such things be remembered?
French philosopher; professor of political philosphy, Toulouse; research on legal theory and aberrations in respect of the law. Publications include : Le Code noir ou le calvaire de Canaan, Paris, PUF, 1998; Sodome. Exergue à la la philosophie de droit, Paris, Albin Michel, 1991: Les Misères des Lumières. Sous la Raison l´outrage, Paris, Robert Laffont, 1992.